Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with John Doerr (@johndoerr). John 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.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs, this is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today is John Doerr, D-O-E-R-R. You can find him on Twitter at John Doerr. John is an engineer, venture capitalist, and the chair of Kleiner Perkins. As well as the author of the number one New York Times bestseller Measure What Matters. He’s just written his new book, Speed and Scale: An Action Plan For Solving Our Climate Crisis. Now, this is something that has really been on my mind, and I’m thrilled to have him on. Doerr was an original investor and board member at Google and Amazon, helping to create more than half a million jobs. Pioneer of Silicon Valley’s cleantech movement, Doerr’s invested in zero emission technology since 2006.
He’s passionate about encouraging leaders to reimagine the future, from transforming healthcare to advancing applications of machine learning. Outside of Kleiner Perkins, Doerr was with social entrepreneurs who are tackling systemic issues across climate, public health, and education. You can learn more about Speed and Scale at speedandscale.com, I recommend everyone take a look. John, welcome to the show.
John Doerr: Thank you very much. I’m thrilled to be here.
Tim Ferriss: I am very excited to explore many, many facets of your life and certainly current interests. And I wanted to start with perhaps the first visit or your relocation to Silicon Valley. How and why, I suppose why, most important, did you end up in Silicon Valley initially?
John Doerr: I came to Silicon Valley in the summer of some graduate studies I was doing in Boston. And I came there with no job, no place to live, and no girlfriend. My beloved Anne had dumped me and fled herself to Silicon Valley, because I was persistent, is the way I’d put it. And so she found herself a great summer job at Intel. I didn’t know where she was working. And I too, was looking for Anne and looking for a summer job. So I rented a $55 a month garage apartment in the hills above Stanford, and set out to cold call my way into some kind of summer opportunity. And this was just at the same time, Tim, you’ll remember this that Intel invented the 8-bit microprocessor, the 8080, which was the engine that MS-DOS ran on and Microsoft BASIC and so forth.
And lo and behold, I’d gotten myself an internship at Intel. And the first day that I showed up for work, guess whose office was down the hall from mine? Well, Anne Holland, and she was not pleased to see me. It took the better part of the summer to put the relationship together — back together, I’ll say — and now we’ve been married 43 years.
Tim Ferriss: So that is a huge win, and certainly persistence rewarded. There are some other factors that seemed to also contribute to another big win, and that is landing at Intel, and also getting to know Andy Grove. For those who don’t know, could you describe Andy Grove, and perhaps your first impressions?
John Doerr: Andy Grove is a Hungarian immigrant. He came to the US with literally nothing, enrolled in City College in New York, spoke broken English, studied semiconductor physics, taught that at UC Berkeley, has always been an educator, and he worked at Fairchild Semiconductor. The Godfather, if you will, or the progenitor of the Silicon Valley semiconductor industry. When Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore left Fairchild, the so-called traitorous eight, the fairchildren resigned to form Intel. Andy Grove was the first executive that they hired. Initially he ran operations, but ultimately he ran the entire company. But he’s arguably thought to be the best manager and leader of his or maybe any other generation. That very first summer that I was at Intel, I got to attend Andy Grove’s courses on Intel, he called them iOPEC for Intel Organization, Philosophy, and EConomics.
And a particular lesson that he taught was how to get people to set goals, to get them focused and aligned and committed and tracking their progress. Andy called these iMBOs: Intel Management By Objectives. I’d call them OKRs for Objectives and Key Results. But to make a long story short, in the semiconductor business, tens of thousands of people have got to get lines a millionth of a meter, one micron right, or nothing works at all. So discipline, precision, accountability, stretching to do amazing things, that was all a deep part of the Intel culture and the system. I took this idea of OKRs when I left Intel everywhere I went. I was the Johnny Appleseed of the good gospel of Andy Grove. And so I had the chance to introduce it to small companies and large companies, to startups like the Gates Foundation, when it was getting started, to Larry and Sergey, in the very early life of Google.
And this is interesting, because our plan for the climate crisis is based on OKRs, Objectives and Key Results.
Tim Ferriss: We’re going to spend a lot of time on OKRs and discussing the climate crisis, but before we do, I want to spend a little more time on Andy Grove and your professional development after Intel. Could you say just a bit more about what made Andy a good or great manager? How did that manifest? What did you see?
John Doerr: Several qualities. Foremost among them was he was an educator. He thought that leading involved educating your direct reports and the entire organization. Andy was extraordinarily disciplined. He was also ruthlessly, intellectually honest. And you always knew where you stood with Andy. He was gifted and skilled at confronting problems without confronting people. Sometimes, and very often in business, in fact, those two distinctions get unfortunately, mixed up. During my first summer assignment at Intel, my job was to build benchmarks, comparing Intel processors, to the competition, which was Motorola. I did that, Andy Grove saw one of my training sessions, and drafted me to travel with him to Europe, to train the Intel European organization, and compete to win business at three very large accounts. This was quite a heady experience, a thrill for, as you can imagine, a summer intern. But he became a mentor, a valued advisor, and gave me my fair share of tough love.
