April 16, 2005

Start-up business plans are useless: Mike Moritz

According to BusinessWeek's Deal Flow blog, Michael Moritz, a general partner at VC firm Sequoia Capital and an early investor in Google, Yahoo! and Cisco, while speaking at the VentureOne conference in San Francisco told a story about Google that demonstrated why VCs always say they invest in entrepreneurs or ideas--and not business plans.
As you might know, Google started out thinking it would sell its technology to corporations for internal use. After a year or two, that plan clearly wasn’t working. So the entrepreneurs started casting around for another strategy. "There is nothing like a declining cash balance to focus the mind," Mortiz quipped. Google's founders noticed the success of GoTo (later renamed Overture and bought by Yahoo) and set out to improve on its paid-search model. The rest is history--and so is Google's original business plan, which, to the founders' credit, they never formalized.

When evaluating a nascent startup, Moritz doesn't look for a detailed blueprint of the future. "The longer the business plan, the worse the prospects for the company," he said. "The more comprehensive the financial projections, the more unlikely a company is to meet those expectations." The business plan for Intel was famously written on half a sheet of paper. Yahoo! never had a formal plan, Mortiz said. But in both cases, the founders had a very clear idea of the product or service they wanted to build.

Arun Natarajan is the Editor of TSJ Media, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of TSJ Media's Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.