‘Ignore the Noise’

Mar 30

In: Personal, Race

The Ellen Pao-KPCB trial has been surreal to observe. I don’t know well the players involved but have interacted with them.

John Doerr had recruited me for Amazon.com. Two of my previous investments have KPCB as investors.

Ellen, who knew the Bit9 CEO, helped the company navigate the KPCB process. The firm led Bit9’s Series B. As part of that, I had dinner with Ted Schlein and later met up with him at his offices. I had lunch some years ago with Ajit Nazre. I introduced Vertica to Ray Lane, and KPCB invested in that Series B, too.

So, I’m not friends with these folks, but I’ve interacted with them. So, they are more than just new names in news articles. I have some context.

I periodically read up on the trial’s proceedings. Honestly, I felt the verdict could go either way.

Regardless of the verdict, here’s what I do know:

Bias exists. Bias is not the same as discrimination. Bias means that people are “type cast” based on external appearances. Numerous studies confirm this. It is a fact of life.

“Reverse bias” exists, too. If you’re Asian-American and applying to college, that goes against you. And, if you’re an unhooked female applying to college, that hurts you, too, as there are fewer males applying overall.

You just have to deal with it. Whether you’re white, Asian, male, female, etc., some situations will be in your favor. In other times, it won’t be.  You just move on, IMO.

Dealing with adversity is good. Not too many years ago, for example, I was at a conference in Steubenville, Ohio, an economically depressed town. I went to a TGIF for dinner and sat at the bar.

As soon as I sat down, one of the customers nearby quickly and repeatedly challenged me to a fight. I tried to ignore him–he was so drunk he literally was about to fall off the bar stool.

He stopped challenging me after he overheard a conversation I was having about the NFL. He couldn’t believe that a non-white could know so much about football. In fact, he then proudly stated that he was Joe Namath’s nephew and proceeded to share photos and talk about his job doing manual labor. I guess I won him over.

Honestly, I was pretty disgusted, but I ordered a meal, ate it unhurriedly, and said goodbye to the other patrons, who kept ordering drink after drink after drink.


As I get older, and theoretically wiser, I’ve come to realize this: control what you can control, and accept what you cannot control. The New England Patriots have this saying printed on the exit doors: “Ignore the noise.”

I really like that saying. I think worrying too much about other people, what they think, and how they “should” think is fruitless.

Honestly, I have beaten the odds. We arrived, as immigrants with little money, to a poor part of Brooklyn. I was the first kid in my high school to go to Yale. My guidance counselor was one of the freshmen football coaches.

I’ve had the benefit of having tremendous teachers at school and mentors at work, to the point where I was able to start a new VC firm that has raised two funds with relatively little pain.

So, if people secretly don’t like me because of my race, they’re entitled to their opinion.

And, I’m entitled to ignore their noise and out-work them….

The New Cabela’s Store

Mar 28

In: Fly fishing, Personal

Amidst a gentle Saturday snowfall, I decided to go shopping.

A new Cabela’s store just opened about a 30 min. drive away. I’ve been a mail order customer for some time. They have good and cheap fishing equipment.

The store was mobbed. Surprisingly, they had a decent fly fishing section. I picked up a few odds and ends, including a new net. My favorite purchase, though, is the item below.

It is euphemistically called a “hare’s mask”; it’s, um, the peeled-off-and-dried face of a rabbit. It provides great fur for making flies.

My children will be traumatized.

(Mr. Rabbit-No-More)

And, the $1 Million Turing Award Goes to….

Mar 25

In: Entrepreneurship, Technology and VC

I just got off the phone with Mike Stonebraker. It was a very special and somewhat emotional conversation.

You see, it was just announced that Mike has won the $1 Million Turing Award. It is the “Nobel Peace Prize of Computing.” Every year, for about ten years, Mike has been nominated for the prize and wondered every March if this would be the year.

He says he’s still pinching himself.

