I’ve enjoyed my professional relationship with Chris Sacca, who is leaving Google to pursue a career in investing. When I heard of his move, I pinged him in email, and the resulting dialog can be found below, verbatim, despite the fact that Google PR was cc’d on the thread. Thanks for your time, Chris, and good luck!
Why leave, and why why now?
A few reasons. First, I feel like the wireless team I built is in great shape and poised for some amazing achievements. I am proud of what the team accomplished this year and it makes me smile to see Verizon and AT&T fighting over which is more open than the other. Hard to say more about that without triggering the anti-collusion rules of the FCC around the 700MHz auction. That said, though I love Google and my colleagues here, I vested this Fall and it occurred to me how much I miss working in small, entrepreneurial environments.
It’s refreshing to hear “I vested” as part of an answer – even with PR listening. It’s such a powerful force. You also won a Founders Award while at Google. What for, and how much was it for?
I was part of a team negotiators that won one of the first Founders Awards at Google recognizing us for what the hundreds of millions of dollars of cost savings we had achieved in scaling Google’s infrastructure. There are a lot of unsung heroes in that part of Google’s business whose names are not well-known, but whose impact is humbling. I won’t say exactly how big the award was, but I will say I am very grateful to the Larry and Sergey for their generosity.
So as you leave Google, what do you think the best part of working there was? What is your greatest accomplishment? And, what frustrated you about the company?
I deeply admire how Eric, Larry, and Sergey are trying to build a 100-year company. Google encourages team leaders and entrepreneurs to take actions that traditional public companies, who are being managed quarter by quarter, would never be able to take. This allows Googlers to forget about short-term distractions and instead focus on accomplishing deep and fundamental changes to an industry or space. It’s not fluff. I saw it every day and it was inspiring.
The wireless spectrum and openness stuff makes me smile. To see an informal, unchartered team come together over this past year and already catalyze some dramatic change in the US wireless ecosystem leaves me feeling good. Though I was hopeful about the impact we would have, I must admit that even I didn’t expect Verizon and AT&T to be publicly feuding over claims they are the most open carrier. That said, I am most proud that it was entirely a team effort and there are some very strong Googlers who will carry the torch in my absence.
The one thing I began to miss at Google as it grows was the ability to be a generalist within the company. In a startup, it is easy and encouraged for folks to wear multiple hats. I used to buy data centers and fiber, manage an acquisition, work on Google Talk, pitch an access partner, receive a dignitary and give a speech about the future of media all in the same week. As a company gets bigger, inevitably, it begins to organize itself vertically and employees are pushed to specialize. As I focused my efforts almost exclusively around wireless, I began to miss the excitement and learning that comes with having touchpoints across the entire company on many different teams. One of the reasons I have enjoyed working with my portfolio companies like Photobucket, Twitter, and Auctomatic so much is that it reminds me of those early Google days.
So what are you interested in when it comes to investing? What
gets your attention?
I think there is still a lot of opportunity in consumer web. Despite the fascinating number of funded teams in the space, it seems that many entrepreneurs can’t get outside the Silicon Valley echo chamber long enough to identify problems that millions of users need solved. For instance, I loved the Photobucket investment because there was so much attention on flickr, many investors were essentially ignoring Photobucket despite its traffic being 3-4x larger.
Beyond that, I think we are starting to see the U.S. mobile industry wake-up and go open. As much as the iPhone frustrates those of us who have been fighting for user choice and unfettered distribution when it comes to mobile apps, I do think we need to give Apple some credit for getting American consumers excited to use their devices to access the broader Internet. This hunger for more utility, combined with increasing openness creates so much opportunity for sharp teams to build apps that users want.
I am also very interested in wireless infrastructure and equipment having focused on this space for the last couple of years. I am seeing a lot of innovation by great teams and already have a couple of projects that seem promising.
What gets my attention is when I find small teams that work well together and are comprised predominately of engineers. A long time ago, I wrote a blog post about how to pitch an idea to Google. It all still applies when working with me as an investor: http://www.whatisleft.org/lookie_here/2005/09/want_to_do_busi.html
I think two things are in play here: First, how would you expect Nokia, FB, and Jimmy to react? No way those folks would throw in the towel or even concede any threat. Instead, in the grand tradition of technology, they wear a strong face, inspire their teams, users, and investors, and get back to the lab to continue innovating. Soon it will be each of their turns to launch the feature or do the ‘Google killer’ deal and so the cycle repeats.
In parallel, it has always fascinated me to see the press impose upon Google the expectation that everything the company does will be a smashing success. This despite the stated fact the company prefers to launch new projects early and often and see what catches on. Will Android, OpenSocial and Knol all change the world? Who knows. (Actually, I am pretty sure Android will … but I digress.) The important thing is that Google keep empowering entrepreneurs to take chances and try new and creative approaches to solving problems. Failure at many of those ventures is inevitable, but the successes will be worth it all.