The move by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firms, to hire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman as an advisor is not an “odd” move, as VentureBeat’s Anthony Ha characterized it. It’s astute and clever.
It’s one more power-move by Kleiner to shore up a bullpen of super big-name partners at a time when most venture capital firms are becoming dangerously commoditized. There’s lots of money sloshing around these days, with lots of people running around willing to give it. If you’re a venture firm, and don’t have big brand names as partners — who carry considerable recognition and a large Rolodex, as well as solid business operating experience — what do you really have any more?
What I mean is that the old days — when a select group of four or five venture capital firms were branded as elite and remained that way — is coming to an end. Ten years ago, the finance world was notoriously opaque. It was a crusty world, where start-ups needed support from large funds with backing of at least $5 million in a first or second round, and then at least $20 million more in subsequent rounds.
But what we’ve seen since is a radical transformation of venture capital. So-called “super angels” are running around funding consumer startups that only need $500,000 or so to launch a prototype because they can build on thee cheap, or even use free Internet tools, and then take advantage of social marketing techniques to fuel growth from there. Large enterprise companies, from traditional players like Intel and Qualcomm to new kids on the block like Google, Amazon, Zynga and Facebook are investing in startups. And new firms like Yuri Milner’s DST Capital, and Andreessen Horowitz are moving in, and placing extremely aggressive bets too — paying a premium to get in early to hot-start-ups, many of which are now ensconced in new sexy fortresses like Y Combinator or Techstars.
Finally, savvy entrepreneurs have easier, more efficient ways to network, using tools like LinkedIn and Facebook. They can also tap into the networks of the droves of accomplished entrepreneurs — who have now turned into angels, and who provide advice, mentoring and pep talks at ever more conferences. The big venture firms have been pushed further and further from the core of the action.
Back in 2000, if you got funding from one of the top 10 or so venture firms, you were part of a club. That’s just the way it was, in part because people crave a pecking order, and so they looked at those top firms to create that order — leadership was bestowed on those firms and so the best firms won leadership status, and they kept it because the best entrepreneurs kept going their way.
But that’s over, and Kleiner knows it.
Really, no one should find it odd that John Doerr, a left-leaning venture capitalist, should want to team up with Whitman, the failed California Republican gubernatorial candidate. His firm has long been on both sides of the political fence. Senior Kleiner partner Floyd Kvamme, was a technical advisor to the Bush Administration. Kleiner has also hired folks like Secretary of State Colin Powell, who by the way, also served under a Republican Administration (of George W. Bush), Vice President Al Gore, and all-star folks like Morgan Stanley internet analyst Mary Meeker,
Indeed, the bigger question is why Whitman is joining Kleiner, and not Benchmark, the firm that shot to fame after it invested Whitman’s former company, eBay. But she’s certainly more qualified to help companies scale than a person like Meeker, who doesn’t have as much operating experience. Whitman worked at large companies like Procter & Gamble and Hasbro, and led eBay for years through impressive growth. And it’s not like Whitman has been slacking since she left eBay. She recently joined the boards of Zipcar and HP.
Whitman joined eBay when it already 30 employees, and her stature will be inspiring to entrepreneurs, and help Kleiner sell itself as a great firm to take money from the best of those new companies. The Whitman hire is just one more reflection of the marketing flair of Kleiner’s leading partner, John Doerr. With Doerr, the godfather of Silicon Valley venture capital, it’s not personal, it’s all business.