GenuineVC David Beisel's Perspective on Digital Change

July 13, 2005

Today’s buzz surrounds the announcement that of Colin Powell becoming a Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers strategic limited partner.

So is there a story here beyond the preeminent venture firm connecting with preeminent leader? Is it that the blurring of lines of what a “partner” means in a VC firm, with the role of “strategic limited partner” wedged in between LP and GP? Is it that the venture business is “institutionalizing,” as Paul Kedrosky suggests? Are we returning to the days of celebrity VCs? Is this a story about branding? Can we really extrapolate an industry-wide trend from this one datapoint?

I disagree with the portion of the NYT article which says that the “the looming question is what the 68-year-old Mr. Powell, who served in the military for 35 years and rose to the rank of four-star general, can offer a venture capital firm that specializes in the financing of biotechnology start-ups and technology companies.” To me, the answer is indeed clear: unrivaled leadership experience and the ability to mentor CEOs, a vast and deep network of extremely influential people around the globe, and domain expertise in security. Many are criticizing the fit, but wouldn’t every VC firm want someone with the above characteristics involved with it?

Rather, I see the real story here not in that Kleiner chose Powell or vis-versa, but rather that Powell chooses to become active in venture capital at all. Here is a four-star General and former U.S. Secretary of State. A man with seemingly limitless options (after all, he at one time was a likely contender for the Presidency) opts to spend his time helping to build start-up companies. Yes, there’s money in it – but there are plenty of other things that Powell could do to build wealth. The move doesn’t surprise me, but I believe that the deepest part of the story is why he would chose this (albeit part-time) route above everything else that is an option for him.

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