Recently I did an email interview with Guy Kawasaki who is a well known blogger, venture capitalist, and an evangelist (not in any particular order). I asked him 12 questions regarding blogging, venture capital, and marketing. He had some very interesting things to say, I am sure everyone will enjoy the interview.
- You’ve obviously had a lot of success in your life, are there any personal traits, connections, smart moves or any strengths that you would attribute your success?
I live a charmed life. I don’t know why I’ve been given this life, but I don’t intend to squander it. I work hard–not necessarily long, but hard, and I believe in karma and the power of “paying it forward.” I’m not technical; I’m not a visionary; I’m not smart in the IQ sense, but I can think clearly and cut through the crap. And at 52 years old, I now mean what I say and say what I mean.
- Every VC has their share of war stories, what are some companies that you’ve turned down in the past that turned out to be huge successes? If you remember what are some reasons why you turned these companies down?
The mother of all these stories occurred not in my venture capital lifetime, but earlier. Mike Moritz asked me if I wanted to interview for the CEO job at Yahoo just when it got funded. I turned him down because I didn’t want to drive from San Francisco every day, and I didn’t see how a collection of web sites could be a business. This cost me about $2 billion. I wouldn’t have to blog if I didn’t make this mistake.
- The industry is hot right now and there seems to be a lot of big-ticket funding and VC money going into web companies, is there anything that concerns or excites you?
I love the democratization theme whether it’s in commerce, photography, blogs, or web sites. Ever since I worked for Apple, I’ve been on the side of “the rest of us” as opposed to the big, rich organizations. Show me how to empower people and democratize the autocracy, and I’ll probably be interested.
- What traits, both good and bad, help you identify whether a company is an attractive investment or not? In other words what do you look for in companies and is there anything that turns you off?
Truth be told, it’s mostly a crap shoot. Every VC wants the perfect team with the perfect technology with the perfect business model. That way, if you lose all the money, you don’t feel too stupid. I like stuff that I would use. I don’t invest in chips, enterprise software, and the like because they’re not consumer-facing enough for a guy like me.
- On most VC websites they encourage entrepreneurs to send in their business plans, yet those same VCs will tell you they won’t even look at a business plan unless it referred. So, is an entrepreneur wasting their time with VCs if they aren’t connected?
First, it depends on what you mean by “wasting your time.” You can learn an awful lot through rejections. But, to answer your question. 99% of the time, they are not going to get funded. But there’s that 1%. Of course, you do realize that even with an intro, you’re “wasting your time” 95% of the time? This is just how the game is played. But, in that 1% of the time, there is a Yahoo, Google, Apple, and Cisco.
- You’re pretty well know for being an evangelist for Apple. Based on your experience what is the biggest benefit for a company that hires an evangelist?
If evangelism works for a company, it will create a cadre of believers who will extend its sales, marketing, and support function–usually for free, often when the company itself is unwilling or unable to.
- And do you think it’s better for companies to hire evangelists or to try and create them with good products and services?
Definitely to create them with good products and services. You cannot hire an evangelist in advance of at least a prototype. Products create evangelists. Evangelists don’t create products.
- From your viewpoint what do you think are some key components of success and failure for Internet companies?
Luck, luck, and luck. I would rather be lucky than smart.
- What are your thoughts on corporate blogs and what do you think the biggest advantages and disadvantages are?
I love blogging, but I’m not a corporation. Do I think corporations should blog? Yes, but I don’t foresee this happening in a big, meaningful way. The whole point of a blog is to be timely, truthful, and controversial. The whole point of most corporate communications is to be exactly the opposite.
The first time there’s a lawsuit because a corporate executive mislead shareholders in her blog, corporate blogs might come to a standstill. Then “policies and procedures” will be put in place–effectively killing the blog.
My prediction will be wrong if blogs become totally mainstream, such that people expect it to only contain good news and not be controversial. Right now, that expectation is not true. But if expectations get dumbed down, then corporate blogs will thrive.
- You have a very popular blog, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?
It’s killing me. It’s like crack–though I’ve never tried crack. I spend two to four hours a day on my blog. It’s an even worse addiction than email. There are some moments I wish I could stop blogging–or at least reduce the frequency or lower the quality. But I’m a driven person, and I want every entry to change people’s lives.
- Let’s pretend for a minute that you’re the current CEO of Yahoo, what are some things you’d be doing differently right now to set the company apart from Google?
Interesting question…one that I hesitate to answer for free. First of all, the competition between Google and Yahoo is mostly in the minds of the employees of the companies, and they are too close to the situation.
When I think of search, I go to Google. When I think of ads in my blog, I used to think of Google, then BlogAds and soon Federate Media. When I think of social groups (eg, my son’s hockey team), I think of Yahoo. When I think of classified ads to sell my car, I think of Yahoo. There aren’t many cases where I choose between Yahoo and Google on a head-to-head basis.
Too often, companies are vying among themselves for who’s got the biggest, well, whatever. Who’s written up the most in the Wall Street Journal? Who do most engineering majors from Stanford talk about working for? Who has the coolest company parties? Who’s private jet has the best interior? Who has the nicest campus?
Does this stuff really matter to the rest of the world? I don’t think so.
Apple had its day. Microsoft had its day. Yahoo had its day. Google is having its day, and this day will pass as all the other days have. The question is not, “How can a company ensure that its day never passes? but “What will the company do after its day has passed: slip into mediocrity or rise again?” As you can see, companies can recover their glory; Yahoo is doing pretty good, if you ask me. Also, I had little to do with it, but you have to admire Apple in this regard. It’s had three days: Apple II, Macintosh, and iPod.
One last thing: If I were Yahoo, I would stick three engineers in a garage and tell them to create “Yowser.” This would be world’s greatest browser; it would encompasses the latest, greatest web developments: all-encompassing IM and chat, photo sharing, video, collaborative screens, Flash, social networking, whatever.
Give this browser away; and oh, guess what, the default search engine is Yahoo’s, not Google’s. The features of the browser should be so good that people will not care that it doesn’t default to Google. How hard could this be? A six month project if three engineers are doing it in a garage. Five years if you put one hundred programmers on it.
- We’re both big hockey fans, does that increase my chances or raising money from Garage Technologies? No, I’m kidding. Can you tell the readers why hockey is so great?
Hockey is a great sport because it combines the physicality of football, the team play of basketball, the poetry of ballet, the complexity of mathematics, and the aerobics of soccer. There is only one activity that is more physically, emotionally, and intellectually captivating than hockey, and it’s not blogging.