As a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Aileen Lee has been a part of one of the most well-respected and established venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. KPCB, of course, is known for making big bets companies that often turn out to be the tech industry’s brightest stars: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Zynga, and Groupon are just a tiny sample of the companies that Kleiner Perkins has backed. But after 13 years with the firm, Aileen Lee is shifting her focus in a very interesting way — she’s starting a new venture fund focused on smaller, “seed-stage” investments.
In an interview with TechCrunch today, Lee said that many of the details of the fund are still being hashed out — so things like the fund’s name, how much total investment will be involved in it, who else may be involved, and so on are yet to be disclosed. But here is what we do know: While it will be a standalone fund separate from Kleiner Perkins, KPCB will be the “anchored” investor in the fund; Lee will be full time in the new fund but will continue to hold her title as a KPCB partner and work with her existing portfolio companies there (including Rent the Runway and One King’s Lane.) This is the first time that a Kleiner partner has ever left to start their own seed fund, so Lee is in uncharted territory of sorts.
Here are some of the reasons Lee says she is launching this new endeavor:
The angel investment community has gotten bigger, stronger, and more organized than ever in recent years, while at the same time micro-VC funds have become increasingly relevant factors in the overall landscape. Meanwhile, the JOBS Act that was just signed into law this week will open the door for even more potential investors to enter the ecosystem. These are all positive things overall, but right now, Lee sees an opportunity to bring a new kind of gravity to the space. “Seed stage is an investment area that is really important for early stage startups,” Lee said. “It feels like there is a need for trusted, experienced people to work with and to guide startups at this level. Kleiner recognizes this too.”
It isn’t just the Kleiner Perkins pedigree that Lee brings to her new fund. She has served as a startup CEO herself (at Danoo, which is now RMG Networks.) Her resume also includes work at the corporate level in consumer products companies including Gap Inc., The North Face, and Odwalla. “There are not many people from top tier venture capital firms who are focused on the seed stage,” Lee said. “Having been a venture-backed CEO, and having an established background in working with consumer focused companies, I’ve built a strong network of entrepreneurs and people who can help startups.”
Also, obviously, she is a woman, which brings its own unique perspective. Lee says she is passionate about encouraging more gender diversity in the tech world. “I’m a huge believer in power of women on the web. I understand the role and importance of females in companies can make a big difference,” Lee said.
Even though she’s just getting started, Lee says she has already found that the early-stage funding space has a friendly feel that’s all its own. “I’m already looking at companies to invest in and the seed investing community is very collaborative. Super early-stage companies have a village that form around them for support,” Lee said. “I’m excited to be part of this.”
Of course, this is just the first bit of news out of Lee’s new fund, so there will be much more to watch in the weeks and months ahead. It’s certainly an exciting time for seed funding in general, so it’ll be interesting to watch how she forges a path in the space.
Leena Rao contributed reporting to this article.
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) is a well known Silicon Valley venture capital firm, due in large part to their past success. They were early investors in many significant companies, including Amazon, AOL, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Google, Intuit, Macromedia, Netscape, Segway, and Sun Microsystems. The name of the firm comes from the four founding partners: Eugene Kleiner, Tom Perkins, Frank J. Caufield, and Brook Byers. In March 2008, KPCB announced the iFund, a $100M investment initiative focused on ideas...
Aileen Lee is founder of Cowboy Ventures, a digital seed-stage focused fund founded in 2012. She is also a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which she joined in 1999. Aileen has been the lead or supporting partner working with KPCB-backed companies such as Bloom Energy, Blue Nile (NASDAQ: Nile), Callaway Digital Arts, Friendster (acquired by MOL Global), Good Technology (acquired by MOT), One Kings Lane, Plum District, Rent the Runway, ShopKick, Tellme (Acquired by...