Keith Rabois on Miami tech, AI, Sam Altman and more from the inaugural Axios BFD

By Nancy Dahlberg

The Coconut Grove waterfront was the backdrop for the first Axios BFD event held in Miami, and the Tuesday afternoon show appropriately kicked off with the pied piper of Miami tech and venture capital, as Axios Business Editor Dan Primack accurately called Khosla Ventures General Partner Keith Rabois.

In an interview with Primack on stage, it didn’t take long for Rabois to debunk the perception that ‘everyone’s moving back to California’: “There’s nobody leaving Florida to go to California. That’s fiction, there literally is nobody. Net migration here is overwhelming … I literally can name only one social or professional person I’ve ever met in my life that was in Miami and went back.”

By the way, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez also had something to say about the city’s recent migration in his opening remarks: “At the end of the day, you don’t have to buy my hype… Ask Jeff Bezos. Ask Tom Brady. Ask Orlando Bravo. Ask Ken Griffin. Ask Leo Messi, who gave up $250 million a year to choose Miami.”

Getting into venture topics, Rabois had this to say about the proliferation of “AI-powered” startups: “There’s are some that actually are using AI to do things that were impossible with advanced statistics, and that is interesting. Now fortunately I’m at the firm that has pioneered investing in AI. We’re the only institutional investor that invested in OpenAI and have a managing director and partners that are AI experts. We are leaning into AI, but we have the expertise to do it and be able to separate the real from the fake, but most firms can’t.”

AI innovation goes back to 2012 to 2015, Rabois said. While fast followers such as startups reinventing law, accounting or healthcare through AI can be interesting, “the foundational principles, people who are really doing AI-forward startups, that’s not now – that innovation was already being baked.”

Rabois also said had Sam Altman not returned to OpenAI (founded in 2015), it “would have gone to zero, literally zero. One of the theses of investing in OpenAI was, ‘we’re investing in Sam.’ “

He was asked about the biggest investing difference between Vinod Khosla and  Peter Thiel of Founders Fund, the fund Rabois recently left to return to Khosla Ventures. “Vinod is a technology investor, meaning he sees the immediate implications of any new technology and how it might transform industries. Peter’s more a founder-driven investor and also an amazing business strategist — like this business is going all the way to the moon because of X Y and Z.”

Asked about why he took on a dual role of venture capitalist and CEO of Miami-based OpenStore: “Because I’m crazy … The CEO tradeoff is very real. I cannot be 24/7 at the office and serve on 10 plus boards and find new entrepreneurs every day. So I need to add enough value that offsets that and it’s a challenge.” Rabois said he’ll continue heading the e-commerce startup he co-founded as long as the company is in innovation mode and leave the execution mode to others who are better at that. “I think I’m pretty damn good at the innovation-mode problem solving – we need to solve problems that no one else has figured out how to do before.”

Primack asked him his thoughts on the usefulness of venture capitalists to a founder: “The reality is there’s five to ten VCs who are actually pretty useful to an entrepreneur,” Rabois said. Names? “I had them on the boards of the companies I’ve worked with. My view is go get the best possible VCs that can give you advice and feedback.”

The event continued with discussions from the world of restaurants (Michelle Bernstein), cruising (Christine Duffy, CEO of Carnival Cruise Line), and Motersports (Tyler Epp, president of F1 Miami Grand Prix, and MSP Sports Capital CEO Jeff Moorad), who talked about how the Drive to Survive supercharged a US audience, plans for the upcoming Miami F1 event, and how the sport has finally become an asset class. Closing out the afternoon was Jared Kushner, who said he is committed to his new career running Affinity Partners, the private equity firm he founded in 2021, and would not rejoin the White House if Donald Trump were elected.

READ MORE IN REFRESH MIAMI:

Nancy Dahlberg