John Doerr [1.6.97]

THE REALITY CLUB: Scott McNealy, John Dvorak

Doerr: I'm an alumnus of Intel, possibly the best managed company in the country. A child of the microprocessor, a "refugee" from the semi-conductor industry. Before Intel I earned a degree in electrical engineering from Rice University in Houston Texas. Came to Silicon Valley in 1974 without a job -- rented half a garage apartment near Stanford for $55 a month from a professor. Wanted to start a company with some friends and fancied that I'd apprentice myself to a venture capital firm. (Heard that venture capital had something to do with starting companies). However, in 1974 there weren't any summer jobs in venture capital.

Fortunately, Bill Davidow and Jim Lally hired me at a small chip-maker called Intel. Intel had just invented the 8-bit microprocessor. It was exciting. I stayed there through the remainder of the decade.

In 1980 I joined the partnership Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB). Was lucky again, in the right place at the right time. In the early 80's the microprocessor was the common denominator for a whole industry of rapidly growing new companies. In fact from 1980 to 1990, the new companies based on the microprocessor helped create a hundred billion dollars a year revenues. And a hundred billion dollars of stock value. That's the largest single legal creation of wealth we've witnessed on the planet. In a decade. (In 1990 Microsoft was about a third of that value. KPCB sponsored new companies representing another third.)

This summer I became a part-time political activist, helping organize the defeat of California's proposition 211.

Brockman: Congratulations on Proposition 211.

Doerr: We're very grateful to the voters of California; it's terrific that it was defeated. Prop 211 was written by, and for, securities lawyers. It would have encouraged frivolous shareholder lawsuits threatening every company in the country and costing California 159,000 jobs. Several economists estimated the stock market would have declined 15%. That's trillions!

Defeating 211 was a big and broad effort. It needed to be a big effort. Think of frivolous lawsuits as a national business environmental issue - like a massive oil spill along the entire East, West and Gulf coasts. All the securities lawyers have to do is pass this legislation once, in one state, and the damage will be irreparable. So, until we get uniform national standards we must defeat the securities lawyers again and again.

Brockman: How much of your time was involved?

Doerr: About 15% of my day time but most of my sleepless nights. I was worried. I didn't think we were going to win.

Brockman: Did you set up an organization to run this project?

Doerr: It was like starting a new venture. We got great management team in place, raised money and got the word out. We had a terrific campaign manager and a lot of support from a broad coalition: the technology community, the media industry, banking, lawyers, accountants, educators, seniors, individuals, non-profits, labor, Democrats, Republicans - all pulled together.

Brockman: Wasn't this a breakthrough in social consciousness for Silicon Valley?

Doerr: Yes, though it was a national issue. I think of Silicon Valley is a state of mind. We had volunteers and companies from Massachusetts and Washington, from Colorado to San Diego - from South Florida - all involved in this effort.

Brockman: Funny, every time I utter the words "non-profit foundation" to digerati, their eyes glaze over as their heads slowly nod into hypnotic sleep.

Doerr: That's the conventional wisdom about Silicon Valley. But, often conventional wisdom is wrong. There's a growing sense of responsibility and philanthropy in our community. It's private, it's anonymous and it's personal, as opposed to corporate. As computing and communications converge, we're using public resources and airwaves to deliver our products and services. Privacy, encryption matter. Our greatest need is better educated citizens. The Valley (some would say finally) is growing up.

Brockman: Is there a political career in your future?

Doerr: The only office I'm running for is partner of the next KPCB fund.

Brockman: The people who rant against Bill Gates seem to forget how many jobs he has created. Can you project how many jobs you and your colleagues at KPCB have helped to create?

Doerr: At year-end 1995 - 131,000 jobs. Since the virtual corporation is the rage, every year we put together a virtual annual report. If viewed as a single keiretsu, at year end 1995 KPCB ventures had 44 billion in revenue - and were worth some 84 billion dollars. Obviously the credit for this goes to the entrepreneurs, but we're proud to have helped.

Doerr: Among the digerati, you're considered the default venture capitalist. What, exactly, do you do?

Doerr: We help assemble and then invest in a team of entrepreneurs or scientists. Usually the ventures are startups. Sometimes they're already going - I call those "speedups" (like Intuit, Shiva, or Occasionally, we'll see a huge opportunity, like two-way paging, or cable modems, and pull together "co-ventures" of entrepreneurs and corporate partners. MTEL/Destineer and @Home are examples. In the end, we're recruiters who pay you for the right to help build your team. You reward us with shares of stock. We both work like crazy to make the stock valuable.

