Ever heard of Good Technology Inc.? Probably not. It’s a two-year-old stealth company working in the enterprise mobile computing space. Its Web site contains precious little information, except for the fact that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is an investor and John Doerr sits on its board. The not-so-subtle message: Good Technology isn’t just good; it’s great!
That’s what being John Doerr is all about these days. He no longer brings just capital, a vast network of relationships, and his own considerable smarts to a young company. He brings an aura of legitimacy and a sense of anticipation that no other venture capitalist can match.
The Segway human transporter is a prime example of his hype power. The expensive people mover wouldn’t have stirred up such a frenzy of speculation or landed so many front-page stories if Doerr hadn’t been identified as one of its early investors.
Doerr has one of the best track records in the business: Compaq Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. in computers, Handspring in handheld computing, Cypress Semiconductor Corp. in chips, Amazon.com and Netscape in the Internet space. And – maybe to prove he really can do anything he puts his mind to – he hit a homerun with biotech company Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. The list goes on, but you get the point.
What makes Doerr unique is that he has had so much success in such disparate areas. “The common thing for a venture capitalist is to specialize. The amazing thing with John is he can play every sport,” says Brook Byers, the “B” in KPC&B.
Doerr has hit so many homeruns that he’s become the face of venture capital. If there is an issue related to VC that has come up for public debate or discussion, you can bet someone has called to ask Doerr for his opinion.
This past summer he made national news when he offered an apology of sorts for his infamous quote that the Internet was “the largest legal creation of wealth in the history of the planet.” In a telephone interview, he says: “I wanted to apologize for the fact that maybe this comment poured fuel on the fire for the mercenaries. I think most, if not all, of the mercenaries failed to build durable organizations that weathered the downturn.”
Doerr doesn’t court the press for his ego. It’s all about getting ink for his portfolio companies. The charming VC clearly understands the value of being friendly with the press (offering this journalist a spin on a Segway scooter, for instance). “If it will make a difference, I’ll lend my name to anything I believe in,” he says.
Doerr’s partners understand why he keeps such a high profile. “John sees talking with the press as part of his job description,” Byers says. “A lot of what John does is create new markets for technology and much of creating new markets is evangelizing.”
So where is Doerr, and his awesome ability to influence the media, headed? Well, despite his mea culpa about Internet wealth, he still believes there is a lot more money to be made on the Net. “We have just scratched the surface of what will happen when we have a true broadband Internet available to 100 million Americans…and we have the technology now to do that,” he says.
His personal interest is drawn most strongly to a class of inventions that promise to make the world a better place. “I’m very excited about using technology to create clean, distributed personal transportation, power and water – three of the most pressing needs on this tiny planet,” Doerr says. (That was another plug for the Segway, in case you missed it.)
The planet will face major challenges over the next 50 years, as 6 billion people move from rural settings to cities, he notes. “We can’t do this with the automobile. We’re going to have to get fuel cells that work. We’re going to have to get distributed micro-power. We’re going to have to have renewable sources of energy.”
Of course, Doerr keeps his limited partners in mind when he invests. “His mandate is the same as the rest of the partners here: to find new inventive technologies that address large markets,” says partner Kevin Compton. So, while the investment in the Segway can be seen as an effort to reduce pollution, it can also be viewed as an effort to get in very early on a very lucrative new market. “It was not obvious,” Byers says. “It is a paradigm changing thing that is an engineering tour de force.”
What Doerr will do next is anyone’s guess. But one thing is certain, says Byers: it will be big. “We don’t know what it will be, but it will be breathtaking,” he says. “We can count on that.”
Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Investment focus: Internet, health care, clean water, power and transportation.
Biggest hits: AOL (NYSE: AOL), Compaq Computer (NYSE: CPQ), Lotus (bought by IBM), Netscape (bought by AOL), Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: SUNW), others.
Board seats: Amazon.com, Drugstore.com, Elance, Google, Handspring, Intuit, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, myCFO, Sun Microsystems, WebMD (14 total).
Years as a VC: 22
Did you know? He has a goal of having dinner with his family 20 times a month.