Dixon Doll

Last week, ePitch brought you a venture capitalist with a famous father. In our latest installment, we talk to a guy whose sons are making a splash in the tech industry.

Dixon Doll has more than three decades of VC experience under his belt. A pioneer in telecom investing, he later pivoted his Doll Capital Management into DCM, with a heavy focus on China and Japan. And in a valley whose central industry is just a few generations old, Doll is paying things forward: His sons Alex and Dixon Jr. are helping run a pair of high-profile startups.

Q: HOW’D YOU GET INTO THIS RACKET?

A: I spent the ’60s getting three advanced degrees in electrical engineering, including a Ph.D. in data communications networking (when it was a nascent technology seeking specific markets) from the University of Michigan. I learned about startups working for one that failed, then started a strategic consulting practice, which included teaching at IBM Systems Research Institute and advising the chief executive of MCI when they were slaying the AT&T dragon.

In the mid-80s, I joined the boards of several hot Silicon Valley networking startups and got hooked on working with entrepreneurs. This led me to organizing the VC industry’s first telecom fund at Accel and co-founding DCM. I remain honored to work with great entrepreneurs to this day.

Q: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT VC?

A:The opportunity to work with entrepreneurs to build truly transformative companies. I also love being an evangelist for venture capital across many constituencies and geographies — such as when I was chairman of the NVCA, getting to work with limited partners, the exchanges, law firms, investment banks and entrepreneurs. A thriving VC industry is vital to job creation, improving people’s lives and stimulating economic growth.

Q: WHAT KINDS OF PITCHES ARE YOU LOOKING FOR NOW?

A: The best ones are those socialized by great entrepreneurs — they tend to be highly differentiated, unique opportunities. They can either be repeat entrepreneurs we’ve worked with in the past, or first-timers with great references who have a truly big idea to build a company in a sector where we have a significant ability to add value.

Some of the most interesting sectors right now are the mobile/wireless space, education, e-commerce, Internet infrastructure and digital media, as well as innovative financial services companies, such as SoFi and Sigfig.

Q: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE ENTREPRENEURS MAKE

A: When they come in and present, it’s not being crisp and succinct in answering my favorite question: “How big do you want this company to be in 3 to 5 years?” Obviously there’s no right answer, but the top entrepreneurs will do their homework and provide responsive answers.

Q: WHAT’S THE NEXT BIG THING GOING TO BE? 

A: Tough call, since there are many choices.  But I must select education, which is being disrupted by all the new tech companies offering Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in various forms. The traditional education market at all levels is so ripe with opportunity, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface with the early MOOC offerings from for-profit and non-profit organizations of all types.

The initial “low hanging fruit” appears to be in collegiate undergrad applications, but there are many highly successful stories out there about radical business model and teaching methodology changes, both in K-12 and in graduate and professional schools.

The most exciting aspect of this transformation is eventually going to be dramatic across-the-board improvements in our school performance, with students of all ages (and the institutions they attend) benefiting handsomely. My main concern is the time it’s going to take to overcome entrenched teachers’ and administrators’ resistance to change. However, this creates an increasing opportunity for transformative education companies, such as LearnZillion, to help the teaching community adapt to the new wave in education.

Q: TALK ABOUT THE FIRM’S TRANSITION OVER THE YEARS FROM DOLL CAPITAL MANAGEMENT TO DCM. HAS THAT ACCOMPANIED A CHANGE IN INVESTMENT FOCUS?

A: We wanted to make DCM into an institution which transcends any one person’s name, so we changed the firm’s branding to the acronym. Just as Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts became KKR, we are DCM.  Our investment focus remains the same: To invest in exceptional teams in the U.S., China and Japan that are principally focused on opportunities in communications and internet infrastructure, components, digital media, social, gaming and software + services.

Q: BECAUSE THE TECH INDUSTRY IS RELATIVELY YOUNG, WE DON’T SEE A LOT OF “HP & SONS.” IS THAT CHANGING?

A: That’s a fair observation, looking back historically. But I think things are changing, especially since the Valley has always been a meritocracy.

As the children of prominent leaders gain more experience, it’s only natural that they earn greater responsibilities in widely varying kinds of companies, ranging from startups to the HPs, Oracles, etc. I’m very proud that both Alex and Dixon Jr. are so deeply involved in helping exciting, venture-backed companies.

Peter Delevett Peter Delevett (184 Posts)

Peter Delevett covers startups and venture capital for the San Jose Mercury News. He's been a journalist in Silicon Valley since the dot-com daze.