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Mike Moritz: leadership through literature

Some business leaders like to quote reports from management consultants. Others try to make their point with historical analogies. Sequoia Capital's Mike Moritz, who spoke at the VentureOne Summit in San Francisco this week, is one of the few to pepper his comments with quotes from literary figures, along with a drawing room vocabulary you don't hear much these days. .

While working at Time Magazine in the 70s and early 80s, Moritz recalled a line from Ernest Hemmingway, he told the audience: "Journalism is a great profession for someone under 30." Moritz was just past thirty so started hawking himself on Sand Hill Road, the street where most Valley firms have their offices.

He was then asked why Sequoia insists on mostly investing in companies run by young people in their 20s. Quoting British author Evelyn Waugh, Moritz pointed out that the energy, drive and focus can be sapped by "the site of the perambulator in the hallway."

"The demands of family and children and the onset of middle age make it difficult to get a start-up off the ground," he said. Sequoia, however, will make an exception and invest in companies run someone older "who is very smart that has been humbled" by failure. Trip Hawkins, who founded mega-failure 3DO, is an example. Sequoia has invested in his latest venture, Digital Chocolate.

Then, he was asked about Google. Who shifted Google from trying to primarily cull its revenue from selling server appliances to getting it from advertising, he was asked. Sergey Brin and Larry Page deserve the credit. The decision came at a time when Google was running out of money.

'There is nothing like a declining balance sheet to focus the mind," Moritz said, loosely paraphrasing of Samuel Johnson.

Moritz also counseled against too much PR. "People don't realize how much of an asset furtiveness is."