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The “Fuzzy” Logic of Venture Capital Partnerships
The gender discrimination and retaliation case of Ellen Pao versus Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has enthralled Silicon Valley in recent weeks, with everyone now focusing on what a jury that’s set to begin deliberations will decide.
But one of the many, bigger questions the trial has raised is whether it will impact how venture capitalists nurture talent and groom junior people to become partners.
If it isn’t top of mind for many partnerships, it should be.
On the stand last week, Kleiner Perkins general partner Matt Murphy described the promotional path at the storied firm as “fuzzy,” explaining to jurors that when he’d come aboard in 1999, you “just weren’t going to become a partner. You stayed two years, then you went to an operating company.”
As Murphy and then-colleague Aileen Lee were promoted to more senior roles, a “fuzzy process” of promotion began to develop that led to less collegiality and more self-interested maneuvering at the firm, Murphy testified.
That murky process also played a starring role in Pao’s lawsuit, which is why Joseph Sellers, the head of the civil rights and employment practice group at Cohen Milstein in Washington, D.C., suggests partnerships adopt a more structured promotional path than many feature today.
Explains Sellers: “There are certain types of workplaces where the path to advancement isn’t as well defined as others, and in some people’s minds, that might look to provide some protection; with a poorly defined path, it’s harder to hold people accountable for decisions.” The reality, adds Sellers, is that “what might be legitimate grounds on which to deny somebody advancement could be perceived as being influenced by something impermissible.”
Asking venture firms to be more transparent about how they choose general partners is easier said than done, of course. When it comes to the promotional paths of most firms, it’s “part fraternity, part sorority rush,” notes Cliff Palefsky, a top employment and civil rights lawyer in San Francisco. “It’s always a question of: Who do you want to hang out with?”
Murphy told jurors last week that promotions at Kleiner depend on a “critical mass of partners within the firm who are saying, ‘We want this person to be promoted . . . There have to be enough people around the table who want this person to be a partner and to work with them for a long time.”
Given that partnerships typically last at least 10 years and involve shared economics, it’s understandable to a point, too. “There’s very much an are-you-like-me orientation that comes into play in a small partnership,” says Palefsky. “Who do you trust? Who do you go to battle with? Those are the kinds of things that sunk Ellen. No one trusted her.”
The irony is that Pao – as well as Trae Vassallo, another female partner who is no longer actively investing on behalf of the firm – have been revealed as big money makers for Kleiner, even if they didn’t quite fit in longer term.
If Pao had gotten her way, Kleiner would have backed Twitter years earlier than it did, and made a far richer return. She also lobbied to invest in RPX, a company that later enjoyed a successful offering, and Climate Corp., a company that was acquired seven years after is founding for roughly 10 times what investors poured into it. (Kleiner invested in RPX; it passed on Climate Corp.)
Vassallo, meanwhile, played a key role in Kleiner’s investment in Nest Labs, which sold to Google for $3 billion last year. She also led the firm’s investment in Dropcam, the camera company that sold to Nest Labs for $550 million last year. (According to two sources, Dropcam liked Vassallo so much that Kleiner’s investment in the company was contingent on securing her as a board member.)
Says Palefsky: “One thing this trial highlighted is how men and women can be held to a different standard without people realizing it, and how you can be a successful venture capitalist without being an identical twin to the person who came before you.”
Helping startups with strategic decisions and recruiting is great, but “you can be great on the board of a company that’s failing,” he says. Ultimately, he says, “What matters is whether the fund goes up or down because of how well you can analyze a business. And there’s zero reason a man would be better than a woman in doing that.”
August, the 2.5-year-old, San Francisco-based technology company whose flagship product is a smart lock and access system, has raised $38 million in Series B funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with participation from Comcast Ventures and Qualcomm Ventures. Earlier backers Maveron, Cowboy Ventures, Industry Ventures, Rho Ventures, and SoftTech VC also participated in the round, which brings August’s total funding to $50 million.
Ayasdi, a seven-year-old, Menlo Park, Ca.-based data analytics software company, has raised $55 million in a funding round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The round more than doubles the $51.3 million the company had previously raised, including from Floodgate, Khosla Ventures, Citi Ventures, GE Ventures, and IVP. More here.
Cohere Technologies, a 3.5-year-old, Santa Clara, Ca.-based mobile-infrastructure startup, has raised $35 million in new funding led by the Australian telecommunications giant Telstra, with participation from Macquarie Capital, AME Cloud Ventures, and earlier backers New Enterprise Associates and Lightspeed Ventures.
Cotopaxi, a 1.5-year-old, Salt Lake City, Ut.-based direct-to-consumer outdoor gear and apparel company, has raised $6.5 million in Series A funding led by Greycroft Partners, with participation from earlier backers New Enterprise Associates, Forerunner Ventures, Lerer Hippeau Ventures and individual angels. The company has raised $9.5 million to date, show Crunchbase.
Falcon Social, a four-year-old, Copenhagen, Denmark-based company whose SaaS platform allows marketing departments to create and measure social media campaigns in real time, has raised $16 million in Series B funding led by Prime Ventures, with participation from earlier backers Northcap and Target Partners.
FullContact, a five-year-old, Denver-based maker of cloud-based contact management software, has added $3 million in funding to a $7 million Series B round that the company had closed in January. The new capital comes from the venture group of Baird Capital. Foundry Group had led the earlier round, with the participation of Blue Note Ventures and 500 Startups. The company has raised roughly $19 million altogether.
