Cover Story: Pop VC –

When Ray Lane left Oracle after an exasperating eight years of toiling in the shadow of Larry Ellison’s epic ego, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was waiting in the wings with open arms.

Lane had never worked at a venture firm, but he found it to be a natural fit. Prior to becoming a “corporate guy” at Oracle, he had spent a dozen years at Booz-Allen & Hamilton, so “coming back to a partnership was easy.” At Booz-Allen, “everything happened very slowly and everyone contributed their point of view; it was an ecology.” It was a world apart from Oracle, where “I couldn’t stop someone in the hall to offer my view on a subject because within five minutes my words would be on email and considered gospel.”

Lane-now in his fifth year as a general partner at Kleiner Perkins-is one of four very high-profile names the firm has plucked from the technology industry. Months before Lane signed on, KP found its first celebrity GP in Internet whiz kid Tom Jermoluk. This year it has added rock stars Bill Joy, long the chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, and Randy Komisar, co-founder of Claris and the “virtual CEO” of such companies as WebTV.

Why has one of Silicon Valley’s most august venture firms been bringing aboard people without traditional VC experience rather than grooming people internally? And why have so many other firms done the same, including Highland Venture Partners, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, General Catalyst Partners, and Polaris Venture Partners? Most of the best venture capitalists have never headed a major public company. Their resumes, though impressive, are fairly boilerplate. Think engineering degree or MBA. Think marketing VP or head of biz dev. Think Jim Breyer or John Doerr.

Herewith, a closer look into the puzzling trend, as well as insights by those in the know concerning what a tech celebrity brings to the party-and the potential problems that can arise when a “star” is added to an existing general partnership.