John Doerr on Google OKRs, How He Made the Methodology Famous

Anyone involved in the tech industry or a management process discipline has heard of John Doerr and how he introduced the OKR system to Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1999. His instant best-seller, “Measure What Matters” details the OKR methodology, its history, principles, and provides insightful examples of how Google and numerous other high-performance organizations have utilized the process to achieve stellar results.

The following will help you to learn much more about the man who coined the phrases, “The secret to success is setting the right goals,” and, “Ideas are easy, execution is everything.”

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How John Doerr’s Early Education Laid a Foundation

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Doerr grew up in St. Louis, MO, far from the high finance, high tech world he would enter in California. He attended the exclusive, all-boy Chaminade College Preparatory School, an independent Roman Catholic institution, of the Marianist Order. His parents’ early investment in education has paid handsome dividends. Doerr’s continuing education included a B.S. and a Master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Rice University, followed by an MBA from Harvard Business School.

John Doerr’s Career Before Venture Capital

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Doerr was putting his education to work even before completing his electrical engineering degree at Rice. While earning his master’s in electrical engineering, John and two friends co-founded a company to write graphics software for Burroughs. Eventually, Doerr sold his share of the business to his partners.

In 1975, while still attending Harvard Business School, John ventured to Silicon Valley in the hopes of landing an internship at a VC firm. Unable to find a position in VC but able to program computers, one of the VC firms recommended John apply to Intel.

Doerr would stay on with Intel while finishing his degree at Harvard and for another four years. During his tenure at Intel, Doerr held various roles in engineering, marketing, sales and sales training. It was said John eventually became one of Intel’s best systems field sales representatives. It was, however, his introduction to Andy Groves, and Grove’s management philosophy which was perhaps his most significant take away from the relationship.

How John Doerr Became the Godfather of OKRs

During his initial internship with Intel, Doerr secured an invitation to Intel’s Organization, Philosophy, and Economics seminar, conducted by then Executive VP, Andy Groves. During the course Groves spoke of an “achievement orientation,” “accomplishment over credentials,” and other Intel beliefs, summarized by Intel’s tagline, “Intel delivers.”

It was during this seminar that Doerr was first exposed to the art of “formal goal setting”, a subject which he found fascinating. Groves considered the Godfather of OKRs, introduced a system evolved from Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives. John Doerr referred to it as a very, very simple system, called OKRs, defined as Objectives and Key Results.

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How OKRs Were Used at Intel

So, just how were OKRs executed at Intel? Bill Davidow, head of the microcomputer systems division, further amended the definition as follows: “We will achieve a certain Objective as measured by the following Key Results!” The “as measured by” made all the difference.

Doerr witnessed the successful execution of the OKR methodology in numerous situations at Intel, some against what almost appeared to be insurmountable odds. His mantra was formed, “Ideas are easy, execution is everything.”

How Doerr Made the Leap to Venture Capital

Throughout his time at Intel, Doerr remained committed to the goal of entering the venture capital field. He was confident he could add value by leveraging his technical background while working with new companies. In 1980, an opportunity surfaced at Kleiner Perkins which prompted him to reach out to one of their partners, Brook Byers. Byers was impressed with Doerr and offered him a position with the firm shortly after that.

Since 1980 Doerr and KPCG have provided venture capital funding and intellectual capital to some of the most successful technology companies in the world; Compaq, Sun Microsystems, Amazon.com, and Google.

How John Doerr Proved that OKRs Really Work

Another defining moment in Doerr’s appreciation of Groves’ OKR methodology occurred in the early 80’s when he took a sabbatical from Kleiner to head up the desktop division at Sun Microsystems. For the first time, he had significant people responsibilities with a staff of hundreds. He implemented the OKRs system which as he says, “Brought clarity to every meeting, empowered my executive staff, and rallied the entire operation.” That was the proof point he needed regarding the effectiveness of management by OKRs.

Nineteen years after joining Kleiner, Doerr took his biggest risk as a venture capitalist. He invested $ 11.8 million, in return for a 12 percent stake, in of a start-up founded by a pair of Stanford grad school dropouts.

How a Ninety-Minute OKR Presentation Shaped the Google of Today

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As John Doerr relates in “Measure What Matters” he first presented the OKR system to the Google staff, a little over thirty people at that time, including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, with Marissa Mayer, Susan Wojcicki, and Salar Kamangar. The “boardroom” featured a ping-pong table (which doubled as their boardroom table). The first slide in his presentation simply stated, OKRs: “A management methodology that helps to ensure that the company focuses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization.”

Doerr promised the staff of young Googlers that he would finish his presentation in precisely ninety minutes. In return, he was seeking a commitment to creating an initial set of quarterly Google OKRs and a three-month OKR trial.

Why John Doerr Is the Top Technology Venture Capitalist in the World

During his career at Kleiner Perkins Doerr has backed some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt of Google; Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com; and Scott Cook and Bill Campbell of Intuit.

Not every Doerr/KPCG investment was a “unicorn” such as Google or Amazon; however the wins far exceed the misses. One such miss was Fisker Automotive. In that instance right space, wrong company due to poor execution. Tesla’s success proves that the electrification of automobiles is a viable proposition.

His success in venture capital has garnered national attention.

He is widely regarded as one of the top technology venture capitalists in the world, and is a member of the Forbes Magazine exclusive “Midas List.”

As you would expect John Doerr sits on the board of a number of companies Kleiner has invested in, such as Google, the new social news mag Flipboard, Zynga, and Coursera.

In February 2011, Doerr hosted a dinner at his Woodside, CA home to include then President Obama, Steve Jobs, Eric E. Schmidt of Google, as well as Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook. Impressive company for a man from a middle-class family in St. Lois, MO.

How OKRs Made John Doerr Famous

We started this article by promising to let you know more about the man who has done more than any other individual to popularize the OKR methodology. Hopefully, you have found our material enlightening.

The reverse is also true. If Doerr has made OKRs popular, this system that has been adopted so widely, and embraced by so many of today’s largest and best-run companies have created the larger than life legend of John Doerr. Objectives, focus, alignment, cadence, check-in’s, and Key Results have become the language of the new way we work. A language developed and perfected by John Doerr.

How You Can Use OKRs Successfully Like John Doerr, (Without Having to Hire Him)

For more on John Doerr see our Top 30 Insights from John Doerr eBook. If you’re a CEO, an executive, a middle-manager, or a front-line manager of any team, please look at how you can improve your team alignment, performance, and results through OKR goals and ongoing performance management. Here is more about Atiim OKR software & performance management software.

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