Venture capital mega-firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has announced that Mary Meeker is joining the firm as a partner, in another sign that the firm is focusing more on this mobile-meets-social-meets-local-meets-global wave of Web disruption. “Our number one goal is to help the Mark Pincuses of the world build their businesses into Internet treasures, and there has been no greater finder of Internet treasures than Mary Meeker,” said KP’s John Doerr in an early morning call with TechCrunch, just after Meeker broke the news to Morgan Stanley’s technology and Internet practice– a force on Wall Street where she’s made her name over the last 20 years.
In the dot com glory days, Mary Meeker was as famous as an analyst as Doerr was as a VC, so it’s appropriate and seemingly a long time coming that the two would wind up as partners. Meeker said she’d thought about making the change “from the skybox to coaching down on the field,” as Doerr described it, for years. Meeker has been in talks with Kleiner since late September and made the decision to leave Morgan Stanley and join KP the Monday before Thanksgiving. She was swayed finally by a combination of factors including confidence that Morgan Stanley’s tech practice was in a strong place, the opportunity with Kleiner specifically and the stage the Internet is in right now.
It’s a tough market with huge spoils. She spoke about the heady combination of the mobile innovation being built on the iPhone and Android platforms along with the surging billion-person-plus worldwide Internet audience. Add to that a savvier class of entrepreneurs than the industry has seen before going up against CEOs of companies like Google, Amazon and Apple who are smart, paranoid, and not willingly going to cede any ground, and she couldn’t sit on the Wall Street sidelines any longer, she says.
For Kleiner, it is another stake in its reinvigorated Web franchise: First it was the hire of Bing Gordon who did KP’s most brag-worthy Web deal with Zynga, then the iFund, then the sFund and now the addition of Meeker. A few years ago, Kleiner seemed to be deemphasizing the Web to focus more on opportunities in cleantech, but the news today is just another signal of how serious Kleiner is about this market opportunity. “This third wave of disruption of social and mobile has meant that digital investing has taken on a new prominence in Kleiner,” Doerr says.
Chegg’s CEO Dan Rosensweig was one of many pinging Meeker with congratulatory notes this morning during my call with Meeker, Doerr and fellow KP partner Ted Schlein. He described it as “huge news” and a “big coup” for Kleiner. “Mary’s ability to spot the most important trends, evaluate-and-back the most effective entrepreneurs, predict the major pivots in the industry, and do it on a global basis has been unparalleled,” he told TechCrunch via email.
That “global basis” part is key. Meeker will be based in Silicon Valley, but will travel between the Valley and New York and Asia. We spoke a bit about the role Meeker will play between the United States and Asia– given that many venture firms keep their Valley and China franchises pretty distinct from one another. Meeker first dug into China in the early 2000s and was stunned by the deep cultural changes the Web was having in the massive country. “You could take the Internet enthusiasm that was happening in 1999 and 2000 here in the US, and in China it was three-to-five times more ebullient,” she says. “I thought, ‘My gosh, this is not about a garden variety technology change, this is about cultural change.'” Meeker noted that Chinese Web giants and Valley entrepreneurs have their hands full in their home markets, but in the next five to ten years the two will be colliding– or potentially merging– more.
It’s not that Kleiner hasn’t been serious about Asia before. It has an eight-partner team in China. But when DeNA Japan acquired ngmoco and returned the whole iFund, the importance of Asia was certainly hammered home, Doerr says. “Mary is the most eloquent in saying this market isn’t just about social meets local meets mobile, but meets global as well,” he said.
I asked Zynga CEO Mark Pincus what specifically Meeker would bring to Kleiner that the firm doesn’t have already. He emphasized Meeker’s data-driven approach to championing new markets versus the Valley’s more common gut-feeling, intuitive approach. “She has been the first to call many major markets, showing with data what many of us are pursuing based on instincts,” Pincus said. “In the past year she has called out the social Web and mobile Internet as opportunities of much bigger scale.Facebook’s market valuation probably went up significantly after her presentation at Web 2.0, in which she showed the potential impact of the social Web.”
Kleiner has a history of bringing in big names from other industries– Colin Powell being one of the most surprising and headline-grabbing. It can be a gamble: Venture capital investing is a very specific business and successful executives from large companies, thinkers or politicians don’t always make great investors. Indeed many of Kleiner’s competitors prefer to groom talent from within or plunk an entrepreneur fresh off a big win. But Meeker seems far less of a gamble than your average banker because she has always been so forward looking– a little too forward looking back in the late 1990s some investors would argue.