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Instigators of Change

Author: Khosla Ventures

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Instigators of Change is a Khosla Ventures podcast that explores innovative ideas, the people who come up with them, and those who invest in them. Our guests are the outliers, creators, mavericks — those who imagine differently. They build companies that alter transportation, retail, food, energy, entertainment, space. And when they succeed, we cannot imagine life without them. Tune in to hear about non-obvious ideas from inspiring people.

The podcast is hosted by Kara Miller, former host of the nationally-syndicated public radio show "Innovation Hub."

32 Episodes
Shellye Archambeau has encountered a lot of obstacles in life, but her ability to navigate around them has proved almost superhuman. Archambeau talks about deciding - as a teenager - that she wanted to be a CEO, and how she navigated the business world to make that happen. How do you deal with a company that’s not paying you enough? That won’t promote you? That becomes complacent? And what happens when your break comes along in the middle of a tech meltdown? Archambeau tells her own story, and offers lots of advice along the way.
When Dheeraj Pandey co-founded the cloud computing company Nutanix in 2009, the economy was shaky. Housing was turbulent. And interest rates had moved dramatically. Sound familiar? Nutanix would grow into a multibillion dollar company, and now, Pandey is back at the start-up game. He’s trying to change CRM, though it’s a tough time to be challenging entrenched ways of doing things. How will he weather the storm? And what does he consider his secret weapons in business?
After tennis great Serena Williams announced her retirement from tennis, she tweeted out an article from Joseph Coughlin, head of the MIT AgeLab. Williams said she wasn’t retiring - she was “forever evolving.” And Coughlin believes that Williams’ sentiment is a sign of the times. Average Americans are getting older. They’re living longer. They want to evolve. And, by the way, they hold the vast majority of the nation’s wealth. But many entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate leaders still believe they should market to young people. And that’s despite the fact that Americans have been having fewer kids for decades, meaning that young people are in short supply. Coughlin joins us for a reality check - and a look at an enormous (and growing) opportunity.
When Jeff Wilke left Amazon in 2021, where - since 2016 - he had served as CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, his next chapter could have focused on rest and relaxation. After all, Wilke had been at Amazon for more than 20 years, and had seen it grow from a modest-sized bookseller to a worldwide behemoth. But Wilke believes the American economy - and national security - is dependent on luring manufacturing back to our shores. He explains why manufacturing is his new passion and why his new company has acquired so many small firms recently. Plus, how is he advising start-up founders now? And how does he see the consumer changing?
You might call Ethan Mollick a man obsessed. And he probably wouldn’t mind. Because Mollick - a high-profile professor at The Wharton School - is obsessed with data, which dispels a lot of the myths around startups. Like: Do twenty somethings have the most successful startups? Nope, it’s forty-somethings. Are teams more successful than solo founders? Don’t bet on it. Is brainstorming a great way to start a meeting? Not a chance. Join us for a discussion about what works in business, and what doesn’t (and be prepared to be surprised).
More than 50 years ago, President Nixon announced a moonshot to cure cancer. But the cure never came. More than half a million Americans still die from cancer every single year. Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and cancer physician Siddhartha Mukherjee says that, in some ways, the scientific community has failed - and it must embrace new approaches. One of the most promising of those approaches, he believes, is to starve cancer of the nutrients it needs. We speak with Mukherjee, a co-founder of Faeth Therapeutics, along with its CEO, Anand Parikh, about how to turn food into medicine, the results they’ve seen so far, and how quickly the FDA may act.
When Sarah Friar quit as the CFO of Square, CEO Jack Dorsey wasn't thrilled. But she felt compelled to take the leap. Friar explains why she left, and how her childhood in a conflict-plagued part of Northern Ireland factored into the decision. Plus, if you're building a company now, how should you navigate this tricky economic environment? How should you think about funding, layoffs, and communication? Friar offers her honest advice, and explains how weathering a downturn can help you create an even stronger company.
In 2005, a small company began offering up a way to post amateur videos on the web. YouTube operated on a shoestring, with its founders maxing out credit cards, and debating what the company was really about. The next year, Google - sensing that YouTube would be a powerful force in search - acquired them. This week, author Mark Bergen tells the story of YouTube’s strange birth and breakneck path to success. Plus, the company’s epic battles against traditional media, and the culture clash that followed its acquisition by Google.
In the early 2000s, a baby clothes salesman was about to strike it big. His name was Adam Neumann, and his rise - and fall - has a lot to teach both founders and funders about why a company can go off the rails. Neumann's new real estate venture, Flow, recently got a $350 million investment from Andreessen Horowitz. We thought it'd be a good time to revisit our conversation with bestselling authors Maureen Farrell and Eliot Brown to talk about how Neumann helped build WeWork, how he attracted tremendous amounts of funding, and ultimately, why the company experienced a fiery fall to earth.
Financial markets have been up and down enough to make anyone seasick. And if you're starting a company - or investing in one - it's an uncertain time. In one of our most popular episodes of the last few months, Samir Kaul - a founding partner of Khosla Ventures - talks about how this volatility compares to the downturns of 2001 and 2008, why he's not panicking, and how companies should navigate this new reality. Then, Kaul details what he's investing in now, and explains why incubating companies is so central to the work he does. Plus, a look at how Craig Venter - who helped sequence the human genome - shaped Kaul's career.
