Last Thursday I went to Wharton to attend the screening of Something Ventured, a 2011 documentary that shines some light on the golden days of venture capital in Silicon Valley. Conceived by Paul Holland of Foundation Capital, this documentary interviews some of the legends of the VC world in the valley today that are slowly retiring from the industry such as Tom Perkins, Arthur Rock, Don Valentine and others. It follows an interview format where it weaves conversations with the investors and conversations with the entrepreneurs that they backed to present a great inside look into what made those deals happen.
And what one comes out with is more respect for the venture industry in general, and these protagonists in particular. Despite their string of successes they seem humble enough or realistic enough to admit what a big role luck played in many of their successes, and how their existence or success is predicated on having entrepreneurs who risk everything to start companies based on their vision for a new product or a new world. It profiles the founders of Intel, Atari, Tandem Computers, Genentech and a few other firms from the 70s and the 80s and looks at how the venture industry in the Silicon Valley started and grew.
Another insight gained from the movie was about the influence Georges Doriot had in terms of creating the venture capital industry as we know today. In addition to coming up with equity based returns for investors and encouraging stock options as the way to incentivize people, through his tenure at Harvard he was also able to influence several young MBAs about entrepreneurship and the potential of growth in the venture capital world. It is many of these students that started off getting money from the East and bringing it to the West to fund entrepreneurs. The Traitorous Eight from Shockley Semiconductor Labs being one of the famous early ones that started Fairchild Semiconductors.
For people outside of the valley or outside of the startup world, some of the finer details of differences between PE and VC might not be clear and the documentary does not go into details of what differentiates VC from other forms of investing. But it offers unique insights into how these successful VCs went about raising their early rounds and grew to be successful, while almost being wiped out during the course of their careers. I recommend this as a must watch for most MBA students as part of their entrepreneurship or venture capital curriculum.
Ashmeet Sidana from Foundation Capital was the main speaker at the event that introduced the film to a packed audience and also responded to Q&A at the end. This was organized by the Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs (WEP) out here in San Francisco and was well attended. I think this was a great idea in terms of the unique learning opportunity that it offered and I look forward to more such events out here. Looks like WEP is getting strong roots out West and will soon be a name to reckon with in terms of supporting successful entrepreneurs that come out of the Wharton program.