Washington State Investment Board appears to be the first major public pension to back Sequoia Capital’s new $5 billion growth fund. The $128.8 billion retirement system committed up to $350 million to the vehicle at its meeting last week.
This marks Washington’s first commitment to a Sequoia fund.
The venture firm has eschewed most public pensions or institutions since the mid-2000s after court cases involving two of its limited partners — University of California and University of Michigan endowments — prompted the release of financial information the firm had deemed proprietary.
“Unfortunately, times have changed and the quiet curtain of privacy that protected our confidential information has been torn. … We also have the right to protect our other clients, our portfolio companies and our sales from the various damages that can result from the dissemination of information that we consider highly confidential,” Sequoia Partner Mike Moritz wrote in a letter to the CIO of the University of Michigan endowment at the time.
UC and the University of Michigan later invested in Sequoia’s subsequent funds, though the amount of information released about the performance of those investments remained limited.
Other venture firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Andreessen Horowitz, have also avoided public institutions as a way to keep their funds’ financial performance private.
In the case of UC, Sequoia was one of several firms that stopped providing return information to Cambridge Associates, which the endowment uses to prepare its annual report on the internal rates of return generated by its stakes in private-market funds.
Similarly, WSIB releases quarterly reports detailing the performance of each of the private funds in its portfolio. It’s unclear how its stake in Sequoia’s new global growth fund will be included in future reports.
Sequoia and WSIB did not respond to requests for comment.
Sequoia’s decision to market its new fund to public pensions is due at least partly to its size. At $5 billion, with an $8 billion hard cap, Sequoia Capital Global Growth Fund III will invest primarily in U.S. and China-based technology companies.
The firm will likely use the fund to maintain its stakes in existing portfolio companies. Massive checks from SoftBank’s $98 billion investment fund have led to larger and larger funding rounds for successful late-stage tech companies, effectively diluting the stakes of early-stage investors.
“If they buy 20 percent of a seed company for a couple million dollars and that turns into Uber and they want to maintain that 20 percent ownership at every round, they want to have deep pockets,” an LP told VCJ affiliate Buyouts earlier this year.
SoftBank became Uber’s largest shareholder earlier this year when it and an investor group provided $9.3 billion to the ride-sharing company’s latest funding round.
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Roelof Botha, venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, speaks during the Reuters Global Technology Summit in San Francisco on June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam