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.