Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
“The climate crisis is the most urgent problem facing our planet. It is critical that we accelerate the flow of investment into green technology.”
As one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalists, John Doerr thinks big. Working side by side with entrepreneurs, he has funded companies that have had a dramatic impact on life in the 21st century, from online retail giant Amazon.com to Internet behemoth Google to synthetic biology leader Amyris. Doerr has become a leading advocate of innovation and investment in green technologies. Married to his college sweetheart and the father of daughters ages 11 and 17, Doerr puts family as his top priority.
Growing up in a tight-knit middle-class family in St. Louis, John Doerr was influenced by his entrepreneurial father. “My parents worked hard to give all five of their children something that no one could take away—a great education.” After earning engineering degrees at Rice University, Doerr came to HBS and learned, as he puts it, “to think and speak on my feet.” His education continued at chipmaker Intel, where he gained experience in managing people, marketing, and sales and began a long career of transforming good ideas into successful businesses.
“I love helping people make a large-scale impact,” says Doerr. “I’m a networker, an organizer, an unbounded enthusiast and supporter of great entrepreneurs and leaders.” When he joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 1980, the eight-year-old venture capital firm was headquartered in San Francisco. It focused on two areas where Doerr would soon have tremendous influence: information technology and science-based business. “The main thing we do— that we’ve always done—is build upon the best ideas of entrepreneurs,” explains Doerr enthusiastically from his photo-filled office in Menlo Park, where the firm relocated in 1992. Reflecting on the early days, he recalls with a smile, “Back then they would sit around a small table and make decisions to invest $200,000 to start Genentech or $500,000 to start Tandem Computers. The year I joined we invested $1.5 million to start Compaq.”
While KPCB’s investments today have grown larger, the basic principle is unchanged. “We are a service organization. We aid entrepreneurs in building new businesses or even whole new industries,” says Doerr, who helped shape many of the building blocks of the information age, including Sun Microsystems, Intuit, and Netscape. His belief in Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, led to a $7 million investment that launched the largest online retailer in the world. And then there’s Kleiner’s investment in Google, a firm whose phenomenal success speaks for itself.
Recently much of Doerr’s attention has focused on clean energy and the climate crisis. In May, KPCB announced its second fund in green technology, bringing its total investment in green solutions to $1.2 billion. Doerr describes green tech as “the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” but his passion runs deeper than the bottom line. “We’re running out of time to avert catastrophic, irreversible climate change,” he says.
Doerr’s influence reaches far beyond the world of business. A tireless advocate for education, ten years ago he co-founded the NewSchools Venture Fund to promote innovation in education. He then helped pass a California proposition that resulted in the allocation of an additional $23 billion for the state’s public schools. He also co-chaired a successful effort to pass a bill in California that funded $3 billion worth of research in stem cells.
Over the years, Doerr’s commitment to his family has grown. When his wife, Ann, was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago, he reshuffled his priorities, cut down on travel, and pledged to be home for dinner at least twenty nights a month. Asked about his biggest personal accomplishment, the affable Doerr says he hopes it will be raising his daughters: “Ann and I are working hard at it.” Given his track record, it seems safe to assume that success lies ahead.