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Elevate 2019

October 2, 2019

By: Dennis Ensing

This afternoon, I had the privilege of listening to an interview with an investing legend. Steve Jurvetson is an early-stage venture capitalist with a focus on founder-led, mission-driven companies at the cutting edge of disruptive technology and new industry formation. Jurvetson was an early VC investor in SpaceX, Tesla, Planet, Memphis Meats, Hotmail, and the deep learning companies Mythic and Nervana. He currently serves on the boards of Tesla, SpaceX and D-Wave (the quantum computing company). Jurvetson has been honoured as one of “Tech's Best Venture Investors” by Forbes, and as the “Venture Capitalist of the Year” by Deloitte.

What surprised me and many in the audience was that Jurvetson has Canadian roots. His backpack still has a sewn-on Canadian flag from 8th grade because Canada welcomed his parents and 100% of surviving relatives as Eastern European refugees fleeing Stalin at the end of WWII.

His new fund under the flag of Future Ventures recently closed $200 million. So, what are the tech/innovation trends he is seeing and is interested in? His history suggests some very diverse and, dare I say, crazy ideas. Jurvetson characterized the connecting thread as opportunities "never seen before, built alongside somewhere he has previously walked".

He spoke forcefully about whole – and heady – industries still in the throws of being taken over by software, including agriculture, transportation and healthcare. In his opinion, opportunities are ripe for consideration, but investors need to be aware of investing early. "Mistakes are made when you invest too early - particularly when the venture did not engage customers with a real product within 5 years. Bold dreams still need to iterate with customers along way."

For the original (and older) postulation that "Software is Eating the World," see Marc Andreessen's 2011 Wall Street Journal article.

Jurveston has clearly been successful in investing in moon shots. What is his secret? He argued that one needs to avoid sectors that are overrepresented and overfunded, and look for sectors that have not yet been explored. For example, he said there are currently 310 venture investors in space and over 500 autonomous car startups. Neither sector would attract his interest or funds today, but he has taken positions in synthetic meat startups and quantum computing.

Jurveston's says that the primary traits of moon shot founders he has invested in include:

  • They have enough self confidence to be humble 
  • They know what they do well as a guide to hire and build/motivate their teams 
  • They have infectious enthusiasm for what they are doing 
  • They believe they are going to change the world, and can therefore recruit the brightest and best 
  • They have some kind of mission that is longer than any business plan they've put together/the purpose is not only to get rich 

His closing thought for both the investors and entrepreneurs in room: 

Even if eight out of 10 people you know say that your idea is crazy and only two think it is brilliant, run with it. Just be sure to include a partner who brings a different perspective."