“A gripping fly-on-the-wall story of the rise of this unique and important industry based on extensive interviews with some of the most successful venture capitalists.” - Daniel Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal
“A must-read for anyone seeking to understand modern-day Silicon Valley and even our economy writ large.” -Bethany McLean, The Washington Post
"A rare and unsettling look inside a subculture of unparalleled influence.” —Jane Mayer
"A classic...A book of exceptional reporting, analysis and storytelling.” —Charles Duhigg
From the New York Times bestselling author of More Money Than God comes the astonishingly frank and intimate story of Silicon Valley’s dominant venture-capital firms—and how their strategies and fates have shaped the path of innovation and the global economy
Innovations rarely come from “experts.” Elon Musk was not an “electric car person” before he started Tesla. When it comes to improbable innovations, a legendary tech VC told Sebastian Mallaby, the future cannot be predicted, it can only be discovered. It is the nature of the venture-capital game that most attempts at discovery fail, but a very few succeed at such a scale that they more than make up for everything else. That extreme ratio of success and failure is the power law that drives the VC business, all of Silicon Valley, the wider tech sector, and, by extension, the world.
In The Power Law, Sebastian Mallaby has parlayed unprecedented access to the most celebrated venture capitalists of all time—the key figures at Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Accel, Benchmark, and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as Chinese partnerships such as Qiming and Capital Today—into a riveting blend of storytelling and analysis that unfurls the history of tech incubation, in the Valley and ultimately worldwide. We learn the unvarnished truth, often for the first time, about some of the most iconic triumphs and infamous disasters in Valley history, from the comedy of errors at the birth of Apple to the avalanche of venture money that fostered hubris at WeWork and Uber.
VCs’ relentless search for grand slams brews an obsession with the ideal of the lone entrepreneur-genius, and companies seen as potential “unicorns” are given intoxicating amounts of power, with sometimes disastrous results. On a more systemic level, the need to make outsized bets on unproven talent reinforces bias, with women and minorities still represented at woefully low levels. This does not just have social justice implications: as Mallaby relates, China’s homegrown VC sector, having learned at the Valley’s feet, is exploding and now has more women VC luminaries than America has ever had. Still, Silicon Valley VC remains the top incubator of business innovation anywhere—it is not where ideas come from so much as where they go to become the products and companies that create the future. By taking us so deeply into the VCs’ game, The Power Law helps us think about our own future through their eyes.
The venture capitalist mindset requires making crazy bets for outlandish returns, according to this sharp take on Silicon Valley's bankrollers. Washington Post columnist Mallaby (The Man Who Knew) recaps the roles of venture capital firms in the recent history of tech start-ups, including Sequoia Capital's 1987 funding of network router juggernaut Cisco, Kleiner Perkins's investment in Google in 1999, and Accel's early-2000s bet on Facebook. These storied deals followed a "power law" strategy, he argues: instead of seeking safe investments with reliable returns, VCs funded many risky ventures, most of which failed, in order to find a few successes that generated colossal returns. Capital firms provide services other than funding, he contends, as they dispense sound advice to novice entrepreneurs, help shape up management structures, and bring in talented executives and useful collaborators. This is no dry business treatise; Mallaby's colorful narrative foregrounds the eternal battle between investors and the often eccentric, even abusive, tech visionaries they fund, and their squabbles over how much stock an investment will buy. (WeWork founder Adam Neumann unloaded a fire extinguisher onto one investor, who duly ponied up more cash.) The result is a lucid, thoughtful, and entertaining account of high-wire capitalism at work. Photos. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Company.