Bill Maris has had an eclectic career. He studied neuroscience and Shakespeare in college, started his career as a portfolio manager picking biotech investments and got smitten by the idea of entrepreneurship during the internet boom. His startup went through hell after the dotcom crash but Maris survived and eventually sold the firm before rebooting his life. After taking a two-year break with a social project that involved a novel hydrophobic acrylic lens for cataract surgery, his career took an unexpected twist at Susan’s. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had first set up shop at Susan Wojcicki’s garage, and Maris being Susan’s friend happened to connect with them and the rest as they say is history.
In his second innings, Maris as president and managing partner of Google Ventures has built a formidable team and so far has poured $2 billion into about 300 fledglings that include Uber, which is also its biggest investment. Maris is personally both passionate and bullish about life sciences and in recent times famously said, “Today, it’s possible to live to be 500.” While that statement is more headline grabbing, his larger point is about how life sciences today is at the cusp of helping to slow or reverse ageing, fight disease and elongate our lifespan.
Google Ventures is relatively new in the business. Is there an edge that it has as opposed to other venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road?
You are looking at the edge (grins). I set up and designed the firm to have advantages. First the people — we wanted to hire entrepreneurs, people with deep technical backgrounds who were experts in certain areas be it sciences, materials science, agriculture, machine learning and artificial intelligence. But they also need to be really great people whom you enjoy working with, who create a good culture, who foster collaboration and who have the experience as entrepreneurs. If an entrepreneur is making a pitch to me, it is really important that I have been in that seat. I should have empathy for what your experience is like. That is one piece of it. And then, coming out of Google, we had to create structural elements to give ourselves as many advantages as possible.
First, of course, we said we will hire whoever we want — free of any interference from Google. Second, we get paid li