• Benchmark’s Newest Partner, Eric Vishria, On Year One at the Powerhouse Firm

    eric_headshot_2In 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.

    How’s it going one year in?

    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.

    How do you keep from getting overly excited about the new ideas you’re seeing? We’d think that would be tricky at first.

    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.

    More here.

  • Wences Casares on the Future of Xapo (and Bitcoin)

    Wences CasaresWences Casares is among the most-trusted proponents of the digital currency bitcoin. Indeed, last year, Casares – a serial entrepreneur who previously ran the digital wallet service Lemon (acquired by LifeLock in late 2013) – raised $41 million for his now 40-person, Palo Alto, Ca.-based company, Xapo, including from Benchmark and Fortress Investment Group.

    That amount has since been dwarfed by other bitcoin startups – the payments processor and wallet startup Coinbase announced a $75 million round in January, for example – but Casares says he doesn’t need more capital any time soon. Despite a price crash last year and some high-profile security breaches, bitcoin’s growth, and Xapo’s, continues apace, he says. We talked the other day in a conversation that has been edited here for length.

    When you were raising money for Xapo last year, a single bitcoin equaled $650. Now, bitcoin are worth $225 a piece. How has that price fall impacted your business?

    For people who’ve been looking at bitcoin for three or four years, that’s not really the story. Bitcoin has done the same thing several times: [jump from], nine cents to $10; $1 to $17; $17 to $30 — all the way to $100. So those who’ve been around along time have seen it go from nine cents to $200.

    Also, when we raised that money, there were 3 million people using bitcoin. Today, there are 12 million. There were 20,000 transactions; today there are 100,000. Back then, bitcoin represented 50 percent of all cryptocurrency volume; today, it represents 96 percent.

    But are your customers transacting more now that it’s worth less, or are they continuing to sit on it?

    There are two very different markets. You have the California and New York market, [where people] own it as a speculative payment and who never do a payment, and [those 10 million people] account for most of the bitcoin. Then you have emerging markets where you see [2 million other] users with a lot less coins, and they’re using it because they don’t have credit cards and that hasn’t changed with the price.

    Where are people most actively using bitcoin in emerging markets, and is it becoming any easier to use in those places?

    People are using it in India, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil. The barriers remain enormous. It’s very hard to use it. But if you have no other way of paying online, you’re willing to go through enormous hurdles.

    You’ve said that establishing trust is the biggest hurdle that bitcoin faces. Isn’t simply understanding it an even bigger obstacle?

    Bitcoin looks like the internet before there was a browser. A lot of us tried explaining PCP stack and how the protocol works [etc.] and nobody really started using it because of those explanations. It happened because someone wanted to keep in touch over email or Skype or Facebook.

    [Similarly], the main use case for bitcoin is micro-transactions, and the internet will look different five years from now when you can move cents and hundreds of users who don’t have credit cards but $5 of bits can unlock certain things that you can’t unlock any other way.

    Xapo’s business is centered on a bitcoin wallet whose users store the bitcoin in vaults – or physical servers — around the world. What are they like, how many does Xapo manage, and why are they located where they are?

    These are large facilities where there are sections owned by other companies, with sections that are exclusive to us that we don’t share with anyone else. We have five – one in Switzerland and the others on other continents. They’re not very close because you have to be able to lose one due to a disaster like an earthquake, flooding or nuclear war.

    Would you ever need more?

    No. Even if we were 10,000 times our current size, it isn’t like bitcoin take up more space. We have five [servers] because each bitcoin has five keys. Imagine a door that has five keys and you need three to open it. Basically, if you lose one or two facilities owing to natural disaster or theft, you can use the other three to move the bitcoin to a safe location.

    Many bitcoin companies are tackling numerous things, like Coinbase. It’s a wallet provider. It’s also an exchange. Why are you focused on the wallet alone?

    Because it’s hard enough to win at one business and do it really well. At the beginning, AOL gave you connectivity and weather and email addresses and financial news, and it didn’t win at any of those things. Bitcoin is the same. A lot of companies do many things; we’d rather build the best wallet in the market.

