• The Power Law

  • Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future
  • By: Sebastian Mallaby
  • Narrated by: Will Damron
  • Length: 16 hrs and 53 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (421 ratings)

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The Power Law

By: Sebastian Mallaby
Narrated by: Will Damron
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Publisher's Summary

“A gripping fly-on-the-wall story of the rise of this unique and important industry based on extensive interviews with some of the most successful venture capitalists.”—Daniel Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal

“A must-read for anyone seeking to understand modern-day Silicon Valley and even our economy writ large.”—Bethany McLean, The Washington Post

"A rare and unsettling look inside a subculture of unparalleled influence.”—Jane Mayer

"A classic...A book of exceptional reporting, analysis and storytelling.”—Charles Duhigg

From the New York Times best-selling author of More Money Than God comes the astonishingly frank and intimate story of Silicon Valley’s dominant venture-capital firms—and how their strategies and fates have shaped the path of innovation and the global economy

Innovations rarely come from “experts.” Elon Musk was not an “electric car person” before he started Tesla. When it comes to improbable innovations, a legendary tech VC told Sebastian Mallaby, the future cannot be predicted, it can only be discovered. It is the nature of the venture-capital game that most attempts at discovery fail, but a very few succeed at such a scale that they more than make up for everything else. That extreme ratio of success and failure is the power law that drives the VC business, all of Silicon Valley, the wider tech sector, and, by extension, the world.

In The Power Law, Sebastian Mallaby has parlayed unprecedented access to the most celebrated venture capitalists of all time—the key figures at Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Accel, Benchmark, and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as Chinese partnerships such as Qiming and Capital Today—into a riveting blend of storytelling and analysis that unfurls the history of tech incubation, in the Valley and ultimately worldwide. We learn the unvarnished truth, often for the first time, about some of the most iconic triumphs and infamous disasters in Valley history, from the comedy of errors at the birth of Apple to the avalanche of venture money that fostered hubris at WeWork and Uber.

VCs’ relentless search for grand slams brews an obsession with the ideal of the lone entrepreneur-genius, and companies seen as potential “unicorns” are given intoxicating amounts of power, with sometimes disastrous results. On a more systemic level, the need to make outsized bets on unproven talent reinforces bias, with women and minorities still represented at woefully low levels. This does not just have social justice implications: as Mallaby relates, China’s homegrown VC sector, having learned at the Valley’s feet, is exploding and now has more women VC luminaries than America has ever had. Still, Silicon Valley VC remains the top incubator of business innovation anywhere—it is not where ideas come from so much as where they go to become the products and companies that create the future. By taking us so deeply into the VCs’ game, The Power Law helps us think about our own future through their eyes.

©2022 Sebastian Mallaby (P)2022 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Shortlisted for the Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award

“Thoroughly magnificent. . . . Seriously great, and wildly important.”—Forbes

“Sebastian Mallaby is the master of unspooling human drama from financial systems. Here, the venture capitalists are the protagonists. Whether it’s financiers scrambling to court a pajama-wearing young Mark Zuckerberg or venture capitalist Bill Gurley’s efforts to oust Uber founder Travis Kalanick from the company, the stories are almost Shakespearean in their depictions of ambition, jealousy and ego.”NPR, “Books We Love 2022”

“A must-read for anyone seeking to understand modern-day Silicon Valley and even our economy writ large . . . Most people who write about Silicon Valley do so from the viewpoint of entrepreneurs who built companies with the backing of venture capitalists. Mallaby writes from the perspective of the venture capitalists themselves. He tells his story through an accumulation of smaller stories, each one phenomenally detailed and engaging.”Bethany McLean, The Washington Post

What listeners say about The Power Law

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Best book ever written about venture capital

Great research and storytelling this is the best book I read this year and best I've ever read on this topic

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Complete history, phenomenal, nearly perfect

This book is practically a clone of The Code Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, by Margaret O'Mara (also an Audible), but from a different perspective. I reread my review of Margaret's book again before writing this one, and this review could also practically be a clone of my other review; but I will extend it further to say that The Power Law goes further, and was for me more engaging.

There is one slightly annoying thing about this book, which caught my attention because the book is all about Silicon Valley, the cradle of technologies built by engineers and scientists whose Bible is mathematical rigor: At some point in one of the first few chapters the author compares quadratic power-law growth to exponential-doubling growth, and says that the former grows faster than the latter. While 2^N ≤ N^2 is true for small integers N (I think his example was for N=3, so 2^3 = 8 being less than 3^2 = 9 is the proof to his particular example), this is no longer true for any integers N greater than 4. And it becomes comically untrue the larger N gets.

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Amazing amazing amazing book

This is the type of books in which I find myself completely depressed when done, because I know it's going to take a while unil I find something else this good.

Bravo Mallaby, amazing and beautiful work. And bravo Damron, your narration is simply perfect.

And for anyone considering this book, don't hesitate for a second - it's so good regardless if you're in tech or not. I'm a VC backed startup founder, and this should be considered mandatory read for anyone in this space.

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VC: Soup to Nuts

The Power Law is a well informed retelling of the VC phenomenon as it has swelled and shifted. It provides an intellectual framework for, and an interpretation of, the foment resulting from this global hairball of innovation.

The outsized returns of Tech VC attracted new participants with ever larger pools of capital . . . as they say in Hollywood the story writes itself.

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Guy Fieri for Oligarchs

Good to know that everyone is a visionary, far seeing person. I was not aware. Great to know that even the jerks aren't really jerks, it just wasn't something they could avoid.
This is the second book I have read by Mallaby. It's useful to inform yourself about these people, and he does that.
I used to work with a guy who made promotional films for local governments to try to attract big business to locate in the area. We always showed the nice parts, not the toxic waste dumps.
So you aren't going to get more than a promotional view of these people, but it's a start.

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Excellent content, excellent voice

Very intriguing story and thoughtful reflection of the startup journey of many brand names, a must read for entrepreneurs.

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Excellent history of venture capital

Mallaby draws a comprehensive tapestry of the evolution of venture investing. It is a surprising and entertaining path, well worth the journey. Also, the final chapter on the future is a must read for every member of Congress on how not to kill the golden goose.

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stupendous <3

an amazing and gripping account of history :) I would highly recommend this for a quick listen or carefully read.