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Getting To Plan B: Randy Komisar, General Partner, Kleiner Perkins (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, Sep 9th 2009

Randy Komisar is a co-founder of Claris Corporation, served as CEO for LucasArts Entertainment and Crystal Dynamics, and acted as a “virtual CEO” for such companies as WebTV and GlobalGiving. Prior to that, he served as CFO of GO Corporation and senior counsel for Apple Computer, following a private practice in technology law.

Randy holds a BA in Economics from Brown University and a JD from Harvard Law School. He is a lecturer on entrepreneurship at Stanford University and author of the best-selling book “The Monk and the Riddle”. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book on managing innovation, “Getting to Plan B”, which is where we start our discussion.

SM: Randy, why this book, why now? Why “Getting to Plan B”?

RK: This is actually a book I did not think I would write. I am not somebody who likes to read “how to” books in the business genre. My first book, “The Monk and the Riddle”, was more of a memoir and a philosophy book.

What happened, in regards to this book, is that Professor John Mullins of the London School of Business was at Stanford on a sabbatical. He came by for tea and described to me his concept of business models. I was not wholly on board, and we ended up in a debate which lasted beyond that meeting into a series of emails.

Out of that came this very interesting synthesis of ideas. Mine were more focused on process and his were more focused on content. Our focus was how to build great innovation ventures both in large and small companies, in for-profit or non-profit environments, on a global basis.

I am a serial entrepreneur and have been at Kleiner Perkins for five years, although my practice here has always been early- stage. I am hands-on, and I work with entrepreneurs side-by-side to build businesses. I have always thought of business plans as a starting point, not an ending point. I am always worried about them becoming a straightjacket to the process. I think such plans can become a problem in the dialogue between management and investors because they can set expectations wrongly.

I was intrigued by the idea of changing the way people thought about that process. We presented it to Harvard Business Press, and they felt that it was novel. It was a new practice and would change the way people thought about things, and they felt it was worth putting the book together.

John and I then collaborated, with my focus remaining on the process and his on the content. We merged our thoughts together to, hopefully, create a new construct for how people should think about building innovative ventures.

SM: Why now?

RK: That is particular to the challenges of venturists today. There are tools and opportunities venturists have today that they did not have before. We are obviously in a very challenging economy. When we started this book it was not quite as challenging. It was particularly challenging for venturists because there were not a lot of IPOs or exits, which is really important to the health of the venture business.

We felt that one of the principle problems was that a lot of resources were getting wasted. Time and money were getting wasted executing flawed business plans. How could we help the innovation industry at a time when it was being greatly challenged? When investors were second-guessing their liquidity options and beginning to second-guess their investment in innovation? Is there another model in which less money can go to work more quickly to resolve issues more easily, so that you can invest with confidence in acceleration and growth?

That is one answer to your “why now?” question. The other reason is the tools. When I started as an entrepreneur twenty-some odd years ago, you generally relied on a product marketing guru who had a vision for a product and a connection to a market that gave them a magical inside track knowledge.

SM: Otherwise known as domain knowledge.

RK: You are investing in a person’s insights. They would run hot and cold. They would know a market for a while and then they would run cold, which sent you looking for the next product marketing person. The great example of this is someone like Steve Jobs. He is uncanny in his ability to understand the market and how his products are going to impact the market. If there were more Steve Jobs in the world that market would work well, but there aren’t.

What has happened since the Internet is the ability to get real-time information to test assumptions. I no longer need to be as brilliant as Steve Jobs to be a very, very effective product marketing person. Today you can run product marketing innovation differently than you could 25 years ago. You can run it in a very iterative, very fast, very efficient manner. Those two things are why now.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Getting To Plan B: Randy Komisar, General Partner, Kleiner Perkins
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