  • Duo Security Raises $30 Million More, Led by Redpoint

    Jon OberheideDuo Security, a five-year-old, 100-person company that sells its cloud-based two-factor authentication software to thousands of organizations, including Facebook, Twitter, NASA and Uber, has just raised $30 million in Series C funding led by Redpoint Ventures, with participation from Benchmark, Google Ventures, Radar Partners and True Ventures. (The Ann Arbor, Mi.-based startup has now raised around $50 million altogether.)

    Last week, we chatted the Duo Security’s cofounder and CTO, Jon Oberheide, about how his company is using mobile devices as a second form of authentication, and what comes next.

    Some major company’s information is breached every week it seems, yet there are also other two-factor authentication services out there tackling the problem. What makes yours different?

    First, we think the existing security is broken. Underlying information technology has shifted out underneath existing security technologies and they aren’t relevant anymore. In the past few decades, your security model was built within the physical walls of your organization, then people began accessing the same device but they weren’t necessarily in the building, which made phishing for those employees’ names and passwords easy. Poor hygiene across multiple sites was the problem we were trying to solve, and we succeeded in ensuring that your identification couldn’t be stolen.

    Then mobile devices came along and now everyone uses their own favorite products.

    Yes, and those mobile devices aren’t under the control of an IT administrator. You have these cloud services that are being controlled by third parties. IT departments have gone from saying “no,” to partnering with [various parties] to ensure their [devices’] secure enablement.

    And you have a new edition that you say works even better than what your customers have been using. How so?

    Our new platform edition allows companies to establish what security policies are acceptable and customize protection at the point of entry. It can stop break-ins regardless of whether hackers have a user’s name or password by analyzing a company’s policies for each log-in attempt, including the location of the user, the reputation of the IP address, and what level of device health they want to admit into their enterprises. It addresses, for example, the employee who might forget his phone at the bar. A company can require that a full encryption and screen lock [are activated] to prevent someone else rom picking it up and trying to access corporate information. Or, if you’re a domestic company whose employees primarily log-in from Starbucks, you might want to block access to China or Russia, where a lot of hackers come from. You just click a box and it’s done.

    How much more will this new edition cost customers?

    On a per user, per month basis, we currently charge $3; our platform edition wil cost $6 per user per month because we’re providing a lot more value to companies that we think justifies [the price hike]

  • VC Michael Eisenberg: More Founders are Staying in Israel

    Michael EisenbergIf you’ve ever done an Internet or software venture deal in Israel, you probably know Michael Eisenberg. He started off in the industry 20 years ago, working first as a general partner at Israel Seed Partners, then spending nearly a decade with Benchmark, which he left last year to launch Aleph, an early-stage firm he cofounded with operator-turned-investor, Eden Shochat.

    Eisenberg also spends plenty of time in the U.S., to visit Israeli founders who’ve relocated here, as well as to help recruit for those of his portfolio companies that are staying put back home. In fact, the busy father of eight happened to be in New York yesterday; in between meetings, we chatted by phone about Israel’s current startup scene and what he’s seeing there.

    You invest exclusively in Israeli startups, though you’re in the U.S. fairly often. What percentage of your management teams have moved here?

    Probably half, with the other half still in Israel.

    Has that number changed much in recent years?

    If anything, we’re seeing more Israeli entrepreneurs decide to stay in Israel. With the development of the web and the ability it affords founders to market their products from anywhere, entrepreneurs no longer need the same degree of in-market presence.

    You closed a debut fund of $140 million last year, with a side fund of $14 million. How much have you invested so far, and what size checks are you writing?

    We’ve invested about 25 percent of the fund. We’re writing Series A checks of $2 million to $5 million. Half the deals are syndicated; the other half, we’ve done ourselves.

    According to IVC-Online, the pace of investment in Israeli startups was up in the third quarter — this despite the Gaza conflict.

    I’m not sure there’s any rhyme or reason for it, but the pace of innovation in Israel exists outside of the regional economy and regional politics. At the end of the day, innovation is very scarce. You can find it in pockets of New York and Shanghai and London, but it’s mostly in Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, and as more industries are subject to innovation, investment is Israel is inevitably going up.

    We hear that local firms are getting sidelined, that multinational firms like Bessemer and Benchmark have a major and growing competitive advantage right now.

