Mike Abbott, the brilliant engineering leader who turned Twitter around, has been a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins for about a year now. And he’s learned a lot.He’s now determined to change the venture capital culture to be more helpful to and respectful of entrepreneurs—because he’s been one himself.
Abbott is perhaps best known as the guy that killed the Fail Whale at Twitter. If you don’t recognise that term—the nickname for the mascot that appeared whenever Twitter had an unexpected outage—that’s because Abbott turned Twitter into the much more reliable service it is today.
He also helped Microsoft build the precursor to its Azure cloud-computing service, and he built Palm’s WebOS software—the gem that led HP to pay $1.2 billion for the smartphone maker in 2010.
But at his heart, he’s always been entrepreneur. Before Microsoft or Twitter or Palm he cofounded Composite Software and Passenger. (Both are still around.) He’s also a well-known angel investor.
He never forgot how hard it was to raise money and how the venture-capital world was either ill-equipped to mentor him, or downright disrespectful.
That’s given him a different perspective on his role.
“I had to learn the hard way, by making a lot of mistakes, I would like to help others avoid those mistakes,” Abbott told Business Insider. “There’s a little bit of redemption in that.”
While Abbott left both of his companies on good terms, he saw friends “ripped out” of their startups “in a bloody way,” he recalls.
“I don’t have a chip on my shoulder like other VCs I’ve seen, who live vicariously through others because they didn’t have the guts to go out and do it themselves,” he says.
That said, he realises that “I’m not leading a company. At the end of the day, I have to just be able to influence. So far I’m cool with that. A lot of [ex-entrepreneurs turned] venture capitalists can have problems with that.”
He also wants to bring more respect to the money-pitching cycle.
“Starting a company is incredibly hard,” he says. Abbott never leaves a startup hanging, as some venture capitalists do, in a strategy for keeping their options open and avoiding offence.
“Something I’m trying to do [is that] I want to say no in a respectful way, but in a way the doesn’t give people false hope,” he says.
For the companies he funds, he wants to help them with the kinds of management issues they don’t have a clue about, like helping them win the war for interns.
With the shortage of qualified computer-science majors graduating from U.S. schools, companies need to nab them early on. (Take, for example, the story of Flipboard CEO Mike McCue’s ardent recruiting of a 19-year-old Brown University student.)
Startups often forget about looking for interns. By the time they remember, “all the good interns are gone,” Abbott says. “And even if you are on the ball, you are not going to have the dollars to go compete with the Twitters, the Facebooks, and the Googles of the world.”
That’s where Kleiner’s putting its resources together to help all of the companies it’s backed recruit interns through formal fellowships. Kleiner began last year with a program for engineers. This year, Abbott and another partner, Megan Quinn, put together an effort to recruit designers.