Bill Maris On Hiring Women, Rising Valuations, And Google Ventures’ Biggest Misses To Date

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The Difference Between Fitbit And GoPro

At Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference earlier today, senior editor Dan Primack hosted a panel of investors who were asked to share their thoughts on the current – and future – state of the venture market.

The VCs covered a lot of ground. We happened to focus in on what Bill Maris of Google Ventures had to say. Some notes from the discussion:

  • Maris on whether Google plans to kill its own portfolio company, Uber, with its own self-driving app: “Companies more often die of suicide than homicide,” he joked. “We have a big bet there, so we’re hugely optimistic about [Uber’s] future. Personally, I wouldn’t want to compete with [CEO] Travis [Kalanick].
  • On whether Google Ventures is hiring more women given the attention shone in recent years on the industry’s dearth of female investors: Maris suggested it isn’t, but he said that Google Ventures is interested in investing $5 million and $10 million in venture funds that are themselves diverse or that are targeting companies started by women and/or minorities. (Maris wouldn’t name this program.) He also said that Google Ventures is trying to place interns from more diverse backgrounds at its portfolio companies to “give people exposure to the startup world that might not have it” otherwise.
  • On whether rising valuations are impacting the way that Google Ventures approaches investments: Not really, said Maris. Google has “made a number of agriculture and food-based investments lately,” he offered (presumably to get out of the flow of hot, high-priced sectors, like on-demand services). But he said the real key to avoiding astronomical valuations centers on relationship building. “When you build relationships with entrepreneurs, they’re not trying to optimize on price. Someone is trying to optimize on price, but you’re not looking to invest in those companies.” (He added that he was criticized in the past for deals at what seemed like “crazy” prices, including Nest Labs and Uber, but he said that sometimes, the biggest, riskiest bets wind up being the “most exciting investments.”)
  • Maris was also asked if there’s a fundamental difference in today’s startups versus the dot.com startups of the late ‘90s, aside from the fact that there are many more people online. Maris — who interpreted the question as whether today’s startups are truly more sustainable than their predecessors — answered that “One or more will blow up, but doesn’t mean we’re all wrong. In 1999, to reach 50 million people meant reaching everyone who was online. Now, that’s easily done. There are billions of people online.”
  • He also said of Google Ventures’ companies choosing to go public (or not to go public) that it’s up to them. “[A company’s management team] works [at their startup] full-time. We’re minority shareholders . . . We don’t offer unsolicited advice.”
  • As the panel ended, all the VCs were asked about their biggest misses. At least two named Zenefits, “in the seed round.” (Ouch.) Another named Skype. A fourth named Rent the Runway. As for the biggest misses that Google Ventures has made, they are Snapchat and Palantir Technologies, said Maris.