When I tell entrepreneurs that I view my relationship with them with a 20-year time horizon, I mean it. I’ve been fortunate to be one of Mike’s founding investors in five of his companies, and we’ve worked together since 2003:

  • StreamBase (sold to TIBCO)
  • Vertica (sold to H.P.)
  • Goby (sold to NAVTEQ)
  • VoltDB (in process)
  • Paradigm4 (in process)

Mike and I have been through a lot, as we help navigate start-ups from infancy to escape velocity. We are very blunt with each other. We can disagree with each other, but in a very open and honest way.

But, we get along and complement each other well. I’ve been to his summer home, we’ve shared many meals together, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting his spouse and children, and he knows I will go all-out when he calls me for a favor.

And, I’ve learned much from him. Not just about technology, but I admire how he raises his children, how he keep under wraps his net worth, and how he lives a very non-materialistic life.

Moreover, Mike is a savvy observer of VCs, and has been financed by KPCB, Sequoia, Bessemer, NEA, and others. He is a tough customer of VC. He asks for value-add.

Now, the 20-year game doesn’t mean that every company a founder does is a big outcome, but the hope is that one or two are (Vertica’s exit price has been reported at $375 million).

I strongly believe that if you, as a VC, back startup founders who are ethical, hard-working, and experts, eventually, one of their companies will be significant. The first company may flop, but, eventually, good things should happen.

The trick is not to penalize a founder if his/her first company with you does not work out. The trick is to keep a positive relationship, even if the crap hits the fan and it’s tempting to throw each other under the bus. You keep going.

And, that is one thing Mike I’ve noticed about him: he persists. From a small town in New Hampshire, to a full ride at Princeton, and, taking smart risks in academia at Cal Berkeley and MIT, he is incorrigible. He has grit, and he keeps going.

Congratulations, Mike! So happy for you, Beth, Sandy, and Leslie.

Income by Myers-Briggs Type

Mar 24

In: Cool, new stuff, Myers-Briggs

For fun, I periodically Google my Myers-Briggs type. Yes, I need a life.

I’m a big fan of the test, as it helps name people’s style preferences, and I’ve found it to be pretty accurate both in work and home settings (all of my blog posts on Myers-Briggs here).

So, I found this article very interesting. A chart is below.

Averages can be misleading, and there isn’t much about the chart’s methodology. The truncated Y-axis exaggerates the chart. And, of course, there’s no correlation between money and happiness.

I’m not sure the chart means much, as I meet plenty of “Artisan” types who materially crush it. But, it was an interesting article to read and worth sharing, I thought.

The Founder of a Nation

Mar 23

In: Philosophy, Politics

They say power corrupts.

I’ve seen it. I saw people change, as money came down from the skies in the Web 1.0 rising tide of 1998 to 2000.

We’ve read about it. There are too many third world leaders who proceed to rob their countries blind, storing billions of dollars in off-shore accounts.

I’m mindful of it. As a founder of a VC firm, I’ve given 1/2 of the management company, for free, to Eric.

But, Lee Kuan Yew, who led Singapore, was an exception. I was saddened to read last night of his death.

After business school, Mrs. T. and I were based in Singapore. We were able to see first hand an economic powerhouse of a country, gleaming with newness, orderly, and one of the least corrupt governments in the world. It was a joy to live there. And, the food rocked.

What people don’t realize is that Singapore was a Third World backwater when it started. The Malaysian Federation threw out Singapore, and left it, a tiny island with a small population and no natural resources, to the winds.

So, Lee Kuan Yew became the first Prime Minister. And, he made business the business of Singapore. It now has more GDP per capita than even the U.S.

What’s amazing is that he didn’t enrich himself in the process. He truly did what he felt was best for his young country.

I think the best founders have this mindset: a degree of selflessness. Was he perfect? No. Did Singapore compromise on political freedom? Certainly.

But, his emphasis on rule of law, societal order, and prosperity has created a gem of a nation.

An example for us all, and, for our own politicians, IMO.