Once the home of rockstar VCs such as Vinod Khosla this Fortune article contends that legendary VC firm, Kleiner Perkins, has lost its way and seeks to understand the roots of its malaise. Why did Kleiner fail to spot the potential of hot startups like Robinhood which repeatedly came knocking at its door?
Part of the problem seems to be a war going on inside the firm. ““Growth” investing, with its more developed companies, should be somewhat safer than “venture” investing and would also earn commensurately lower returns. Yet Meeker’s investment team outperformed the venture group overseen by longtime Kleiner leader John Doerr and a rotating ensemble of lesser-known investors who joined and left him over the years. Meeker, not the venture capital investing unit, was landing stakes in the era’s most promising companies, including Slack, DocuSign, Spotify, and Uber, breeding resentment over tension points as old as the investing business: Who gets the credit and, more important, who gets paid.
Worse, a class system developed inside Kleiner, evident to the outside world as well, notably among entrepreneurs mulling accepting Kleiner’s money: Team Meeker was a top-tier operation while the venture unit was B-list at best.”
The second problem appears to be superstar VC John Doerr’s fondness for renewable energy projects. “The firm’s ablest investor for two decades, though his name wasn’t on the letterhead, was John Doerr. A former Intel salesman, Doerr joined Kleiner in 1980 and over time became its de facto leader. Doerr scored a string of hits—Netscape, Amazon, and Google—becoming an active and forceful board member at the tech industry’s most exciting companies. He also was a prominent cheerleader for Silicon Valley in the age of the Internet.
Doerr was so powerful, in fact, that he was able to pivot Kleiner’s entire thrust away from the Internet and toward his latest passion project: renewable energy companies he believed would be the next important wave of tech investing. Doerr was a prominent Democratic fundraiser and pal of former Vice President Al Gore, whom Doerr made a Kleiner partner. Between 2004 and 2009, the firm had invested $630 million across 54 “clean tech” companies, and 12 of its 22 partners spent some or all of their time on so-called green investments. The firm’s heart may have been in the right place, but its investments flopped.”
The third challenge seems to be a loss of talent as smart VC left Kleiner since they felt they could not get the top job. “Vinod Khosla, another Sun cofounder and the closest Doerr had to an investing peer, jumped ship in 2004 to set up his own shop, a formidable power on Sand Hill Road today.
Kleiner also became known as a firm full of highly pedigreed young investors who stayed for a number of years but left without being given a shot at ascending to the top ranks. Many constitute the next generation of leadership in the venture capital world—but not at Kleiner. Steve Anderson, for example, did a four-year stint in the early 2000s. He went out on his own and later became the first investor in Instagram, which sold itself to Facebook for $1 billion. Aileen Lee, famous for coining the expression “unicorn” for the once-rare billion-dollar startup, now runs Cowboy Ventures.”
All of this seems to have lead to a full blown succession planning challenge. “Doerr set out in 2014 to solve the early-stage leadership problem by trying to buy another firm. He approached Chamath Palihapitiya, an outspoken former Facebook executive who was the driving force behind Social Capital…Talks eventually broke down, however, over how much control Palihapitiya…would have over all of Kleiner….Doerr continued his hunt for new talent. He…found it at the same place Doerr tried before, Social Capital, by recruiting another cofounder, Mamoon Hamid, to head up early-stage investing. Hamid, who had led Social Capital’s investment in Slack, joined Kleiner in 2017, a year after Doerr became chairman, a role that connotes something like emeritus status at a venture firm. Doerr presented Hamid as the new leader of Kleiner—a move that would put the newcomer in conflict with Meeker, who already was providing plenty of leadership of her own.”
This battle culminated in Meeker quitting in September 2018 with her team to set up her own shop. So now with the glory years behind them a small group of Kleiner partners are trying to rebuild the firm’s reputation.
Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this email in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services and as an Investment Advisor.
Copyright © 2018 Marcellus Investment Managers Pvt Ltd, All rights reserved.
If you want to read our other published material, please visit https://marcellus.in/blog/
Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor financial advice. Marcellus does not seek payment for or business from this publication in any shape or form. Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services. Marcellus Investment Managers is also regulated in the United States as an Investment Advisor.
Copyright © 2022 Marcellus Investment Managers Pvt Ltd, All rights reserved.