Moritz on Great Entrepreneurs, Cleantech, 25 Years at Sequoia, Valuations, More


Remarkable founders don’t come across as “silvery tongued devils,” says Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital. Rather, they’re often shy, quiet and rather withdrawn.

That was one of the observations Moritz made last night in a one-hour Q&A at startup incubator Kicklabs. The Xconomy-hosted event was provocatively titled “Michael Moritz Unplugged,” but the star VC didn’t say anything terribly surprising.

Here are some highlights:

On what Sequoia looks for in entrepreneurs: “We have a great affinity for underdogs,” he says.  What great entrepreneurs have in common is an inability to think about anything but their business and mastery in their area of focus.

On his upcoming 25-year anniversary at Sequoia: “They may give me a plastic watch.”

On whether Silicon Valley will remain the preeminent place to launch a startup: “I don’t think anyone’s invincible. Everyone’s vulnerable. There are empires that have come before that are now just distant memories in the sun… But overall, there’s no better place in the world to make the kinds of investments everyone in this room is interested in.”

On the impact of incubators, super angels and other seed-focused investors on Sequoia: For startups, Moritz says, it’s clear that “managing a relationship with one entity is a lot easier than managing a relationship with multiple entities.” While Sequoia, of course, isn’t solely an early stage investor, it does have an active practice of seeding and incubating fledgling startups. Moritz points to AdMob, which consisted of “one guy living in an apartment in Philly” when Sequoia first invested. He moved to California and initially worked out of office space provided by Sequoia.  YouTube’s founders also had offices with Sequoia when they started out, Moritz says.

On cleantech: “We’ve always been very interested, but we also remember what happens when small entities get involved in highly capital intensive companies. If you’re a company in the energy field that employs capital wisely, the future should be fairly bright. If it requires hundreds of millions of dollars, there could be clouds on the horizon.”

On valuations:

After the Q&A, I asked Moritz’ opinion on valuations, particularly whether talking in the venture pundit-sphere of frothiness in the digital media space is on-target or overblown. Moritz’ reply: “It’s like Nancy Reagan said: You can always say no.”