John Doerr: "Venture capital has changed and I need to adapt"

By Sarah Lacy , written on May 24, 2013

From The News Desk

Regular readers know I am a total geek when it comes to the ins and outs of the venture capital business. So while we spent the bulk of our time with John Doerr talking about iconic founders he's worked with, I wanted to make sure we spent at least a little time talking about his industry.

After all, the Internet has changed venture capital as much as it's disrupted the music industry, newspapers and everything else. Thanks to the rise of open source, commodity hardware, blogs, incubators, institutional seed funds, AngelList, and the overall dramatically lowered cost and time to starting a company, the venture business has been transformed in recent years. Even dominant firms like Kleiner Perkins and dominant investors like John Doerr have had to adapt with it.

We asked Doerr a lot of hard questions about this over the course of the evening, even as we also talked about his many wins. We talked about the firm's heavy bets on clean tech and whether they were a mistake. We talked about the firm increased investments in later-stage companies. We also talked about the role of brand in the venture business.

One of the most stunning moments was when I asked Doerr if he thought he needed to change with the times, and he simply said, "Yes. It has changed, and I think I do need to adapt. I think you are right." (And proving that he wants people to view him as more accessible, he stayed later than most of our team talking to entrepreneurs and developers who attended last night. Chris Dixon did the same in New York last week.)

That said, as Doerr explains in the clip above, a lot hasn't changed about the venture industry -- even going back to the semiconductor days when Doerr started his career. It's still a service business, he says. "You never make a lot of money in venture capital by cutting tough deals with entrepreneurs," he said. Instead, the key is being "ruthlessly intellectually honest" about where the risk lies and working together to remove that risk. That was the same back in Andy Grove's day as it is today.