Money is actually the easy part of the equation. There's lots of sources for money. Netscape is a good example. Co-founder Jim Clark personally had all of money needed to finance Netscape. However, he wanted the help in team-building. In a hundred twenty days or so after we shook hands, my partners and I helped Jim hire a world-class team: five vice presidents and an awesome CEO. Without that team, by now Netscape might have been killed by Microsoft. Last quarter was one hundred million dollars in revenue and they're at a four hundred million run rate. At two years old they're the 18th largest software company and most rapidly growing ever. Ideas are easy. Teams win.

Brockman: Is there publishing business to be done on the Web?

Doerr: Absolutely. All Internet revenue is divided into three buckets. First, there's folks who make money principally from advertising. They're basically like our broadcast media but they're more personalized. Examples are Excite, Yahoo and C/Net - media businesses driven by advertising, supported by sponsors. Second, there are Web businesses which are based on subscription services. Sports Line, for example has a subscription service for tens of thousands of sports enthusiasts (typically white males). Many are betting on sports in office pools. It's a big business. TEN is the new Total Entertainment Network, a multiplayer game service. Another example would be the Wall Street Journal, which I understand now has some 40,000 subscribers paying $5 a month. They get advertising support as well. (It's not clear you can make it on subscriptions alone).

The third revenue source is transactions. Some of the compelling new web businesses are,, Preview Travel, or PC Order. Those businesses are growing faster than the natural growth rate of the Web, which still clocks in around 6% a week. A number of transaction companies are profitable already.

Brockman: Is Amazon profitable?

Doerr: No, because Amazon's investing heavily to build their brand. Amazon's caused me to triple my book-buying budget. Friends like Marc Andreessen, Bill Gates and Bill Joy all complain (kiddingly) that Amazon's caused them to buy more books than ever before. On the other hand, Jerry Kaplan's auction is profitable. And Mark Andreessen and the Netscapers made 9 million dollars profit last quarter on a hundred million in revenue. That's less than two years after first commercial release.

Brockman: Future of Netscape?

Doerr: Forrester Research forecasts the enterprise intranet market they address will be $10 billion in 2000. Who will get 40% share? 60% share? Netscape? Microsoft? A new player?

Ever since December 5, 1995, the trade press and industry insiders have believed Microsoft will drive Netscape out of business. Microsoft is an able and fierce competitor, who I admire a lot. Their monopoly in operating systems gives them lots of advantages. But The Net is such a large opportunity, its not likely to be a zero-sum game or binary outcome.

Brockman: So is this so-called "browser war" a non-event?

Doerr: Hardly. Browsers, or clients, (soon to be "communicators") accounted for 60% of Netscape's revenue last quarter. So last quarter it was a $60 million dollar "non-event"? The battle is about browsers, but also about servers, APIs, object models, open directory standards, platform choice, and above all, new function.

The battle between Microsoft, the industry's more powerful company and Netscape may be the most titanic battle for market share we ever witness. Bigger than Coke vs. Pepsi. With far greater consequences. But bear in mind, in the heat of the battle, that the size of the opportunity - $10 billion in 2000 - overwhelms the ability of either Netscape or Microsoft to serve the market need.

Brockman: What technology areas are most interesting to you?

Doerr: I have pretty broad, catholic (with a small "c") - interests. In the world of the Web and Net I'm keen on any technologies that will increase bandwidth - @Home, Ascend, Shiva, gigabit Ethernet, IP over SONET, multicast, more bandwidth. Those are huge opportunities. Java is the first real improvement in software technology in decades. And in the life sciences genomics and innovative medical devices are exciting. Also, there are huge opportunities to lower cost and improve outcomes in education and health care.

Have you read William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire? Just 300 years ago the European continent was covered with trees. Traveling from town to town you could cover 25 miles a day. The average life expectancy was 30 years. Chances are you'd be waylaid by robbers. The "roads" were muddy dirt paths. That was six to eight generations ago. The time of your grandfather's grandfather.

In less than five years today's "information highway" and internet will appear just as primitive as those medieval roads. Today's congested 45 Mbps IP backbones must become autobahns, real superhighways. 14% of American homes are online, typically at 14.4 dialup. We should enter the next century with high band connects available to at least 10% of American homes.

Brockman: When is this realistically going to happen?

Doerr: It won't happen overnight, but be patient. The easiest way to figure this out is to head over to Fremont California and talk to @Home subscribers. 35 people signed up yesterday. They are well on their way to over a thousand. When will it happen?... maybe 5% of homes by the year 2000. Probably available to 10% of homes. This is hard infrastructure building, with backhoes and trenches. You've got to make sure your cable system is hybrid fiber coax - two-way capable. It won't be as rapid as when browsers took over the desktop. But it's inexorable. It will happen. And it will redefine the Net experience.