Tim Ferriss: When he gave tough love, this is something I’m trying to develop as a skill myself, candid feedback. This ruthlessly intellectual honesty. Do you recall how he did that with you, for instance? How he would deliver that so that it would be perceived as being tough on the problem, but not abusive to the person?
John Doerr: It was always balanced, but direct. So he’d say, “John, I love your potential at Intel, but you have failed miserably to communicate with the field organization the crisis that we’re having with our 16-bit microprocessor.” And Andy had, I remember when I told Andy that I was going to leave Intel to join a venture capital firm, of all things. Well, he had the ability to reach inside your chest, and grab your heart, hold it in his hands in front of you, and really question not just what you were doing, but why you were making that decision. So he was a role model for more than the company, far more than me, I think, for the whole innovation industry in his tenure.
Tim Ferriss: Before you made your decision to become a venture capitalist or to pursue venture capital, and please correct me if I’m getting this wrong, but while at Intel, you made what people might think of as an unusual request to be transferred from the Santa Clara headquarters to the Chicago sales office. Why did you do that? If I’m getting my research right.
John Doerr: You’re right, that’s impressive. My initial assignment at Intel was in engineering and then in product management. But through my career I’ve been really blessed to have at any given time, one or maybe two mentors. And my mentor, Jim Lally, advised me, “John, if you ultimately want to be a marketing manager or a general manager, you’re going to succeed or fail based on your ability to motivate others to get sales, to generate revenues, to have happy customers. And you’re never going to learn that skill if you stay in the factory. You should go out to the field, take on a quota, carry a bag, solve problems for customers, sell, and make your commission or fail at it. Motivate others to do the same.” And so he pushed me out of the offices. It was a great gift. And I decided I’d go around and hire myself a field sales manager, somebody to manage my career. I settled on Chicago and that year and a half, helping people succeed with Intel’s new microprocessors, was one of the most gratifying times of my career.
Tim Ferriss: Was that an easy decision to make? An easy recommendation to accept? The reason I asked that is that you have technical training, and coming into Intel as an engineer, at least what I’ve seen in some places in Silicon Valley, is a disdain by the technical for the non-technical for marketing and sales on some level. Did you see the value in that recommendation immediately? Did it make sense to you? Or was there some resistance?
John Doerr: Yes, I seized it. There were a couple of reasons for that. First of all, I love people and consultative selling, and I’m not talking about flogging breakfast cereals, but solving real technical problems is a very high calling. The second is my father, who’s my hero, was also an engineer and a sales leader and an entrepreneur. So in many ways my career choices are reflections of his choices and his great advice.
One of the entrepreneurs I work with, Jini Kim at Nuna, says, she reminded me, “John, when you’re backing the leader of an enterprise software company, be sure that leader loves enterprise selling, because it sets the tone for the entire rest of the organization.”
Tim Ferriss: That makes a whole lot of sense. And I would love to come back to the segue to venture capitalist and I’m actually going to read a little bit from Measure What Matters. And this revisits that conversation that you had with Andy about your decision. So I’m going to paraphrase here just for the sake of making it easy for this conversation. But Andy said, “Come on, Doerr, don’t you want to be a general manager and own a real P&L? I’ll let you run Intel software division.” Now your commentary is it was a non-existent business, but could have been built into one. And then he added a zinger, “John, venture capital, that’s not a real job, it’s like being a real estate agent.” So, of course, he knows how to push the buttons. He knows how to use the carrot and the stick. But all of this begets a question for me, which is: why were you so interested in venture capital? How did you become so interested?
John Doerr: I wasn’t interested in venture capital. What I understood was that venture capital had something to do with starting companies. And I was hell-bent, as an entrepreneur, to start a company with friends, with co-founders, because that’s what my dad did and that just made sense to me. So after I interviewed with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which sounded to me like a law firm, they said, “What we’re looking for, Doerr, is someone with a strong technical background, an excellent network among brand name Silicon Valley companies, who has good people skills, strong technical skills,” I’ve already covered that, “and is willing to be kind of a gopher. Carry business plans, read them, do whatever we need to do to be successful.”
I responded: “Well, that’s fine. I would join Kleiner Perkins, but only if you promise you will back me in starting my own venture.” And they said, “Well sure, we have a long history of doing that. Genentech was created in our offices, Tandem Computers, so we love to see our younger associates write plans and go develop them.” And they stood by their promise on multiple occasions when I was fortunate enough to help others start new companies.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s flash forward, if we could, to an encounter that you already mentioned, and we may fill in the gaps. But I think this is also perhaps a segue into further discussion of OKRs. Could you describe your first meeting with Larry and Sergey, please?