This month, as we highlight some of our favorite episodes, we take a look at an industry that has altered the economic fortunes of the world over the last 50 years: venture capital. It has brought us game-changing medicines and life-reordering tech. But not without controversy. And today’s venture capitalists want to fund companies that alter how we shop, eat, travel, work, and more. Venture capital is revolutionizing China, and coming under fire for a lack of diversity. Author Sebastian Mallaby talks about his book "The Power Law," and where venture capital goes from here.
This summer, we're revisiting some of our favorite shows. Including this discussion with Harvard Business School professor Karim Lakhani, which reflected Lakhani's view that almost every company is now an AI company. Even if founders and CEOs aren't always thrilled to hear it. In fact, he says, artificial intelligence is upending the way business is done, and shifting who has the advantage. We talk with Lakhani about why traditional models don't work anymore, and where the opportunities are now. Plus, questions over data, and China's growing influence over AI.
As the summer - and lots of record-setting heat - drags on, you might wonder how we can slow global warming. But, even for a scientist and entrepreneur like Jay Whitacre, who has spent decades thinking about how to get Americans to embrace cleaner energy... it’s complicated. Should you, for example, buy an all-electric car? Actually, it depends on where you live (we’ll explain). Whitacre, one of the country’s foremost experts on batteries and a professor at Carnegie Mellon, says that getting batteries - for cars, for large-scale energy storage - from where they are to where we want them to be is going to be tough. Plenty of money is flowing into new technologies, but what is likely to move the needle? Whitacre says there’s a real tension between what investors are willing to pay for and how quickly batteries can revolutionize our lives.
Ben Horowitz isn’t afraid to pick favorites when it comes to great CEOs. Like Andy Grove, the former head of Intel. Grove didn’t put up with any nonsense, Horowitz says, because he was singularly focused on what it takes to achieve and maintain greatness. In our next show from KV’s CEO Summit, Horowitz - the co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz - talks openly with KV Founding Partner David Weiden about gaining the trust of your employees, why executives often approach diversity the wrong way, and what he’s learned from coaching CEOs who are furiously scaling up their businesses.
Imagine if we could harness the power of a star, right here on Earth. Our energy challenges, as we know them, would disappear. That’s the promise of fusion technology, a way of generating electricity that scientists have been working on for decades, but have never quite cracked. Are we any closer in 2022? Commonwealth Fusion Technology, a venture-backed company spun out of MIT, is working on a prototype reactor that they believe could begin replacing conventional power plants as early as 2030. Commonwealth’s CEO Bob Mumgaard recently sat down with Vinod Khosla at KV's CEO Summit in the Bay Area to talk about how their technology works, what challenges have yet to be overcome, and what fusion would mean for the planet.
From massive supply chain issues to wary investors, 2022 is turning out to be a tough year for biotech. But it's also a sector that's reshaping our lives, as we saw during the pandemic. So what are the most exciting opportunities in biotech right now? And where are the pitfalls? Cellino co-founder Nabiha Saklayen and Khosla Ventures partner Alex Morgan talk about making it through a downturn, machine learning, women in medicine, and the impact of outsiders.
On a week when we celebrate American indepedence, we revisit our conversation with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. Khosla talks about coming to the U.S. and what it took to succeed here. Then, we look at the environmental implications when billions of people around the world want to live like Americans. Plus, Khosla explains why he’s so interested in improbable notions, why he’s failed so often, and what ideas captivate him now. 
Sure, Roger Martin used to run a business school. But that doesn't stop him from questioning the way we train captains of industry. In fact, he argues, many business leaders don't realize that we're not just locked in a struggle between capital and labor. Now, managing talent may be the most important part of your job as a leader. From Julia Roberts to football player Aaron Rodgers to Zoom's founder Eric Yuan, the power of talent has surged. And retaining the best engineers, lab managers, and data scientists could make or break your business. Plus, Martin talks about the hidden (but huge) costs of turnover, and why we stopped paying attention to Aristotle (big mistake).
Financial markets have been up and down enough to make anyone seasick. And if you're starting a company - or investing in one - it's an uncertain time. Samir Kaul, a founding partner of Khosla Ventures, talks about how this volatility compares to the downturns of 2001 and 2008, why he's not panicking, and how companies should navigate this new reality. Then, Kaul details what he's investing in now, and explains why incubating companies is so central to the work he does. Plus, a look at how Craig Venter - who helped sequence the human genome - shaped Kaul's career.
About a decade ago, when the President of MIT approached Angela Belcher about doing cancer research, Belcher turned her down. After all, Belcher is a materials and biological engineer who had done lots of work on environmental sustainability. But cancer research? That was an area she didn't feel she could contribute to. And then she realized that a new, interdisciplinary approach to cancer - involving some of the best scientists and clinicians in the world - might be able to move the needle. We talk with Belcher about how this new approach is changing cancer research, how breakthrough work in engineering could affect how we fight biological weapons, and the challenges of getting new inventions to market.
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