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Lamond Opens Up: “If They Think It’s Acrimonious, That’s Sequoia’s Problem”

Partly in response to a post I’d written last night, famed venture capitalist Pierre Lamond called me a few minutes ago, as he piloted his car down the 280 toward a physical therapy appointment. We used the opportunity to talk more about his decision to move over to Khosla Ventures, how he left things with Sequoia Capital, and why I needn’t worry that he’s not taking enough time to enjoy his golden years.

In the consumer press, you characterized your departure from Sequoia as friendly, but that’s hard to believe, judging by how Sequoia has handled things on its end, including taking your picture down, cutting off your email, and offering a “no comment” when I asked if there was any acrimony around your departure. What really happened?

Just about a year ago, when Sequoia’s twelfth fund was nearly invested, I knew I didn’t want to be an investor in the next fund, a commitment of another six years or so. At the same time, in April, I began making angel investments in the $100,000 range in very early stage companies.

[Around then] it did become evident to me that staying at Sequoia made things difficult, for Sequoia and for myself, so I decided to leave for good instead of staying and doing investments on the side. [Making personal investments ] does create friction. There’s always the chance of doing something competitive with Sequoia. So I decided to leave. I would have left earlier if it weren’t for this [double knee replacement] surgery [that Lamond underwent recently].

And so you talked to Vinod Khosla about taking up residence at his offices?

Vinod has been a friend for 20 years, and he and I were talking before Christmas and he knew I was doing angel investing. And then after Christmas and New Year’s, he said, “I’m raising a couple of funds. I’d love to have you join us. We think along the same ways.” And finally, after three or four more conversations, he convinced me to join him.

So why the antipathy, if there is any, between you and Sequoia?

That’s their problem if they think it’s acrimonious. I spent 27 years there and I do have quite a bit of interest left in the funds, so it’s not to my advantage to have an uncivil relationship with Sequoia.

Let’s talk more about your involvement now at Khosla Ventures. Will you more of less be making your own investments out of its offices?

I’ll do both my own investing, and I’ll do some investment with and for Khosla Ventures and in some cases, go on the board, representing Khosla. I’ll also, in some cases, invest alongside the firm. Vinod has offered me maximum flexibility, while at the same time, access to exceptional deal flow in high tech and clean tech. Time will tell if his firm is successful financially, but Vinod still has an excellent reputation and [that shows in the companies that come through the door].

So just to be clear, you are not a GP.

No.

And you aren’t going to invest in Khosla’s funds as would a GP?

We’re still discussing that. No decisions have been made yet.

What of your interest in clean tech? How real is that, and how encompassing?

I’m interested in many things, but I’m just about as good or better than anyone when it comes to understanding photovoltaic and solar in general. I’ve also been spending a lot of time on energy storage, which is why I invested in Seeo, a very early lithium-ion battery company with a very attractive technology. [Khosla is the startup’s lead investor.] And I’m very interested and have been spending a lot of time on energy conversation and water — water treatment and water conservation. I haven’t made investments there yet but these are things in which I’m very interested.

What about your son David’s investment firm, Artis. It’s received a lot of attention because of its five or so co-investments behind Sequoia. How would you describe your involvement in his business?

I’m not involved at all. The hedge fund business is something I really don’t know much about. But I can tell you that he has also invested alongside Benchmark and [New Enterprise Associates] and a few other firms; it’s not just Sequoia. He has raised money in the past for his firm, and he has his own network. Maybe my son should change his name. [Laughs.]

May I ask about your age? Shouldn’t you be sipping cocktails on a beach at this point in your life?

I really have the best of both worlds. I’m not working 12 hours a day, six hours a week. If I want to take off five days and go to my house in Maui, I can do that. I can work as hard or as  lightly as I want. That’s one of my advantages I have.

Don’t worry about me, Connie; I’m very comfortable!