John Doerr: Yeah, that was great. I just committed the largest amount of capital that our partnership had ever committed at the highest price to two Stanford computer science dropouts, who had no business model, no idea how they’d make money. They were 24 years old. Perhaps you can add a rare photo that I have of them in their garage. But I was doing my gospel of Andy Grove, OKR, Johnny Appleseed slideshow. I literally took Andy slides, and presented them to Larry and Sergey. At the end of that talk, I asked them for feedback. I wanted to know if they were going to adopt it or not. And Larry was his usual quiet self and gave me no feedback whatsoever. Sergey, who was more ebullient and expressive, well, I’d like you to believe that he said enthusiastically, “John we’ll do this.”
Actually, the truth isn’t quite that. What he said was, “Well, we don’t have any better way to manage this company, so we’ll give that a try.” Which I took as a kind of ringing endorsement, because every quarter since then, every Googler has written her objectives and key results for the next 90 days, posted them on a public website, graded them from the period before, and shared them. And Google does this to get everybody focused and aligned, committed to tracking their progress, and most of all, Tim, stretching for amazing, audacious, nearly impossible goals. So, a good grade at Google is considered to be 70 percent or so. Now, at the end of a quarter, what they do is they sweep these aside. Because very importantly, they’re not used for bonuses, they’re not used for promotions. They’re used for a much higher calling, which is to get a collective kind of social contract and getting everybody to want to do what must be done.
Tim Ferriss: Do you recall what was on those initial slides? Was it copy and paste more or less the same thing you just described? But those slides that you presented in the garage, do you recall the the primary takeaways or —
John Doerr: Oh sure, in fact, I have a set of them to this day.
Tim Ferriss: Amazing.
John Doerr: If you’d want to post them on your website for your audience —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I’d definitely love to do that. So we’ll follow up and put those in the show notes.
John Doerr: Let’s do that.
Tim Ferriss: Why did you present that to them? Was it to try to provide them with a framework for ultimately executing on a business model once they identified one? Was it for some other purpose?
John Doerr: It was simply so that they could achieve operating excellence, maintaining their culture, as they grew faster than anyone ever had attempted before. They may not have known how they were going to make money, but they were very clear on their mission and their values. Their mission was to organize all the world’s information and make it readily available everywhere. That’s pretty breathtaking and ambitious and timeless and true still today. To do that, while you’re trying to constantly improve the product and recruit more talented people to go faster, you want to have a sturdy, reliable way to set goals, check goals, get everybody aligned around really owning and wanting to do the right thing.
I’ll never forget some sessions that I had with Larry Page. Every quarter for a long time, for many years, he would review the individual objectives and key results for every engineer at Google. This would take him a day and a half or more per quarter. And of course, he walked the talk, he would stand up in front of all the employees, Eric, Larry, Sergey, and they’d show their individual OKRs graded, as well as the OKRs for the entire organization. And here’s one remarkable thing, Tim. Those goals, those OKRs, to the best of my knowledge, never leaked. It’s part of the Google culture that that information, which is very business sensitive and confidential, could be shared and kept within the organization.
Tim Ferriss: That is really remarkable, just to try to wrap your head around, especially as they began to scale and add such tremendous headcount. At the time, if we could peg a date to it more or less, at what year was that first deck —
John Doerr: The first OKR session?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
John Doerr: The first OKR session with Google was in 1999.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. This is two years before I moved to Silicon Valley. And part of what impresses me about your career and experience is the breadth of investing that you’ve done. You’ve invested in so many different sectors, so many different types of companies. You mentioned this was the largest capital commitment that the partnership had made to date. Why did you decide that was warranted? And how did you convince the other partners that this was a good idea?
John Doerr: Well, it was certainly a group decision. And while I was the advocate, there were co-sponsors. It was a controversial decision, which is true, I think, of many great investment decisions. If it’s obvious, then someone else will have done it before or everyone’s doing it. But this was, you recall, I think about the 18th search engine. And Kleiner had invested in an earlier portal and search company called Excite, which became Excite@Home. And so there was some coordination, I guess I’ll call it, or maybe just best practices of making sure that Excite had bid to try to acquire Google in the early days; I think they offered a million dollars, which the founders wisely rejected. And Google had a stronger technology by far than Excite did. And so the idea of an 18th search engine didn’t faze me one bit.
I’ll never forget my first conversation with Larry Page when I asked him how big Google would be, and he told me “$10 billion.” Remember now, this is around 1998. This is at a time when you still dialed up to get into the internet. I about fell out of my chair. I said, “Larry, surely you mean market cap at 10 billion.” He said, “No, John, I mean revenues. Search today is just in the very beginning, in fact, it’s a very crummy experience. I want the search system to be able to answer any question that’s asked of it and, indeed, to anticipate what our users want to know.” So I’m a sucker for big ideas and big dreams, and certainly Google was one of the largest that I’d ever seen.
Tim Ferriss: And was part of that just looking at the numbers they already had? Was it your engineers’ assessment of the technology? I understand that Larry and Sergey, I mean, they’re called the wonder twins for a reason, right? They’re incredibly impressive. And there is that sort of force of intellectual horsepower and personality. But as the 18th search engine, were there just characteristics of the technology or the growth trajectory that were unlike anything that you’d seen before?