    There’s definitely brand value to international firms like Benchmark, as I experienced. And most of the Israel firms haven’t built their brand over time. But reputation is earned. It’s not bought. What entrepreneurs learn is that an individual is more important than the firm.

    Eden and I have spent a collective 40 years building relationships. We both travel every third or fourth week. I’ve logged more miles than any VC in Israel. Just because you’re the Israeli partner of a U.S firm doesn’t mean you have the relationships needed to help a company.

    Are you seeing more Chinese investors in Israel? Baidu just made its first investment in an Israeli startup called Pixellot, which seems notable.

    Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen many more Chinese investors come to Israel, which is a good thing. Chinese investors have [backed] Israeli venture firms, including Pitango [Venture Capital] and Carmel [Ventures], but they’re starting to invest directly in technology as well because the East is such a big market.

    Of course, you hope it doesn’t presage the top of the market. I remember a huge infusion of Italian money at the top of the market [in the late ‘90s], and that didn’t end well.

    Credit Suisse is reportedly interested in investing in Israeli startups for clients of its wealth management business. Is that a worrisome indicator?

    There’s generally been a big move by financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe into Israel. Citigroup and Barclays and others have set up tech centers and innovation labs. Especially around financial technology and security, Israel is a great place to go. I’m just not sure there’s enough engineering talent for everyone who wants to move into the market.

    What’s happening with valuations?

    Valuations in Israel aren’t as out of whack as they are in the U.S. It’s a much more disciplined market that seems to remember what downturns look like. At Aleph, we have a policy of straight-up flat term sheets, too. That’s something I learned at Benchmark.

    Aleph also has an equal partnership model like Benchmark’s, with the carry split evenly. I often wonder why more firms don’t do the same.

    It makes a lot of sense. It kills all the politics. Partners at Benchmark help each other tirelessly. But it’s inherently difficult to scale — to be able to find someone who provides as much value [as everyone else], and I think firms are daunted by that. You just have to rise to that challenge.

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  • Bill Gurley: Those Earlier Warnings are Making an Impact

    bill_gurleyVenture capitalist Bill Gurley appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” show earlier this week to clarify some of the comments he’d made in mid-September to the Wall Street Journal – comments that Gurley thinks were misconstrued in follow-on reports that confused risk with valuations. “I was talking about risk and I didn’t say a word about valuations,” said Gurley. “I don’t see radically insane valuations.”

    Gurley went on to say that the pubic market is right now “more discerning” than the late-stage venture market, where investors are “cram[ming] almost unnecessary levels of capital into these private companies.” Gurley also told CNBC that he believes his earlier warning in the Journal is having a “positive” impact on the private market. Here’s Gurley, in his own words:

    “It’s a four or five-year trend . . . of late-stage companies raising rounds that are larger than historic IPO rounds, and because there’s no capital intensity – we’re not buying stores, we’re not building factories – when you take that amount of capital and try and put it to use, the only way to do that is to increase your burn rate.

    “The problem is this growth-at-all-costs mentality causes almost a subsidization of survival. It’s almost easier to execute unprofitably than profitably. So if I say, ‘Hey, go grow a company to $100 million,’ and one company is told they have to be profitable and the other is told they can lose $30 million, it’s much easier to do the latter. So I think we end up with more companies with higher revenue rates where their business models still may be open to question . . .

    “I think the public markets are being more discerning than the late-stage private markets in terms of trying to figure out whether a company has a potential long-term business model and has the ability to generate profitability over the long term.

    “[In fact,] I think having that conversation a couple of weeks ago has had two positive impacts. One, I’m starting to hear more and more people tell me at board meetings, ‘Hey, we’re talking about this; we’re thinking more about this. We’re going to be smarter going forward.’

    “Second, in the public markets, you’re seeing some discernment. In the same week, [you’ll see] two companies go public and two delay because of ‘market conditions.’”

  • That’s It?

    Evan SpiegelAlmost a week ago, some odious years-old emails written by Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel were leaked to the media, and it’s a wonder how quickly their content seems to be have been swept under the rug.

    It’s understandable, to a point. Spiegel’s emails were written when he was a college student trying to impress his fraternity brothers, not the CEO of Snapchat. Emails are also private communications that, very arguably, should remain private.

