No Yahtzee for Perkins

Not even retired venture capitalists are immune from the economic downturn. Tom Perkins recently sold his 289-foot-long high-tech sailing yacht, the Maltese Falcon, but at a much lower price than he had hoped.

The Times of London reported that Perkins sold his clipper-style yacht to an unnamed buyer for only about $100 million, after listing it for $140 million a year earlier.

The sale represents a loss for Perkins, though it’s unclear exactly how much. In an interview with “60 Minutes,” the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers co-founder suggested the yacht had cost between $150 million and $300 million to construct.

The craft is a technological marvel. It incorporates three self-standing and rotating masts hosting 15 sails for a total sail area of 2,400 square meters. It’s also a floating luxury residence, featuring three decks containing six guest cabins, a gym and eight crew cabins.

Perkins reportedly sold his beloved Bugatti automobile to help fund the yacht’s construction years ago. With no Bugatti and no yacht, what is Perkins going to do for transportation? The last we heard, he was working on building a personal submarine.

Man vs. Segway

You rarely hear one VC criticize the investment of another, so we were surprised to see Paul Graham, co-founder of incubator Y Combinator, dump all over Segway last month.

You’ll recall that Segway has pulled in some $175 million since 2000 from Credit Suisse Private Equity, DAG Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and others to produce its two-wheeled people mover.

In a blog post entitled “The Trouble with the Segway,” Graham opines that it all comes down to a perception problem. People don’t want to be seen riding Segways because the vehicle makes them look “smug.”

Graham goes on to recount the experience of his friend Trevor Blackwell, who built his own version of the Segway, dubbed the “Segwell,” and a one-wheeled version dubbed the “Eunicycle.”Graham writes:“He has ridden them both to downtown Mountain View to get coffee. When he rides the Eunicycle, people smile at him. But when he rides the Segwell, they shout abuse from their cars: ‘Too lazy to walk, ya f—– h—?’”

We don’t know if Graham’s theory is correct, but we’re pretty sure about one thing: There’s no way in Hell he’s going to get invited to Kleiner’s Christmas party this year.

Obama Calling

The venture capital industry is starting to look a bit like a farm team for the Obama administration. First, the President named Solera Capital Founding Partner Karen Gordon Mills as head of the Small Business Administration, then he chose Julius Genachowski of Rock Creek Ventures as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

The latest VC to get called up to The Show? Nick Sinai, a principal at Tenaya Capital. Obama has nominated him to serve as the FCC’s Energy and Environmental Director.

In an email to friends and colleagues, Sinai says that he’ll be leading a team that will examine how broadband communications infrastructure and policies can support national energy and environmental goals, with an emphasis on the Smart Grid, an area of prime interest to investors and the administration.

Sinai joined Tenaya in January 2008. Before that, he spent more than three years as a senior associate with Polaris Venture Partners.

Big Show-Off

Foundation Capital has figured out a way to really show off its portfolio companies.

In renovating its 20,000-square-foot Spanish Colonial revival-style building, the firm turned to its portfolio companies for help.

Serious Materials Inc. supplied eco-friendly drywall, Control4 provided lighting and heating management, ShoreTel delivered enterprise class VoIP, and Pano Logic came through with desktop virtualization.

The materials and technology provided by the startups helped the building achieve LEED Gold Certification, which basically means it’s “green.”

The LEED award is a point of pride for General Partner Paul Holland, who heads the firm’s cleantech practice and is building a LEED-certified home in Portola Valley, Calif.

Crazy Conference Call

If your cleantech portfolio companies want stimulus dollars, tell them they had better be prepared for some strange phone calls.

Mike MacKeen

of Revolution Partners told us about a weird conference call he sat in on recently.

MacKeen, an investment banker who focuses on helping companies connect with expansion financing, had been in contact with an executive whose company was seeking federal funds. The executive called MacKeen on one telephone line. On the other line, he was conferenced in with his U.S. Congressman. The Congressman, meanwhile, was also running two phone lines—one with executives from his district and the other with a representative of the Department of Energy.

MacKeen says he could hear some of what was going on three telephone lines away, but he couldn’t catch all of it.

MacKeen wouldn’t say if his client scored any stimulus dollars. Maybe we need to arrange a conference call.