John Doerr: Well beyond the brilliance is the founders, and my belief, which I was shouting from the treetops that the internet at that time had been underhyped, was going to be very, very large, there were three other key observations. The first of which was, their search was much better, this notion of PageRank, which was, we’re going to return results not based on keywords, but on how many pages point to the page, or the answer in question, produced a demonstrably better experience. The second observation was, because of that, their numbers were off the chart. And so the growth rate was unlike anything we’d seen for any other service. And finally, coming from the technology industries, from Intel and networking companies, it didn’t take a great leap of imagination to see that search well done could transform everything. And so we put those together and that compelled us to fight to win the opportunity to invest.
Tim Ferriss: Well, that turned out — that turned out quite well, I’d say, on almost every level. Is it true, and I should probably know this, but since you mentioned it, PageRank, in part was PageRank named PageRank because of the last name of Larry Page? Or did that have nothing to do with it?
John Doerr: Yes. Absolutely it was. The founders, in fact, the whole place is still a great deal of fun. But the original name for the product, I think, at Stanford, was Backrub. Back reverse ranking links for relevance.
Tim Ferriss: That is very clever. I want to, and we’re going to keep, of course, coming back to this, revisit OKRs. Could you give a concrete example — real or hypothetical — of what a business OKR might look like? It could be in any format, and then perhaps give an example of how you might apply OKRs to your personal life? One business, one personal.
John Doerr: Could my business one be applying OKRs to the climate crisis?
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
John Doerr: Good. Let’s do the climate crisis, first and foremost. So, look, there’s three numbers that we’ve got to remember about the climate crisis, this is the engineer in me speaking. Those numbers are 59, net-zero, and 2050. And simply put, Tim, we’re dumping 59 gigatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, as if it’s some kind of free and open sewer. And that number has got to go to zero by 2050, we’re told by the science, if we’re going to avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate crisis. And so the number one objective of the Speed and Scale plan is to drive 59 gigatons to zero. That’s great, that’s a goal. The world has lots of goals with respect to climate, and with respect to this really important area. But a long list of menu options is not a plan. A list of hopes and dreams, or despair and anger, that’s not a plan either.
And so what Speed and Scale is is a plan; I’ll describe it for you. And by the way, you can get this plan for free at speedandscale.com right now. Just have the listeners go there and click on it. But it shows the five areas where we have objectives, which are to reduce emissions from 59 to zero, simply, and we know this. Electrify transportation, decarbonize the grid, fix our food systems, not only what we eat, but how we grow what we eat. Protect nature, clean up industry, which is how we make steel, cement, and other dirty, carbon-emitting things. And then finally, Tim, because these first five only add up to 49 gigatons per year, we have another 10 gigatons of carbon that we must remove. We will continue emitting carbon, but we need to get to net-zero.
We’ve got to do this by 2050, or we’re out of time. If we do it by 2060 or 2070, it’s too late. This is a rate race that we’re in. So there are four objectives in this plan that will enable us, give us a fighting chance, to get this done in time. The first of those is to win at politics and policy. The second is to turn movements — like Greta Thunberg’s Global School Strike — into real action. The third, very near and dear to my heart, is to innovate, invent. And the fourth is to invest a lot more money in it. Now, you said “John, give me an example of these for a business kind of problem.” And on the reverse side of this poster, which is available for free, are 55 measurable, time-bound, accountable key results, date-specific, with the amount of gigatons that will be removed if we take one of these on.
So I’ll just start at the beginning here, in electrifying transportation. The goal is to reduce eight gigatons of emissions to two by 2050. And we’re going to do that through six key results. I’ll just read you the first of them.
The first of these key results is to get price performance parity between electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles, and do that by 2024 in the US, just two years from now. And in India and China by 2030, just eight years from now, and specifically to get it to $35,000 and $11,000, respectively. I want to tell you this, Tim, if we don’t get that done, we are not going to make it to net-zero. And the story is the same for 55 of these quantitative, measurable key results.
Tim Ferriss: John, can you speak more to what it means to be too late? So if we don’t reduce 59 to net-zero by 2050, what does it look like for things to be too late? Does that mean ultimately planetary collapse, irretrievably so? Does it mean something else? Could you paint a picture for us?
John Doerr: The picture is devastating. One of the things that inspired me to do this work was a recent book by David Wallace-Wells called The Uninhabitable Earth. I recommend it. It’s a terrifying picture of the coming devastation from global warming. The writer’s predictions might seem extreme, but just look at the evidence all around us from the last couple of years. We’ve had devastating hurricanes, biblical floods, record wildfires and heat waves, massive droughts. And since we won’t be getting to net-zero anytime soon, it’s safe to say that our future is going to be even worse. According to the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have a global carbon budget of 400 gigatons. 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.
