John Lilly

John Lilly

Partner at Greylock, former CEO at Mozilla, dad, husband, son, nerd

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 11, 2015

Discussion

John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
Hi! I’m John, one of the general partners here at Greylock. I’ve been an investor here for the last 4 1/2 years, and invest in a variety of different consumer and enterprise companies — Tumblr, Instagram, Dropbox, Jack Mobile (in stealth), Sparks, ClearSlide, and a few others that will become more public shortly. Before this, I ran Mozilla for a few years, starting there in 2005, shortly after the launch of Firefox 1.0 — I was lucky to help build it up to ~25% of Internet usage by 2010. Other stuff I’ve done includes starting my own company, Reactivity (sold to Cisco in 2007), working at Apple when SJ came back, and teaching at the Stanford d.school. My educational background is from Stanford in Computer Science, Design & Electrical Engineering. Mostly, I’m a nerd & love software and hardware of all sorts. Ask me anything. :)
Josh Elman
Josh Elman@joshelman · Partner, Greylock
Hey John! Right now it seems like most investors just focus on growth and metrics but not all great things grow quickly. Even more it can take years of building something first. What do you say to entrepreneurs building products that take more technology to build up front?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@joshelman Hi Josh! :) Mostly I think that all of these overnight successes are, generally, experiencing that in about the thousandth day or more of existence. Everything interesting takes time. So have a view of the world you want to build, and start to figure out how to make it. Find people who believe in your vision, get them to come along with you. Raise enough money to go. Don't grow burn too fast. But mostly: make sure you know what your north star is; why you're doing it; what you want to build eventually.
Mike Payne
Mike Payne@loveofweb · Mobile, UX & UI Designer, ClearSlide
@johnolilly What are some of your favorite mobile apps out there right now?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@loveofweb There are some great ones. I have loved Pocket since it was ReadItLater. I use Wunderlist every day. I LOVE Quip (as an app & a system) and think it's under appreciated. Timehop is one of my very favorite emotionally. I use the hell out of Feedly, all day every day. And right now, Yahoo Fantasy Football, but I use that because I have to, not because it's Amazeballs.
Mike Payne
Mike Payne@loveofweb · Mobile, UX & UI Designer, ClearSlide
@johnolilly and of course ClearSlide Mail :)
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@loveofweb shit. right. yes. :)
Casey Newton
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@johnolilly Hi John! What is the origin of your classic Twitter catchphrase, MFBT?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@caseynewton Casey, you're the best. As you know, MFBT stands for Motherfucking Booze Time. It's a classic that (our Canadian, I'm pretty sure) folks at Mozilla started back in 2005 or 2006? Means, roughly, "Screw it, I've had enough of this for today." Now we just use it as a phrase to have fun with each other. And of course, a Google search yields Mozilla Framework Based Templates. One of my favorite trolls. :)
Casey Newton
Casey Newton@caseynewton · Silicon Valley editor, The Verge
@johnolilly Fantastic! Thanks.
Mike Connor
Mike Connor@mconnor · Various Things, Mozilla
@johnolilly 100% Canadian Mafia. The inspiration came from http://www.marriedtothesea.com/i... .
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
John! Welcome. Before Product Hunt, as I was exploring what to do next after PlayHaven, I considered getting into venture capital. In your opinion what type of person makes a good investor and for those VC curious, what advice would you have for those trying to break in?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@rrhoover for folks trying to break in, the short answer is do whatever it takes to be around & involved with as many interesting companies as you can. As for what type of person makes a great investor, I think all the really great investors are different. My partners David & Aneel & Reid & Asheem, all astonishingly great investors, are very very very different in make up and thought process and approach. And they're different than, say Mike Moritz or Bill Gurley or others. Lots of ways to be successful -- I think the core is figuring out what you are really, really good at that's differentiated, and figuring out how to work that angle as hard as you possibly can.
Tomas Ruta
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@johnolilly Do you have any "Requests for Startups" - ie things that you would like someone else built (or problems someone else solved)?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@tomasruta Nah. I want people to build the things that they think the world needs. VCs are incredibly, incredibly bad at thinking about what needs doing.
Tomas Ruta
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@johnolilly What’s it like to work with Reid Hoffman?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@tomasruta Reid's terrific, obviously. One of the great thinkers of our industry and broader society, but also just a great human and collaborator. We've worked together on a lot of things -- Mozilla, Greylock, a bunch of other stuff. He's fundamentally generous and helpful. Great partner to have. (Lots of my other partners and collaborators also amazing, just less well known.)
Ray Garcia
Ray Garcia@raygcreative · Founder @teleporme
@johnolilly Being able to find the right partners in a business is priceless. You're a lucky man.
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@raygcreative It is everything. The people you work with & live with are the most important thing.
Ray Garcia
Ray Garcia@raygcreative · Founder @teleporme
@johnolilly I couldn't have said it better myself. Those two groups of people make up about 90% of the folks I spend my time with on a daily basis, and I'm sure that's accurate for most people. Being able to maintain good and healthy relationships with them can only have a positive impact on all the other aspects of life.
