As two of the venture industry’s founders, they were a hit Wednesday night in the showroom of Tesla Motors, where Johnson received the first annual Innovation Catalyst Award from the VC Taskforce and a standing ovation from around 100 VCs.
But the most entertaining part of the evening was a long speech by Bill Draper, age 81, on how he and Johnson, who met working at Inland Steel in Indiana in the 1950s and are still best friends, borrowed $75,000 each from their families and started Draper and Johnson — one of the first venture capital firms in Silicon Valley — in 1962, when “venture capital” was a word that most people had never heard.
“We drove into the orchards — we’d each leased a Pontiac — and knocked on doors. We said, ‘We’d like to talk to the president,’” Draper said. “If it had a sign that said ‘lemon distributor’ we avoided it, but if it looked like something electronic, we’d give it a shot.
“We’d say, ‘We’re in the venture capital business,’ and they’d say, ‘What’s that?’