Nov 17, 2016 Pauliina Martikainen
There will soon be a billion new consumers in the world, and societies along with startups will have to solve problems caused by threats such as climate change, drought and famine. The world needs people who are striving to make an impact – and one of these pioneers is without a doubt Steve Jurvetson, who searches for the unknown out of passion.
Steve Jurvetson is a partner at the venture capital firm DFJ. His current board responsibilities include Planet Labs, SpaceX, Synthetic Genomics, and Tesla Motors. “Widely recognized as among the smartest people in Silicon Valley,” states TechCrunch. According to Jurvetson’s Twitter bio he is a “Rocket Ship Builder”, on LinkedIn a “VC, geek, rocket hobbyist.” On social media, Jurvetson appears to be speaking at a tech conference on one side of the world one day, and shooting rockets towards the sky somewhere else the next. So let’s start with exactly that – the daily life of Steve Jurvetson.
Talking to Jurvetson is an adventure as the passion behind his thinking at times outshines the speed of his talk.
“I don’t have a typical day; rather I have a multiday-type of thing. There are days spent speaking and learning at conferences, there are days visiting prospective companies… I spend 30–40 % of my time concentrating on new investments. Another 30-40% of my time is spent with portfolio companies, figuring out ways I can support existing investments. The remaining 20–30% of my time I spend researching and further developing my investment theses.”
Instead of concentrating too much on the results already achieved, Jurvetson finds talking about his future goals more natural.
“Future goals are easier. I want to continuously learn over time and try to explore the whole potential of what I call passion-based entrepreneurship. I think we need to have the passionate desire to change the world, and those who have that are the kind of people I love working with. Even though the ultimate target with an investment is to make money, I focus more on what has the most beneficial impact on the world. I choose to put my energy there, and perhaps that’s how the profit is made after all. It’s no surprise that the most successful companies in DFJ’s portfolio are businesses that pursue a greater mission than profit arbitrage.”
“What would I tell my 17-year-old self? Drink more beer?” Jurvetson laughs. “I was really insecure so I guess I would want to show ‘young me’ how much the world is going to change.”
Since then, the high tech-influencer and alpha VC has found his forward-looking voice. Jurvetson is well-known as an early investor in some of the most innovative companies of our time, including companies such as Hotmail and most recently Tesla Motors, SpaceX and Rethink Robotics. On how he manages to keep his finger on the pulse of the tech world, he answers:
“It all comes down to the entrepreneurs I’m able to meet with. I have the opportunity to hear the latest ideas from some of the smartest people on the planet. The most powerful ideas – the ones that are shaping the future. Every meeting is a two-way street, even though the company could turn out to be something I realize we are not going to invest in.”
As a VC, Jurvetson looks for disruptive startups. Startups that blow up existing markets and create big opportunities – with the highest risk of course. But which existing market is he waiting to change next?
“Most of the innovation across industries is shifting from hardware-centric approaches to software-centric ones, creating a paradigm shift in engineering and product development. Using commodity hardware components and powerful software, companies can virtualize, automate, and streamline services and products so that they are continuously improving. These software systems will leverage real-time compute of sensory inputs, machine learning for continuous learning, and continuous integration and deployment for updates. Robots, satellites, cars, rockets, security cameras, and airplanes are all examples of where we will continue to see software-driven product development, and there will be investment opportunities in both end products and the software platforms used to create them.
“Space has also been an intractable area for venture investment for decades, but the paradigm shift towards a software-centric and simulation-powered approach to spacecraft development has created new developments in launch, earth observation, telecommunication and tourism. The Space 2.0 race will be about developing low cost hardware for launch vehicles, small satellites, and permanent settlements on the moon and Mars. The investment opportunities will be in transport services (off earth and inter-planetary), satellite data and its accompanying analytics, telecommunications, and suborbital and LEO tourism. The value will mostly be held by companies that control the transport and information layers around space.”
Thanks to powerful technology trends, we are increasingly setting our sights towards new frontiers – the Moon, Mars and beyond. Space startups are more attractive than ever. Yet, Jurvetson has been enthusiastic about exploring the new frontiers years before the prospect of attractive returns came in question.
“I don’t know exactly where my love for rocket science stems from. I never would have imagined, even just 15 years ago, that my interest in rockets would ever lead to what I do today. Then came Elon Musk, and then SpaceX changed my thoughts into ‘wow – this is really going to change the world.’ Talk about passion-driven entrepreneurship, well, this is what I mean by it.”
However, the survival plan for planet Earth is still a work in process even for a visionary such as Jurvetson.
“I don’t have a particular plan, but I think one of the key questions is how to make a peaceful transition to a future economy with robots and AI. I’m not confident we can do that in a harmonious way, although I hope so. And in terms of survival for this planet, you can’t assume that something is going to happen for free. Somebody has to do it, and you can’t shift unless you’re passionate about it. We absolutely should explore the challenge that space offers, but exploring requires a lot of work, for a long time. And while doing that, the importance of improving conditions on Earth cannot be undermined – there will still be plenty of people that are going to have to live on this planet.”
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