With Web 2.0, it's easy to get muddled

(Editor’s note: Randy Komisar joined venture firm Kleiner Perkins as partner two years ago. Here’s our story at the time. VentureBeat recently caught up with him. Below is a Q&A:)

VB: What sort of entrepreneurs is Kleiner Perkins seeing these days?

Komisar: We see plenty of young entrepreneurs worked up about Web 2.0, and all the digital media stuff that spins from it. We’re very conscious, however, of the hype swirling around Web 2.0. It’s easy to get muddled.

We also see impressive innovators in Green Tech, Personalized Medicine, Infectious Diseases, and some very interesting experiments in new Mobile and Web platforms. These areas tend to be less “exuberant” and more grounded in significant technology and promising business models. These entrepreneurs are not just in the US anymore, but in China, India, Europe and Israel as well.

VB: What you’re seeing is that certain start-up segments are supportive of different styles of entrepreneurship.

Komisar: Yes, to some degree. In Energy, for instance, you don’t tend to see quick flippers. Green Tech entrepreneurs seem to be very aware of the fundamentals; they realize that core tech innovations are critical to their success. They can’t rely on driving advertising with eyeballs as a substitute for differentiated technology. Web 2.0 can get pretty speculative• where you throw a party, and if people come, you get Google to monetize it for you [with Google's Adsense ads]. Every so often a YouTube happens, and that really stokes the fire • some would-be entrepreneurs get the impression, to quote Dire Straits, that the “money is for nothin, and the chicks for free”. This approach is pretty different from what we see from most Green Tech entrepreneurs.

VB: Are you investing in Web 2.0?

Komisar: I’m personally not doing much in Web 2.0 at the moment. I’m looking for more fundamental innovations. I’m less interested in the content and media fallout. There are no strong barriers to entry in Web 2.0. If by Web 2.0, you mean companies that build an audience to be monetized by Google, I am not actively pursuing them; though I should never say never.

I’m not sure how long YouTube would have remained an independent business had they not been bought by Google. Google has an efficient search engine to monetize large audiences. If you’re creating Web 2.0 products and media, its tough to build anything of sufficient scale to remain independent — you are more likely to end up being a feature on Google, Microsoft or Yahoo. Google bought YouTube because they’re interested in where people are spending time online, and because they didn’t want anyone else to buy it. Google has the capacity to suck the air out of the room • they’re making sure that Microsoft and Yahoo don’t get a toehold on AOL or MySpace or YouTube. Its too early to guess how all this plays out.

VB: What about Kleiner’s investments in Podshow and OneTrueMedia?

Komisar: Podshow is not strictly Web 2.0 as we defined it before. Ron & Adam are not just hosting content, they are building a very vibrant environment for highly creative people to entertain themselves and others, complete with their own advertising engine. One True Media provides Web-based image creation tools and a place to share one’s creations with others. It is not a media site, but a personal creativity site. It is not monetized by ads, but by DVD sales, photo-books and subscribers. It is not primarily in the business of attracting eyeballs, it is the business of helping people express themselves and share with friends, families, and colleagues.

VB: Do you ever get excited by a Web company, only to have your partners shoot you down?

Komisar: Yes, all the time. My esteemed partners will say, “wait a second • can this be a legacy business; can it be a stand alone independent company in the long run; will it make a difference….??” We have so many disciplines represented here at KP; we have people focused on healthcare, energy, and enterprise. And there’s Aileen, Trae, Ajit, Ellen, Matt, Ray and myself collaborating in the consumer and mobile areas. Usually I try to see a new company with another partner so we can bring different perspectives to the meeting. We consider the significance of the innovation, the market size and dynamics, the domain expertise and experience of the entrepreneurs, the character of the team, the competitive landscape, the business model, etc. • and we compare the company with others that we’ve seen recently and historically. The next step is often to invite the company to meet with a handful of partners to assess the venture more broadly with the benefit of their own judgment and experience. Then we pull together the deep due diligence to address the critical issues. You rarely take a company to the full partnership without crossing your “t”s and dotting all the “i”s.

VB: You mean, once a company gets to the famous Monday meeting, the work has been done, a decision has pretty much been made?

Komisar: If you get to the Monday meeting, you’ve done quite well. We probably invest in more than half of those companies. That is my guess, but it sure feels that way. So much of work is done up front.

VB: How has Kleiner changed since you joined?

Komisar: I’ve sensed changes have occurred, but of course KP is always changing. There’s a strong feeling of a shared mission and camaraderie. I came here with the expectation that Kleiner would be even more “mission” driven than in the past, in other words looking to invest in innovations that can make a difference. Examples are our initiatives to invest in pandemic related companies, personalized drug therapies, green technologies, alternative energy, and novel platforms that can provide satisfying and valuable consumer experiences in the web and mobile worlds. We may be kidding ourselves, but we want to be proud of these companies a decade from now. In retrospect the most successful ventures • for investors, employees, et.al. — are those that have created the most significant changes. Genentech, Sun, Intuit, Amazon, Netscape, Verisign, and Google, are just a few examples of Kleiner investments that have made significant contributions and reaped commensurate rewards.