With the passing of Bill Elfers from a heart attack on June 21, the venture capital profession lost one of its true luminaries, a pioneer that defined and developed the process of building businesses through venture investment. He was 87.
A vice president of American Research and Development, one of the first venture capital companies, Bill struck out on his own to co-found Greylock Associates in 1965 with Charlie Waite and Dan Gregory. Greylock, with funding from a few families and foundations, later supplemented by a number of college endowments, was one of the first independent venture capital firms and over the years has proved to be one of the most successful.
In many ways, Bill set the standards for his profession. His skills, his ethics and his personality were those of a strong leader who worked well with other leaders. He had a wonderful sense of humor, which is often a prerequisite in dealing with venture capitalists.
Greylock worked closely with other venture firms and fostered the cooperation that many believe enabled the profession to prosper in the hard times of the 1960s and early 1970s. Greylock, under Bill’s stewardship, worked with many of the other pioneers of venture capital, including Sutter Hill, TA Associates, Mayfield, Bessemer and Venrock to add value to each other’s deals and share the rewards and heartbreaks.
Bill was an analyst who looked for businesses with the potential to be an outstanding success. He was not biased toward technology, although Greylock’s winners included Apollo Computer, Prime Computer and Ascend Communications, as well as Acme Visible Records, Brookstone Co. Inc. and New England Business Service, a supplier of forms for small businesses.
Although a leader, Bill was also a student of the profession, authoring a book in 1995, “Greylock, An Adventure Capital Story,” a history of the early years of the venture capital industry and the firm. In 2003 he penned “Technomania,” a review of the technology bubble that burst in 2000, which included suggestions to return to fundamentals in venture investing.
Bill was actively involved with the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut and Princeton University (his alma mater), as well as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Bill is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ann Rice Elfers, and their children: William Rice Elfers of Wellesley, Mass; Joanne Elfers of Hudson, Ohio; and Jane Elfers Muther of Natick, Mass. In addition he is survived by his daughter-in-law, Deborah Bennett Elfers; his son-in-law, Herbert Carl Muther III; four grandsons; two granddaughters and one great grandchild.
A memorial service was held for Bill Elfers on July 21 at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Wellesley, Mass. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, care of Joan Archer, 2014 Washington St., Newton, Mass. 02462.
This obituary was written by Stan Pratt for Venture Capital Journal. Pratt is founding director of Abbott Capital Management, creator of Pratt’s Guide to Venture Capital Sources, and former editor and publisher of VCJ.