There was a piece on @Home by a reporter in the San Francisco Chronicle last Sunday. The company's been trying to keep a low profile. The Chronicle, however, found subscribers and interviewed them. They said, "now our PC is online all the time". One customer has @Home on in the bedroom. When they are interested in Thai massage they just type it in and find out about it. When there's no wait and the web's always on, it changes everything.

But, back to my interests. Bandwidth is one. I'm also interested in the sort of super-verticals, the opportunities to create new and compelling services. Like health care. We can now build applications and systems that will span lots of enterprises. The same is true of education. There's an appropriate role for technology in education and to connect parents and teachers and kids and administrators.

We're very enthusiastic about the revolution underway in molecular biology, our understanding of genomics, which is possibly the most interesting programming problem around. We now can understand the genetic basis for thousands of human diseases; breast cancer, obesity, diabetes and cystic fibrosis.

There's an amazing guy you ought to meet sometime, Eric Lander, who has a forecast in the current issue of Science magazine about where genomics goes from here. Lander is a fellow at the Whitehead Institute. He's a mathematician who taught courses on entrepreneurship at the Harvard. He was a co-founder of Millennium, a venture we backed in Cambridge Massachusetts. Millennium may be the finest collection of scientists working in genomics and understanding molecular basis of important diseases.

Brockman: Now that 211 has been defeated, what are you going to do next?

Doerr: We need a new network that complements industry trade associations. It should spans industries and focus on key issues for our community, the Silicon Valley "state of mind".

The network should be responsible and effective, playing hardball politics to win, pursuing an agenda that is pro-education, pro-economic opportunity, pro-growth - and pro-legal reform. Even with the defeat of 211 our job is not done. We need a new framework of law and thinking to help us govern in the new economy. I, and many others, will help form that new network. We'll get a bunch of good people together, raise money, get a good management team in place and let 'em run.

Brockman: Two years ago you said that the new companies in the PC industry went from zero to a hundred billion dollars in a decade, which was the largest legal creation of wealth we've ever seen on the planet.

Doerr: Right. And after the Netscape public offering, we started keeping track of the new Net companies. They are worth around 20 billion dollars in value today. That's less than 2 years into the mission.

It's easy to get dazzled with numbers, but more instructive to ask "why?" What's the underlying engine, the dynamic that's making this possible? If you oversimplify, the PC in the 80s was used to lower costs. It let us prepare manuscripts and do financial analyses. The big 4 applications were spread sheets, word processing, spreadsheets and word processing - and they lowered cost. The new Net applications lever the top line of an organization. Even if it's nonprofit. If it's an educational institution it helps it teach, if it's a hospital it helps heal. The new Net apps help us entertain, inform, inspire, communicate, educate, govern, collaborate -- even make meaning out of life (and death).

Brockman: I expect it will help my literary agency sell our clients' rights to our customers.

Doerr: It will help your agency sell and that's great. Top line leverage is much more important than below the line savings. Think of where we are in Net development as 10 seconds after the Big Bang. The laws of physics are in place but the universe is very young. We're very, very early in a revolution that's going to have long legs. I think it's conservative, even unadventuresome, to say the Net's going to be three times bigger than the PC. On a continuing basis for a decade. It may hit 30 on a Richter scale.

Brockman: You're talking about the Net. Are you also talking about the Web?

Doerr: For the moment, yes. But distinguish. The Web is a very popular protocol on the Net. I suspect it will be augmented if not supplanted by other protocols. We're seeing innovative work already from companies, like Marimba, redefining the experience.

In fact as you pointed out, this notion of visiting places with browsers is something that our children will look back on as very antiquated, today the way we remember manual typewriters. In the near future we'll subscribe to information services, or in the Marimba paradigm there'll be transmitters and receivers that are delivering channels. It's about communication. That much is clear.

Brockman: Where do Internet companies stand today with regard to the stock market.

Doerr: People believe the stock market has been really frothy, but I'm told that if you subtract Intel, Cisco and Microsoft from the S & P 500, the market is down 5% this year. We're in one of these rare periods of time that I would characterize as sane, and normal. Good companies can go public and have successful offerings. Those that are not yet ready to be public companies can't.

America's capital markets are an incredible treasure. They're a real economic advantage, and we need to preserve and nurture them. They are one of the ingredients that fuels entrepreneurial innovation. The possibility of financial independence, sending our kids to college, is the heart of the American dream.

Brockman: What else?

Doerr: I like to play with my daughter. And we've just adopted another little baby girl, she's five weeks old. Sorry, I'm a bit sleep-deprived. My daughter and I like to ride bikes together and play games - Scrabble, Monopoly. She also likes chess - and changes the rules as she plays. Given my druthers I'd rather be hiking in the mountains than anywhere else.