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Atari was a cultural and a technological trailblazer. Don describes its lasting influence, as Sequoia’s first partnership, on both our thinking and on Silicon Valley at large.

Sequoia's first investment begins here.

Don Valentine
Sequoia

Nolan ran a company in the most weird way.

Don Valentine

Now, weird hadn't been invented yet. He was one of the pioneers. The atmosphere at Atari was wide open. Smoking was allowed on the production floor — and it was special cigarettes.

Don Valentine

We had board meetings roughly every six weeks, and they were conducted in a hot tub. There were bottles of wine floating around the hot tub during the board meeting. We had this one strange guy, who was from Boston, who could not get used to this, and he sat on the side of the hot tub in his suit and white shirt and tie.

Don Valentine

So this was Silicon Valley’s embryonic time in the early ‘70s. Atari became, first, the dominant electronics game manufacturer. Nolan figured out how to make the games; he figured out how to distribute them. Then they backed into pinball machines and things like that, in the second phase of the company.

Don Valentine

I still have my Atari pinball machine at home. The biggest problem now is maintenance — finding somebody who can keep the thing working.

Don Valentine

But if, in fact, there was a seminal contribution to the modern Silicon Valley lifestyle and management technique, Nolan was one of its progenitors. And he was also a significant contributor to Sequoia in the sense that we learned entrepreneurs were not of all one cloth, and that you had to be open-minded.

Don Valentine

Lots of people have turned down funny-looking, funny-dressed people. And Sequoia evolved in a way where we were very open-minded about people who didn't have the standard of education, of dress, of comportment.

Don Valentine

Entrepreneurs are different, and there's no reason to expect that great ones can't happen without Harvard MBAs.

Atari’s games and products, including the seminal Pong, helped to pioneer and establish today’s $100-billion video gaming industry. The company was acquired by Warner Communications in 1976.

Atari
A multi-platform, global interactive entertainment and licensing company.
Milestones
  • Founded 1972
  • Partnered 1975
  • Acquired 1976
Team
  • Nolan Bushnell