Tag Archives: Automobiles

John Doerr’s Biggest Mistake

In 2007, venture capitalist John Doerr met an intriguing young entrepreneur. His name was Elon Musk.

Musk pitched Doerr on investing in his new car company, Tesla. Doerr passed.

The mistake cost him billions.


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The legendary investor opened up on this major regret in an interview out this morning on Bloomberg:

The billionaire chairman of Kleiner Perkins had the opportunity in 2007 to back “an ambitious, slightly crazy entrepreneur” named Elon Musk before he became the world’s richest man, but ultimately decided against it, as new car companies traditionally fail far more often than they succeed. 

“That’s probably the worst investment decision of all time,” Doerr, 71, said…

Doerr did wind up investing in an electric car startup. But it wasn’t Musk’s:

“There have been 400 new car companies in the nation’s history. Every one but one has gone bankrupt. But I was still very attracted to the market, and we had the choice of backing a brilliant car designer by the name of Henrik Fisker, or an ambitious, slightly crazy entrepreneur by the name of Elon Musk at Tesla. Well, we made the wrong decision.”

On paper, Fisker seems like a great bet. He designed iconic cars like the Aston Martin Vantage and had deep experience in the auto industry.

What he didn’t have was a strong background as an entrepreneur.

Musk had no real auto industry credentials. But he had co-founded PayPal and sold it to eBay for $1.5 billion.

Whatever he may have lacked, Musk was an ace entrepreneur. He took that experience to Tesla and built it into a colossus.

The lesson for me here as an angel investor is to not overvalue industry expertise. Sometimes it takes someone from outside an industry to revolutionize it.

Amazon was Jeff Bezos’ first store. Travis Kalanick never owned a cab company.

Founders should be familiar with the market they’re operating in. But if they need deep industry expertise, they can always hire for it.

But what’s most instructive about Doerr’s mistake is how it never mattered! He backed Google, Amazon, and countless others early, changing the modern world and making a fortune in the process.

Doerr’s experience illustrates one of my favorite things about venture capital. You don’t have to be right all the time.

In fact, you only have to be right once.

Investors: how much do you value industry expertise? Founders: how important is industry background to your startup?

Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Talking Startup Fundraising with Travis King of Launch Point Labs

Record Funding for Climate Startups in Q2

The Power Law (Part Four): The First Venture Deal

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Photo:John Doerr” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Why I Just Invested in Gauge, the Best Way to Sell Your Car

If you have a car to sell, you generally have 3 options:

1) Craigslist. You can get a good price, but buyers are flaky and the process takes forever. If you can sell it at all.

2) Dealer trade-in. Easy but the price is terrible.

3) Sell to a used car lot. See # 2

Now, there’s a much better option: sell your car with Gauge. Gauge is a Salt Lake City-based startup that gets you the highest price for your car, easily. When you list your car with Gauge, you get competing bids from multiple dealers. You pick the offer you’re happiest with, and that’s it!

Selling with Gauge avoids the hassles of shady Craigslist buyers, and the competitive process gets you a better price than taking the car to a dealer.

But what about Carvana?

What about them? Carvana buys your car itself, which means their incentive is to give you the lowest price possible. While Gauge does buy your car directly from you, it does so on behalf of dealers and buyers who want to bid on it. Gauge only makes money if you decide to sell your car on their platform. If you’re not happy with the bids you get, you’re free to sell your car elsewhere. So Gauge has every incentive to get you the best price possible.

This model is working so well they’ve earned a stellar 4.7 star average on Google. Sellers love the great customer service with no fees. Dealers love Gauge too, because they can get better quality cars than at most auctions. And not having to show up at an auction in person is a huge time savings, not to mention being safer.

Gauge is growing very fast, and I’m super excited to be an investor! They only list cars in the Salt Lake City area at the moment, but they’re expanding rapidly, with several new markets already in the works.

If you’re in the area with a car to sell, I don’t think you can do better!

More on tech:

WHY I JUST INVESTED IN CRAFTER, MAKER OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ARTS AND CRAFTS KITS IN THE WORLD

7 COMPANIES HAD 3 MINUTES EACH TO PITCH US. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED.

INSIDE A STARTUP ACCELERATOR DEMO DAY

Photo: “Corvette Stingray” by pyntofmyld is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Tesla’s Shares Are Priced For a Future Where Tesla Makes Every Car on Earth

Reading about the enormous run-up in shares of Tesla, Inc., I wondered something…is Tesla bigger than the entire rest of the auto industry?

The answer is: almost. Tesla’s market cap ($655 billion), is nearly equal to the combined market caps of Toyota, GM, Ford, VW, Daimler, Fiat, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru and Aston Martin ($750 billion), per Yahoo Finance data. That’s pretty much the auto industry, with the notable exception of SAIC of China.

So, will Tesla make every car on earth? Probably not. Indeed, what scenario investors are expecting is unclear:

It doesn’t make sense that nearly all the cars sold in the world in the future will be Tesla vehicles, nor does it make sense that the size of the global auto market will double.

Therefore, Tesla’s massive market cap compared to the largest legacy auto companies in the world seems to suggest that investors believe other businesses outside of pure auto unit sales will play an extremely large role in Tesla’s future business model.

Tesla has come out with some interesting non-auto products like its solar roof tiles and Power Wall, but does that make it worth three times as much as Toyota, the next largest auto company by market cap ($213 billion)?

Keep in mind, Toyota sold almost 10 million vehicles last year. That’s nearly 20 times as many as Tesla.

I’m a huge fan of Tesla and Elon Musk. I think it’s an amazing company and Musk is one of the greatest innovators and entrepreneurs of all time. But, it’s hard to justify the stock’s current level.

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Photo: “Tesla Chairman Elon Musk” by kqedquest is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0