MENLO PARK, Calif. – Just 19 months after his arrival at San Francisco venture firm Hummer Winblad, prominent columnist and Internet guru Bill Gurley has defected to Bay Area rival Benchmark Capital.
Lateral moves such as Mr. Gurley’s are highly uncommon in the close-knit VC community. Benchmark, however, has been red-hot of late – reaping billions of dollars in profit from portfolio company eBay Corp.’s skyrocketing stock following its September initial public offering – and Mr. Gurley felt he could not pass up the opportunity to join the firm.
“I became quite convinced that these guys were going to take over the world, and then they came after me and asked if I wanted to be a part of it,” he said on a voicemail message in response to repeated attempts to interview him. “That’s a mission that’s very hard for me to turn down.”
Mr. Gurley worked as an Internet analyst at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and Credit Suisse First Boston before joining the software-focused Hummer Winblad as a general partner in July 1997 (VCJ, September 1997, page 30). The VC will continue to write the popular “Above the Crowd” column published by Fortune magazine and CNet Online.
“We felt like he was a perfect fit, both culturally and skill-set-wise for the Benchmark team,” said General Partner Kevin Harvey, noting Mr. Gurley’s entrepreneur and team-focused approach to investing. “Bill’s been a thought leader on the Internet and e-commerce for awhile.”
Mr. Harvey declined to speculate why Mr. Gurley left Hummer Winblad, but he emphasized that Benchmark’s decision to bring him on board had been in the works for a while. “We’ve had our eye on him a long time, even before he got involved in venture capital,” he said.
Hummer Winblad and Benchmark compete for early-stage software and Internet deals in the competitive Bay Area environment. Benchmark III, which closed in November 1998 (VCJ, February, page 27) backs early-stage information technology companies predominantly in Northern California. Hummer Winblad, an investor in software and related industries, closed the $100 million Hummer Winblad III in the summer of 1997.
Hummer Winblad General Partner and co-founder Ann Winblad did not return phone calls.
Mr. Gurley’s primary area of focus at Benchmark will be e-commerce, and at press time he had been involved in several of the firm’s undisclosed recent deals. He is Benchmark’s sixth general partner, joining Mr. Harvey, Andy Rachleff, Dave Beirne, Bob Kagle and Bruce Dunlevie.