Venture Capitalist Don Valentine Was Rare Early Backer of Apple

(p. A9) In the mid 1960s, Don Valentine had a hunch that startups using silicon semiconductors, then a new technology, would thrive. After failing to persuade his employer, Fairchild Semiconductor Corp., that it should invest in some of its more promising customers, Mr. Valentine decided to invest on his own.

His hobby became Sequoia Capital, which over the following five decades has built an unrivaled record of venture capital investing, betting early on Atari and Apple Inc. in the 1970s, Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. in the 1980s, Yahoo! and Google in the 1990s, Airbnb Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. in the 2000s, and Stripe Inc., Square Inc. and WhatsApp this decade.

Mr. Valentine handed the reins to a new generation of investors in 1996, but the firm still operates in his image—as a team of hard-nosed investors willing to butt heads inside company boardrooms and who relentlessly question each other and those seeking their capital.

. . .

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell says Mr. Valentine was by far his best board member. “We fought like cats and dogs,” recalled Mr. Bushnell. “Steel sharpens steel. Every board meeting, he would ask me a question about my company that I didn’t know but I immediately knew that I should know it.”

Mr. Bushnell introduced Mr. Valentine to a young Atari employee named Steve Jobs, who had an idea for a personal computer but whom other investors wouldn’t back, in part because of his messy appearance.

Mr. Valentine said in the 2009 interview that one of Sequoia’s secrets was its Socratic method, in which partners constantly questioned one another. He recalled in the same interview that Mr. Jobs stood out as one of the “best interrogators” he ever saw. “Somehow or other, he knew what to focus on and how to build a sequence and series of questions that were additive to the answers.”

For the full obituary, see:

Rolfe Winkler. “Venture Capitalist Gave Entrepreneurs Tough Love.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 2, 2019): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Oct. 27, 2019, and has the title “Venture Capital Pioneer Kept Entrepreneurs’ Egos in Check.”)

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