Amidst all the hand wringing that’s been going on in Silicon Valley’s venture capital circles of late (Is the Internet boom over!? Is the VC industry fundamentally flawed!?) — it’s fascinating that legendary venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures just signed up former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to help track down and advise on potentially lucrative VC deals in emerging markets. While her exact role has yet to be determined, there are several reasons why Rice, and other high-powered women like her, could soon become the new face of the VC industry.
At a time when the rest of the world is embracing the Silicon Valley model of development, it makes sense that VC firms need to make greater efforts prospecting for deals globally. The Startup Genome project found seeds of Silicon Valley all over the world, from Brazil to Russia to Israel. In fact, Tel Aviv is now the number 2 start-up market in the world. Rice, with her extensive foreign policy experience and easy access to foreign leaders around the world, is exactly the type of person who can track down deal flow in these new tech hubs. She can also guide Khosla Ventures through complex policy and regulatory issues. The VC firms of tomorrow need people who are just as comfortable in Bangalore or Beijing as they are in Silicon Valley.
And, of course, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that Rice represents a demographic that’s sorely lacking in tech circles these days. While the number of female tech entrepreneurs is increasing, and the number of prominent women who have made it to the top continues to grow, the tech industry has always had trouble attracting and then retaining young women. The Silicon Valley VC industry — at its highest ranks — has always been a billionaire boys club. But that could change, now that high-profile tech leaders such as Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg (listed among the top 50 thinkers in the world by Foreign Policy magazine) are blazing new pathways for women. If you take a look at the long-range demographic trends in American society, it’s hard not to see why we can expect more female venture capitalists in the near future as well as more entrepreneurs with different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The significance of hiring Rice "to class up the place," as All Things D’s Kara Swisher put it, is just the beginning. There’s real money at stake. The fundamental problem facing the VC industry today is too much money, chasing too few deals, which ultimately pushes down returns. In layman’s terms, instead of buying low and selling high, you’re now buying high and (if you’re lucky) selling high. Ultimately, the only way you get rich in venture capital is to back a handful of really successful companies at low valuations and then cash out later in the global equity markets via an IPO. That’s getting harder than ever to do in the U.S., but it might be possible overseas when you have first dibs on hot new companies in countries with fledging capital markets.
Keep in mind that notable venture capitalists such as Fred Wilson have publicly speculated that the VC industry, as we know it today, may no longer exist within a decade. Already, we’ve seen new enthusiasm for an equity-based crowdfunding model for start-ups and that will only intensify in the wake of the JOBS Act, which officially turns crowdfunding into a legitimate venture capital alternative. For young start-up founders who grew up with Kickstarter and the enormously democratizing idea that, if your idea is cool enough, it will find the right backers on the Internet, this could actually be a big deal.
Against this backdrop, who would you rather have backing your company: a fancy-pants MBA who can wield a mean spreadsheet, or someone with the diplomatic skills and global vision to get your company in front of as many people as possible on the Internet? If you’re and immigrant to the U.S. and a recent graduate debating whether or not to return home, who would you feel comfortable talking with about your future? Chances are, someone with extensive foreign policy experience — someone, perhaps, like Condoleezza Rice.
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