WATCH: If Nikola Tesla Pitched Silicon Valley VCs
This week I attended the All Things D Conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes. It is always a stellar event.
The good and great of the tech industry were there: Tim Cook, Sheryl Sandberg, Dick Costolo, Max Levchin, etc.
But Elon Musk stole the show.
I thought Michael Lazerow's Tweet best captured the mood of the crowd:
I’m sure you know, but Elon was the co-founder (and largest shareholder) of PayPal, the most important payment transfer technology of its era and still the most instrumental to date. He said he wanted to found this company (he had founded a previous company that sold for about $300 million) because he thought the Internet was a big idea.
He was interested in a few other big ideas. Energy independence (so he founded Tesla and Solar City). And space travel (SpaceX). His goal in the second project is to help humans avoid extinction.
I have never sat in a room with an individual where I felt more inspired and humbled. I think the zeitgeist in the room was that we were seeing the successor to Steve Jobs in terms of inspiring us to think big.
And when asked who has inspired him he of course gave a nod to Nikola Tesla.
This made my friend Dorrian Porter's KickStarter initiative to create a statue of Tesla in Silicon Valley even more poignant. I hope you'll consider clicking that link and making even a small KickStarter contribution to support arts and innovation.
For my part, I will participate in the unveiling of the statue in November and make myself available to meet with any contributors to the project as outlined by Dorrian.
Dorrian is someone I've known for years. He is the close friend of my dear friend and college roommate, Stefan Kennedy, who is also a luddite and therefore will never read this. Yes. He is that .0001 percent who still doesn't use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social technology.
Dorrian is an entrepreneur. He has been through the journey you are going through and we have spent much time sharing stories from when I was in the trenches, too. He knew me then.
His imagination of what is wrong with VC has captured perfectly in satirical format what ails our industry.
If you haven't watched the video, please do. It is Nikolas Tesla pitching a VC firm. And if you haven't seen it, I must tell you it is an absolutely perfect caricature of the worst sides of our business.
He has now created Part II.
It is also very funny but please watch Part I first.
They are also sad. Because the videos show exactly what life would be like if a young Elon Musk came to pitch VCs today and said I want to transform P2P finance, get people driving electric cars and send a man to Mars in our lifetime.
At D, Elon said he worried that our most talented entrepreneurs these days were too small minded in their objectives. Obviously that claim can be placed with VCs, too.
Dorrian created the videos solely to create awareness for the Nikola Tesla statue project as a public good.
Given how awesome the videos are and how worthy and selfless his goals are I'm going to break my usual rule. I've never had a guest post before (other than from my fabulous wife here and here -- some of my best read posts.)
But this one is for Dorrian. And his Tesla Statue project.
The reference to Andy Dunn and me is responding to this post I wrote (in response to Andy's earlier post).
The back-and-forth between Andy and me if anything I hope just raised the issue a bit more about entrepreneur and VC relationships. I don't have any issues with Andy -- he's always come across as a very nice and sincere guy. Debate helps everybody learn as I wrote about here. Let's never stop debating important topics.
The moral compass in all of us
The first time I met Andy Dunn he was working for the venture capital firm Maveron. The first time I met Mark Suster he was the founder and CEO of a company called BuildOnline.
We've come a long way. In fairness to Andy, he was complaining at the time about his beige pants -- especially the fit -- and his button down blue collar shirt. In fairness to Mark, he was getting tired of sleeping under his desk and doing whatever it took to make sure payroll would be met every two weeks.
One thing I know about that role reversal -- and everything I've learned since coming to the Silicon Valley -- is that it is impossible to label an individual and much easier to label the group. Yet no matter what side of the table you sit on within the technology community, you are going to be faced with very similar situations that test your moral compass. It really doesn't matter if you are playing the role of a VC, entrepreneur, inventor, CEO, executive, developer or any other position at any company at which you work.
I published a video 10 days ago called "Nikola Tesla Pitches VC" and I'm itching to do a full episode as evidenced by the trailer we released today:
After watching both videos many people have said "Boy, you must have had a bad experience with VCs," and the answer is a flat no. As a founder or CEO over 13 years I raised $35 million, sat on boards with seven different venture capitalists and I'm in touch with every one of them today. The sad reality of the videos is that there isn't one bad quality displayed where I don't see at least a glimpse of my own bad behavior at one time or another over the last 13 years.
Is it true that VCs sometimes are thinking about short term wealth potential instead of long-term innovation even with the benefit of long term profits? Is it true that CEOs or founders often do the same?
Is it true that VCs sometimes hire the wrong CEOs for all the wrong reasons or make false assumptions about a founder's ability? Is it true that CEOs or manager often do the same with an employee?
Have you ever checked your cell phone when you've got a human being in front of you, telling you something they think is really important and you don't?
Did you ever suddenly get more interested in a conversation when someone you didn't initially think was relevant to your immediate business goals turned out to be?
Our collective future will always depend on the decency of individual action and intention. Since other people's intentions are impossible to know, your fiercest subject of criticism should be you since we all know that we lie to ourselves a lot more than we do to anyone else. You'd better at least be honest about that. As I once said to my friend at the blackjack table when asked how much I was down: "Do you want the lie I tell you, the lie I tell my wife or the lie I tell myself?"
I launched the project to build a statue of Nikola Tesla -- and to present Nikola Tesla as the quintessential inventor in the cartoons -- to inspire the entrepreneur in everyone to think big about the things that really matter.
We need more inventions that will solve global problems. That's why Elon Musk was such a big hit at D11 Wednesday -- speaking in terms of humanity's biggest issues and encouraging entrepreneurs to do something different than the Internet.
We need more people to value long term innovation over short term profit. That's why Om elegantly pointed out that the first Tesla cartoon might be saying something bigger about the state of the Silicon Valley today. You can back the Tesla Statue project to join me and Mark at the statue unveiling in November. VC or entrepreneur, we need to all stand up for creativity, innovation and the moral compass within all of us.
This post originally appeared on Both Sides of the Table.
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