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Interview with high tech legend Dick Kramlich

Dick Kramlich and Yoram Tietz at E&Y's Journey conference, Israel, Nov 2011

The following is an interview held on stage at the main event of E&Y’s Journey event. Dick Kramlich is an old school businessman who has been active in venture capital since 1969 with Arthur Rock and Co. He has co-founded the venture firm NEA, investing in many successful companies including Juniper Networks, ImmuneX, Macromedia, and Dallas Semiconductor.

Yoram Tietz – Are these times different?

Dick Kramlich – It’s different every time. You can only stay down for so long. Despite all the above, people don’t stop innovating, people don’t stop thinking creatively, and people think big. There are some major changes going on in the world, technology is making our lives a lot easier. The influence of technology mobilising whole populations like in the Arab Spring is almost unprecedented.

Y – Is there something you can take from the companies that you have helped take over a billion dollars?

D – It doesn’t happen all at once, but it starts well. It involves entrepreneurs who wage their whole life on an idea and are looking for resources to make their idea a reality. The consistency of their passion, and their desire is the most important factor to their success. Sometimes reality gets in the way of accomplishing things, beyond the control of passion or intelligence of the founding team.

Y – The human factor, resilience, and putting it all on the line. These are the most important factors?

D – There is a common theme, I wouldn’t deviate from the importance of passion and overcoming difficult odds to accomplish goals. Take cognisance of your business’ ability to be a big company business, or a small company business. We are goign through a social business wave, which has led to an ecosystem where people are in charge of their own lives, this was started by Steve Jobs at Apple. Starting from the PC, leading to where we are now with Groupon, Zynga, and Facebook, which are evolutions that have seeds earlier in the evolutionary process.

Y – Stats show that in Israel, in all exits over $50 million and above, 82% of the time the CEO was the founder. The soul, the DNA, whatever you call it, is of great importance.

D – There is no formula, which is one of the great things about our life. Its important to have the resources, but there is no formula.

Y – China. Part of what we said is about culture, tradition. Interesting to see that there are pockets of technology and innovation around the world, but no of entrepreneurship.

D – China holds itself close to Mao. It is somewhat modeled to Singapore. The leadership looked to Singapore to see if China could scale their model. Motto: “To be rich is beautiful.” The Chinese government has invented a new form of social democracy. A country of that size gliding through the last decade with as much precision as they have, is really something. I want to see if in America we can coexist with the Chinese experiment.

Y – The Chinese say that it is beautiful to be rich; with new movements, like on Wall St., asking for equality, is there a threat to entrepreneurship?

D – Not a bit, these are profound changes that are going on, that allow people to take control over their life. It allows people to be themselves and go for what they want, which is germane in Israel and see in the informality and practicality. China has more patents filed than the USA. So if you think they don’t care about IP, then you are wrong. There is a huge change going on in China respecting IP, on the other hand, in software, medical instrumentation, there is a certain latitude in the evolution of companies where IP is the ultimate bastion of defense, so you have to live with the greyness of the world.

Y – This is your first time in Israel. In the short period of time you’ve been here, what do you sense when you walk the aisles and talk to the people?

D – This is the first time we have had interest with a company here. But I have been with Israelis a lot, and I share the characteristics that are present here. This has been a difficult time in the US and a terrible time in Europe, and a difficult time here, not as much as in Asia, although they have their own challenges. Here, it seems like that no matter the barriers or obstacles, there is an optimism that it can be overcome.

Y – Any big ideas?

D – Medical science. Shlomo Ben-Haim, has take his technology, which is heavily patented, into food preparation. The quality of joint venture partners chosen: Nestle, General Mills; I happen to think that it is actually going to profoundly change food preparation. They can take what is already best practicies and improve on it. Social networking has so much potential to change the world, so we are just scratching the surface there.

Y – One last thing to entrepreneurs?

D – Make sure your passion or what you have is worth it, that the future you see is actually filling an unfilled problem that is worth it. And the ramifications are across thousands or millions of people, and the partners you have are not short term thinkers, and they are dedicated to stick with you. Acquire the best talent possible, if you get that by your side, then you can become successful.

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