    Besides, it isn’t like Spiegel holds public office. He never signed up to be a role model. He certainly shouldn’t be held accountable for a culture in which objectifying women not only remains socially acceptable but, for some, seems to border on a competitive sport.

    Still, Spiegel’s lone public apology, in which he said he was “mortified and embarrassed,” didn’t go far enough. How about some response from others close to the company, the same people who blog and tweet and talk so openly with reporters about how Silicon Valley is changing the world?

    On Friday, Stanford Provost John Etchemendy emailed the university’s student body to say the school is “positively ashamed” that the emails were sent by a Stanford student.

    If Snapchat’s influential investors are also ashamed of the noxious attitudes toward women that were conveyed in those emails, they should also say something. It’s easy enough to condemn their content without hanging Spiegel out to dry. And frankly, not doing anything seems like an implicit endorsement, as if what Spiegel wrote isn’t that bad. (It is.)

    “We can choose to turn a blind eye to such statements and chalk them up to youthful indiscretion,” wrote Etchemendy to Stanford’s undergraduates. “Or we can be more courageous, and affirmatively reject such behavior whenever and wherever we see it, even — no especially — if it comes from a friend, a classmate, or a colleague.”

    Nobody’s going to change Silicon Valley’s attitude towards women overnight, but here’s hoping Etchemendy’s message resonates not only with the men and women of Stanford but with Snapchat’s board, as well. A few choice words could help send the message that objectifying women isn’t okay, no matter how “hot” your company might happen to be.

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  • Preempting Others, Tiger Leads $80 Million Round in Quora

    QuoraLogoQuora, the question-and-answer platform cofounded roughly five years ago by top Facebook engineers Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, has just raised a whopping $80 million in new funding led by Tiger Global Management, the 13-year-old Park Avenue-based hedge fund. Its new valuation, reportedly: $900 million

    The deal marks the third outsize funding that Tiger has led in the last six weeks alone. In March, Tiger led a $77 million growth round in OnDeck Capital, reportedly to fuel the small business lending site’s international and product expansion plans while making it harder for other market entrants to compete. Tiger and T.Rowe Price also plugged $60 million into the online ticketing and event planning company Eventbrite at a valuation of more than $1 billion.

    Tiger and T.Rowe Price had invested a separate, $60 million in Eventbrite in just April of last year, and according to the Wall Street Journal, Eventbrite wasn’t looking to raise more money.

    Tiger’s funding of Quora — which earlier investors Peter Thiel, Matrix Partners, North Bridge Venture Partners and Quora cofounder Adam D’Angelo also joined — sounds like a similar case.

    In fact, other venture firms never really had a chance, suggests Quora’s business head, Marc Bodnick, who left the private equity firm he co-founded, Elevation Partners, to join Quora in January 2011. Quora “wasn’t actually raising money,” he tells me. “In fact, we had most of the money from the last round [$50 million round, closed in 2012] in the bank. But we’d improved the company in the two years since, and Tiger approached us about investing in the company a couple of months ago.” Tiger’s 33-year-old partner, Lee Fixel, was the one to make the call.

    Quora, which has now raised roughly $140 million altogether, plans to do four things with the funding: expand Quora into other languages, à la Wikipedia; create “great mobile products” (its ever-improving email digests are one example); scale up the product technically by hiring more engineers and product managers; and put the rest in the bank. “We want to stay independent and make sure Quora lasts forever,” says Bodnick.

    Given that the company “hasn’t even started to monetize,” according to Bodnick, it might need all that cushioning.

    “Our ultimate goal is to share and grow the world’s knowledge,” he says. “In the last two years, we’ve built the biggest [online] library of first-hand knowledge, and the second-biggest [online] library after Wikipedia of general knowledge.” (It now has material on more than 500,000 topics.)

    While the company’s revenue model is “likely going to be advertising-related” — Bodnick notes that a third of Quora’s traffic is looking for something specific and that its direct intent traffic “should create exciting financial opportunities” — that won’t be the focus for a while. “Right now,” says Bodnick, “the big question is: How do we make the product better and keep scaling it?”

