Web 2.0: Conversation with Vinod Khosla
Vinod Khosla is a General Partner at Kleiner Perkins, and the founding CEO of Sun Microsystems.
His conversation was one of the more candid conversations of the conference, probably because he had no legal obligations to avoid the hard questions. Like John Doerr's talk last year, this conversation provided some fascinating insights from a smart guy who's paycheck depends on thinking about products, technologies, and business climates several years down the road. It was easily one of the highlights of the conference for me.
Q: What does Web 2.0 mean to you as a user and investor?
A: New technologies have enabled innovation. The word that comes to mind is media-mangle. Kids move between media much more seemlessly. Kids use IM while watching TV to have an always-on network. He doesn't think we've seen the beginning of real personalization.
A lot of companies got funded in pre-2000 era and then got stuck. They were funded but not on path to go public. His way right now is to experiment, make mistakes, start small, Then once the product and business model are proven, scale up.
"The more money you give a company, the less likely they are to be successful."
The older a company gets, the more traditional it gets. He tells a story about convincing Google to sell to Excite for $1M. Excite declined, 5 times, because they felt they could build it in-house.
His kids has always-on friendships, they are always on IM. If you are under 30, he bets you use messaging 100x more than if over 40. It's a whole different set of characteristics that kids possess, which is where success will come from.
Ebay has done a great job of "productizing trust" more than anybody else. He suspects valuable companies will be built by building review and trust systems for the long tail.
Q: Talk a little bit about personal communications.
A: Mobile phone is an interesting platform. COO of Motorola called it this thing that used to be a phone. He thinks we'll have Phone 2.0. What those apps are is hard to tell, will have mobile local search, but even more interesting things will start to happen. Suspects that will become his wallet. Expect he'll carry desktop with him on his phone, but that's a linear extrapolation. Wants to tell people to look past ringtones and simple games to what's next.
Q: You have passionate involvement in India and developing world. Different bet Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is that labor market is global and creativity comes from many directions. What's coming from India and China?
A: Not one thing he can point to, but indicators show that the world is creative. Talks about an interesting project that taught people to speak with a good english accent through their cellphones (got 5M customers in Shanghai alone). Inexpensive tutroing in India over web using technologies. Just examples, but we will see examples emerge.
Q: Given the access to knowledge that's out there, what does the education system need to do to deal with a change of context?
A: World's a different place. No longer a need to teach kids how to learn about Hopi indians, because you can Google it... but there is a desperate need to teach kids how to think critically, because we used to have so much more information to deal with.
Wikipedia is great, but why can't we use the same model to make every textbook in the world open source and free (applause). It should be easy to get these online. Online textbooks could provide different types of problems for advanced, average, and below average students. But, it's very hard to change education from top-down. Start attacking education system at its roots from the bottom up in short creative, innovative bursts.
Q: (Jeff Jarvis): In 5-10 years, where will be the value in media? Will it still be top-down?
A: It's a hard question to answer because he can't see that far. It will be in the companies who can grow audiences, not in those who control content. I think we'll see companies that aggregate audiences in interesting ways. Washington could screw that up and maintain existing structures for a long time, but he suspects we'll see value go to those who can maintain audiences.
Q: Are mobile devices getting cheaper or better?
A: Basic idea of human needs doesn't change, communication is an important need. He suspects one of the devices will be communication centric. Realtime communication will be an important part of mobile devices. It won't be the smartest or biggest device. The most interesting thing will be the network proxy, since most processing or battery life will occur in the network.