Kevin Stevens
Kevin Stevens

Who is Michael Ovitz?

Key: bold = my takeaway

Great firms don’t move from one crisis to the next, they aren’t pulled by their work - they create it.

Agents used to be like firemen: they ran from one crisis to the next, reacting to offers and ultimatums, never knowing what tomorrow would bring. At CAA, we prided ourselves on making tomorrows.

The truth is the strongest sales tool, especially if you can make it happen.

My pitch ran the risk of sounding fulsome: another salesman, full of blarney. But it’s only blarney if you can’t make it happen. If you can, then it’s the truth—and the truth is the supreme sales tool. When I accurately foretold future events, my client: (a) felt good about getting the outcome I had predicted; (b) thought I was a genius for predicting it; and (c) spread the story, which helped us sign the next client.

In any service industry (VC, agent), priority one is the best interest of your customer.

Sometimes, representing a client’s best interests means not getting him what he thinks he wants. The judgment part of the job requires knowing when to redirect a client’s desires.

Never make the same mistake twice.

I postmortemed everything, and never made the same mistake twice.

The 4 rules of CAA all centered around trust and communication.

CAA had four commandments: (1) Never lie to your clients or colleagues. (2) Return every call by end of day (or at least have your assistant buy you a day’s grace). (3) Follow up and don’t leave people guessing. Every desk phone at CAA bore the message COMMUNICATE. After our Fred Specktor heard me use that word in every speech I gave, he stuck the plaques on Ron’s phone and mine—and when we admired them, he stuck them on everyone’s phone. It was our version of IBM’s famous imperative to THINK. The last commandment, and the hardest one to follow, was (4) Never bad-mouth the competition.

The flat structure kept CAA agile and hungry. Everyone was empowered to make decisions and momentum was everything.

We built our company around positive thinking. We had no hierarchy, no titles, no reporting lines, no nameplates. We killed ourselves to take everyone’s point of view in meetings, to make everyone feel empowered.
We worked insanely hard, but we fostered the illusion of working impossibly hard. I believed momentum was everything—once a company relaxed, it was done for.

Being able to connect with your customer at a human level is everything. This requires knowing a little about a lot.

I wanted worldliness to be one of a CAA agent’s defining qualities—Be able to talk knowledgeably about what your clients love. This will encompass pretty much everything.

The easiest sell is selling people what they already know.

Every actor, writer, or director believes he or she is responsible for his or her own success. All I did was sell that belief back to them.

Important gifts should be keepsakes.

my rule was that important gifts shouldn’t be disposable: no champagne, no muffin baskets. Instead, rare first editions from Heritage books, ancient Greek coins, paintings and prints, even the occasional car—sturdy, thoughtful presents that would last.

Just because you are good at one thing, doesn’t mean you are good at everything.

He had fallen prey to the dangerous, entirely human delusion that if you succeed in one arena you can do anything.

In a multiplayer game, you don’t want to be in the median.

In any multiplayer contest, you want to be the outlier. I told Gille, “Everyone you’ve met with is in the business of selling assets. But I’m in the business of building assets, and I think you are, too.”

No one is ever fired for hiring IBM.

At big companies, nobody wants to own a new idea before it’s clear whether or not it’s a stroke of genius.

Service industries, like VC benefit when everyone owns the account. Everyone’s job is to make the investment better

No individual “owns” an account at Andreessen Horowitz; investments are chosen by joint approval of the general partners, with the entire staff having a say. Then the team provides in-house experts to assist its start-ups with recruitment, budgeting, operations, sales, publicity, IPO rollouts—whatever an entrepreneur might need. While other venture firms seek out executive talent for their clients, Andreessen Horowitz goes further. It develops ties with the Valley’s best software engineers, designers, and product managers, helping them with introductions and career counseling. At times it connects these engineers and managers to one of its portfolio companies, but often there’s no direct payoff.

In multi-turn games, basically all of business, you always focus on the long-term.

Andreessen Horowitz aims to forge long-term relationships that might eventually prove helpful at a future start-up, or as part of future deal flow.
find that my “value add,” as they say, is advising on how to monetize a technology, how to market it, and how to avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into at CAA. I don’t always know the right move—who does?—but I can often help steer founders away from mistakes of inexperience: from making short-sighted hires, or needlessly alienating a rival who might become a collaborator, or not planning for the long term. Founders are much more interested in my mistakes (which can often be generalized to their situation) than in my successes (which were often particular to the agency business).