Harvest.ai, an eight-month-year-old, San Diego-based cyber security company that tries to detect and stop breaches of cloud-based services before any data is stolen, has raised $2.3 million in funding led by Trinity Ventures.
Hedvig, a 2.5-year-old, Santa Clara, Ca.-based distributed storage platform, has raised $12.5 million in Series A funding led by Atlantic Bridge Capital, with participation from True Ventures and Redpoint Ventures.
InterVene, a 3.5-year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based medical device start-up company working to create new vein valves for people who are unable to efficiently pump blood back to their heart, has raised a $5.9 million in Series A funding led by Boston Scientific, with participation from North Texas Angels Network, Green Park and Golf Ventures, LaunchCapital, and a syndicate of angel investors.
Localytics, a 5.5-year-old, Boston-based analytics and marketing platform for mobile and web apps, has raised $35 million in Series D funding led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from return backers Foundation Capital and Polaris Partners. The company has now raised roughly $60 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.
Logikcull, a nearly 11-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based file organization and discovery firm, has raised $4 million in seed funding led by Storm Ventures, with participation from angel investors Nick Mehta and Anshu Sharma. Forbes has more on the company’s decision to finally raise outside capital.
Nanigans, a five-year-old, Boston-based company that makes social and mobile advertising software for customers wanting to manage their digital advertising in-house, has raised $24 million in Series B funding led by the Chinese Internet company Cheetah Mobile. Wellington Management Company and earlier backer Avalon Ventures also joined the round. The company has now raised $32.9 million altogether.
ProtectWise, a two-year-old, Denver-based cloud-security software firm, has raised $17 million in funding from Arsenal Venture Partners, Crosslink Capital, Paladin Capital Group and Trinity Ventures.
Realm, a 3.5-year-old, San Francisco-based mobile database company that enables its users to develop applications faster, has raised $20 million in Series B funding led by earlier backer Khosla Ventures, which also led the San Francisco company’s Series A. Scale Venture Partners also participated in the financing. The company has now raised $30 million altogether, shows Crunchbase data.
Rsam, a 12-year-old, Secaucus, N.J.-based company that sells governance, risk and compliance software and services, has raised $32 million in growth equity funding from JMI Equity.
Schoolrunner, a three-year-old, Denver, Co.-based student data system that allows educators to track academics, attendance, behavior, and standards, has raised $1.5 million from Colorado Impact Fund.
Semma Therapeutics, a months-old, Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of a cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes, has raised $44 million in Series A funding led by MPM Capital, with participation from Fidelity Biosciences, ARCH Venture Partners, and Medtronic. Xconomy has more on the young company here.
Skycure, a 2.5-year-old, Tel Aviv, Israel-based mobile security startup, has raised $8 million in Series A funding led by Shasta Ventures, with participation from New York Life Insurance Co. and earlier investors, including Pitango Venture Capital.
Socratic, a two-year-old, New York-based online community that allows teachers to upload video lessons and educational content for K-12, college, and graduate students, has raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Shasta Ventures, with participation from Spark Capital and Omidyar Network. The company had previously raised $1.5 million in seed funding, including from Betaworks and BoxGroup. EdSurge hasmore here.
Swan Global Investments, a 27-year-old, Durango, Co.-based independent advisory firm, has raised $23 million in growth equity from FTV Capital.
Teabox, a three-year-old, Bangalore, India-based e-commerce player in the tea packing and export space, has raised $6 million in Series A funding led by JAFCO Asia. Other participants in the round include Keystone Group, Dragoneer Investment Group, and Accel Partners, which seed funded Teabox with $1 million a year ago. Time of India has more here.
WP Engine, a 4.5-year-old, Austin, Tx.-based managed hosting service for websites and apps built with WordPress, has raised $20 million in fresh funding led by earlier investor North Bridge Venture Partners. The company has now raised $36.2 million altogether, shows Crunchbase.
New Enterprise Associates, the 38-year-old venture firm, has gathered $2.57 billion in commitments thus far for its fifteenth fund, reports Fortune. A final close has not yet occurred, says the report, which notes NEA closed its last fund — a $2.6 million pool — in 2012. NEA has also promoted longtime partner Scott Sandell to co-managing partner alongside Peter Barris.
FoundationDB, a company that specializes in scalable NoSQL databases, has been acquired by Apple, reports TechCrunch. Terms of the deal aren’t known. FoundationDB had raised $22.7 million from SV Angel, Sutter Hill Ventures, and CrunchFund.
Playbook HR, a year-old, San Francisco-based startup that builds on-demand marketplaces to manage hiring, has been acquired by Intuit for an undisclosed amount. The company had participated in the StartX program last fall.
Rekindle, an eight-month-old, Boston-based company that gathers contact information from a user’s networks to make new connections or rekindle old ones, has been acquired by HubSpot, the sales software developer. Rekindle had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Google Ventures and FKA Atlas, the tech-investment arm of Cambridge-based Atlas. Boston Business Journal has more here.
The assets of SugarSync, an 11-year-old, San Mateo, Ca.-based company that provided cloud file sharing, file sync and online backup services, have been acquired by the Internet services provider J2 Global for an undisclosed sum that J2 has characterized as “not expected to be material.” SugarSync had raised roughly $55 million across seven rounds, plus another $6.5 million in debt financing. Its venture backers include DFJ, Sigma Partners, Coral Group, and Selby Venture Partners.
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