Now, Tim, at the current rate for global emissions, we’re going to blow through that budget in less than seven years. That’s why we’re joining Jeff Bezos, Christiana Figueres, and John Kerry in saying we must cut drastically now. This is the decisive decade. If we don’t get a 50 percent reduction by 2030, we’re screwed.
Tim Ferriss: So let me ask a question, because I’m sometimes asked by listeners what keeps me up at night. And for the last few years, especially last year, it has been climate change, and just looking at the canaries in the coal mine, and where the trend lines are headed. I mean, that sort of existential distress has been palpable for me. And in my exploration of different technologies, different startups, different policymakers, different policies, for that matter, there’s no shortage of will proposals to address climate change, or many movements, a lot of people are upset and trying to get attention, but it’s unclear to what end. Why has there been so little progress on getting closer to net-zero?
John Doerr: Well, it’s a very hard and complex problem, but there are three really big rocks, big obstacles that are standing in our way. First, we’ve got to overcome the entrenched incumbents that now rely on fossil fuels. And that includes multinational oil companies, and heavy coal consumers like China, and petrostates like Russia. China recently announced it’s going to stop building coal-fired power plants in other countries, but it also needs to accelerate its commitment to get off coal inside China. This is why the climate summit in Glasgow, COP26, is so important.
The second big challenge is to speed innovations, for example in batteries and in clean energy, so that we can turn the green premium into a green discount. We’re already at the point where it’s going to clearly cost more to ruin the planet than to save it, but we need additional breakthroughs to get global adoption of clean energy with speed and scale.
The third obstacle is that up to now, we haven’t seen a pragmatic action plan to fight climate change. We have not had a plan that shows exactly how we’re going to get those 59 billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere in time. Speed and Scale is our attempt to fill that gap.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s dig into a number of the bullets that you mentioned, specifically the innovate/invent and invest categories. The reason I’m focusing on those is we can come back to win at politics and policy and to converting movements to action, but since a lot of people listening may feel like they’re in a position — either as a founder or an engineer or otherwise — to innovate and invent, or they’re in a position with capital to invest, I’d love to approach this from a retrospective, if you’re open to it. So I sent some of my rapid fire common questions to you and your team ahead of time. And one of those questions is: how has an apparent failure set you up for later success, or do you have a favorite failure? And the Cliffs Notes here, which I’d love to hear you expand on, was: “One billion in cleantech and then Fisker/Tesla.” Could you expand on that? Because you’ve been in the game of investing in this space for a long time. A lot has changed over the last decade plus, but can you speak to that answer?
John Doerr: For me, this all started 15 years ago. You’ll remember, then your audience will, Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. And right after seeing that movie, I had some friends over with my family for dinner and I got a challenge from my teenage daughter. Mary said to me, “Dad, I’m scared and I’m angry. Your generation created this problem; you better fix it.” And Tim, I didn’t know what to say. The room went silent. As I dug into this, I’d never seen a problem. This is 2006, so vast and complex. I’m the electrical engineer/entrepreneur who loves to tackle big problems. So what I did with my partners was to set out to find, fund, and accelerate the innovators you’re talking about, who would have solutions to the climate crisis. We couldn’t just sit back in our offices on Sand Hill Road and wait for business plans to come in, we searched the world, from the Mojave Desert to the Brazilian rainforests.
We convened meetings of top scientists. We advocated for more funding for R&D. We met with hundreds, actually nearly a thousand entrepreneurs, and even hired my personal climate hero, Al Gore, to join Kleiner Perkins. We invested a billion dollars, starting in 2006, in a hundred different cleantech companies and most of them failed. I’ve got a lot of scar tissue. We had our share of failures. And failures come with the territory in the innovation business. But we stood by these entrepreneurs, Tim, 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. And the innovators the entrepreneurs need to — in Andy Grovespeak — be ruthlessly, intellectually honest about where the risks are in their venture. Get those risks up front, remove them with early dollars, and if the risks are way downstream, think twice or even three times about pursuing that. Because it will take longer, it will take more capital, you’ll be fighting incumbents, there will be a groundswell of public demand and appetite, and ultimately, I believe institutional support.
Today, 2021, 15 years later, are very different times than 2006. But this is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the people who are full of heart, full of head, and are devoted, as so many are, to using their entrepreneurial and creative skills to literally change the world.
Tim Ferriss: I would love to look at this a little further, because I’m committing a lot of my own capital to startups, who I hope can move the needle with getting to net-zero and in many other capacities. And it strikes me that there are a lot of different approaches one can take. And one of the things that makes me optimistic now as opposed to say, 15 years ago, and I’d love to just get your sanity check and have you add to this because you’re so much more experienced, is that we’re starting to see a lot of companies where the unit economics are so attractive, and the products they are creating, and services so compelling from an economic standpoint — also the narrative has changed culturally — that they can very quickly generate profit and be self-sustaining where it seemed like in the earlier days, maybe even 2006, it was really important to play the policy angle and to look for regulatory or legal change, as well as maybe even possible government subsidies to support a lot of companies.