  • Zuora: The Hottest Company You Don’t Know

    images (1)Zuora isn’t a household name, but the six-year-old is becoming kind of a big deal as private companies go. Its high-touch subscription-billing platform already counts as customers dozens of established corporate giants (HP, Dell, News Corp), newer corporate giants (Box, Docusign, ZenDesk), and up-and-comers (Dollar Shave Club) for whom its technology handles everything from pricing to order management.

    Unsurprisingly, investors love the 300-person company. Zuora has raised $128 million to date, including from Benchmark, Index Ventures, Vulcan Ventures, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, where Zuora’s cofounder and CEO, Tien Tzuo, was employee number 10.

    Still, Zuora isn’t planning to go public any time soon, say Tzuo. We talked about why earlier this week.

    You’ve said that you’d like at least another year or two before tapping the public markets, but it seems like you’d get a warm reception right now.

    The private markets are assigning valuations that are as strong if not stronger than pubic markets; there isn’t a lot of inherent value right now to going public. Staying private also allows us to work more on ourselves and to make big bets.

    Do you mean acquisitions?

    We haven’t made any acquisitions but our private valuation is getting to the size now where it’s starting [to make sense]. I suspect [we’d look at] more adjacent areas, as technology tuck-ins. It’s not a strategy of ours, but staying private gives us more flexibility.

    So what kind of big bets are you making?

    We’re kind of in a land grab [having recently opened offices in London and Australia, with plans to move into Asia-Pacific]. If we can raise money and focus on [expanding], then it just makes more sense to do that. Our big challenge is evangelizing the shift from a product to a subscription-based economy.

    Meaning the renting versus buying economy?

    Right. Eighty or 90 percent of companies getting funded now have a subscription model because of [cloud-based servers and other things]. Medical device companies that [used to spend a fortune on equipment] now use services hosted at Amazon and pay as they go for processing power.

    Everyone will wake up across the world and realize their business is a subscription-based model. Product-driven society, where you ship as many cars, pens, and computers, is no longer sustainable.

    Assuming that’s true, you’re probably as aware as anyone of the types of subscription-based companies that VCs are funding. What are you seeing?

    I’m seeing massive niches. Take GoodMouth, which sells toothbrushes. It’s kind of a no-brainer. You’re supposed to change your toothbrush every month or two; GoodMouth sends them to you. With the Internet, you can pick something that has traditionally been too small and scale it to the whole country.

    Another example is point-of-sale systems. It might seem like Square has the point-of-sale market locked up, but that’s not so. There are half a dozen companies focused on point-of-sale systems: there’s one that’s focused on grocery stores, another focused on dry cleaners. Very specific vendors can scale to a very large size today, unlike five to ten years ago, and smart VCs know it. Peter Fenton [of Benchmark, who sits on Zuora’s board], has a company in his portfolio called Revinate. It does hotel management systems. That can’t be further afield from the masses, but it’s a multibillion-dollar vertical.

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  • So Snapchat is Worth More than $3 Billion. Got It.

    moneymoneymoneyYesterday, there was lots of back and forth about Snapchat, the fast-growing messaging service, and the $3 billion all-cash offer from Facebook that it recently spurned, according to the Wall Street Journal’s sources. (Apparently, three sources also confirmed this account to the New York Times.)

    As the Journal reported, the “rebuff” came as Snapchat is “being wooed by other investors and potential acquirers. Chinese e-commerce giant Tencent Holdings had offered to lead an investment that would value two-year-old Snapchat at $4 billion.”

    It isn’t that Snapchat’s young founders — Evan Spiegel, 23, and Bobby Murphy, 25 – are strictly opposed to being acquired, suggested the Journal.  But they think if they wait until the next year, they’ll fetch an even richer valuation.

    If they do, they can thank the media for its help.

    I’ve read the numerous reasons why this deal makes sense: Facebook is losing steam with the younger demographic. Its Snapchat competitor, Poke, fell flat. Snapchat’s users access the service via their mobile phones, where Facebook wants to reach more of its own users.

    But there seem to be at least as many reasons why this Facebook deal doesn’t add up.

    For starters, Facebook’s modus operandi is to create a social operating system for the masses. Snapchat’s stated purpose is to prevent sharing. Facebook grows squeamish at the prospect of lactating mothers. One of Snapchat’s more prominent use cases is sexting.

