Over the years, much of Eugene’s business wisdom became widely known as “Kleiner’s Laws.” I was fortunate to have many lessons taught me one-on-one. Some of my favorites:
• Make sure the dog wants to eat the dog food. No matter how ground-breaking a new technology, how large a potential market, make certain customers actually want it.
• Build one business at a time. Most business plans are overly ambitious. Concentrate on being successful in one endeavor first.
• The time to take the tarts is when they’re being passed. If an environment is right for funding, go for it. Eugene, more than anyone, knew that venture capital goes in cycles.
• The problem with most companies is they don’t know what business they’re in.
• Even turkeys can fly in a high wind. In times of strong economies, even bad companies can look good.
• It’s easier to get a piece of an existing market than to create a new one.
• It’s difficult to see the picture when you’re inside the frame.
• After learning some of the tricks of the trade, some people think they know the trade. This reflected some of Eugene’s own humility; he recognized that many venture capitalists thought they were experts when they had just a bit of knowledge.
• Venture capitalists will stop at nothing to copy success.
• Invest in people, not just products. Eugene always respected founding entrepreneurs. He wanted to build companies with them not just with their ideas.
On Nov. 20, Eugene Kleiner died at the age of 80. In the last weeks of his life, I asked Eugene if he had any regrets — any investments he wished he’d made, places he wished he’d visited, anything he’d missed. He sighed deeply, and his answer surprised me, “I know I was lucky to get out (of Austria) myself, and I was young, but I wish I could have brought some of my friends too — I know it’s not realistic, but I wished I could have saved them.” With all that Eugene had done, all that he had contributed, he never forgot the value of a single human life.