When serial N.C. investor Steve Nelson interviewed John Doerr at the CED Venture Conference Tuesday, the venture capitalist who saw potential in Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the Google founders before anyone else faced the question that inevitably came up: what does he look for in an entrepreneur?
The answer included stories about Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and the Google founders.
What does Doerr look for in an entrepreneur?
“There is no pat answer,” he said. The first quality “Is integrity. It’s a binary state. You have it or you don’t.”
High integrity, he said, means “Putting the team and organization first.” He said Jeff Bezos of Amazon asked Jim Collins, an author and business maven Doerr admires, what he could do to improve. “Get up every morning and try to be better,” Collins advised.
Doerr said he also looks for resilience. “I ask, would I mind getting into trouble with that entrepreneur? Because I know we’ll get into some trouble together.”
He said he learned different lessons from both Google and Amazon entrepreneurs, athough there were common things. “Both imagined a world ahead of us,” he said. “Who would have thought Amazon would become the world’s biggest data center with a small collection of stores attached?”
Amazon’s AWS cloud service business is worth two-thirds of the company, he noted. “They got a seven-year head start because it was such a weird idea. IBM couldn’t imagine people buying computing power on a credit card.”
Google looks ahead, he added, and the key is “The willingness to re-imagine the world.” If either of those companies didn’t exist, he said, “No one would obviously think of filling its place.”
What did he learn from Apple’s Steve Jobs? He flourished a first generation iPhone with Job’s signature as he answered.
“He pulled this thing out of his blue jeans and said, ‘This thing nearly killed our company.” He had put five radios in it, got rid of plastic keyboards, wrote an operating system, and included eight gigabytes of storage.
Doerr said, this thing would be a great platform for other applications. I want to create a fund for that.”
Initially, though, Jobs resisted.
“He said he didn’t want it polluted by third parties.” About eight months later, Jobs called back and said, “John, we should talk about that fund.” The result: the Apple app store which led to “An amplification of our economy,” said Doerr.