Paul Robert Cary
Paul Robert Cary@prcary · CEO, Findie | www.findie.me
@johnolilly Hi John. Thanks for doing this. How big of a threat is Popcorn Time to Netflix, Apple, HBO, Amazon, Hulu etc and what can they do about it?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@paulrobertcary Hi Paul! Interesting. I think it shows that people want easier & easier ways to watch videos. But I guess I'm sort of a simple guy, and think that in the main, most consumers want to pay for things that they value (like videos), because it's fair. Right now, I think that networks and distribution platforms make it harder to do the right thing than the wrong thing, but I think most people do want to do the right thing. So...I think that Popcorn Time will mostly be on the margins, not the mainstream, and it will mostly put pressure on the networks to figure out how to really deliver easier & better ways to view content.
Paul Robert Cary
Paul Robert Cary@prcary · CEO, Findie | www.findie.me
@johnolilly Thanks. I see it on the margins perhaps in certain countries but not others. I think everyone who's traveled and done business around the world has a view on which countries have a culture that looks favourably on those who don't pay for things if they don't have to, and digital is one of those products that can be replicated and distributed n times, almost instantly, at practically zero cost.
WallyDZ
WallyDZ@wally_dz · Developer, SYS Admin @ Popcorn Time.io
@paulrobertcary , I think Movie industry should start think about a global payment method ( Example : Bitcoin ) , I think as a Popcorn Time Team member i will be glad to add a button where people can pay ( If They want ) for a watched movie , i still think that everyone will benefit from that and specially Hollywood ( we are not Looking to take any commision ) not like All those companies ( Rightscorp )
Paul Robert Cary
Paul Robert Cary@prcary · CEO, Findie | www.findie.me
@wally_dz Why isn't there already a payment button in Popcorn Time? Even if it just connected to a central PayPal account where you deposit money first and then figure out the rights management later, at least you would be able to measure your users' willingness to pay for content that they cannot otherwise access by legitimate means. I don't think big movie distributors make it easy for consumers globally to access what they want, but Popcorn Time should self-police and block itself in countries where content is available through legitimate channels. When you start doing that, people's opinions may change. The CEO of Spotify was the CEO of uTorrent. It happens.
Kevin Kwok
Kevin Kwok@kevinakwok · Playing with puppies at Greylock
Who are the people who've most shaped your path?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@kevinakwok well, my parents (awwww) & grandparents. my wife. now, my kids (I am *excellent* at Mario Kart 8 and ping pong). Work-wise, way too many to mention. My manager at Apple, Jim Spohrer, was seminal. My co-founders at Reactivity Bryan Rollins (now GM of Jira), Brian Roddy (now VP OpenDNS/Cisco), Mike Hanson (now CTO at Jack Mobile). Mitch Kapor, my first investor, taught me a ton about how to build companies that I care about. Terry Winograd, my advisor at Stanford, where I first learned design. And Reid for sure -- my partner now, but also coconspirator on many projects including Mozilla. Mitchell Baker at Mozilla. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.
Sydney Liu
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
Hi John, Thanks for doing the AMA! Your business partner Reid Hoffman said that he learned a lot about great products integrating strong technology as well as design. What product do you think integrates tech and design exceptionally well and what makes it great? Thanks! Sydney
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@sydney_liu_sl my favorite is Sonos. Not because of the UX, which I think is kind of a mess, but because of the systems thinking of the whole product. It's resulted in our house being full of music everywhere, nearly all the time. The quality of life increase is meaningful. And now our 3 & 10 year old sons are DJing a fair amount, which is fun -- although it results in probably more Maroon 5 and Frozen Soundtrack than you'd really say was ideal.
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@johnolilly Hello, John. Thanks for doing this AMA. Do you have an anti-portfolio? What was the most successful startup that you could have invested in early but passed on it? Why did you pass? Thanks.
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@erictwillis Sigh. Yes. Uber in the A -- was my first month at Greylock and I just couldn't get meeting with Travis to schedule. Snapchat -- they're amazing, and it was clear even in the A that it was working -- but just didn't make a great connection with Evan & Bobby. (my fault, not theirs.) Pinterest in the B -- that was working, too, but I was in the middle of closing Tumblr, so couldn't do both then (and we thought there was some conflict.) But: the list is long, like everyone's. Lots of amazing companies getting built this decade.
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@johnolilly I still lose sleep over missed "hunts" on Product Hunt. I really wonder how I would react to those types of misses as a VC. Thanks for the response.
Dan Burch
Dan Burch@dan_burch
@erictwillis - What is your shortlist of missed hunts?
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@san_danito I talked with the founder of RocketClub like a week or so before it was up on Product Hunt. It's done over 2000 votes. I could have hunted it. I sat on Tesla Powerwall and that has done 2,200 votes. To put that into perspective, those are two of the 5 top hunts (by upvote count) of all time.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@erictwillis but it is no missing out on Uber and Snapchat!
Tomas Ruta
