I had an opportunity recently to sit down with venture capitalist Kevin Compton to discuss faith and business. He disclosed his near-death experience, recounted how he discovered his calling in life and offered his rules for success. Compton’s story provides another example of how God is working in the lives of people in Silicon Valley.
What is our purpose in life? This becomes an even more compelling question when a person confronts a near-death experience.
A close call
“Why was I spared? What was I saved for?” These are questions Compton asks himself since surviving what should have been certain death from an accident when he was 7 years old.
Compton and his friends were playing army at a construction site near his home in rural Missouri. When he jumped off a rafter in the house under construction to surprise a friend below, a steel rod punctured his leg, traveled to his intestines and damaged them. His friends helped him the three blocks to his home. His mother, seeing the profusion of blood, rushed young Compton to the hospital.
The attending physician miscalculated the severity of his injury and simply patched up his leg. That evening, the boy’s body started turning black and he experienced severe pain. His parents rushed him back to the hospital. The internist on duty properly diagnosed the extent of the injury but gave Compton little chance of survival. The young doctor “broke every rule in the hospital,” according to Compton, and operated while his parents prayed.
Following the operation, the doctor indicated that if Compton did survive, he would never walk, certainly never run and never live a normal life.
A miracle happened and not only did Compton survive, but he was also able to walk. As a teenager, he ran the 100-yard dash as a Junior Olympian and even played football.
Mixing faith, business
Compton was raised in a Christian home – his grandparents were missionaries, his father had been a pastor and his mother was a devoted follower of Christ.
Christ became more personal to him in high school.
“I never doubted God or Jesus, but I questioned myself – my ability to be a good Christian,” he said. “Am I living up to my potential? Am I living up to my obligations? Am I being a good witness?”
While in college, Compton worked at a local Ford dealership. When the dealership acquired its first computer in the mid-1970s, Compton was asked to make it work. At that point, Compton said, “I found my calling.”
When personal computers entered the market, he started selling them business-to-business. Businessland Inc. acquired the company he worked for, and Compton moved to California in 1986 as an employee of Businessland, the largest PC and networking retailer in the Bay Area at that time.
In the late 1980s, as Businessland was being sold, two of its investors recruited him to join venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Over the next 20 years, it became one of the most successful venture firms in the country, investing in many successful high-tech companies. Compton himself was rated among the top 20 venture capitalists in the world.
In addition to his role with Kleiner Perkins, Compton made a personal investment in the San Jose Sharks, which he sold in 2013. He currently is co-founder of a venture firm, Radar Partners, that invests in early-stage technology companies. In addition, he and his wife are engaged in microfinancing projects in depressed areas in Third World countries.
Throughout his career, he has stayed connected with the community and his church. For more than 15 years, he has taught adult Sunday school classes that have had as many as 150 attendees. He also coached Pop Warner football and helped out at Valley Christian High School. He uses his platform as a venture capitalist to speak all over the world.
Rules for success
Compton offered the following rules for success.
• Live by the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated.
• Have a sense of urgency. Compton said he works hard to make very few lists and, if possible, tries to take care of things right away.
• Make an effort, knowing that results will vary. “It’s better to just try rather than only trying when you know you won’t fail or waiting until everything is right,” Compton said.
• Think big. You accomplish little unless you have big dreams and act on those dreams, according to Compton.
• Think small. The difference between success and mediocrity is attention to detail, Compton said. He begins every day by reflecting on the previous day and often writes handwritten notes to thank or encourage others.
Skip Vaccarello is a longtime Los Altos resident and founder of a new website, Finding God in Silicon Valley. For a longer version of this interview, visit www. findinggodinsiliconvalley.com. Interviews from this site will be used as part of an upcoming book.