Much Ventured, Much Gained

A Conversation With Michael Moritz

Michael Moritz

  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Title: Venture Capitalist
  • Education: Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Known For: Investing in Google
  • Books: Return to the Little Kingdom (2009), The Little Kingdom (1984), Going for Broke: Lee Iacocca's Battle to Save Chrysler (1981)

Born in 1954 in Wales to Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Michael Moritz attended Howardian High School in Cardiff and studied history at Christ Church, Oxford. After college, he moved to the United States, getting an MBA from Wharton and then working as a reporter for Time. In 1984, he published an early history of Apple Computer, and in 1986, he joined the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. Over the past three decades, he has been an early stage investor in an extraordinary string of companies, including Cisco, Google, Kayak, LinkedIn, PayPal, WhatsApp, Yahoo, Zappos, and many others. He has pledged to give away the majority of his fortune and has already donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various educational institutions. Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose spoke to him about entrepreneurship in his office in late October.

You’ve been as successful as any venture capitalist in history. What are the qualities you look for in a start-up? Remarkable people on a mission that is not widely recognized by others.

Has that changed over time, or are you looking for the same things now that you looked for 25 years ago? It’s exactly the same as 25 years ago, with the one big exception that there are far more opportunities today than there were a quarter of a century ago, because of the digitization of everything.

Most start-ups and most entrepreneurs fail, and only a tiny handful become giant successes. Are there actual, predictable differences that separate the successes from the failures, or is it just a question of luck and timing? Companies have to get the timing right, because everybody knows what happens if a company gets started years before a market develops or after too many others have sought to exploit a similar opportunity. So timing is clearly a very important part.

When we make extremely early stage investments—really, really early, when it’s perhaps one or two people with an embryonic idea, and we invest a small amount

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