From the New York Times, bestselling author of More Money Than God comes the astonishingly frank and intimate story of Silicon Valley’s dominant venture-capital firms—and how their strategies and fates have shaped the path of innovation and the global economy
Innovations rarely come from “experts.” Elon Musk was not an “electric car person” before he started Tesla. When it comes to improbable innovations, a legendary tech VC told Sebastian Mallaby, the future cannot be predicted, it can only be discovered. It is the nature of the venture-capital game that most attempts at discovery fail, but very few succeed at such a scale that they more than make up for everything else. That extreme ratio of success and failure is the power law that drives the VC business, all of Silicon Valley, the wider tech sector, and, by extension, the world.
In The Power Law, Sebastian Mallaby has parlayed unprecedented access to the most celebrated venture capitalists of all time—the key figures at Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Accel, Benchmark, and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as Chinese partnerships such as Qiming and Capital Today—into a riveting blend of storytelling and analysis that unfurls the history of tech incubation, in the Valley and ultimately worldwide. We learn the unvarnished truth, often for the first time, about some of the most iconic triumphs and infamous disasters in Valley history, from the comedy of errors at the birth of Apple to the avalanche of venture money that fostered hubris at WeWork and Uber.
VCs’ relentless search for grand slams brews an obsession with the ideal of the lone entrepreneur-genius, and companies seen as potential “unicorns” are given intoxicating amounts of power, with sometimes disastrous results. On a more systemic level, the need to make outsized bets on unproven talent reinforces bias, with women and minorities still represented at woefully low levels. This does not just have social justice implications: as Mallaby relates, China’s homegrown VC sector, having learned at the Valley’s feet, is exploding and now has more women VC luminaries than America has ever had. Still, Silicon Valley VC remains the top incubator of business innovation anywhere—it is not where ideas come from so much as where they go to become the products and companies that create the future. By taking us so deeply into the VCs’ game, The Power Law helps us think about our own future through their eyes.
“Thoroughly magnificent. . . . Seriously great, and wildly important.”
“Sebastian Mallaby is the master of unspooling human drama from financial systems. Here, the venture capitalists are the protagonists. Whether it’s financiers scrambling to court a pajama-wearing young Mark Zuckerberg or venture capitalist Bill Gurley’s efforts to oust Uber founder Travis Kalanick from the company, the stories are almost Shakespearean in their depictions of ambition, jealousy and ego.”
—NPR, “Books We Love 2022”
“A must-read for anyone seeking to understand modern-day Silicon Valley and even our economy writ large . . . Most people who write about Silicon Valley do so from the viewpoint of entrepreneurs who built companies with the backing of venture capitalists. Mallaby writes from the perspective of the venture capitalists themselves. He tells his story through an accumulation of smaller stories, each one phenomenally detailed and engaging.”
—Bethany McLean, The Washington Post
“A gripping fly-on-the-wall story of the rise of this unique and important industry based on extensive interviews with some of the most successful venture capitalists . . . Mr. Mallaby writes a fast-paced narrative. He also has a journalist’s eye for revealing details”
—Daniel Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal
“Sweeping and authoritative . . . tells an undercovered tale. . . . A worthy successor to More Money Than God.”
“Well-researched book, leavened by lively portraits of leading figures.”
“Sebastian Mallaby’s The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future is a rip-roaring read full of eccentric geniuses . . . A smart and consequential public intellectual, Mallaby has formulated a smart recipe to restore America (and the world) to vibrant equitable prosperity. He makes the case vividly in a new book which should be on every congressional desk . . . It may be the most informative and engaging economic narrative history since Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in history.”
“How does the venture capital industry work its wonders? Is there a replicable formula for successful VC investing, or is it just a matter of being in the right place at the right time? And how secure is Silicon Valley’s dominance of the industry? Sebastian Mallaby’s absorbing new book, The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Art of Disruption seeks to answer these questions. . . . He brings his trademark mixture of exhaustive research and clear analysis to his most interesting subject so far.”
—Adrian Wooldridge, Bloomberg
“As we face urgent man-made existential challenges from climate change to economic inequality, Sebastian Mallaby shows that the capitalists of Silicon Valley are shaping the future in ways few understand. In The Power Law he takes us inside their rarified world, showing the possibilities and shortcomings of their big egos and big bets. Mallaby’s deep access enables us to get a rare and unsettling look inside a subculture of unparalleled influence.”
—Jane Mayer, Chief Washington Correspondent, The New Yorker