My mentor in business is a guy named Vinod Khosla. He funded Excite and believed in us when no one else did and we knew from the beginning he was a different kind of guy.
While we were still in the garage (literally), we met with at least 15 different venture capital firms. The meetings we’re all the same. We showed them our search technology, showed them “concept-based” search, and showed them targeted advertising. To a firm, the first question they asked was a very reasonable one: ‘great stuff guys, but what’s your business plan? how are you going to make money?’ Of course, being 22 years old and fresh out of college we replied, ‘we thought you could help us out with that.’ Apparently, that’s the wrong answer. Who knew?
Rinse, lather, repeat.
Then we met Vinod…
By then, our deal had developed a certain “smell” — smart guys with interesting technology but an uncertain business plan. The demo to Vinod started off like they all did, but about 10 minutes into the meeting things got very different. He interrupted
“Can the technology scale? can you search a large database?”
Big Pause. It’s not the money question. No one has ever asked us this before. Ummm.
“We don’t know, we can’t afford a hard drive big enough to test.”
Then, an amazing thing happened. Ten minutes into this meeting, his first introduction to the company and us, he pulls out his his cell phone, dials his assistant and buys us a $10,000, 10Gb hard drive.
He had me at hello…
This story had a happy ending. Vinod, along with the venture capitalist who introduced us to him, Geoff Yang, invested in the company’s first round of financing.
Happy ending notwithstanding, the funding process was my first glimpse into the power of persistence. We had lots of opportunities to give up. We were told by many smart people that we didn’t have a fundable idea. In retrospect, I think the fact that we didn’t give up had little to do with smarts and everything to do with sheer denial and belief.
We had a slogan in the early days. We were “unencumbered by reality”. To us it meant, we didn’t know we could fail, therefore we had to succeed. When I look back on those days and even look on what I’m doing today, a lot of what allows me to persist, in the face of many people who don’t believe, is this feeling of being unencumbered by reality. I think all entrepreneurs need to be able to step into this realm for a time. Otherwise, there are too many opportunities to stop.
Tomorrow (or the next day if the stuff really hits the fan at the new startup), I want to tell a story or two about how Vinod showed me the real meaning of persistence. I thought I knew what persistence meant, but I realized that I knew nothing when I encountered the master…