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@johnolilly What would you personally like to achieve at Greylock?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@tomasruta Hmm. I want to help some great companies start. Get great returns for our LPs, which include some of the greatest institutions in the world. Would like to make some progress on inclusion and diversity in the industry.
Danny Espinoza
Danny Espinoza@abcdannye · Founder @looksyvideo
Hi John, what are your thoughts on wearables? And do you think someone will figure out a killer app for them?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@dannyjespinoza I think we'll see systems of sensors on our bodies, rather than one wearable to rule them all, as it were. And the data they collect will, I think, be important in figuring out personal and population health -- i think there will be significant breakthroughs here.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What life advice would you give yourself at 25 if you were 25 in 2015
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@eriktorenberg It's advice I got from folks when I was actually 25, and it's been consistent: (1) Find your tribe -- the people you want to build your life and career with -- and treat them *incredibly* well. (2) Do things that make your soul sing -- find the things that give you real joy because that will push you through the harder times. (3) Make more things -- making is a very very special gift & privilege. Do it as long as you can.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
The intersection of tech and politics - what is the current state of it and what are the opportunities?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@eriktorenberg Hi Erik! I despair about the intersection of politics and anything, to be honest with you. In an electorate that seems to take The Donald seriously, I mean, how can you think anything is working right? On the other hand: I have great optimism about the intersection of tech & government, and the people in Obama's administration -- Megan at CTO, DJ & Amac as Deputies -- they are, truly, my heroes. As is Jennifer Pahlka, who runs Code for America, where I'm involved some. I think that just like tech has given control to consumers over a lot of things, it promises to reconnect us with our local and state and federal governments, turning us back into active rather than passive citizens. I think we'll see a ton of interesting innovations here at every level of government.
Chris Schroeder
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@johnolilly 4 1/2 years is a life time in technology, and you have a huge pattern recognition in the companies you are seeing. When you look at an entrepreneur -- beyond the obvious things about smarts, character, courage, ideas etc you always look for in a startup -- what if anything is different today? One great investor out there told me in a mobile world, he values product-focused tenacity (usability, problem solving, even obsession on product) in a new way. Does this resonate? something else?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@cmschroed Hi Chris! I'm trained in CS & design, so have always valued people who can not just build technology, but also design it in a way that's right for users (in your word, product, I think) -- that's always been critical. I think the edge we look for now, and this should be no surprise to you, given our friends in common, is an obsession with distribution -- figuring out how to get increasingly busy and distracted people all around the world to care enough to get and use your product. It's a little bit different than traditional product design -- designing products that can spread naturally in the world. That's the edge that I think is most interesting right now.
Ilya Sukhar
Ilya Sukhar@ilyasu · CEO, Parse
Do you miss building things?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@ilyasu I do. Although to be honest, in my work as CEO at Mozilla, mostly I was helping others build, not building myself. As you get bigger, it gets harder for the CEO to do real making without disrupting the org (one of the things that made (and makes) Apple & Facebook & Amazon special IMHO. But for me, a while ago I realized that one of my superpowers was helping others lead well -- as a teacher at Stanford, as a board member before VC, as a CEO with a management team at Mozilla. And so what I really love now is working with people who are often way more talented than I am, and helping them really get as good as they can possibly be. It's rewarding. But I miss making things for sure.
Tomas Ruta
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@johnolilly How has blogging less affected you?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@tomasruta It's bad. I want to write more. That's the plan. I think I'm going to start writing more this fall & winter, as I teach a couple of classes at Stanford. It's been hard to blog as a VC -- for the first few years, you feel like all the ideas in your head belong to other people! But I'm working on it, optimistic that I'll get into a groove, starting in the next couple of weeks. What kinds of things would you be interested in reading?
Tomas Ruta
Tomas Ruta@tomasruta · 2x funded founder, 3x CMO VC-funded co's
@johnolilly I would love to read about any patterns you notice from your position of privileged and high-level access to a huge deal flow:) The posts don't have to be long; I only need one "aha moment" to come back!
Ray Garcia
Ray Garcia@raygcreative · Founder @teleporme
How can you set yourself apart when pitching an investor so that you can stand out from the rest? In other words, what catches your eye?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@raygcreative I like people who can articulate what the future should look like, and the steps from here to there. And who have strong beliefs, held loosely, as Andy Grove used to say.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@johnolilly Hey John, what is one of the craziest things you've seen in a pitch?
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@bentossell I met MC Hammer in a pitch for a search company a while ago. That was...unusual.
John Lilly
John Lilly@johnolilly1
@johnolilly wait, no. I guess it's just Hammer now?