‘Silicon Valley is like Florence during the Renaissance’

6 Mar 2012

Venture capitalist and best selling author Rich Moran

Silicon Valley venture capitalist and best-selling author Rich Moran has one rule in business and life: you are your own CEO so never sell yourself short.

Last October during the ITLG’s visit to Dublin, author, evangelist and investor Rich Moran peppered CyberSource chairman Bill McKiernan with questions about the virtues and sins of CEOs. One of the main takeaways from the conversation was that CEOs were only as good as the teams that they build.

You get the sense from talking with Moran that ultimately dynamic industries and hotbeds of innovation are crucially about people and relationships.

“This is an interesting time to be a venture capitalist. I still think that Silicon Valley is like Florence during the Renaissance, it’s where every day is different, there’s lots of new ideas, interesting deals, it’s an interesting time. It actually keeps you young.

“But really Silicon Valley is a lot about relationships, which is a similar message to what we preach to the entrepreneurs in Ireland.”

Moran, a partner with Irish Technology Capital and who sits on the boards of Accertive Solutions, Mechanics Bank and Integreon, is author of best-selling books Sins and CEOs and Never Confuse a Memo with Reality. He is credited with sparking the genre of Business Bullet Books.

On the subject of networking and business relationships, Moran says you can never know enough people. “There are no boundaries on the number of relationships, they are infinite. I spoke to someone the other day that I hadn’t spoken to in 20 years and it was just like yesterday when we’d last spoken.

“In the mysterious world of relationships, the Irish scope for that world is too small – it needs to be wider, geometrically. LinkedIn is a virtual way to think about relationships but, in reality, it is also the way the world works – that I know someone who knows someone and I call them and soon enough we have a coffee and we’re talking about how we can help each other.

“I think one of the traits of Silicon Valley relationships in general is that they are generous – generous with time and generous with offering help and not very limited.”

From Atari to the venture capital world

I asked Moran about how he made the transition from the technology industry – he began at Atari – to becoming a venture capitalist.

“I spent a long time at Accenture – so it wasn’t directly from industry in to venture capital. I was a managing partner at Accenture and I worked in the media and entertainment industry and the tech industry. It was from that experience in working with so many different large and small companies, that helped me understand the landscape and to be a good venture capitalist.”

Moran’s evolution to author came through his frustration at how most business books are predicated on three or four bullet points that morph into 300 pages.

“Sometimes all you needed to do was read the three bullets in the preface and you knew everything in the book. So what I did was just do the bullets. People also don’t have a lot of time and they read now and speak now in PowerPoint, which is a lot of bullets.

“Secondly when it came to entrepreneurs and technology, and this is especially true in terms of Ireland, you need to get to the point. What is it, what does it do, how much money are you raising and bullets tease that out of a presentation.

“It needs to be succinct and direct and drive the communication. I don’t go to the mountaintop and write for three weeks, if I can write one sentence a day I am happy and one sentence can lead to a thousand sentences,” Moran said.

I put it to him that in his book Sins and CEOs, leaders in organizations are very much on the stage and don’t often realize this, especially in terms of their dealings with employees and customers.

“You’re right. One of the messages in the book I’m trying to convey is that if you’re a leader or a CEO everything you do is magnified. If someone has an idea and you roll your eyes at the idea that will show up – people will see that as ‘no, that’s a crazy idea.’ So if you are a CEO remember everything is magnified.

“The other thing I’m saying is that all of us are CEOs, even if you’re not the CEO of AT&T or Apple, you’re the CEO of your church group, family or at a basic level you’re the CEO of your career. Or if you are an entrepreneur you are the CEO of your own idea. The book is not saying all CEOs are assholes, it’s more that we’re all CEOs of our lives and we need to take responsibility for that.”

Ireland’s call

Moran was with the ITLG from the beginning. “You can tell my heritage is Irish, I’m Irish-American and those roots pulled on me, and secondly John Hartnett is very persuasive in getting people to do things. But I also saw felt a little bit of a calling – Ireland was in trouble, it was beaten down and needed some cheerleading about how it ought to be successful faster

“If anything I see my role as much as a cheerleader as an investor and a coach because I think the Irish can sometimes be too easily discouraged and I want them to say ‘hey we can do this, this is a good idea, we can get money, this can be successful’ and I very much see that as my role.

“I got involved because I could see that it was important work for where my ancestors came from. Growing up I knew I was Irish, my kids think they’re Irish, I think I’m Irish and some day we’ll put a dot somewhere on the island and find out where we came from.”

I tell Moran how impressed I am at what has been achieved in just five years by the ITLG – as well as the innovation awards, things like the offices in San Jose, the venture capital fund and the incredible alliances being forged with Silicon Valley, Wall St and Hollywood, three pillars of the US economy. I then ask him what he thinks the next five years hold in store for the organization.

“I think the Irish Technology Capital fund is going to raise more money and that it’s going to be an example of what venture and new ideas can do for the country. I think both the fund and ITLG are just beginning.

“Part of it is we really enjoy working together and we have a lot of fun.

“But as someone who’s been in venture capital a while the people involved here have their hearts in the right place and it’s not all just about money, but ideas and encouragement.”

Silicon Republic has joined forces with the Irish Technology Leadership Group to bring you The Silicon Valley 50 most influential Irish-American people in the tech world ahead of the ITLG Innovation Summit in California on 12-13 March.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years