The Education of Bill Maris: How One Entrepreneur’s History Shaped Google Ventures

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‘This guy is crazy, there will be no check.’ But I called my attorney, and he said, ‘No, I know this guy, there will be a check,’ and there was. We did the paperwork afterward—how much of the company he got. He made money and all that, but that was the way I was doing business, the way I learned to treat people. I was not in it looking for an uncapped note. I was not in it for an ‘optimized price.’

Don’t tell me how much you want. Tell me whether you want me to invest in your company. Do you want me on the board? When things go wrong, do you want me to be there to take your call? If the answer is yes, then let’s shake on the deal. I’m not going to take the last nickel and get the lowest price—so you shouldn’t try to get the highest price from me. If you do that, the expectations will be so high for the next round that you will never meet them.

So that is how we try to do business. Not terms first and ‘What’s the price,’ but more ‘Who are you, and what are you working on, and if you want us in, what can we do for you?’ These relationships last for a long time.

I couldn’t convince any local businesses to pay me to build and host their sites. So I said, ‘What if I build your website and host it for free, and just tell other folks you are a customer?’ The first 20 or so agreed, and it worked great. It really kicked off through referrals. But it became clear that building a website is really hard, and people don’t know what they want, or they want many revisions. That whole idea got put aside [in favor of pure Web hosting]. So I know what it’s like to pivot. I had jumped into the business, and now I needed to jump again.

I went to Burlington and marched into the local attorneys and accountants and said ‘I’m starting this hosting business.’ They stifled their laughter long enough to take me seriously and give me some advice. These things are always part luck, part being in the right place at the right time, part hiring the right people. It’s not genius, it’s just persistence. Not that you keep banging your head on the same door, but that you go knock on other doors. The business started to take off, and we had 100 sites and then 1,000 sites and then 10,000.

We don’t have 40 years of venture capital experience. Kleiner Perkins, Accel, Sequoia, they have deeper benches and different experience. If you need key executive recruiting, or a VP of global sales, there are other funds better suited to help you tackle that challenge. But everyone on our team has deep technical experience or has started companies, or in the majority of cases, both of those things.

There is a lot of institutional knowledge here. We can say, ‘Here are the mistakes we made as individuals, as Google Ventures, and as Google.’ Listen, I know what it’s like to have payroll on your shoulders. I can see the gray hair coming in. It takes a toll on you. If you’re not in touch with the entrepreneurs on that level, it’s hard to advise a company or help them through trouble.

As an entrepreneur, one of the problems I had was how do I find engineers. If someone had come to me to teach me how to hire the next 30 engineers, that would have been incredibly powerful. They were hard to find in Vermont, and it can make a real difference to a company.

That is one of the reasons we put in place an engineering recruiting practice. We don’t do retainer-based searches. Google has a core strength in technical recruiting—we get millions of resumes a year. In their best year, it is hard to imagine a regular Silicon Valley venture fund getting millions of resumes. We don’t tap into that flow of resumes, but … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “The Education of Bill Maris: How One Entrepreneur’s History Shaped Google Ventures”

  1. Mario Albert Lopez says:

    ANIMEX: Mexican Animation (currently inactive with corporate Revive application), is a start-up enterprise. Animex is 20 years in the making. Bill’s History that shaped Google Ventures appears to be the same stickler that created me. I believe in going to the top to do business (find the right people). I gave NAFTA players who found this new Cartoon Character, marketing mechanism, CALABAZO, the Dwarf of Uxmal a fantastic tool to expand trade between our countries. In the early Nineties the U.S. Census Bureau had not revealed the Hispanic community as the largest minority group in the U.S. Corporate America had still not realized our new Latin American geographic community. Being born and raised in the Mexican film industry, knowing the trail, having the “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” as my template. I still need help in finding the right animation film studio to produce Animex films for a Latin American market. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s history has endured as Google’s in shaping Google Ventures. So far it’s been 20 years and I am still looking for people with the right talent to make Animex films. After finding Google Ventures, I guess 20 years is not so crazy after all.