The Man Who Detonated an Entire Industry

So one of the things the United States does particularly well during this period in history is it tolerates iconoclastic, bigger than life figures. And sometimes those iconoclastic bigger than life figures detonate entire industries. I mean one of the really neat things about venture capital is you really do get to be present at the creation. And you get to watch this bridge between these incredible science discoveries and these incredible opportunities to change an economy, a whole system. And when those two intersect it’s one of the most exciting periods you can have.

To give you one example, Craig Venter was an obscure scientist at the NIH, who had just started his own institute when I met him a couple of decades ago. And what he was doing is he was looking at the minute letters inside the code of life DNA and just looking at which order are these letters, four of them, adenine, thiamine, guanine, cytosine, A, T, C, G – how are they written in long strings, there’s about 3.2 billion of those inside each of your cells.

That seemed to be one of the most obscure, non-important, irrelevant backwaters to most people. But really what he was doing was he was learning how to read and write life code. So he was the first person to sequence a living organism. And a few years later he was the first person to sequence a plant. And then in a much shorter time the first person to sequence a little fruit fly. And shortly thereafter to sequence the first human being.

And because he did that, he advanced the field of computing because he had to build some of the world’s largest computers to do this. He advanced the field of computer programming because he was doing inconceivably large calculations. He advanced our knowledge of why some of us get sick and why some of us don’t. Of why some plants grow faster, of why you get some insect plagues, of why diseases mutate, of why certain flus are worse for you than other flus.

And all of a sudden what started happening is you had this enormous explosion of research, of people, of just extraordinary opportunity…you’ve got really important people who are detonating hundreds of companies

And we can generate more wealth than we can conceive of. We can create more jobs than we can conceive of. But almost all of that is created; in fact all of it, is created by startup businesses, with an iconoclastic entrepreneur who says I’m just gonna break stuff.