Behind the Scenes at Google Ventures: The Full Q&A with Bill Maris
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that. And the access to 20,000 Googlers who are all experts is something that is an incredible resource for us. It has an incredible impact on us, and our operations. If you look at the list of colleagues on the fund’s team, we all have backgrounds at Google or are associated with Google.
X: I guess what I was really asking is, when you have just a single limited partner, doesn’t it set up a different set of expectations? Wouldn’t it be easier to fail or to produce unexpectedly low returns, in a sense, if you only had to report that failure to one partner rather than to dozens?
BM: In this structure we have one LP and I feel a huge sense of responsibility to deliver results and financial returns to that LP. I work in a building that the LP owns and I am surrounded by colleagues who are counting on us to deliver a return on the investment. If you have a hundred LPs, maybe your burden is actually lighter because it’s spread across a larger number. I don’t really know. But at the end of the day, Eric and Larry and Sergey are looking to us to deliver a positive return on the fund, and I feel a huge sense of responsibility for that. I think if you have a lot of LPs you have different challenges that are probably just as great. I’m just more intimately familiar with the challenges here.
MHT: To turn the previous question around, don’t you guys actually have more LPs than any private venture firm, in the sense that every shareholder is in a sense your LP? Related to that, Google’s share prices have not impressed over the past quarter. What would you say to an entrepreneur who was concerned that if Google’s share price took a hit, there might be a re-evaluation of whether Google Ventures is really important to the company?
MB: March of last year was one of the darkest times in the economic downturn, but we had a plan and we launched anyway, not because we don’t pay attention to the economy but because we believe in what we are doing here. There is a serious commitment from Google to create this fund and fund it. As it relates to the stock price, I’m not going to comment on that. I don’t have any control or influence over that. What I am involved in is Google Ventures. I think that we do think of shareholders as sort of the LPs in the fund, in a sense. That’s why it’s important to invest the dollars that we are investing in ventures that we are excited about. Hopefully we will deliver disproportionate returns, but it’s going to take three to five years or more to learn exactly what those returns will be.
MHT: That’s the thing I’m talking about—the question of the time period. In the public markets, results are measured quarter to quarter or year to year, whereas for a venture fund, results should be measured over five years or longer. If people get antsy—if the board or shareholders are antsy because of what the share price is doing—is there not a possibility that a long-view thing like this, that somebody might look and say “is this really core to our business?”
BM: If I thought that was a realistic possibility I wouldn’t be investing my time. And I don’t think any of the folks listed on the website would be doing this. You probably know as well as I do that Eric, Larry, and Sergey don’t manage Google for share price. They manage for success. And this is an important part of Google, and something we are all committed to. It’s not going to go away in a year or two. Its significance doesn’t ride on the share price. It’s a strategy that has to do with making Google successful.
DK: If you want to go to another layer on that, I suggest you talk to our portfolio companies. You’ll find a pretty unanimous answer.
BM: Talk is cheap; I could say all day that we are committed and are going to be here. But at the end of the day we had to convince some very seasoned entrepreneurs that this is the case. They all asked the same question you are, and some tougher ones.
MHT: You guys have been pretty stealthy up to now, not having a site and delaying news of investments for some months. Can we expect this to change? Is this a new period of glasnost for Google Ventures?
BM: I would make a distinction between stealthy and humble. We just didn’t have a lot to say. We started out with two people. Talk is cheap. It was better to delay talking until we had actually done something, and now we have actually done something—we have … Next Page »