On the Bleeding Edge: Plenty ventured for Perkins

The billionaire VC Tom Perkins died last week at age 84 from natural causes.

Although he had stepped back years ago from an active role at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which he co-founded with Eugene Kleiner in 1972, he continued to make plenty of news — more so for his extravagant spending, his extracurricular activities and his opinions.

He designed the world’s largest private sailboat. He married novelist Danielle Steel; the couple separated after a year and later divorced. He built and steered a submarine, and he served on the highly contentious board of Hewlett-Packard.

He even squeezed in time in 2008 to publish a memoir, “Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins,” for which he was the subject of a 60 Minutes profile.

In our December 2007 cover story, “Still Making Waves,” former VCJ staffer Joanna Glasner interviewed Perkins and wrote that he remains “opinionated about how the industry ought to function.”

That was certainly the case in a letter he wrote to the Wall Street Journal, titled “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” about the so-called 1 percent. The 186-word letter landed him in hot water in early 2014, as VCs and others were outraged.

Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins, co-founder, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, on Sept. 12, 2011. Reuters/Robert Galbraith

Shortly after, in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Emily Chang, Perkins apologized for using the word “Kristallnacht” and said he regretted the comparison but “not the message.”

He was never one to apologize for his wealth. During the interview with Chang, he pointed to his Richard Mille watch and said, “This isn’t a Rolex. I could buy a six-pack of Rolexes for this.”

But what about his venture activities? The firm he launched remains one of the most active investors. In addition to leading investments in Tandem and Compaq, one of Perkins’s early deals was Genentech, which the firm backed when there was no such thing as genetic engineering.

In 2011, Paul Holland, general partner of Foundation Capital, conceived and co-executive-produced a documentary about the history of the VC industry called “Something Ventured.” It featured Perkins and a bevy of early venture capitalists, such as Arthur Rock, Don Valentine, Dick Kramlich, Reid Dennis and others.

I rewatched some of the documentary over the weekend. Perkins spoke as an unabashed capitalist when it came to making money. But at least he was honest. “The risks were just enormous,” he said. At one point, referencing Genentech, he added: “Isn’t it great if you can make money and make the world better at the same time.”

In response to our news coverage of Perkins’s death last week, Holland tweeted that the movie wouldn’t have been the same without Perkins.

In many ways, the same is true about the VC industry.

Pishevar’s Cup runneth over

Uber investor Shervin Pishevar has had a lot to celebrate lately.

Last week, his San Francisco-based Sherpa Capital, where he’s co-founder and managing director, said it raised $470 million for a pair of funds.

Earlier this month, Uber, in which he was an early backer, raised $3.5 billion in new funding.

Then over the weekend, he got to celebrate the Stanley Cup and even lifted the esteemed trophy while on the San Jose Sharks’ home ice shortly after the Pittsburgh Penguins won the NHL championship trophy.

Pishevar posted on his social media feed a photo of himself with the Cup, saying in jest: “I just stole the Cup and ran.”

Shervin Pishevar
Shervin Pishevar holding the Stanley Cup shortly after the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the San Jose Sharks and won the 2015-16 NHL championship. Photo posted on Pishevar’s social feeds.

I messaged him, asking how he became a Penguins fan and what in the world was he doing with the Cup.

I haven’t yet heard back. I trust he returned it.

‘The New Yorker’ nails Silicon Valley

Last week, an article in the New Yorker by Andrew Marantz titled “How ‘Silicon Valley’ Nails Silicon Valley,” called the HBO comedy one of the funniest on TV.

What I think the story nailed is Silicon Valley’s love affair with itself.

I’m not a fan of the series. I saw a little bit of the first season. And no matter how many times I hear how funny it is, to me it remains a caricature of all the current-day programmers and investors who actually live and work in Silicon Valley.

The New Yorker says I’m wrong.

Silicon Valley
Cast members of the HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley” in Hollywood on April 3, 2014. Reuters/Kevork Djansezian

Marantz talked with former Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo, as well as investors Roger McNamee, Marc Andreessen, Aileen Lee and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman. They are more than 200 consultants who provide insights to the inner workings of how meetings work and how people dress. Lee of Cowboy Ventures says she sends the show “mockable buzzwords of the month.”

Some of the consultants are unpaid and uncredited. They include academics, investors, entrepreneurs, and employees at Google, Amazon, Netflix and several other tech companies.

Marantz argues it is what helps give the show its realism.

To be fair, it is funny. And perhaps I should give it another try.

Photo of a tech worker with laptop and espresso ©iStock/Anchiy