This week we’re revisiting my 2007 interview with Tom Perkins, who was one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalists. The firm Tom co-founded, Kleiner Perkins, is responsible for funding some of the most well-known companies of the past four decades, including Google, AOL, Genentech, Sun Microsystems, Compaq and Tandem Computers. With that track record, Tom’s name is now almost synonymous with venture capital. But he actually cut his teeth as an entrepreneur. Educated at MIT and Harvard, Perkins first made his mark by managing the initial growth of Hewlett-Packard’s computer business while simultaneously inventing the first cheap and reliable laser. The company he built around the laser, University Laboratories, made him independently wealthy and allowed for the creation of Kleiner Perkins. But more than just the money, his time at HP gave him the opportunity to learn from a “giant” of business, Dave Packard. Packard, Tom told me, operated like a venture capitalist within HP and gave him a model to emulate when he started his firm.
Though Tom wowed the business press for much of his career, later in life he gained national attention for having a key role in a 2006 Hewlett-Packard board scandal, briefly marrying Danielle Steel and building the world’s largest privately owned sailing yacht. When I spoke with Tom, he was busy in “retirement,” serving on a number of corporate boards of directors, including News Corp’s and HP’s. He’d also stepped back into the media spotlight with the publication of his memoir, Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins. This episode offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the outspoken and pioneering venture capitalist. Tom died in 2016, but his advice for entrepreneurs remains as relevant as ever.
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