And I’m just wondering if some of those changes are things that you agree with or have observed or if other material changes have made this sector even more attractive for investment now?
John Doerr: Tim, the sector is a lot more attractive now than it was in 2006. The market need is more evident. The technologies are in higher volume, and therefore more cost competitive, even without subsidy. Though, I want to say that, for most new energy, cleantech startups, cost is king. That’s the area in which you must work the hardest to innovate. Because of something Bill Gates calls the green premium. Most carbon-free solutions cost more than their carbon-drenched counterparts. In the years following Al Gore’s movie — 2006 through 2008, 2009 — the country entered the Great Recession. And except for some loan guarantees from the Obama administration, venture funding really was almost extinguished.
Just last year, by contrast, venture capitalists invested $23 billion into more than a thousand cleantech startups. In this year, 2021, startups have raised $16 billion in 250 ventures — that’s in just the first part of the year. Over the last year, more than a thousand investment firms have joined in this mission. So it’s very vibrant, the paths are clear, the transportation sector is leading the way, everything from early stage series A deals to SPACs. These have all doubled in size, late-stage growth funds are now available. And so the scale and pace of venture funding is remarkable. But we need a lot more financing of all types, seed, venture, late stage, project financing, and philanthropic capital. And there are stories from each of those five sectors or components and key results that make up the investment part of our plan.
Tim Ferriss: Could you give another example, could be personal, could be from a past company that folks might recognize whether it’s a Google or an Amazon, could really be anything. But could you give another concrete example of what OKRs might look like for those people at home are thinking how they might create OKRs for themselves. And we’re going to come back to discussing Speed and Scale and the various multi pronged approach. But I’d love to just make it exceptionally clear to everybody listening, what OKRs are, and like you said, how they differ from what people might consider goal setting?
John Doerr: OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. The objective is what we’re trying to achieve. The key result is how we’re going to get it done. One of my favorite OKR stories is in my first book called Measure What Matters, and that’s when Larry Page and Sergey Brin turned to Sundar Pichai, who at the time was a Google product manager. And they said to him they’d like to create the next-generation web browser and application development environment, which eventually became Google Chrome. Now, Sundar’s genius was to translate that into both the correct objective, build the world’s best browser, and the correct key results. So how will you measure — what will be the key results to tell you that you’ve built the best browser? Sundar could have chosen any number of measures, like click-throughs or revenues or how many times people came back to using Chrome. And by the way, any one of those nuanced and different key results would’ve taken his effort in a different direction.
What Sundar did brilliantly is say, “We’re simply going to measure success by the number of users.” So he boiled it down into a bold and beautiful OKR, where the main key result in the beginning was to reach 20 million weekly active users by the end of the year, starting from zero, by the way. This was a moon shot for sure. In fact, Tim, do you remember the internet back in 2008? It was very, very slow. We were using Internet Explorer, and the Chrome team missed their target. That comes with the territory when you set really audacious goals. So what matters is what Sundar then did. Did he give up? No, he kept the same timeless objective to build the world’s best browser, but he set even more aggressive stretch goals. By 2010, he said his key result would be 111 million weekly active users. And they made that key result.
Now, you also asked about a personal OKR. I’ll share one out of my own life. I’m the proud father of two amazing daughters. In raising them, I wanted to be sure that we had a healthy family life. And so I set that as an objective: Have a healthy family life. The key result was to be home for dinner 20 nights a month by 6:00 p.m. and to be fully present, no screens. That was definitely a stretch goal, and I’d say I made it only about 70 percent of the time. But when we were together at dinner, we were there with phones off, internet off, and able to be centered and focused on what really matters.
Tim Ferriss: I have to ask you a follow up on becoming a parent and building a family. And that’s in part, this is purely selfish, but I am — how old am I? 44, in a committed relationship, talking very seriously about kids. And there’s another question I ask often, which is: what advice would you give to your 30-year-old self? And the note that I got back was: “Have kids sooner.” And I thought to myself, well, damn, I really need to hit the pavement running and hear more about this, maybe in the opposite order. So could you just elaborate on that answer, please?
John Doerr: Sure. I think it starts with how you make meaning out of life. And we each have our own choices there. My North Star is you make meaning with and for others, that life alone is one great big missed opportunity. My personal regret is that Anne and I started our family at around age 40 instead of age 30. 30 to 40 was a great time for my career, but I think we could have raised one more amazing daughter or son if we’d started at it sooner.
Tim Ferriss: Could you say more about that? I know this might sound strange as a question or as an ask, but what does it feel like to be a parent for you? Maybe it’s an intuitive, sort of instinctive response that is hard to put into words, but you’re also an engineer. So I’d love to hear you say a bit more on making meaning, particularly as it relates to kids and family.
