Investors tend not to be cool, sexy or “famous” in the traditional sense. After all, anyone can invest in one great company, but reproducing those victories habitually over decades is nearly impossible. Thus, while investors may never become celebrities, a handful have managed to achieve a kind of renown by defying the odds and continuing to pick next year’s winner.
While his record is far from flawless, John Doerr is one of those investors, because — as Google CEO Larry Page puts it — he “sees the future first.” A Kleiner Perkins partner since 1980, Doerr has backed companies like Symantec, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Intuit, Amazon, Google and Twitter. Doerr has also gone on to become a big supporter, spokesman and evangelist for reform (and innovation) in education, health and greentech (among others). And, as he showed today at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference in Aspen, the dude is eminently quotable no matter the subject — success or failure.
While Doerr currently sits on the boards of fast-growing startups like social news mag, Flipboard, and MOOC pioneer, Coursera, and is a long-time Google board member, he also recently joined took a seat on the boards of one of his portfolio companies, which is turning out to be somewhat of a dog: Zynga.
In spite of amassing a legendary portfolio over the years, some of his high-profile and seemingly promising investments haven’t performed as well as Doerr (and many others) expected, Zynga and Fisker Automotive chief among them. When asked why, Doerr said that, at least in the case of Fisker, “execution was a key” reason for its comparative lack of success.
“We invested in Fisker because we believed in the electrification of transportation,” Doerr said, but Fisker is now on the edge of bankruptcy because “Tesla out-executed them brilliantly,” turning itself into a $14 billion company in the process. So, while Fisker itself hasn’t turned out to be a massive success, Doerr chose to look on the bright side, saying that even so, the firm’s investment thesis (in the evolution and rise of electric vehicles in transportation) “has been proven out.”
However, the Zynga story is different, Doerr continued, mostly because the investor still believes in the company’s viability and market position. Assuming a cheerleading role for his portfolio company, Doerr offered a view that will likely find at least a handful of detractors among tech pundits: “[Zynga is] right at the take-off point with respect to mobile gaming.” Doerr then cited Zynga’s new CEO, Don Mattrick, as another source of optimism the company going forward.
Mattrick recently left Microsoft, where he was the President of Interactive Entertainment, to help fix the beleaguered social gaming company. Mattrick was recruited by co-founder and former CEO Mark Pincus — a move which Doerr said was “one of the smartest moves that Mark Pincus could have made for Zynga,” as the former Microsoft president is a seasoned entrepreneur and turnaround executive. “When Mattrick joined Microsoft,” he explained, “Xbox Live was losing large amounts of money and when he left, it was making tons of money.”
Dan Primack of Fortune then asked Doerr to elaborate on Zynga’s CEO transition and why, as a VC, he would decide to put a second person on the board and what role he played in that move. Doerr responded by saying that “Mark Pincus led the whole board in making this change,” and because Mattrick has such a good track record, he was “supportive of Mark and the rest of the board when making that change.”
As to why he joined Zynga’s board in March, Doerr said that he joined because he thinks “[Zynga] has a monster market opportunity in front of it.” Fortune’s Andy Serwer then tamped down the self-interested cheerleading by reminding the audience that Kleiner Perkins happens to be a significant stakeholder in Zynga.
To illustrate just how significant KPCB’s stake in Zynga is, Doerr admitted that the firm owns “60 million shares” in Zynga, before joking that he is indeed self-interested and wants “to get that stock price back above $10/share … where god intended it to be,” he quipped, while nearly giggling.
Doerr’s quip on god’s wishes for Zynga’s floundering stock later spurred Primack to tweet in response — and mock reverence:
“Don’t you think there ought to be a safe, trusted place you can go to connect with your friends to play games?” Doerr continued. He then elaborated on his stance saying, “we think Zynga ought to be” the one to do it and that this is the core belief and motivation behind Kleiner’s investment and Doerr’s continuing optimism. The company “missed a beat moving from Facebook to mobile,” Doerr admitted, before concluding on a positive note: “But the team is on it.”
The 9 Best Doerr Quotes & Predictions
- On the rise of cloud computing, Doerr said that, next year, “50% of computing will happen in the cloud.”
- As to the state of venture capital and the increasingly popular opinion that the industry’s “Glory Days” are now over, Doerr disagreed, maintaining that the future of innovation is bright and, in turn, “the days of huge returns are NOT over.”
- Doerr also sees massive opportunity in the enterprise and B2B security market, thanks to the growing presence of cybercrime: “Businesses lose $115 billion a year due to cyber-theft,” he explained.
- On the role of tablets in the future of computing, the investor recounted something that legendary Apple co-founder and long-time CEO Steve Jobs told him, which was, “If god had meant [for people] to write on tablets, he would have given you ten styli instead of ten fingers.”
- Doerr went out of his way to praise Nextdoor — the company that lets anyone and everyone create private social networks with people living in their local neighborhoods — saying that he was “particularly enamored” with the startup. Although he’s not an investor, the company stood out, he said, as one of the more promising ideas to represent the convergence of social, local and mobile.
- The long-time Kleiner partner also disagreed with the prevailing notion that Silicon Valley itself doesn’t care about world-changing trends and concepts, saying that “the passion” he sees “in the Valley today is “in and around Education.”
- To that point — and based on his own personal interest in these spaces — the two largest areas of the economy that Doerr believes are in the process of being disrupted are: Health care and public education.
- Doerr also wants to see both the government and corporations making smarter, more strategic investments in technology. To illustrate the current disconnect, he cited the fact that the “U.S. only spends $4 billion each year on energy research,” while “we spend far more than that each year on potato chips.”
- As to the next “great battleground” in the tech industry? Doerr believes that a huge war is coming in local commerce in the next three years, as Amazon “tries to move into daily delivery and redefine commerce at its heart and Google works with local merchants who offer Google shopping tools.” This will be the “mother of all retail battles,” he says, and will take place between the local merchants — those with entrenched interests — and Amazon and Google.
On a final, self-interested promotional note, Doerr will be taking the stage at TechCrunch’s own Disrupt SF conference in September to elaborate on what’s in store for the tech industry and tell us more about his visions of the future.
Doerr’s interview with Fortune’s Andy Serwer at Brainstorm Tech is embedded below: