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Missionary and Mercenary Founders with David Mount

Episode 187
Ian sits down with venture capitalist David Mount to discuss the differences between Missionary and Mercenary founders.

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In part one of this two-part interview, Ian (@ianfaison) talks with venture capitalist David Mount (@dbmount) about the differences between Missionary and Mercenary founders. David  has more than a decade of experience in venture capital and currently works as a partner at G2VP and Kleiner Perkins. They also discuss when you should (and shouldn’t) pursue venture capital for your business.

Enjoy part 1 of this interview? Listen to part 2 here.

David’s background with VC – 1:20

  • David is currently a partner at venture capital fund G2VP and Kleiner Perkins.
  • He cofounded G2VP two years ago.
  • He was at Kleiner Perkins for 10 years working with technology companies that focused on sustainability. Kleiner Perkins is a venture capital firm located in Silicon Valley. It was founded in 1972 and has been called the “largest and most established” venture capital firms and “one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital providers.”
  • Ryan Popple (@rcpopple), CEO of Proterra used to work with David at Kleiner Perkins.
  • Check out Ryan’s interview on Future of Cities

The difference between missionary and mercenary founders – 5:10

  • “As we look to the future, the companies that are building sustainably, they are the best things for our world, but also they’re great businesses.” – Ian Faison
  • A missionary founder is a founder who genuinely cares about what he is building, whereas a mercenary founder enters the industry to make money.
  • “A founder who cares and is just desperate to solve a real problem and is going to stop at nothing to get it solved – that’s the missionary founder. Versus a mercenary founder who is thinking, ‘Gosh, this might be the way that I can make 15 million bucks and then go off and do what I really want to do.’” – David Mount
  • “Historically, the missionary founders are the ones who can not only succeed themselves but can also pull together a great team around them, inspire the team to build something special, and also inspire a customer base to begin to work with them.” – David Mount
  • If you look at the history of sustainable tech in Silicon Valley, you will find that the companies that lasted are the ones with missionary founders.
  • “Building a business that is trying to tackle all of the challenges of venture-backed company building… is hard enough. But then you add in the mission, and you need to have real fire about what you are doing for it to work.” – David Mount
  • Missionaries vs Mercenaries article on HBR: The Best Entrepreneurs Are Missionaries, Not Mercenaries
  • “The companies that are backed by those missionaries founders find a way to make it work. They don’t take no for an answer. And that is a characteristic of folks that are successful.” – David Mount
  • “Another dimension of what makes these missionary founders successful is, oftentimes, their clarity of vision comes from experience in that industry. It comes from a real challenge that they have lived or have seen… Founders that have lived and experienced the problem they are trying to solve can connect with customers, can connect with their prospects, and can connect with the people that they are working with.” – David Mount
  • Turvo, a real-time collaboration logistics platform.
  • Austen Allred (@AustenAllred) and his experiences building Lambda School.
  • “That ‘disruptor’ word does get used a lot, but it’s happening. A real part of the thesis of our firm and our fund is that you’ve got some of the largest industries in the world – that make up more than half of the economy – but haven’t yet been as disrupted as they will be… We are talking to founders all the time who are thinking about shaking up some of these big industries…” – David Mount

When you should (and shouldn’t) pursue venture capital – 15:00

  • Sustainability companies are tackling problems that take scale. Scale requires large amounts of capital.
  • “60% of the economy and 80% of emissions are coming from transportation, the built environment, and the power industry… Those industries are multi-billion – and in some cases, trillion dollar – industries, that have an existing ecosystem and a lot of assets in the ground that are doing their work. So if you want to break into those industries, and create really big businesses, you need to be able to punch above your weight.” – David Mount
  • “Only desperate people buy from startups.” – David Mount
  • “Sustainability is not typically about the creation of a new industry, it’s about making existing industries better, longer lasting, more efficient, more sustainable, or redefining them in a less resource intensive way.” – David Mount


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