Serial entrepreneurs and today's Silicon Valley

Oct 29, 2007

Several days ago, Gary Rivlin of the New York Times called me about a story he was writing about the brilliant Max Levchin of Paypal and Slide, and the general topic of serial entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. The story came out yesterday; below are the notes I prepared for my conversation with Gary.

In a nutshell, Gary's question to me was: what makes serial entrepreneurs tick? Why do people like Max keep going and start new companies when they could just park it on a beach and suck down mai tais?

First, in my experience, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are all over the map when it comes to personality and motivation. Some are purely mercenary -- one hit and they're out. Others just love the technology, and the business is a side effect. Still others are like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There. And some just love starting and building companies.

Second, there were serial entrepreneurs in the past, but there are certainly more now than ever before. There are many factors that lead to this -- here are the big ones:

Third, all that said, it is striking how many of the truly revolutionary companies are started, at least in part, by people who haven't done it before. Google (Brin and Page), Yahoo (Yang and Filo), Facebook (Zuckerberg), Apple (Jobs and Wozniak), etc.

When you see one of those really revolutionary companies and there's some young kid with the idea, of course, they often are linked up with one or more seasoned, experienced people -- Google (Schmidt, Doerr, Moritz), Yahoo (Moritz, Koogle), Facebook (Thiel, Breyer), Apple (Markkula). So even there you see a kind of a serial entrepreneur (or VC or executive) effect which is another form of what you're talking about.

Fourth, drilling deeper into the motivations of the great serial entrepreneurs I know, the dominant themes are:

With any given serial entrepreneur, it's probably a mix of these.

Fifth, a sharply related topic to all of this is that the opportunities are bigger than ever before. It's not an accident that companies like Google or Facebook or Paypal just get huge, and apparently overnight.

For the first time in history, you have a global market of 1+ billion people, all connected over an interactive network where they're all a click away from you. That's amazing.

And 100 million new people are being added to that count every year, and that will continue for the next 30 years.

A huge and growing market makes all kinds of magical things possible, and I think that's what we're seeing now.