In July of last year, Eric Vishria, a longtime Opsware executive who became co-founder and CEO of the social browsing startup Rockmelt, joined the Sand Hill Road firm Benchmark as its fifth general partner. It’s an enviable position, given the reputation of the 20-year-old firm, which has backed Uber, Snapchat, and the publicly traded companies Twitter, Hortonworks and Zendesk, among many others.
At Benchmark, which famously sticks to its early-stage knitting, with recent funds all closing at $425 million, general partners also have an equal share in the firm. That’s rather unlike most venture firms, where older partners typically receive outsize economics (and younger partners often hightail it for greener pastures).
That’s not to say the work is easy, exactly. We talked with Vishria yesterday about his first year on the job. Our chat has been edited for length.
TC: How’s it going one year in?
EV: It’s been really amazing. Don’t tell entrepreneurs this, but it’s the best job ever. Every meeting you walk into, you’re learning something. You’re meeting with an entrepreneur, learning about a new space or idea . . . It’s just such an intellectually stimulating job. I find it very inspiring.
TC: How do you keep from getting overly excited about the new ideas you’re seeing? We’d think that would be tricky at first.
EV: I’ve now seen about 180 companies – I track it – and in the first few weeks, I was like, “Oh my God, all of these ideas are investable!” And they weren’t. Your partners keep you out of trouble, though. They’re like, “Yeah, we’ve seen 10 companies just like that.”
TC: What have you learned to look for?
EV: The part that’s really hard is looking at these companies that, for the most part, have between 2 and 10 people. And you’re looking at them and thinking: Is this going to be the next Uber or Snapchat or Hortonworks? At that stage, a million things have to go right, so it’s much harder than it looks. We make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. And it’s okay to miss that Series A that turns into a couple hundred million dollar outcome – a 10x or 20x. That happens. What you can’t miss is the thousand X.
TC: How are you getting input from Benchmark’s four other partners? Does Benchmark still have Monday morning partner meetings like most firms?
EV: We do have Monday partner meetings. In fact, we spend most of our Mondays together – pretty much all day – to talk about companies and markets and, if there are new opportunities that we’re pretty serious about looking at, [to host] companies [that] come in and present.
We also have what we called Warfield Dinners, where most Monday nights, we have dinner together with a guest — who can be from inside or outside tech — and who we can talk with entirely off the record so that they can be their most open. [Editor’s note: Benchmark’s newest office is on the top floor of the Warfield building in San Francisco, which also hosts Spotify, Match.com, and Artis Capital.]
TC: It’s just the five of you and the guest?
TC: Did you ever think about joining Andreessen Horowitz, given your history at Opsware, where you spent more than seven years working in some capacity with its cofounders, Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen? Or did Benchmark pursue you before it could become a consideration?
EV: It was much more the latter. One thing Benchmark does is reach out to people as they are [developing in] in their careers. [General partner] Peter [Fenton] had [first] reached out to me in 2007 [after which I met other partners].
And Benchmark fits my personality. I like the fact that we’re understated. There are also four people around the table who are very good at what they do, and it’s a great way to learn venture.
TC: Speaking of which, you’ve now led two investments.
EV: Yes, the first, Confluent, was announced last fall. My second is [the code debugging startup] Bugsnag [which today announced $7.2 million in Series A funding led by Benchmark]. If you look at it, we’re in a world where software development is critical to every single company on earth, and Bugsnag is a service that every developer needs.
TC: Would you ever lead a consumer deal?
EV: Yes. Peter has obviously been successful in leading infrastructure deals for Benchmark, but he has also [led deals in] Twitter and Yelp. Meanwhile, [general partner] Matt [Cohler] is on the boards of Domo and Duo Security, and he also did Instagram. There’s a lot of white space here.
TC: Do three out of five votes get a deal done?
EV: We do vote, but we [generally] decide as a group to do it or we don’t.
TC: Last question: Do you think you can broker a peace between [Benchmark general partner] Bill Gurley and Marc Andreessen? In a recent New Yorker profile of Marc, he said that he “can’t stand” Bill. It was quite a detail.
EV: [Laughs.] It’s a competitive industry. Marc is a very competitive guy, and Bill is a very competitive guy. I’ll leave it at that!