Benchmark used to be the quintessential Silicon Valley venture firm. It was small. It was focused. It was aggressive while also remaining founder friendly. It stuck to its knitting when it came to its fund size, raising fund after fund in the $450 million range.
Over the years, the world changed. Some of the biggest brands in the venture business now manage many billions of dollars, having raised a series of increasingly enormous funds over the last decade. They now oversee massive “talent teams.”
Not Benchmark. In fact, by operating much the same as it did when it was founded in 1995, raising roughly the same relatively conservative amount of capital every time it closes a fund and running the firm with a handful of general partners — no principals, no associates, just executive assistants for each partner — Benchmark is no longer the stereotypical venture firm. Instead, it has become an anomaly.
Who is keeping the firm on this path? While seemingly all of the firm’s partners maintain a relationship with Benchmark (no matter if they were investing in the late ’90s or a decade ago), Peter Fenton is now the firm’s most senior member. It’s Fenton to whom Benchmark’s most famous investor, Bill Gurley, is passing the torch as he steps away from an active role at the firm, 21 years after joining it. It is Fenton who — poached from Accel back in 2006 at the age of 33 — has also outlasted other peers, including Matt Cohler and Mitch Lasky, both of whom moved on from actively investing on behalf of Benchmark in 2018.
Fenton has also been key in establishing the current team at Benchmark, including by being the first to reach out to general partner Sarah Tavel when she was still a partner with Greylock.
We don’t know how involved Fenton was in bringing aboard the two other general partners who’ve joined Benchmark in recent years — Eric Vishria and Chetan Puttagunta — but guess what? We’re thrilled to have the chance to ask him that question and many more during this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt, where Fenton is joining us this year in a somewhat rare public appearance.
We can’t wait to talk with him. As someone who has long been considered a top VC yet also managed a low profile, Fenton is someone who we’re genuinely eager to talk with about a wide range of issues, from how an apparent exodus from the Bay Area might impact the local startup scene, to his thoughts on rolling funds, to whether Benchmark would ever sponsor — or even try to manage — a SPAC. (We wrote recently about how these work; Bill Gurley wrote soon after about why they might make more sense than they have in the past.)
We’re also wondering: Will Fenton take on a higher-profile role on behalf of Benchmark? Given the firm’s outsize returns — its early bet on Uber alone reportedly produced more than $7 billion in returns to its limited partners — that wouldn’t seem necessary. Then again, firms like Benchmark and Sequoia stay on top precisely because they go that last mile.
Either way, you won’t want to miss Fenton at this year’s show, which is shaping up in every way to be an incredible program. Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 through September 18 and will be 100% virtual this year. Get your front row seat to see Fenton live with a Disrupt Digital Pro Pass or a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. If you act before Thursday, August 27 at 11:59 p.m. PDT, you can even save an additional $100 during our flash sale! We’re excited to see you there.