Most of your clients are nonprofit organizations. Does that affect the way you think about your investments?
Nonprofits are a very important part of what we do here at Sequoia. For me, the reason to get up in the morning when you’re a little tired has to do with the greater good that we’re trying to get done here. When portfolio companies do well, so do those foundations, hospitals and schools who invest in Sequoia.
I chuckle when I hear talk of legacy, because unless your name is da Vinci or Michelangelo, nobody will remember who you were. Just be a good global citizen and take your licks and move on.
Is technology a force for good?
Technology in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s what people do with it. Unfortunately, you can have 98 people doing the right thing, and two people doing a bad thing with technology, and being that we’re all interconnected, some real bad things will happen.
The thing is, technology is inevitable. Either you do it in your own country or you’ll be beholden to another country that does it better than you. You better have it here before somebody else has it there. That’s my view of technology.
You’ve described physical exercise as crucial to clarity of thought. You’re clearly very fit. What’s your workout?
I have an efficient workout. I lift weights twice a week, usually Monday and Tuesday, because I find that I can stall travel until Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. So, two hours Monday, two hours on Tuesday, during which I work out every body part known to man. Then that leaves five days of the week where I get as many cardio days as I can.
You talk on the Sequoia website about the importance of investing in your children. Is there a way to somehow instill an immigrant mentality in children born here?
You could live in a two-bedroom apartment and fly in the last row of coach but sooner or later they’re going to figure out the truth and say, “What the heck are you doing?”
I was a highly imperfect parent. But I loved them, I spent time with them, and I also instilled a work ethic in them, and none of them ever went off the deep end. We have four children and they all went away to school, and they all came back to the Bay Area. For me there’s a bit of an ROI in that.
My one lesson to parents is that if you love your children, there’s a lot of room to screw up. And loving them includes holding them accountable. It’s tough to punish your children because you love them so much. They think they’re in pain but they have no idea how much pain it causes you. But that’s part of the investment. Nothing is more important than that investment.
Your success is a testament to listening, yet you say you find listening difficult?
I’m an only child with one cousin. Lots of aunts and uncles. Always the center of attention. Overly loved. I went into sales and got into the talking thing. Then I came to Sequoia.
To make it at Sequoia, you have to be open-minded to new ideas. Airbnb is an example. Three young guys tell us that you can rent a room in your house, people will sleep in your bed. If you say, “I would never sleep in somebody’s house,” or, “I would never rent a room in my house,” you are screwed.
I had to learn not only to listen, but to ask: What do they see that I don’t see? I learned a lot from Mike Moritz. For many years he and I co-ran Sequoia. Picture me as the gregarious Italian versus the Cool Hand Luke Brit. Watching him in action just forced me to change, to listen.
I’ve always said Sequoia makes you a better person—a better father, better husband, better friend— because you’re listening, you’re open-minded to what somebody else has to say.
How do you stay hungry?
Three components. Growing up under extremely modest means, that still keeps my engine running. We came to this country on a boat, not a plane, and the most my father ever made was $25,000. Getting abused by other kids in high school left scars to this day, and that keeps me motivated never to let anybody control or dominate me.
Second, appreciation. I was explaining to my trainer a theory about multiple lives in parallel worlds, and he said something worthy of Einstein: “No matter how many other lives you lived, they wouldn’t be as good as the one you have.” He
The third component is not pretty. I’ve devoted my life to working hard and spending time with my kids. I don’t have a lot of hobbies. I don’t have a lot of friends. I’ve always said there’s Doug Leone from Sequoia and Doug Leone the schmuck who walks the streets.
I love my work. But at some point I will take a step back and no longer be Sequoia’s Global Managing Partner. I will still be a partner, still have the boards and the funds. But the phone won’t ring as much.
I’m very cognizant that my world is going to change, and I’m glad it’s going to change. If the worst problem I have in life is finding the next thing to keep me interested, how fortunate am I?