Michael Moritz is a Partner at Sequoia Capital where he has worked since 1986. Sequoia Capital provided the original and early capital for companies such as Apple, Cisco, Yahoo!, Google, PayPal, YouTube, LinkedIn and Admob. In other words, it may be the most successful venture capital firm in the history of mankind.
Prior to Sequoia, Mike had a real job as a journalist for Time. Approximately thirty years ago, he documented the inside story of Apple in a book called The Little Kingdom. He recently updated and shipped an updated version called Return to the Little Kingdom: How Apple & Steve Jobs Changed the World.
If you’d like to understand the roots of Apple’s success and other successful tech startups, be sure to read the book. There are many books about Apple, but none are written by someone who served on the board of directors of companies like Google, Yahoo!, YouTube and Zappos (were it not for recent developments, I would position Mike as the Tiger Woods of venture capital). You can also watch a very interesting video interview of him and Paul Graham of Y Combinator.
Question: When you completed The Little Kingdom thirty years ago, where did you think Apple would be today?
Answer: I was worried whether the company was even going to be around a year after the book came out. The IBM PC was gaining steam, critics were busy lambasting the Mac, and sales of the Apple II were sagging. It was not a pretty story.
Question: Is there anything from the Apple story that you tell entrepreneurs not to do/repeat/emulate?
Answer: Never permit outsiders to change your purpose in life.
Question: What did you learn from Apple that you apply as advice to your early-stage investments?
Answer: The power of the founder, or founders, to shape and form a company.
Question: Why do most venture capitalists (at least those cognizant of Apple, Yahoo, and Google) insist that they are looking for a “proven management team?”
Answer: Beats me. The surest way to squeeze the life and spirit out of a company is to throw wet blankets over the enthusiasm and energy of founders.
Question: What are the lessons of the failures at Apple of John Sculley, Mike Spindler and Gil Amelio?
Answer: Managers with long resumes from major companies have great difficulty making the adjustment to life in smaller technology companies where leads can be whittled away in a matter of months, where there’s nothing more urgent than to make your products obsolete, and where it is all too easy to take false comfort in the idea that a “brand” is an adequate substitution for the power of imagination.
Question: Is it easier to teach a founder how to manage a growing company, or teach a manager how to run a company in a new industry?
Answer: The great founders learn on the job—they are way smarter than the rest of us.
Question: If Steve is so great, why did NeXT fail?
Answer: He remembered his last year at Apple, not his first.
Question: Do you think that Michael Dell should shut down Dell and give the money back to the shareholders?
Answer: I’m not going to make the same mistake Michael made when he advised Steve Jobs to do that at Apple a decade ago. Michael is a fighter, he is resilient, and he's at the helm of an enterprise whose four letter name is a household world.
Question: What do you think was going through Steve’s brain when third-party apps were initially not possible for the iPhone?
Answer: I don’t know, but for the last eighteen months I’ve thought that aspect of the iPhone actually harkens back to the start of Apple when the third party app business helped put the Apple II—and thus Apple—on the map.
Question: Will Apple without Steve be like Sony without Akio Morita?
Answer: Only if his successors make the mistake of asking, “What would Steve do?” instead of acting like an owner and steward of the business.