Prominent venture firm Sequoia Capital has famously handled well its transitions from one powerful team of investors to the next. Founder Don Valentine handed the reins over to Doug Leone and Michael Moritz earlier than he might have planned, then continued attending partner meetings for another 10 years. (The partners say they were happy for his continued advice and guidance — not that they always agreed with him.)
So goes another transition, say firm insiders, as longtime partner Jim Goetz dials back on some of his management responsibilities at the firm and leaves Sequoia’s U.S. operations in the hands of partner Roelof Botha.
Botha has actually been running the U.S. business with Goetz for the last 10 years, but he now becomes what the firm calls a “Sequoia Steward,” too. What this means in Sequoia parlance: Botha will take over “more responsibility for strategy, for team composition, for fundraising — including spending more time with limited partners and helping decide when do we raise, the size of the funds, the composition of our LP base,” he says.
Botha adds with a laugh, “Being a team lead does not mean you get paid more.”
Though a subtle move, it does suggests that Goetz — whose note to Sequoia’s investors you can find below — will not be actively investing out of Sequoia’s next U.S.-focused fund. Indeed, while Botha says he expects that Goetz will “continue to make several investments in the next few years,” Goetz himself told investors today that he plans to reduce his work load so he can start saying “‘yes’ to some of the other aspects of my life that have been on hold over the past twenty years.”
Certainly, with deals like WhatsApp under his belt, Goetz has little left to prove. (We wrote about his track record here.)
As for whether there was some other impetus for Goetz’s decision, Botha says simply that Goetz, like Valentine before him, thinks that many VCs just wait too long. “They cling to power and in doing so, sow the seeds of their firm’s eventual decline.” Sequoia has meanwhile “always embraced change both inside and outside the firm.”
Botha reiterates that dialing back does not mean disappearing, pointing to Moritz, who stepped away from the firm for health reasons in 2012 but who has continued to join boards on behalf of Sequoia, including those of Stripe, Instacart, Klarna and Flipagram. Indeed, it was when Moritz took a leave that Goetz was made a “steward” in the first place.
Asked whether Sequoia is preparing to raise another U.S.-oriented fund — the likeliest reason for Goetz to ease himself out of his day-to-day activities at the firm — Botha declined to comment on the prospect, but we’d guess it’s either about to tap its LPs for a new fund or it will in the not-too-distant future. Its peers in the venture world are now raising new funds roughly every two years, and Sequoia closed its most recent U.S.-focused fund in 2015.
Either way, Botha, 43, won’t be working alone suddenly. Instead, he’s getting a new U.S. co-lead in 44-year-old Alfred Lin. Both will be working under Leone, who oversees the firm’s global operations with Neil Shen, the founder and managing partner of Sequoia Capital China.
Here’s Goetz’s letter to Sequoia’s investors, with one sentence regarding internal changes redacted:
Disruption is at the heart of our business. It’s what creates opportunities for Sequoia entrepreneurs, and it’s what helps them produce extraordinary returns for our LPs. Ironically, it’s also the force that many venture capital firms resist, often contributing to their own decline.
Sequoia is the exception.
Over the past 45 years, starting with Don Valentine, Sequoia has embraced change as much within our partnership as outside it. That willingness to renew and reinvent – often by empowering the less experienced among us – has been the foundation of our success. I am deeply indebted to Doug and Sir Michael for the trust they placed in me, first as a Sequoia-backed entrepreneur, later as co-lead of the venture business, and more recently as a Sequoia Steward. Implicit in that arc is an obligation to pay it forward to the next generation. That time has come.
During the coming week I plan to step aside from my leadership responsibilities. I do so with great confidence in this next generation of leaders. They represent a gifted cohort who bleed Sequoia, and their fresh ideas will spur the next wave of reinvention. More to come on these well-deserved changes from Doug.
To ensure a smooth transition and encourage change, I am going to decamp from the Menlo office for a few months. I will remain a GP in existing funds and continue to represent Sequoia on boards. When I return, I intend to sponsor new investments but I plan to reduce my workload, so that I can start saying “yes” to some of the other aspects of my life that have been on hold over the past twenty years.
Pictured above: Roelof Botha