Vinod Khosla: Silicon Valley's Talent Thief
Vinod Khosla is an influential guy. He is a billionaire who has helped hundreds of companies grow. He was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and knocked it out of the park as an investor in Juniper Networks. He, Mike Moritz, and John Doerr were the triumverate atop the apex of VC power back in the 1990s.
Then, in 2004, in a bid to take venture capital back to its more risk-taking, boutique roots, he left the most powerful firm in the Valley to start Khosla Ventures. It's done OK. He's had several successful IPOs in clean tech, such as Amyris, and has investments relatively successful Silicon Valley startups such as Square, Jawbone, and restaurant search site Ness. But since leaving Kleiner Perkins, Khosla dropped from being the #1 Venture Capitalist on Forbes' "Midas List" in 2003, to #71 last year.
I wanted to ask him about Khosla Ventures' position in the venture world when I interviewed him at RockSpace in San Francisco last week. I also wanted to ask him whether he still believed that Silicon Valley was deficient in game-changing technologies, as he said a couple of years ago. One problem, he told me just before the event that he wouldn't answer, and I knew he wasn't bluffing.
Preparing for my interview, I scoured the Web for all previous presentations Khosla has done. The one commonality in all the video clips I watched was that Khosla would rarely answer the first question the interviewer ever asked. Instead, he would turn to the audience, welcome them, and let them know he would be answering their questions, leaving the interviewer to wonder why he or she is even there.
So I opened the chat by inviting the audience to use my Twitter handle to send me their questions for Khosla. There were so many questions, that Khosla stayed well beyond the 60 minutes he'd allotted for the event. He covered everything from how to use risk to evaluate talent needs (Gene Pool Engineering) to how quickly a startup should grow in today's economic climate.
A highlight of the interview was Khosla’s defense of the "value add" of VCs, or the things they do that are supposedly more important than money. It's clear Khosla sees his as helping with the Valley's single biggest pain point right now: recruiting.
In the clip above, I asked him about how companies can recruit the hard-to-come-by top engineers? He said his portfolio companies aren't struggling. Why? Vinod Khosla. He's the secret sauce. He said if companies want top talent they have to have "the right investors and advisors." (In case you can’t read between the lines: Khosla means himself.)
He followed his statement with a couple of examples of how he helped his portfolio companies. He admitted to assisting Ness CEO Corey Reese nab a hot Harvard student away from the competition and helping another steal a COO out from under the nose of Uber, the alternative cab company.
Hey Travis Kalanick, what do you have to say about that?