John Doerr NVCA lifetime achievement award acceptance speech

On February 27, 2019, John Doerr was honored by the NVCA with its Lifetime Achievement Award in venture capital. The Award honors those who have made significant contributions to foster innovation, advance technology and drive new company formation.


Thank you Mary. And thanks to all of my partners, to the founders we serve, to all the friends here tonight, and to Bobby and the NVCA team. Also, I want to thank all the members of the Academy, my mother, and of course all of tonight's award winners.

I'm going to tell you the story of two mentors (and one very fortunate mentee — that's me, the luckiest engineer from St. Louis, Missouri). I came to Silicon Valley in 1974 with $50, no job, and no place to live. I interviewed with all the venture capitalists for a summer internship, hoping to learn about starting companies. And just what do you think happened? You guessed it: They all turned me down — wisely.

But Brook Byers agreed to meet while running around Stanford's track. He told me, "John, forget VC, and get a real job at a tech company, like Intel." We stayed in touch. Five years later, I left Intel to work for Frank Caufield and Brook Byers, reviewing business plans and, with their support, writing my own business plan.

Frank and Brook took a big chance, and they promised to back my dream to start a venture. Together we started Silicon Compilers, and @Home. But those are stories for another night.

Since 1980, we've also started 29 Kleiner funds, with three generations of leaders raising over $11 billion. I'm incredibly proud of the latest, Kleiner Perkins 18, which is led by Ted, Mamoon, Wen, Ilya, Bucky, and joined by Annie, Monica, and Josh. I'm also very proud of the Kleiner alumni who in aggregate have raised nearly $2 billion in 10 new funds. I'll shout out those with us tonight: Kevin & Doug at Radar; Aileen with Cowboy; Beth with West Lake; Lynne with Define; Mary, Noah, Mood and Juliet with Bond; and Joe Lacob's Warriors Innovation fund! What an amazing alumni network.

Years ago, Andy Grove at Intel gave me a great gift which I offer to you tonight. It's a handbook, a dozen stories about goal setting called "Measure What Matters" — what matters for your firm, your ventures, or even your family. Do grab a copy on your way out this evening.

It is dedicated to two mentors who left us too soon, opening with Andy Grove, and closing with Coach Bill Campbell. You know, we are discouraged from bringing love into a business setting — but that was Bill's most distinguishing trait. Somehow the Coach was always your best friend. His tough love inspired everyone from Steve Jobs to the third graders at Sacred Heart. And me.

Bill Campbell was the ultimate player-coach. The servant leader. And a great model for us who want to be "servant VCs". We have an awesome opportunity to serve entrepreneurs, our country, and the fragile, threatened planet we call home.

To those of you early in your VC career, choose and focus on a field where you can differentiate and serve with distinction. Network like crazy. Incubate a venture with co-founders — as Swanson did with Genentech, or Byers with Hybritech. Take a sabbatical, gain startup experience ...and respect for it.

Assist entrepreneurs as a business builder, not a buyer and/or seller.

And don't lose your soul in the chase for "deals" — indeed, don't talk or even think that way. Because as we all know, those "deals" are in fact the hopes and dreams of the founders who will change the world.

I'm an optimist. I believe there are very few problems that can't be solved by leaders and teams who share the right goals for the right reasons.

Friends, even as we worship together at the altar of innovation, let's never forget: ideas are easy, execution is everything. And it takes a team to win.

Thank you.