Sutter Hill Ventures founder said hard work, smarts, character judgement and some luck are key to success.
A summer job at the drafting board at RCA turned him off from bench
engineering and got him starting to think about the business side of
a technology career.
"I looked around RCA at that group I was with, and
these were people that were engineers, they were, I don’t know,
50- 55- 60-years-old, and they are still at the drafting board.
And I said, I don’t’ think I want to do that."
After graduating from Princeton and getting a business degree from
Stanford, Wythes worked for Honeywell and Beckman before a friend
asked him to start a venture capital arm of the real estate firm
Sutter Hill Corp. It was just a few years after the SBIC, which
allowed the SBA to license private "Small Business Investment
Companies" to help with financing and managing small entrepreneurial
businesses in the United States, was enacted.
In his oral-history interview, Wythes suggested many of the basics
of investing have not changed, even though the venture capital
industry has evolved over the decades.
"In this business you’ve got to do a lot of hard
work, you’ve got to have some smarts, you’ve got to be a
pretty good judge of character, and you’ve got to have some
luck. Those are the four things that count most in this
business. Luck isn’t 80 percent, but it’s certainly 10 or 20 percent.
Hard work and good judgment about people are very important."
He also talked about the notion of deferred gratification, noting he
and his wife saved for a time to buy that big blue Pontiac he drove
around the valley:
"You know, people today want to start with a BMW as
their first car or a Mercedes. They don’t really have much in
the way of deferred gratification. Money is there for doing a
good job, and it’s a fall-out for doing a good job, I don’t view
it as the ultimate goal. I would hope I would live better than I
lived when I was a kid growing up, and I think that’s the dream
of everybody in this country. I have done much better
economically than I ever thought I would do, which is a nice
outcome, but it was not my primary objective or goal when I
entered the VC profession."