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Billion-dollar advice from Silicon Valley veteran Vinod Khosla

Sanchit Khera
28th Jan 2018
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For someone who grew up in a different world and an environment far from business or even technology, Vinod Khosla dared to dream and achieve big. The maverick entrepreneur-turned-investor, who has been at the core of many startup journeys, began his own pursuit when he co-founded Sun Microsystems in 1982. At present he manages Khosla Ventures, that he founded in 2004; the firm invests in startups from sectors like the internet, computing, mobile, silicon technology, biotechnology, healthcare, and clean technology.

One of the earliest tech-billionaire entrepreneurs, Vinod has an astute belief system in place. Some of the tenets of his entrepreneurship belief system include taking risks, being innovative, brutal honesty, and a desire to make a difference. As one of the most influential figures in not just Silicon Valley, but the larger world of business and tech as well, Vinod Khosla has been a vocal proponent of the entrepreneurship spirit. Here are some of the lessons that entrepreneurs can take away from his illustrious career:

Success does matter – failure, even more

Vinod, who typically focuses on failure as a stronger benchmark, slightly redacted his stance when he said, “...failure does not matter, it’s success that matters.” What he pointed out to was that in the longer run, all your failures are in the past, and only your success is what is reflected upon. So was the case for his first venture Data Dump, which sunk without a trace. But look at him now, sitting in the highest possible echelon with other masters of success.

His long-standing advice to his colleagues, mentees, and aspiring entrepreneurs has been to focus on learning from failure, rather than allowing it be a permanent fixture on their mind.

“I probably have more experience screwing up than anybody in this room.”

“I like to say my willingness to fail gives me the ability to succeed. And too many people are just not willing to fail and so they don’t try anything new. You should try and fail, but not fail to try.”

“My advice always is to not be afraid to try new things. I always tell people if you are afraid to fail, you will never succeed. John F. Kennedy said only those who dare fail greatly will succeed greatly.”

Do something meaningful

After achieving multi-billion-dollar success from his ventures and investment profiles through Khosla Ventures, Vinod advises all his startup industry participants to do something meaningful. Only when you tackle big problems can you get big results. That’s where Vinod wants the industry to head towards.

“The combination of brilliant ideas and entrepreneurial spirit should lead us to a safer and more secure future.”

Entrepreneurs are those who dare to take risks

A self-confessed “big fan of risk”, Vinod, in a keynote speech, recounted how he was intrigued by this quote on risk in the beginning of a movie on hang gliding. The quote went, “Dedicated to those who dare to dream the dreams. And then are foolish enough to try to make those dreams come true.” For someone who has always dared to bet big, the risk is usually an afterthought if Vinod realises the potential of the idea and the venture.

“When starting out it is hard to say whether it (venture) will be successful or not. If there is assured success then there is no risk...everybody would be doing it, then there is nothing unique or innovative. Innovation fundamentally involves risk-taking.”

Hire the best and those who are ‘hungry to make it big’

It is safe to say that an exceptionally versatile and multi-skilled entrepreneur is rarer than a blue moon. As a venture capitalist, Vinod says the majority of his role involves hiring the right people for his portfolio of startups. On many occasions, he has emphasised on how hiring people is a largely misunderstood and unappreciated task. As a seasoned veteran in both business as well as in venture capital, Vinod knows the importance of the right team and how it can be the wind in a startup’s sail. In his own words, he considers himself a glorified recruiter.

“Building a team is the hardest thing for an entrepreneur to do, cause very often they don’t know what they don’t know. Team building is very important, some entrepreneurs do a really good example of growing...Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg are examples...Some entrepreneurs assume they know the answer and that is very dangerous. And others (successful entrepreneurs) know they don’t know, and they hire the people they can learn from.”

“It’s really important not to have everybody come from the same background or have the same point of view. It’s important that everybody respects everybody in the team, but that they are very different. I think it’s really important to have disagreement, diversity and the ability to debate.”

Be honest with yourself and others

Honestly blunt as a kitchen knife, Vinod has been known to never mince words to please an audience. One for speaking his mind, the IIT-Delhi graduate vouches for “brutal honesty than hypocritical politeness”. He has courted controversy on occasions with his candid observations and candour but never shied away from stating things as he sees them. Top management of big firms often looks more to please people rather than having any faith in their own beliefs, something Vinod demands entrepreneurs completely shed if they are ever to succeed.

Vinod’s advice to people looking to replicate his success is to focus on listening and talking to the right people, those who have demonstrated success through their startups or in life. He agrees with being hated by the wrong people, as it serves as a barometer for him doing something right.

“It (politeness) is a real disservice to people. You don’t have to be offensive to be honest...you can be constructive and be very honest. And I prefer brutal honesty because it serves a purpose, as the receiver can do something about it because it is a constructive criticism. But when you get hypocritical politeness, you might lose a lot.”

Don’t be afraid of fear

Speaking from a meta-analysis perspective, Vinod wants all his entrepreneurial fraternity members not to fear fear. He believes that with enough hard work and dedication, you can get what you want from your life and startup. A lot of startups simply give up when the going gets tough, and don’t try living outside their comfort zone.

“The funny thing is that with enough persistence, most things that seem impossible become possible.”

An inspiration for scores of entrepreneurs across the world, Vinod Khosla’s success is wholly based on his self-belief, capacity for risk-taking, and investing in features that add value. These are key lessons that resonate with every professional because of the transparency and tangibility of his vision, and even his bluntness makes a deep impact. Vinod Khosla’s life is a testament to the success of his beliefs, and a great example for entrepreneurs to emulate.

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