Legendary Investor John Doerr on Picking Winners — From Google in 1999 to Solving the Climate Crisis Now (#543)

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“We invested a billion dollars in a hundred different cleantech companies, and most of them failed. Failures come with the territory in the innovation business. But we stood by these entrepreneurs, and that billion dollars today is worth three billion. What I learned from that experience is that cleantech takes more time, more money, more guts, with longer horizons.”

— John Doerr

John Doerr (@johndoerr) is an engineer, venture capitalist, the chair of Kleiner Perkins, and the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Measure What Matters. His new book is Speed and Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now.

John was an original investor and board member at Google and Amazon, helping to create more than half a million jobs. A pioneer of Silicon Valley’s cleantech movement, John has invested in zero-emission technologies since 2006. He’s passionate about encouraging leaders to reimagine the future, from transforming healthcare to advancing applications of machine learning.

Outside Kleiner Perkins, John works with social entrepreneurs who are tackling systemic issues across climate, public health, and education.

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#543: Legendary Investor John Doerr on Picking Winners — From Google in 1999 to Solving the Climate Crisis Now

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Want to hear another episode with someone committed to saving the world? Listen to my conversation with Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan, in which we discuss monkey birthday cakes, tips for frequent travelers, subjects crucial to a balanced education, the power of crossing disciplines, storytelling to rule the world, common misconceptions about conservation, why the people of today are in a unique time and place to save the planet, what we can do to cultivate long-term thinking, and much more.

#285: Overcoming Doubt, Battling the Busy Trap, and Enhancing Life — M. Sanjayan
  • Connect with John Doerr:

speedandscale.com | Twitter | Kleiner Perkins | LinkedIn


  • What initially drew John to Silicon Valley? [05:27]
  • Who was Andy Grove, and what were John’s first impressions of him? [07:18]
  • What made Andy Grove a great manager? [10:13]
  • How did Andy deliver honest, tough love without being abusive to its recipient? [11:55]
  • While at Intel, why did John — with all of his technical training and experience as an engineer — request to be transferred from the company’s Santa Clara headquarters to its Chicago sales office? [13:08]
  • What compelled John to get involved in venture capital? [16:09]
  • John shares his first meeting with Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin. [18:23]
  • What was on the slides John used in his pitch to Larry and Sergey, and what effect was he hoping they would have on them? [20:52]
  • Way back in 1999, why were John and his partners confident enough to invest its largest capital commitment in the fledgling Google? [23:28]
  • How does the Speed and Scale initiative plan to bring us back from the brink of an irreversible climate crisis? [28:40]
  • What will it look like if we’re too late? [33:01]
  • Why has there thus far been so little progress on getting closer to net-zero? [36:34]
  • Favorite failures that set the course for successful action. [38:59]
  • What changes have made cleantech investment more appealing in the past 15 years or so? [43:00]
  • What are OKRs, and how do they differ from what many might consider goal setting? John illustrates how Google’s Sundar Pichai used OKRs to make Chrome the most popular browser in the world, along with an example of how he’s applied OKRs to his own personal life. [46:39]
  • On making a life meaningful, and why John wishes he and his wife had started their family about 10 years before they did. [50:32]
  • In what ways does John differ in opinion with Al Gore and Bill Gates on the climate conversation? [56:05]
  • What action steps can we, as individuals, take to help mitigate the climate crisis in a meaningful way? [58:25]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:03:35]


“Cleantech takes more time, more money, more guts, with longer horizons. And the innovators, the entrepreneurs, need to—in Andy Grove speak—be ruthlessly, intellectually honest about where the risks are in their venture.”
— John Doerr

“For me, making meaning is to give a healthy climate to the future generations. I believe we owe it to them for them to enjoy the opportunities in nature and in the lives that we have.”
— John Doerr

“If we have a billion climate refugees, the people least responsible for this problem are going to pay the highest price, and they’re the least capable of dealing with it.”
— John Doerr

“Individual action is not going to be enough. If we’re going to get to net-zero, we need massive, global action.”
— John Doerr

“400 gigatons. That’s the maximum that we can emit to have a decent chance to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid an irreversible climate disaster.”
— John Doerr

“We invested a billion dollars in a hundred different cleantech companies, and most of them failed. Failures come with the territory in the innovation business. But we stood by these entrepreneurs, and that billion dollars today is worth three billion. What I learned from that experience is that cleantech takes more time, more money, more guts, with longer horizons.”
— John Doerr

“Climate change is the world’s biggest inequality machine.”
— John Doerr


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12 Replies to “Legendary Investor John Doerr on Picking Winners — From Google in 1999 to Solving the Climate Crisis Now (#543)”

  1. I want to hear John and Tim’s opinions on the viability of nuclear power. Balaji Srinivasan makes a compelling case on why nuclear power is solid solution to reducing fossil fuel energy production yet this was never discussed in this episode.

    1. As long as strong climate advocates focus on poor efficiency (and dirty) renewables to the detriment of nuclear, they will continue to struggle for popular support.

      Rich people who will eat and live well, regardless of policy actions taken, telling regular folks they have to have a lower quality of life to save the planet – when nuclear is viable, safe and energy dense – is a walking hypocrisy.

