Vinod Khosla is an Indian American engineer and businessman. Khosla is listed by Forbes magazine as a billionaire. Khosla made his early fortune as one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems, where he was the founding CEO and chairman in the early 1980s. In 1984, he left Sun Microsystems to go into venture capital. In 1987, Khosla joined the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as a general partner, and then started his own firm Khosla Ventures in 2004.
In this interview, Khosla talks about his story and background. In particular, I enjoyed his thoughts on perseverance, conviction, and failure.
Question: You were the co-founder and the first CEO at Sun Microsystems. About a year after you had started you found out that Sun Micro was going to be shut out from a key sale. When you heard this you got on a flight, got to the customers lobby, and made phone calls refusing to leave until you met with the team. Where does this perseverance and conviction come from?
Khosla: I have a philosophy in life that whatever you believe you should make happen. It’s that simple. If a customer is making a mistake [laughter]. The customer isn’t always right, trust me [laughter]. If you want to do great products, don’t listen to your customers by the way. Lots of bad lessons in business school. I used to give a talk in the 1980’s about why you shouldn’t listen to your customers [laughter]. That story you mention of Sun Micro is in fact true. There was a signed contract with a competitor; I took a red eye flight. I parked myself in the lobby and refused to leave. I met with the CEO of the company mostly because he wanted me to go away. By 9pm I convinced him to meet me in Chicago with his team, to meet me the next day because he didn’t want to be seen negotiating with us. The following day at 5am, we signed a hand written contract because I wouldn’t let him leave. This was a CEO of a big east coast company. We signed a handwritten contract.
The point is if you actually believe something, you should try your best to make it happen. It doesn’t always happen that you succeed, but it happens most of the time. Failure does not matter; it’s success that matters. No one remembers what you failed at. Everyone remembers Sun Micro, but does anyone know a company I started with McNealy before Sun Micro? Any hands? Anyone? There was a company called DataDump we started and got funded three months before Sun Micro. It didn’t work out. We started both companies roughly the same time. My point is no one remembers your failures. I like to say that my willingness to fail is what gives me my ability to succeed. I find most people are so afraid of failing they don’t try to do the things that would be important enough to do. Anything worth doing is hard.
If you enjoyed this article, you should become an Intelligent Fanatics member. As a member, you get our current and future Intelligent Fanatics books and case studies for free, as well as the ability to participate here on our community. Join Us.