John Doerr: I’m reminded of something that Andy Grove told me when he retired from Intel, after the most amazing career. I mean, this man democratized the microcomputer chip and built an amazing company. I said, “Gosh, Andy, I bet you’re going to…” And by the way, I was working to try to get him to join the board of Amazon or Google at the time. And he said, “No, that’s for another generation to do.” I said, “Aren’t you going to miss Intel enormously when you retire?” And he said, “John, I’ll miss it, but not so much. Because I’m a grandparent, and when I look into the eyes of my grandchildren, I get to see the future.” And he didn’t say anything more than that. But it clearly is how he made meaning over the sweep of a lifetime. So what was your question again?
Tim Ferriss: The question was: how you broadly think about making meaning? And I had in my mind, of course, how that relates to kids and family. But I think that as a people who are listening get barraged with polarized bad news day in day out, their increased levels of anxiety, existential distress, and I think a lot of people are asking what the point of it all is. I’m not saying that’s a good question, but there’s a certain malaise, and I think finding meaning is an important sort of countervailing force or antidote to that malaise. And so it’s really just a broad question about how you create meaning for yourself.
John Doerr: I do it in relation with others, with family, with entrepreneurs that I get to work with, with friends, with policymakers. I’m an introverted engineer, but also an avid networker. I’m talking about the kinds of networks that are built and sustained over a lifetime.
How do you make meaning out of life?
Tim Ferriss: I currently think that I may require kids to fully answer that question well. And a friend of mine once told me the story, he’s in his 60s now. Maybe actually, no he’s in his early 70s, grandparent, and he said, when he had his first child, which he had late, his brother said to him, “Welcome to the human race.” That was his comment when he had his first kid. And I feel like there’s probably a lot to that. So how do I create meaning right now? I mean, this might sound really strange, but I try to — I make meaning out of bonds with others, and trying to alleviate suffering. And that could be the suffering of pain, it could be the suffering of attachment to outcomes, it could be the suffering of uncertainty, but that’s where I am now. We’ll see where it goes.
John Doerr: So right now, 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.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I think I’m also converging on that, and that that will be more palpable for me once I have kids, and I don’t want to take us off track, but I remember hearing from someone who’s focused on artificial intelligence, or the threats of artificial intelligence, say that whenever he’s discussing it with anyone, he has some two questions. One is: do you know how to code? And the other is: do you have kids? And he said, unless the answer is yes to both of those, he really doesn’t spend a lot of time in the conversation.
But coming back to climate crisis and solutions, and you were talking about building relationships, you’ve mentioned two names: Al Gore, Bill Gates. Where do you have differences of opinion — the three of you on the state of affairs or the value of different solutions and approaches? Where have you guys had spirited debates?
John Doerr: First of all, and this is really true. They, each of them, have given, for all practical purposes, their lives to this mission, the climate crisis. Yes, Bill cares enormously about public health and health care. But 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, and that’s the world’s poor. I am probably not as optimistic as Bill or Al are, but I’m very hopeful. And my concern is that on this quest, we are fast running out of time. Al especially, and Bill as well, are stunned by the declines in the costs of solar energy and wind, renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, which the IEA among others have said, “We’ve got to stop burning to make electricity.”
But I think it’s really a balance between deploying more now of what we have and we know works, while we’re investing for the new, it’s the now in the new. I think Bill Gates has great confidence in the new and the role of innovation. And I share a lot of that optimism with him. I do think there’s, to your earlier point about motivation, besides Al and Bill who are working this full time, I’m really struck by something that Barack Obama said about the climate crisis, which is — and our obligation — he said, “We’re the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” Which really conveys, I think, the responsibility and the urgency that we have to tackle this problem.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s discuss action steps, calls to action. This audience, meaning my fine listeners, really span across every possible sector. They are found in private sector and public sector, positions of policy, influence, governmental influence, they’re everywhere, they’re all over the place. And there are many people who are not in those positions, but nonetheless very interested in trying to contribute in whatever way that they can. Are there any particular requests you would like to make of people in the audience? Or suggested next actions that you might have?
John Doerr: What a great question. And the answer is absolutely, yes. Look Tim, I wrote this book for leaders everywhere, in all walks of life. It’s for your audience, for sure, for entrepreneurs and for activists, and for philanthropists, and investors. But it is also for teachers and their students and for teenagers, and their grandparents, and your children and your children’s children to come. But most of all, I wrote this book for the leader inside of each of you listening to us. And remember, Jim Collins’ great definition of leadership, he says, “Leaders inspire others to want to do what must be done. They inspire others to act.” And so while we’ve got to act individually, you should switch to electric appliances, if you can afford them, buy an electric vehicle, eat less beef. Individual action is not going to be enough, not nearly enough.
If we’re going to get to net-zero, we need massive global action. And an example of that is to pressure our utilities to clean up their electric grids, that’s collective action. Make electric vehicles cheaper and available at scale, that takes collective action. Transform our food system, eliminate food waste, that takes collective action. So we really need the leader inside each of your listeners to decide this is their North Star. And then they’re going to organize to support candidates who are committed to climate action. They’re going to push their employer to make net-zero commitments. They’re going to support and in fact, become entrepreneurs who innovate like crazy. We need investors to push companies for big emissions cuts. All of this needs to happen and we have to get halfway there by 2030. We’ve got to improve at least eight percent per year against a monumentally hard goal. Because we’re at 59 gigatons right now; that’s going to get worse before it gets better.
