Venture capital pioneer Tom Perkins dies at 84

Thomas Perkins, who co-founded venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has died of natural causes. He was 84 years old.

Before becoming an investor, Perkins founded a laser company called University Labs, and was the first general manager of Hewlett-Packard’s computer division. He co-founded Kleiner Perkins with Eugene Kleiner in 1972, helping to lay the foundation for venture capital in Silicon Valley.

During his career, Perkins served on the boards of a number of well-known companies, including Compaq, Genentech and News Corp. Perkins was also on the HP board, but resigned in 2006 because of his objections to a board investigation of press leaks.

Outside of tech, Perkins also wrote a memoir and a novel, and he built a giant yacht called the Maltese Falcon. In recent years, he attracted criticism for a letter in The Wall Street Journal comparing the “rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent” to Nazi Germany. (The letter was, in part, a response to negative coverage of Perkins’ ex-wife Danielle Steele.)

At our Disrupt SF conference in 2013, Perkins appeared with Sequoia Capital founder Don Valentine, where he paid tribute to his mentor David Packard and talked about his career’s highs (like investing in Genentech) and lows (like passing on Apple). He also noted that Kleiner Perkins backed AOL, which now owns TechCrunch.

“There’s always been a debate of what’s the best investment: Do you invest in an idea or in a person?” he said. “And that debate goes on forever. I feel you invest in the idea because bad people don’t have good ideas. So it’s a very simple formula.”

Kleiner Perkins sent us the following statement from co-founders Frank Caufield and Brook Byers:

As a cofounder 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.