Goguen: Make a Dent in the Universe

Prominent venture capitalist and philanthropist inspires prospective entrepreneurs at Glacier Startup Weekend

By Dillon Tabish

As a boy growing up in Bedford, Massachusetts – the heart of New England and cradle of the American Revolution – Michael Goguen was immersed in the history of the founding fathers and original patriots who fought for independence.

“I remember just being struck by how astounding that was, that these people became so passionate in what they believed and the way they wanted to change their society,” Goguen said.

“But it was against incredible odds. It didn’t make logical sense that they were going to be able to make this change.”

Yet their passion fueled them, through incredible hardship and challenges, Goguen said, “and look at the dent they created in the universe – they created the greatest country the world has ever known.”

A similar ambition – to change the world for the better – has driven the prominent venture capitalist and philanthropist who today likes to echo one of Steve Jobs’ famous quotes.

“I want to make a dent in the universe,” Goguen said.

In recent years, one of Silicon Valley’s technology magnates has become an iconic yet discreet contributor to the Flathead Valley. The part-time Whitefish resident has spent untold millions of dollars on the community he now cherishes.

“I fell in love with it here and I fell in love with the people, too,” he said.

His contributions include two world-class search and rescue helicopters, which have flown over 75 missions; helping fund the expansion of the North Valley Food Bank; and protecting nearly 2,500 acres of land known as The Whitefish Trail for the public to enjoy.

The list goes on. He continues to invest in cancer research, fixated on solving a disease that many people call unsolvable.

Goguen recently donated $2 million over five years to the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force in an effort to protect kids from online predators.

“It’s amazing. Mike is so plugged into our community,” said Mike Kazmier, the founder of Avail Media in Kalispell and local business advocate.

Kazmier introduced Goguen at the Sept. 19 kickoff to Glacier Startup Weekend, an event devoted to helping spur local entrepreneurialism. The inaugural event, hosted at Flathead Valley Community College over three days, drew more than 130 people on opening night.

Goguen inspired those in attendance to strive like he has to be a “dentmaker,” whether it’s by starting a new business or making a difference in the community.

“I actually believe there’s a higher percentage than normal of potential dentmakers in Montana just by the nature of the personalities. Folks here are super hard working and passionate about anything they do,” Goguen said. “I think there’s all the right DNA.”

Goguen shared his experience over 18 years as a partner at Sequoia Capital, arguably the world’s most successful venture capital firm. With its relatively small group of members based in Menlo Park, California, the firm has helped launch many of the world’s most prominent technology companies, including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Electronic Arts, Cisco Systems and YouTube.

As Goguen noted, the founders of these massive companies all started out with “incredibly humble beginnings.” These successful entrepreneurs all share a few similar traits, he said, including “insane passion” and work ethic and constant perfectionism.

“I don’t know of a story of a company that ended up very successful and the founders didn’t work insanely hard,” he said.

Instead of an impressive resume, successful entrepreneurs are usually fixated on thrilling their customers with an insanely good product. When that occurs, “good things happen,” Goguen said.

As a community, he recommended increasing infrastructure, such as high-speed Internet. He also recommended increasing technology education at younger school grades to help future generations succeed.

Looking across the crowd in Kalispell, Goguen said he saw a room full of potential dentmakers.

“The passion it takes to start a company is the exact same passion and the same DNA that I think a huge percentage of you have in you, to do anything you want to do and make a big change,” he said.