  2. Amazing episode! I definitely agree that investments in climate tech can be highly risky,
    but doing nothing to address climate change through technology has unlimited costs.

  3. Hi Tim. Don’t put off becoming a parent. Now is the time to take action on that front. You excel in taking on new challenges and I am sure you will come up with a few parenting hacks.

  4. It was indeed such a profound discussion, tradmark style Tim probing and getting to the bottom, so much to learn. With my limited knowledge and little understanding, I couldn’t have thought of a better statement from John Doerr to make his final remark – nothing could have better captured the pivot of this massive problem and to move it, we have to start there and it is here that difference can be made and we can all then see the change.

    “The US must commit and commit big to support the developing nation, there can’t be a second thought to it” and second point that in developing countries, “the livelihood of millions of people are dependent on fossil fuel.” How on earth these poor people whose day’s meal they are able to have because they have something to work with this fossil fuel. We stop using the fuel, we stop their livelihood, it is a classic dilemma, we have to have an alterative means for them to earn their daily bread.

    This poignantly touches the two “Ps”, the profit that drives the big corporates in the developed nations and the poor people in the developing countries – such a striking paradox and the quintessential question is where to draw the line, and more importantly, who should be drawing the line, the developed nation and rich peope or the developing countries and poor people.

    The way big corporates have made money, nothing wrong and the the credit goes where it is due and they must get the kudos but when the world is facing such a major crisis, why aren’t these profit making machines commit a lion’ share towards a cause which they can do a world of justice by taking that bold decision. Not to make a sweeping generalized statement, the kind of work being done by Gates foundation, and they done such fabulous work in India on health sector.

    Indeed it is not something we can solve by our individual contribution and doing our bit, given the magnitude of problem and the tight timeline we are given we have to think out of box and explore solutions that are extremely innovative, and the way this new generation are thinking and working, here in India we have a plethora of startups who have come up in foodtech to cleantech, definitely they have a deep drive to standout and make a mark but they have deep desire make a difference not just making profit – this is to mark a difference to the way entrepreneurs and innovators were looking at such challenging problems and making profit but today the social dimension and the protection of nature is at the forefront.

    Many of us always wanted to do our bit and we had some scattered ideas and broken piece of knowledge, but this book “Speed & Scale” aptly captures the action points that matters which we can pick and choose, and do out bit given the resources we have at our disposal but it is the global awarness and collective action that can make all the difference, we need more such practical guide books and such deep deliberation to move the needle that has been stuck at one place for such a long time, it is time to change and change big way.

    Also, the discsusion on OKR was interesting just got shadowed in the umbrella of climate crisis. OKR has been such a simple but powerful concept though we have been using KRA/KPI and Goal Setting, but there are finer differences and how the process of benchmarking marks such a paradigm shift in the way we look at our internal work and acheivements. We have an altogether different perspective at play when we look what is happening outside our organsiation and going beyond outside our industry…just taking a cue from it, we all need to think beyond our state and country, as the climate crisis is an existential one, and we are all sailing the same boat – we fail or win together, the choice is ours!!!

  5. I wonder if his predictions are any more / less accurate than those made by Al Gore or AOC (way off, both). I have a healthy scepticism of anyone (such as Al Gore) getting insanely rich on climate fearmongering. Is JD telling the truth? Does he really know the truth? Does he have a massive economic interest in his truth?

    Thus is the challenge of our day – who can one believe to tell the unfiltered truth about anything? CNN? MSNBC? Fox News? Tucker Carlson? Who has no interest beyond simply telling the truth? Does such a person even exist?

  6. I was very keen to hear John (and Tim) present a compelling case for action. Instead, this seemed like nothing more than a book launch PR campaign. Catastrophic global climate events severely impacting millions of people by 2030, and the solution is to ‘buy my book’?!

    It will cost TRILLIONS of dollars for the US along to become carbon neutral. The so-called action plan is effectively an ivy-league business school educated consultant’s infographic. I’m sure high-priced speaking engagements and a Netflix documentary will soon follow.

    This conversation added nothing of value.

  7. I love Tim’s podcasts. Each one inspires in so many ways. Can’t wait for the next one and for Speed and Scale to come out.

  8. Per John: remember 59, 2050, net zero (see Roosevelt’s OKRs post Pearl Habour that John references in Speed and Scale) committing to the well-being of humanity seems as good a measure as any. Great interview as always, thank you very much

  9. I’m sharing this interview with my team from acumen academy’s class on moral leadership. I found out about Jacqueline Novogratz from an interview you did with her. Now I have a team I am talking with about how we can improve the world and diminish the effects of climate change. My group is in Finland, England, Uganda, New York and Washington DC. Inadvertently you brought us together. Thanks Tim!!!

    1. Hi, Sanjay.

      Might one of them have been David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth? Or perhaps they were books by Doerr himself. You can find the transcript of the interview at https://tim.blog/2021/11/04/john-doerr-transcript/ . Once there, try a search for the word “book,” and you’ll likely find what you’re looking for. You can also try looking through the Show Notes below the sponsor ads on this page (also located above the comments).


      Team Tim Ferriss