It’s no secret that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has been restructuring its partnership, with some partners leaving and others transitioning to new roles within the firm. Today, the firm announced that General Partner Bing Gordon, who was the former Chief Creative Officer at EA, will become the firm’s chief product officer, leading KPCB ProductWorks, a program that provides entrepreneurs the intensive mentoring, recruiting and technical assistance needed to create consumer, enterprise and digital health products and services.
At a discussion with reporters today, Gordon told us he will continue to make investments and take board seats on behalf of Kleiner Perkins, but since the much of his time will be spent with ProductWorks, he will be scaling back his board involvement compared to traditional VCs.
This follows KPCB’s announcement last week that RISD President John Maeda is joining the firm as Design Partner. Maeda will play an important role in ProductWorks by helping entrepreneurs build design DNA into their company cultures. Maeda, along with KPCB General Partner Mike Abbott, former VP of Engineering at Twitter; and Partner Megan Quinn, former head of product at Square, will all be working on ProductWorks with Gordon.
“Great products are at the core of great companies,” said KPCB General Partner Ted Schlein in a release. “Even the most brilliant founders need help refining, prioritizing and executing on their product vision. With ProductWorks, our goal is to deepen and extend our support to entrepreneurs who are building stellar products.”
So what is ProductWorks? As Gordon, Abbott, Quinn and Maeda explained today, it is sort of like a university for Kleiner founders. The program includes mentorship from the above partners, but also one-on-one product review sessions with a KPCB partner during ProductWorks’ monthly Office Hours at the KPCB San Francisco office. The firm says it will also hold a series of product workshops led by key industry product managers. ProductWorks will focus on giving founders access to top product, design and engineering leaders through events with KPCB’s product, Engineering and Design Councils, and through various meetups and events.
As Gordon commented, it is institutionalizing much of what Kleiner already did with founders into a central place. And Abbott and Quinn explain that ProductWorks is also about how to scale knowledge, mentorship, and education to a wide group of people. Part of that will involve more writing by Kleiner partners and Maeda, and disseminating this information on their site.
Another aspect of ProductWorks will be recruiting. Because of the talent challenges every founder faces, KPCB will be giving entrepreneurs access to a pool of young designers, engineers and product managers via the KPCB Design, Engineering and Product Fellows programs. For the past two years, Kleiner Perkins has operated a summer fellowship program to place top engineering, product and design talent from colleges at the firm’s portfolio companies.
ProductWorks sounds similar in theory to the design team at Google Ventures, but with additional product and engineering focus as well. Adding these valued-added services, especially with the advice of someone like Maeda or Gordon, can be meaningful for entrepreneurs. As for operationalizing ProductWorks, Gordon says they may hire a few people to support the initiative but it certainly wouldn’t be an army of talent.
It’s an interesting move for Kleiner that sheds some light on some of the questions we all had following the restructuring news. Many weren’t sure about Gordon’s fate, in particular, with the partner not being named as a managing director of the firm’s early-stage fund. But it seems that with this announcement, Gordon is staying at Kleiner and will be making investments, just not as many. “In a time of change, we wanted to go back to our first principles,” said Gordon. Part of that is helping entrepreneurs. Another part, he explains, is productizing VC, and Kleiner was among the first to hire outside talent to help with recruiting and marketing.
Can VCs productize product and design? Perhaps. Google Ventures has seen success with its design sprints, and in this VC climate, most firms are trying to find ways of sharing knowledge across the portfolio. Despite any internal shakeups the firm has a deep bench of product and design talent within its partnership, and within many of the company in the firm’s portfolio.