Investment Community Honors the Life of Venture Capital Legend Tom Perkins
Thomas Perkins, 84, has died. He was one of Silicon Valley’s pioneers, with a career spanning entrepreneurship, the management of major corporate activities and most importantly, venture capital. As a venture capital investor he played a key role in creating and financing the launches of some of the most interesting and innovative businesses in the world like Google, Amazon and Sun Microsystems.
The Harvard Business School graduate left his job at Hewlett-Packard Co. to establish Menlo Park, California-based Kleiner Perkins with Austrian-born engineer Eugene Kleiner in 1972. Kleiner was present at the birth and rise of “Silicon Valley.”
In the spring of 1956 William Shockley, who co-invented the transistor in 1947 while working at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, founded the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory near Palo Alto, California and Sand Hill Road.
Despite his brilliance as a physicist Shockley was a disaster as a business manager. Eventually, Shockley’s core team, which included Kleiner, could not stand it anymore.
Kleiner was known as one of the “Traitorous Eight” who left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Together the renegade eight engineers created Fairchild Semiconductor in Palo Alto in 1957, the first venture to work solely with silicon.
Over the years, the departing “Fairchildren” helped to create the semiconductor industry. Between 1966 and 1969, no less than 27 new chip ventures were formed by Fairchild émigrés. Two the eight, Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, started Intel Corporation in 1968 with $2.5 million.
Together, the Fairchildren established the central philosophy of Silicon Valley–anyone with a good enough idea can get the capital, the workforce and the markets to make it a reality.
Perkins and Kleiner founded one of the most influential and central venture capital firms in the world today. Opening in 1972 with $8 million and later joined by Frank Caufield and Brook Byers as partners, the firm invested in tech companies over the next two decades, leading to the Silicon Valley boom that ushered in the Internet Age.
Over the years “Kleiner-Perkins” has supported hundreds of entrepreneurs leading ventures that include household names like: Amazon.com, America Online, Compaq Computers, Genentech, Google.com, Juniper Networks, Lotus, Netscape, Square, Sun Microsystems, Twitter, Uber.
Perkins coupled his investing with an active management role in the enterprises he helped to finance. He was an early supporter of the biotechnology industry, serving as chairman at Genentech Inc. for 15 years, and was on the board of Tandem Computers Inc., and Compaq Computer Corp.
Perkins stepped back from active investing in the late 1980s, handing the reins of the firm to John Doerr, among others, who made a new generation of winning investments in companies like Google and Amazon.com. Perkins served on the board of News Corp., owner of The Wall Street Journal, from 1996 to 2011.
In 1995 Pradeep Sindhu, an engineer at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in San Jose created an improved algorithm that could be used to build a better router than Cisco was selling at the time. Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and once a VC at Kleiner Perkins, gave him a check for $275,000 to build out some hack models and Juniper Networks was on its way. It is considered as one of the best investments anyone has made to date in Silicon Valley. Khosla’s decision to invest a total of $3 million in Sindhu returned some $2 billion.
In 1996 Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com closed an $8 million round with Kleiner Perkins as the sole investor. Said Bezos at that time, “Kleiner and Doerr are the gravitational center of a huge piece of the Internet world. It’s the equivalent of prime real estate.”
Fellow co-founders Frank Caufield and Brook Byers in a statement on behalf of the firm.
“As a co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Tom was a pioneer in the venture capital industry. He defined what we know of today as entrepreneurial venture capital by going beyond just funding to helping entrepreneurs realize their visions with operating expertise. He was there at the start of the biotech industry and the computer revolution. Tom was our partner and friend, and we will miss him.”
The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and Bobby Franklin, President and CEO of NVCA issued the following statement after the passing of venture capital pioneer Thomas Perkins, co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and past Chair of the NVCA Board of Directors.
“We were saddened to learn of Tom’s passing. As co-founder of one of the most storied venture firms on the planet and past Chair of NVCA, Tom was a legendary figure of our industry and will always be remembered as one of the founders of the modern day venture capital industry. Not without controversy, Tom was outspoken on issues he felt passionate about and never one to shy away from sharing his honest opinion. There was never a question of his commitment to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and pushing the boundaries of innovation through the creation of entire new industries. He will be missed but his legend lives on.”
“Tom was a legend in the business,” said Venky Ganesan, managing director of Menlo Ventures and chair of NVCA’s board of directors. “He was not just a great venture capitalist, he was a leader of the Silicon Valley community, and he rallied people to do incredible things.”
PHOTO: NY Times/AP
SOMETHING VENTURED tells the story of the creation of an industry that went on to become the single greatest engine of innovation and economic growth in the 20th century. It is told by the visionary risk-takers who dared to make it happen…Tom Perkins, Don Valentine, Arthur Rock, Dick Kramlich and others. The film also includes some of our finest entrepreneurs sharing how they worked with these venture capitalists to grow world-class companies like Intel, Apple, Cisco, Atari, Genentech, Tandem and others.
Beginning in the late 1950′s, this small group of high rollers fostered a one-of-a-kind business culture that encouraged extraordinary risk and made possible unprecedented rewards. They laid the groundwork for America’s start-up economy, providing not just the working capital but the guidance to allow seedling companies to reach their full potential. Our lives would be dramatically different without the contributions that these venture capitalists made to the creation of PCs, the Internet and life-saving drugs.