Peter Wendell: The Evolution of Venture Capital and Secular Tech Growth


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Peter Wendell is the founder of Sierra Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has invested more than $2 billion over the past 35 years in a wide variety of successful technology companies. Peter has taught more than 2,000 Stanford MBAs over the past 30 years, specifically the very popular course Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital with Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Scott Kupor, managing partner of Andreessen Horowitz. He serves on the board of Merck. He just completed his trusteeship at Princeton. He was also chairman of the board for Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO) for six years, during which time PRINCO doubled the University’s endowment. In this episode, Peter discusses the evolving nature of venture capital investing, the relationship between VCs and their LPs (limited partners), emerging phenomenon like SPACs and cryptocurrencies, whether we’re entering another great age of secular growth for technology, and his personal journey in starting Sierra Ventures. Peter has been recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 best technology venture investors in the United States and named one of the 15 venture capitalists on Upside magazine’s “Elite 100” list of influential U.S. leaders in technology, finance, and business. Peter started Sierra Ventures as a young investor with some wealthy families’ money –– “they should’ve never given someone like me money to manage,” joked Peter. But it was the age where “it was hard to not make money in venture investing” –– every fund started in Peter’s time had returned money to LPs; not a single fund lost money, in contrast to around a fourth of all bond funds back then collapsing given the Asian financial crises. Peter bought 6% of stake in Intuit with a $2.5 million investment; now it’s a company with a market capitalization of around $145 billion –– you can do the math. This investment, along with many others, made Peter one of the most successful venture capitalists in the world over the last few decades. We also ask Peter whether he sees us entering another period of great secular growth for technology. The sentiment amongst pro-tech, pro-growth investors seems to be that the hyper growth stocks (Snowflake, Coinbase, Shopify, Docusign, Twilio, Upstart, etc.) look expensive and many are currently unprofitable, but most have long runways, high margins, sticky customers, and steady revenues. If we value these companies on what they might look like 5 years from now, do most secular compounders still seem fairly valued? Looking at the market environment today, Peter is very skeptical of the promises of SPACs. He said in his keynote address at Princeton GCEPS that the SPAC boom likely won’t end well because there is a lot of promotion, a lack of regulation, but fundamentally not that many great companies to acquire. Peter thinks that cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are the future and certainly on the risk frontier, but we still don’t know which chain or project will eventually prevail, so the overall asset class is still a highly risky investment option. A big proponent of SaaS (especially given how he’s one of the first investors that embraced this idea back in the early days), Peter also believes that we’re still at an early stage in exploring artificial intelligence and the good it could do for the world.

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