We’re going to go from seven billion to 10 billion people. And so I like to say this is the mother of all markets; it’s also the mother of all problems. But we can do it, especially if we’ve got a clear plan.
Tim Ferriss: And my understanding is that people can find free resources, a lot of what we’ve talked about in terms of options for action that you and certainly, your team have thought through based on OKRs, and timelines, deliverables, etc. They can find those at speedandscale.com — is that the best resource for people?
John Doerr: That’s certainly a place to start; get the plan there. Also get this book, and I’m not saying it to sell the book, but there’s a bibliography. The book doesn’t have appendices, it has resources. And so there’s another 40 or so books, there’s every advocacy group, there’s every investor that’s working in the field. I think of this book as a field manual, a guide, that I’m determined to update on the web, and in print form, until we get this job done. The work by the way, I want to give credit to the teams of policy experts and scientists. I’m an engineer, Tim, and I have a hard problem with words. It’s really hard for me to write and write things well. So the truth is I cheat, and easily half of this book is verbatim conversations with 35 different climate leaders. I mean, stories from Mary Barra, who’s running General Motors, and what it was like for her to decide to stop making internal combustion engines.
Or take Christiana Figueres, who ran the Paris Accords the last time. She tells in the book what her hopes and dreams are for the coming Glasgow COP26. Or an entrepreneur Bruce Nilles, who shut down more coal-fired power plants in the US than I think any individual. So 35 different conversations. A field guide, a plan, an action plan for solving the climate crisis.
Tim Ferriss: Sounds like people will not only get inspiration, which is sort of that initial push in a sense, but also the instructions so that when they’re pushed in a direction or pulled in a direction, they actually have practical next steps that they can take. And certainly two of those right now would be going to speedandscale.com and getting Speed and Scale, subtitle, An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now. Now, this is something I am thinking about all the time. So I was very, very happy to have you on John, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. I think it’s a critical conversation, maybe the critical conversation that more people should be having right now. Is there anything else that you would like to say, any closing comments, any requests of my audience before we bring this conversation to a close?
John Doerr: Yes, there is. And thanks for giving me the opportunity to do that. I think it’s important, and been an important part of my learning, to realize that climate change is the world’s biggest inequality machine. I said before, those that suffer the most — who will suffer the most — did the least to cause this. And those who caused it the most are best equipped to escape the consequences. And so our work in this field needs to be guided and grounded in a deep sense of climate justice and equity, both at home and around the world. That all sounds great. What it really means is, we need to acknowledge the differences between the developing, poor countries and the developed countries. Because there are vast differences, disparities in their ability to move away from fossil fuels and how fast they can do this. Specifically, the countries who have contributed the most to the crisis, and the US is the greatest, really must help finance the transition for developing nations.
We’ve also got to be mindful of the millions of everyday workers whose livelihoods are tied to fossil fuels. They deserve retraining, quality job opportunities, and pollution-free neighborhoods. The United States must go first and so, just in the last couple of days, Biden agreed to double the US commitment towards the 100 billion dollar per year fund that the developing world and the Paris Accords called for. But it’s not yet enough if there’s a rallying cry for where we stand today on this existential crisis, this mission, it’s not enough. We’ve got to act with greater speed and scale.
Tim Ferriss: Hence the name, hence the very apt title, Speed and Scale. John Doerr, I have followed you very closely since before I moved to Silicon Valley. It’s such a pleasure to spend time together. Everyone can find you on Twitter at John Doerr, D-O-E-R-R. And the book again is Speed and Scale, speedandscale.com is where people can learn more. And I really appreciate you taking the time today, John, this is an important message and I’m glad to have you out there pounding the drum and having these conversations.
John Doerr: Tim, your creation of community and cause is a great gift to this campaign. And I’d like your audience to share with me and with us what they’re doing about this, what OKRs they are creating, and have them, send them to me. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re all in this together.
Tim Ferriss: We are definitely in this together. And I imagine you will get some OKRs via email, so thank you for that. And to everybody listening, I will include the links to everything we’ve discussed — resources and more, perhaps we’ll have that photograph of Larry and Sergey and yourself in the garage. And perhaps even that initial presentation as a lure to get people into the resources at tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, take care, be safe, think long term, long termism is important, and we are all in this together. And until next time, thanks for tuning in.
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2 Replies to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Legendary Investor John Doerr on Picking Winners — From Google in 1999 to Solving the Climate Crisis Now (#543)”
I am looking for the links you have mentioned? can you direct me
most curious about the slide show for google
Hi, Andrew –
You can find all show notes and links on the main podcast page located here: https://tim.blog/2021/11/03/john-doerr/ . Just scroll down past the sponsors, and you’ll see them.
Team Tim Ferriss