The Education of Bill Maris: How One Entrepreneur’s History Shaped Google Ventures
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we should give them an option: ‘There isn’t a position for you at Google, but would you like to opt in to be considered by these 70 other [Google Ventures-backed] companies?’ We are working toward that, and we are doing that with a number of people in a beta test now.
I was choosing in 1999, 2000, 2001 to spend eight, 10, or 12 hours a day or more at an office with a bunch of people who could have been strangers but were friends away from friends and family. You are asking people to make a sacrifice of time, which is the most precious thing in the world. My father was really sick, and I had a girlfriend I rarely saw. Every minute I spent at work was a minute I wasn’t in New Jersey with my mom or dad.
If you are making a conscious choice to be here, as opposed to any other place you could be, let’s make sure you understand you are getting into. John Doerr [a Kleiner Perkins partner and Google board member] spent a lot of time with me as I worked through the corporate venture and regular venture models, asking what is a model that would work for Google and that would work for me. At work there are a few things that are important.
One is being paid enough that you don’t feel exploited. Google has that covered. Two is getting to pick what you work on. I knew that if we invested for Google’s strategic goals, which are always shifting anyway, that would be a bar no investor could pass except through dumb luck. So we needed to be open-minded about that. Third is getting to pick who you work with. That’s probably the most important thing. If you are at a job that’s okay but you love the people, you are probably okay. If you are doing a job that’s okay but you hate the people, you are probably going to hate the job. So I wanted to pick the people, and I wanted them to pick me. I said, if it’s going to be closely supervised and parented and micromanaged, I can’t take it. It’s not in my DNA.
I started out in this apartment on Church Street in Burlington with a bed and a dozen desks, and eventually we took over the level above, and then I had to move out. We had an experience where we were doing an interview for a new customer support role. We had just taken over the upstairs, and it was still this big empty expanse, with one desk and an African violet and a post-it note and a pen. We decided to do the interview there, because it was too distracting downstairs, and too cold with all the air conditioning running in for the servers. It was an older woman that I never actually met, because when I went upstairs, there was no one there. I looked at the desk and on the post-it note she had written ‘This just isn’t for me.’ We called her to ask what she meant, and she said ‘Are you filming porno or something?’ She didn’t know there was this whole server operation downstairs.
I can’t tell you how many ways [Google Ventures] mirrors our startup experience. We moved out of our shared space, and moved into more dedicated space in a Google building with other Googlers, and eventually into our own building here. And we are going to be renovating the upstairs and taking that over as well. The blueprints were right here on this table last week. And I keep having these déjà vu moments. Scott Davis, who was with me at Burlee, is on the team now, and we keep remarking to each other, ‘It’s so much the same. We’re having the same meetings with the blueprints and deciding who is going to sit where and what’s the cost.’ It’s silly how familiar it is. But it’s nice to have people who have been down this road, to advise you that this isn’t crazy.