South African expat Roelof Botha has been promoted to become a ‘steward’ of one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalist firms – Sequoia, famous for investing in companies like Apple, PayPal and WhatsApp.
Botha is already well known for not only being the grandson of South Africa’s former Foreign Minister ‘Pik’ Botha (and son of top economist Roelof Botha), but also for being a former chief financial officer at PayPal.
His list of accolades and achievements at just the age of 43 is long and impressive – at Sequoi, where he’s been working since 2003, he has already led its investments into YouTube and Instagram. Forbes Magazine named him one of the leading venture capital investors in the world.
On his biography page he says he’d “rather not prescribe what areas I’m interested in. My interests are eclectic, so I prefer the flexibility of keeping an open mind.”
For such a high-achiever, he admits he had no plan to be in venture capital, or be the CFO of a tech startup.
“I just knew there was a lot of opportunity in Silicon Valley and I had an intuition that I needed to be here.”
Botha – who grew up in Pretoria and Cape Town – had moved to the USA in 1998, but it was after the emerging markets currency crisis, so the money he’d saved in South Africa to attend business school in America lost 40% of its value overnight. “By the last semester at Stanford I’d run out of money… That’s when I joined PayPal,” he says of the company that was co-founded by fellow South African Elon Musk.
He says: “Of course I was attracted to the company as well, but there was a very real need to pay rent the next month.”
He doesn’t mention that he was valedictorian of his MBA class at Standford (apart from also having graduated from Cape Town University with the highest marks ever in actuarial science… and being the youngest actuary in SA at the age of 25)!
Humility seems to be ingrained. In his bio he says “there’s a very strong sense of humility inside our walls. Every day there are spectacular businesses being built, and there are more that we’re not involved with than that we are.”
He also admits that there’s a temptation as a venture capitalist to step in and try to solve the problems and tell an entrepreneur what to do… but “I think it’s not about supplying an answer. It’s having a conversation, because I don’t have the context of being inside the company 80 hours a week.”
His greatest frustration in life, he says, “is that I buy books faster than I can read them.”
Botha will be taking over the running of the US operations of Sequoia from longtime partner Jim Goetz who is reducing his workload to “start saying “yes” to some of the other aspects of my life that have been on hold over the past twenty years.”
— InstantScale (@InstantScale) February 1, 2017