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Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Something Ventured

I got a chance to see Something Ventured as part of UC Berkeley's alumni events. It's a movie about the early days of the venture capital industry. One of the executive producers was Paul Holland, who was at Pure Software the same time I was and then became a venture capitalist.

Part of the story is well known to many: the defection of the traitorous eight from Shockley Labs (because Shockley was hell to work for), and then the start of Intel when Bob Noyce was denied his promotion by Fairchild Semiconductor. When I tell entrepreneurs that they should strive for a culture that promotes from within, I often remind them that their engineers do have a choice to work for other companies or start their own thing, and denying good people promotion opportunities is a good way to create highly motivated competitors, and lose good engineers. This movie shows how that was a driver even in the early days of Silicon Valley.

The stars of the show are of course the venture capitalists. The producers and directors had access to legendary VCs: Don Valentine, Arthur Rock, Tom Perkins, and some legends of the early days of Silicon Valley, Mike Markula, who was Apple's second CEO, Noland Bushnell co-founder of Atari. The most poignant story came from Sandy Lerner, who was pushed out of the company she co-founded, Cisco. The movie shows the story from both Lerner's side and from the perspective of the VCs, and entrepreneurs should definitely find a way to see this movie to see why Facebook, for instance, was structured the way it is.

Holland says that he had this movie made as an archive of what it was like in the early days of venture capital, and to a large extent it has succeeded. It's definitely made the multi-billionaires accessible and personal in a way no other history of the valley has done. Holland points out that this movie has been very well received largely because unlike other documentaries of the current era, you're unlikely to walk out of the movie pissed off and ready to fight "the man."

The movie is unlikely to open at a movie theater near you, but since Holland knows Reed Hastings of Netflix, you're likely to be able to put it on your Netflix queue in the near future. I recommend that you do so if you have any interest in Silicon Valley history.

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