Vinod Khosla is a legend in Silicon Valley. He's the powerhouse behind Khosla Ventures. Way before that, he was one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, and then became a general partner at Kleiner Perkins. He's also done many other amazing things. Vinod gave the keynote at Stanford's recent Graduate Business School event. Afterwards, I gave a breakout session talk with Heidi Roizen, where she called me a cockroach.
Vinod's keynote contained all the stuff you'd expect to hear from a super successful entrepreneur and VC. For most people, I'd imagine it was underwhelming in its obviousness, but only because hearing someone talk about what it takes to be successful is so different from actually doing it. Vinod offered no magic bullets. Just a solid list of advice that any current or want-to-be entrepreneur has heard and internalized. Things like, "Be a risk taker." "Be a good listener."
That's the entire point of why I'm writing a blog about his talk. There are no silver bullets. The key is to execute flawlessly on the basics. And that's so incredibly hard that most people don't do it.
Vinod highlighted the importance of perseverance in his talk. But the actual example of how he got into Stanford business school is what makes it shine, and what separates him from so many others.
When Vinod applied to business school, he was rejected. Instead of accepting that, as most people would do, he actually arrived at Stanford on the first day of classes, and got a note passed via a friend to the dean of admissions. Vinod told the dean that he was sure someone wouldn't show up for the first day of classes, and that Stanford should allow him to take that person's place, because he was already there. And that's exactly what happened.
Reading this, and with the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to say "that was awesome. Well done, Vinod." But that's biased thinking, because we already know it turned out well. The real question to ask is, "Vinod, how many risks did you take that didn't pan out? And how did you motivate yourself to keep trying after those failures?"
And I would ask you that same question. How many risks have you taken that make you uncomfortable because it's likely that you'll fail? And what do you do after you don't succeed? Risks are obvious and awesome with hindsight, but terrifying in the present.
I'll leave you with one last quote from Vinod. He said that being a VC means investing in things with a high chance of failure, and he's willing to do that so long as the consequences of success are large. His quote:
"A 90% chance of failure sounds pretty bad. But a 10% chance of changing the world seems like a pretty good deal."
Well said, sir.
Executing flawlessly on the basics is hard, but it's what can separate you from your peer group. You just have to believe in yourself and be willing to take the risk.
I did a breakout session with Heidi Roizen after Vinod's talk which delves into these themes in more detail. Thanks to Stanford GSB student Nicholas Hinrichsen for setting that up.
Here's the video of Vinod's talk at Stanford's GSB event: