Viewpoint / Company Building

How Hard Can It Be? Lessons from Jensen Huang

Navin Chaddha and Jensen Huang outside TiEcon 2024
A humble and inspiring leader, Jensen Huang, CEO of NVIDIA

How Hard Can It Be (to lead a company for 31 years, pioneer new waves every decade, and still be a humble leader and friend of founders)

Watch the full keynote video.

How hard can it be is the question Jensen Huang said he asks himself when faced with any new opportunity and that was my key learning from the fireside chat with him yesterday at TIECON 2024, hosted by Anita Manwani and the TiE team. We presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award and he joked that he is still very much in the thick of life. When I asked him what advice he would give to his younger self, he said that he would not share all that he has learned, as ignorance can be a superpower. My final question on what still drives him – his answer being that he doesn’t have anything else to do besides serve as CEO of NVIDIA – illustrates the classic Jensen style of being both self-deprecating and inspirational. Along the way, we chatted about founder considerations, how to build and scale companies, and our view on the evolving world of AI.

Navin Chaddha and Jensen Huang at TiEcon 2024
Fireside chat at TiEcon 2024

Here are some key takeaways:

  • First Principles Thinking: With a set of core beliefs, Jensen says you need to test assumptions and if facts change, then your mind needs to change as well.  This informed their thinking on one of their toughest decisions – to swap out an architecture that was based on a palette of technology choices that was wrong. While this was at a time when the company was young and fragile, by keeping in mind that the purpose of the company superseded a single choice, NVIDIA navigated through the transition and has never looked back.
  • Moats & Perspective: We advise entrepreneurs to build deep moats, which Jensen thinks of as having a different perspective. While there were several vendors who were building graphic processors, NVIDIA was the only one that was thinking about applications and building a full stack accelerated computing platform. By combining this with the nurturing of a rich developer ecosystem, which has expanded into their Inception program for startups today, NVIDIA is guided by a model where it succeeds only if others succeed.
  • Leadership & Culture: Jensen is a rare CEO who has 60 direct reports. He pointed out how prior models of leadership were drawn from the battlefield, where only the general makes strategic decisions, while the foot soldiers fight on the ground. He believes that information flow has to be high in companies, and is proud of the world class experts who report to him, along with one person whom he just congratulated on their 30th anniversary!
  • On AI: Jensen sees AI as the 4th Industrial Revolution, following the steam engine, electrons/AC power, and software. He discussed how AI factories can produce intelligence at scale, which resonated with me as we are seeing how AI is being delivered and consumed using Cognition-as-a-Service (CaaS) as the model.  His view on AI sovereignty is unique. He sees that a nation’s wealth extends beyond the natural resources buried beneath the ground with data as a national treasure. He believes that every country possesses the right to harness and capitalize on the potential of its own data to drive economic growth and societal advancements.
Navin Chaddha and Jensen Huang shake hands on the TiEcon 2024 stage
Recognizing his contribution with a Lifetime Achievement Award

I share Jensen’s excitement about continuing to work with amazing people to do amazing things.  He is celebrating his 31st year as CEO, Mayfield is entering our 55th year as a venture capital firm – here’s to having fun and creating the future together!

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