clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr explains how to run your company like Bill Gates or Bono

Doerr’s new book unpacks the power of communicating and measuring your goals.

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

John Doerr Courtesy Kleiner Perkins

To any entrepreneur, the idea of setting goals may sound boringly basic. But according to John Doerr, the chairman of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, it’s rare that anyone takes idea just one step further: Openly communicating those goals to their teams.

“If we go to the average company in America, just the very idea that the goals are all transparent and public, that’s revolutionary,” Doerr said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher.

Doerr’s new book, “Measure What Matters,” is a guidebook to using a leadership strategy called Objectives and Key Results — or, in other words, communicating what you want to achieve and measuring how well you achieve it. In society at large, he said, “our leaders and some of our great institutions are failing us,” in many cases because they have picked the wrong objectives; more specifically in tech, OKRs fail when CEOs build their businesses to be cults of personality.

“It’s hard a run a company well if you don’t have clear goals, measure your progress against them, share them among your team members and get the team aligned and working on them,” Doerr said when asked about management struggles at Facebook and Uber. “That’s potentially the power of this system. But if you’re in a founder-worshipping culture where you have a narcissistic CEO who’s never run anything before and is out of his depth, disaster will unfold.

“There’s nothing special about the latitude and longitude of Silicon Valley that says leaders there are going to be effective, if they’re not clear and using goals to empower their team,” he added.

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Doerr explained how Objectives and Key Results works in practice, citing examples from Google (in which he was an early investor), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the One Campaign, a nonprofit founded by U2 frontman Bono. In the latter case, he personally pitched the organization on OKRs, drawing from his own experiences as an investor and what he had learned from mentors like Andy Grove and Bill Campbell.

“They [the One Campaign] had two gorgeous objectives, one of which was to eliminate extreme poverty, stupid poverty,” Doerr recalled. “And one of the key results was debt relief for the neediest countries. They tracked that over time, and they achieved it. And the other was to eliminate preventable disease. And one of the key measures there was getting antiretroviral HIV drugs, principally to women in Africa.”

Those lofty goals may sound broad, but by articulating them at the top, everyone else was able to structure their work to be as useful as possible, with a sense of what numbers they needed to hit.

“At the next level of the organization, someone would say, ‘Okay, I’m on the anti-HIV objective, how am I going to get that done?’” Doerr said. “I’m going to make sure the global fund gets funded, and one way to fund the global fund is with the Red campaign. And if I’m going to make the Red campaign successful, the most important thing I can do is to get Steve Jobs to put the red iPhone out. Apple’s been an enormous contributor to that effort, and I don’t think it would have happened without OKRs.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.