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Talking Brexit, Exits, and Uber with GV’s Bill Maris

TechCrunch TechCrunch 12/07/2016 Connie Loizos

Yesterday afternoon, before he took the stage at the Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, we sat down with GV CEO Bill Maris in a billowing white tent on the campus of the Aspen Institute, where the conference is being held. We talked about how Brexit impacts GV’s European strategy. (You may recall it has an office in London.) We also asked Maris about some of GV’s newest bets, its biggest bet of all time (Uber), and the decision of one of GV’s highest-profile investors, Rich Miner, to leave the group. Out chat has been edited for length.

TC: You aren’t as active in Europe as in U.S. but you have investors in London. What do you make of Brexit and its ramifications?

BM: I think it’s probably overblown, at least from my perspective. And how will it affect us? Probably not at all. We still have people there and we’re still investing in Great Britain and Europe, etc.

I don’t make investment decisions based on those kinds of politics. The reason we’re there had nothing to do with the fact that Great Britain was in the EU. Now that Great Britain isn’t in the EU won’t impact why we’re there. We’re there because we think there are good opportunities and good entrepreneurs.

TC: You’ve been making a lot of healthcare bets, recently, including backing a young liquid biopsy company called Grail that hopes to catch cancers earlier. It’s competing with a growing number of similar startups, from Guardant Health to Freenome. Why bet on this one in particular? 

BM: Something like 80 percent of Stage 3 and Stage 4 cancers result in rapid death, so the earlier you can predict it, the earlier you can treat it through surgery or other means, and that’s their approach. And that thesis makes sense to us. There are a lot of liquid biopsy startups out there [yes]. I hope one of them succeeds. One of our bets is on Grail; we seed-funded it. But we hope one of [these startups] succeeds. We should all hope that.

TC: GV’s biggest bet to date is Uber, into which you plugged $330 million. At this point, somewhat strangely, four of its other investors are also now investors in its biggest competitor in China, Didi Chuxing. What do you make of that? 

BM: We’re big believers in Uber. The company has exceeded all of our expectations thus far.

TC: But from a strategic standpoint, what might be happening here? Are these investors merely hedging their bets? Betting that Uber and Didi will have to co-exist? Betting the two will merge? Could you see that happening?

BM: I could see an asteroid fly through the sky and crash land here. I could see lots of things. But I don’t know; you’d have to ask them.

For me, competition from Didi isn’t something that keeps me up at night. I think Uber is doing quite well on its own without my help and advice. I think it’s focused on execution, as it should be. Also, competition makes companies better, not worse.

TC: You’re a smart guy, though. Do you think Uber needs to own China?

BM: I wouldn’t bet against Uber. They’re very focused and smart. And do they need to own China? To get into the individual markets of the companies that we invest in, I just don’t know enough. We don’t have that control. We voice opinions on these things if we’re asked, but a company like Uber has this escape velocity right now where they have a lot of people who can give them input, and whether they should compete in China or own China — that’s beyond my pay grade.

TC: Do they communicate much with investors? They have so many at this point. Do you get a monthly or quarterly report or any kind of formal, regular updates?

BM: If I call them, they answer the phone. If they call me, I answer the phone. I don’t know about anyone else; I know I get what I need from them. They hopefully get what they need from us. We’re always standing by.

TC: How does it work typically with your portfolio companies?

BM: We have 300 companies and 300 different agreements, whether it’s for financial statements or a board seat, it’s so individual. So when I want to know something about Uber, I’ll call [CEO] Travis Kalanick or [SVP of business] Emil Michael, or I’ll call [GV partner] David Krane. He’s actually who’d I’d call first.

TC: Is he on Uber’s board? 

BM: He was a board observer, but it was his investment that he led and he’s kind of responsible [for that deal] so I call him first and we get what we need and I assume others do, too.

TC: I know you have to run. Any comment on Android co-founder Rich Miner leaving GV to launch a new startup within Google?

BM: Rich and I have worked together from the very beginning, for years, and I love working with Rich. But when someone comes to you and says, “I want to do this other thing,” you can either be mad and be like a jerk, or you can be sad.

I mean, he did his time. He spent the last eight years [with GV]. He led a lot of investments. And he’s not gone. He’s still in the same office. He has the same cell phone; I can still reach him.

TC: I imagine you’d fund him, given his background. Why do you think he’s starting this new company inside of Google rather than launch it outside, as with his prior companies?

BM: When you see the resources and people that are available to help you at a place like Google, it’s hard to imagine doing something you know is difficult without those things. For me, it would be like having one arm tied behind my back.

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