Vinod Khosla Helps Startup Entrepreneurs Think Bigger

10/28/11Follow @wroush

I had been planning to talk in today’s column about the shortcomings of the Google Chromebook, which are numerous. But I’m in too good of a mood this week to play the critic, partly because of a terrific Silicon Valley event that I attended Tuesday night called Get Bigger! With Vinod Khosla. So instead, I’m going to tell you about the event itself, which featured the legendary Sun Microsystems co-founder and venture investor on stage with the CEOs of six early-stage startups.

Microsoft hosted the event at its Mountain View campus, and Joyce Park of 106 Miles, an increasingly active and important group of engineer-entrepreneurs based in and around Silicon Valley, was the organizer. Park—who is the co-founder with Adam Rifkin of stealth startup PandaWhale, but is perhaps better known for being the first person ever fired for blogging—came up with an unusual and refreshing format for the session. In six 15-minute bursts, Khosla alternately quizzed and advised the CEOs about their business strategies. In the process, he provided a wonderful glimpse of how his own mind works when it comes to evaluating investment opportunities and mentoring startup founders.

Vinod Khosla on stage with David Johnson of ArmedZilla

Below, I’ve summarized some of the nicest gems of startup wisdom bestowed by Khosla in the course of the interviews; it’s stuff that any entrepreneur working on an Internet or social media startup should listen to. Alongside my (fairly faithful) paraphrases of Khosla’s words, I provide some context that shows how each point came up. But first, a rundown of the six companies:

Stipple, Rey Flemings, CEO. Stipple turns Web images into mini-stores by allowing publishers to annotate the images with links to product information and e-commerce sites. (As it happens I’ve written two articles about Stipple—one after their Series A funding round and other after the startup rolled out a new set of services for publishers.)

ArmedZilla, David Johnson, CEO. ArmedZilla is a social network for members and former members of the U.S. armed forces. Veterans can create profiles documenting their military service, and this data can be used to help connect them with benefits, services, and products.

Oomnitza, Arthur Lozinski, CEO. Oomnitza is building a suite of cloud-based, mobile-compatible, highly customizable enterprise resourcing planning apps, including apps for tracking physical assets, expenses, and timesheets.

Relevvant, Craig Davis, CEO. Relevvant is building a system that helps advertisers tailor SMS-based advertising and promotional campaigns for specific psychographic, demographic, or geographic groups.

CodeLesson, Jeffrey MacManus, CEO. CodeLesson organizes 4- to 6-week online training courses for people who want to learn Javascript, Ruby, MySQL, Node.js, and other computer languages.

Zerply, Christofer Karltorp, CEO. Zerply is a professional networking and jobs site for “creative class” individuals; it’s like LinkedIn with portfolios.

Now on to Khosla’s observations (in italics) and my own commentary/context.

There are three possible reasons to start a company: so that you can be famous, so that you never have to balance your checkbook again, or just to make friends. They are all good reasons, but if you are clear about your reason, you will build a much more successful company.

This came up in Khosla’s conversation with Rey Flemings of Stipple. Flemings confessed that that he and his co-founders aren’t really in it for the money—”if we were we’d probably be doing something else,” he said—and that everyone on the team would be … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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