May 7, 2012
By David Ewing Duncan
Part one of a multi-part Interview with Google Venture Managing Partner Bill Maris.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – Recently I visited one of the primary ventricles of Silicon Valley’s investment culture, Google Ventures. I wanted to find out why more of our era’s genii are not interested in government, specifically in helping out with reforming the U.S. healthcare system.
Google Ventures is not one of the largest of venture outfits here in the Valley. Nor is it the oldest. It isn’t even located on Sand Hill Road in nearby Menlo Park, where venerable firms like Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers are lined up end-to-end in low-rise office parks dispensing billions of dollars.
What Google Ventures has become after only three years in business is the height of tech über-coolness. This is the place where the world’s best and brightest come hoping not only for money, but also validation as a truly cutting edge concern.
They come to this glass-cubed building near Google headquarters to pitch their ideas to managing partner Bill Maris, who is often the person who tells them “yes” or “no”.
I wasn’t there, however, to talk about investment strategies or Google Venture’s portfolio. I was there to ask Maris why he and other Valley leaders weren’t taking their brand of innovation – and tech-hipness–to help solve public policy problems in desperate need of fresh thinking.
Or to put in terms of a generation past, I wanted to find out why America’s smartest in the current generation are so far removed from John F. Kennedy’s call to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. In the 1960s this launched a wave of participation in government among those that writer David Halberstam once dubbed the “best and the brightest”.