Guest Lecture on April 1: Peter Wendell '72, Sierra Ventures

Sun Mar 23 12:29:36 EDT 2008

Please be on time for class if at all possible, as a courtesy to our guest and to make the most of the time that he is spending with us.

Many graduates of the Princeton Computer Science Department have gone on to use their technical skills to help start and run innovative new companies. This sometimes happens immediately after graduation but, more typically, it occurs mid-career when experience levels and business acumen are higher. This group includes Eric Schmidt '76, the CEO of Google and Jeff Bezos '86, the founder and CEO of

Often a key ingredient in converting innovative technical skills to successful business ventures is the infusion of venture capital -- high risk money that provides the initial resources to hire people and pursue market opportunity. For our class April 1 we will step back from the day-to-day programming world and view things from a higher level, learning about the world of venture capital. Our guest will be Peter Wendell '72, an experienced Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with many ties to Princeton. Concurrent with his venture capital career, Peter has spent the past 15 years teaching a course about venture capital at Stanford Business School. [Peter's bio]

As background for the April 1 class, Peter has provided the National Venture Capital Association's 2007 Annual Report. Please read page 7-8 ("What is Venture Capital") and pages 9-15, which provide an "Executive Summary" of the venture capital industry's activities. You are welcome to look at the more detailed information in the rest of the report, but there is no assignment to do so.

For class on April 1, Peter has suggested three assignment questions that you should think about ahead of time, especially in the light of the work you are doing on your projects. For questions 1 and 2, please bring a written list of your thoughts to class as requested below. For question 3, no written response is required, but do give the question some thought. In Peter's words,

"The first question should help you begin to think like a venture capitalist might think as he or she tries to decide which technology oriented ventures are most likely to be successful...and therefore the best ones to fund. The second question is to help you think through what it would be like to be an entrepreneur and actually launch a new venture and what sort of help you might need. Finally, the third question begins to focus on the career planning aspects for those interested in someday starting a company. For many entrepreneurs, the concept of "career planning" is an oxymoron, but there may still be certain decisions and trade-offs that are worth weighing as you think about life after Princeton.

In preparation for our April 1 class, all students should come to class ready to answer the following questions. There are no single "right" answers to these questions and the background reading is not provided because it contains the perfect answers. Rather, you should rely more on a combination of your own experiences to date, your instincts, anything you picked up in the reading plus any general knowledge you have, to answer the following questions:

1. Your wealthy but distant Aunt Ivy has died and left you $50,000,000 with the restriction that you may only have this money if you agree to invest it in early stage, private, high risk companies most or all of which will be technology-oriented. Auntie's will further specifies that to obtain the $50,000,000 and start your investment program all you must do is present her estate lawyer with a proposed list of criteria (listing the more important criteria higher on the list) that you would use in evaluating possible investment opportunities. Auntie's estate lawyer and her venture capitalist friend from Silicon Valley will meet you in class at 11:00 a.m. on April 1. Bring your list and be prepared to defend it.

2. If you were a high tech entrepreneur starting a company, what type of help would you want from the venture capitalist who invested in your company? Please prepare a list in priority order.

3. If you were a senior at Princeton and you thought there was a good chance that sometime during your professional career you would be part of the founding team of a venture capital-backed, entrepreneurial company (perhaps even the president), how do you think you would manage your career? What type of jobs would you aspire to earlier in your career to help you achieve this goal? What type of further schooling, if any, would you seek?"


Peter has generously agreed to make himself available after class for any students especially interested in the venture capital field who would like to join him for an informal discussion. We will provide lunch but only for those of you who tell me by early Monday morning that you will stay for lunch.