    There’s also the size of the reported offer. With the exception of Facebook’s then $1 billion cash-and-stock acquisition of the photo-sharing service Instagram last spring – a deal that helped Facebook quash a growing threat on the verge of its IPO — Facebook isn’t in the habit of splashing out much on acquisitions.

    Maybe it’s been waiting for a growth opportunity exactly like the one that Snapchat presents, but Facebook knows as well as any that it’s very hard to buy or create a “category killer.” Instagram has grown from 30 million monthly active users to 150 million monthly active users under Facebook, but it’s no YouTube; there are still plenty of competitors out there. The same is true of messaging services. SnapChat may be processing 350 million “snaps” per day, but it doesn’t own its space.

    Which raises yet another point: This deal is expensive.  As far we know, Snapchat has no revenue or business model. We’re not even sure how many users it has. (It last reported 5 million users in April; according to the Guardian’s calculations, it probably has around 26 million U.S. users today.)

    Even if Snapchat is worth top dollar right now, Facebook has current assets of $10.5 billion. Paying $3 billion in cash would significantly deplete its balance sheet. Observers have likened yesterday’s news to Google’s reported bid to buy Groupon. But with Google’s many tens of billions of dollars in cash, it could have easily afforded to gamble on Groupon; not so with Facebook and Snapchat.

    As a reporter, I love acquisitions: they’re exciting, and they often involve very personal stories. Where the rubber meets the road, though, most acquisitions fail. This deal may have been in the cards at one point. But if I were Facebook, I might be happy it didn’t go through.

  • Venture Heavyweights Sit Back as Deal Sizes Soar

    Hanging Boxing GlovesIt’s been a banner week for a number of Internet companies.

    Last Wednesday, social network Pinterest acknowledged closing on a $225 million round that valued the company at $3.8 billion. Shortly thereafter, AllThingsD reported that Snapchat, the messaging app, is now weighing a $200 million investment round that would value the company at $3.5 billion. And just yesterday, NextDoor, a social network for neighbors, raised $60 million in fresh capital.

    But the reality is that some of today’s biggest venture heavyweights have pulled back dramatically on late-stage deals.

    Two weeks ago, during a visit to Andreessen Horowitz, Marc Andreessen told me his firm has “done almost no growth investments in the last year and a half.”

    Yesterday, Ravi Viswanathan, who co-heads New Enterprise Associates’ Technology Venture Growth Equity effort, told me much the same. “If you chart our growth equity investing over the last few years, it’s been very lumpy,” said Viswanathan. “Last year, I think we did four or five growth deals. This year, I don’t think we did any.”

    That’s saying something for a firm that is right now investing a $2.6 billion fund that it raised just a year ago.

    Andreessen attributes his firm’s reluctance to chase big deals to an influx of “hot money.” The partnership is “way behind on growth [as an allocation of our third fund],” Andreessen told me, “and that’s after being way ahead on growth in 2010 and 2011, because so many investors have come in crossed over into late stage and a lot of hedge funds have crossed over, which is traditionally a sign of hot times, hot money.” He added, “What we’re trying to do is be patient. We have plenty of firepower. We’re just going to let the hot money do the high valuation things while it’s in the market. We’ll effectively sell into that.”

    That’s not to say later-stage deals don’t have their champions right now. At this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference, venture capitalist Bill Gurley of Benchmark told the outlet that “a global reality is that some of these companies have systems, they have networks in them, that cause early leads to always play out with really huge platforms.” People “laugh or write silly articles about the notion of a pre-revenue company having a very high valuation,” added Gurley.  But “if you talk to some of the smartest investors on Wall Street, or go talk to guys like Lee Fixel or Scott Shleifer at Tiger, they’re looking for these types of things. They’re looking for things that can become really, really big.”

    Still, Viswanathan’s concerns sound very similar to Andreessen’s when I ask him why NEA has pulled back so markedly from later stage investments.

    “It’s an amazing tech IPO market, and that drives growth,” Viswanathan observed. “But I’d say the growth deals we saw last year [were] elite companies getting high valuations. There are still great opportunities out there. But right now, it feels like there are high valuations even for the lesser-quality companies.”

    Photo courtesy of Corbis.

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