Deals

Twilight of the venture gods: Is Sequoia spreading itself thin?

Along with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Sequoia Capital is probably the most famous venture capital firm around, but it may have overreached in the last couple years, writes Adam Lashinsky in Fortune.

Lashinsky writes that Sequoia attempted to branch out from venture capital into a broader range of investments, with a project modeled on college endowments and dubbed the Heritage Fund. However, Sequoia’s plans collided with last year’s financial crash. The firm has yet to announce the Heritage Fund, the San Francisco office meant for Heritage’s staff has been subletted, and both the hedge fund manager and endowment manager that Sequoia hired last year have departed.

Lashinsky also argues that none of the firm’s current investments have “the trademark Sequoia buzz” of home-run investments like Google. The portfolio includes apparent duds like struggling web video service Joost and music service Imeem, which recently raised new funding without Sequoia. Of these recent investments, mobile ad network Admob, which Sequoia first invested in three years ago, is one of the few that seems to be thriving.

On the other hand, the firm also invested in the year’s big winners, like battery maker A123, which had a spectacular IPO, and shopping site Zappos, which Amazon plans to acquire, which count as solid hits even they were investments made several years ago, before Sequoia began straying from its early-stage focus.

If you’re going to criticize Sequoia’s portfolio for being a mixed bag, the same could be said about any venture firm. But maybe that’s the point: Sequoia isn’t just another venture firm, it’s the leader. So it’s fair to ask if Sequoia (along with Kleiner, which Lashinsky wrote a similarly skeptical piece about last year), if not exactly in big trouble, may be coming down to Earth. Also, the firm has a reputation for being being ruthless with its portfolio companies (an attitude exemplified by its RIP Good Times presentation a year ago, which was followed by a bunch of layoffs at Sequoia investments), something that entrepreneurs may be less willing to deal with if Sequoia loses stature.

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