The Power Law
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.
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