This morning it was announced that Matt Murphy had left his role as a partner Kleiner Perkins to join as a partner in Menlo Ventures.
As much of the coverage in the press this morning acknowledges it’s rare for a partner to leave from one firm to another. It’s even more rare for VCs to talk publicly about other VCs, so I thought it would be fun to break rank and tell you about Matt.
I’ve worked very closely with Matt over the past four years as we share an investment in a company in Los Angeles called NextPlus and we sat on a board together for years. In this capacity I can tell any entrepreneurs raising early-stage capital that I would have Matt on my short list if I were raising. He’s had a ton of recent successes in enterprise software investments but also has a history in doing consumer deals. In fact, last time I grabbed a beer with Matt he mentioned that he had active investments now worth over a billion in valuation.
What did I learn in working with Matt?
1. He’s committed. NextPlus is in LA. I watched him jump on a plane regularly to be down at all of our board meetings and while I know that sounds like an obvious commitment from a VC, I’ve watched other scenarios where NorCal VCs find reasons to always dial in via Google Hangouts or ask non-Silicon Valley investments to travel to Menlo Park or San Francisco for meetings.
2. He’s with you in good times & bad. Gogii [the original company name] was an early leader in the free text messaging space and we had tens of millions of downloads of our product. Those were the good days. We then honestly had some quality problems in the app and while we chose the right market at the right time we didn’t emerge as the clear winner and we watched WhatsApp grow from strength to strength. This was hard on all of us. Execs at the company obviously absorbed most of the stress but it’s also not easy being on the board of a company that has so much initial success and then stumbles with problems that aren’t quick fixes.
You hear about the proverbial Silicon Valley VC who cuts bait in tough times and moves on to other, less problematic portfolio companies. That’s not Matt. We toughed it out together with other board members and encouraged the company to rebuild the team and the product from ground up. We brought on Nanea Reeves as President to shore up quality on the product, engineering and ops side. She made an immediate positive impact on our culture, quality and overall product. We rebuilt from scratch in a year-long project that eventually re-imagined our future as less of a utility texting app and more of a fun, games-oriented app called NextPlus. Through this process we managed to maintain our millions of active users and throughout the next year we will release a series of fun, innovative products that simply weren’t possible under our old architectures. I’m personally very bullish on the future of NextPlus. It’s hard to capture a monthly active user base in mobile that spans into several millions and manage that through a transition.
I mention all this because Matt was there for every difficult turn and decision – even though he had other successful portfolio companies and even though the company was in LA.
3. He’s a gentleman. Ok. I know that’s old-fashioned to say but I couldn’t think of a better description for Matt. In an industry of sharp elbows, loud mouths, egos, strong opinions and short attention spans, Matt was so pleasant to work with because he was the exact opposite. He had always read all of the materials, gone through the metrics, done pre-calls with the CEO and was always respectful in how he walked through the challenges of the company and our remedies. He’s one of the truly nice guys in venture: buttoned-up and prepared.
4. He’s knowledgable and connected. As is natural for startups not based in Silicon Valley we always relied on Matt for the, “What is everybody in the Valley seeing?” type perspective. He always had his ear to the pavement, had strong relationships into the biggest Silicon Valley tech giants and helped us navigate the tricky, changing waters of the mobile ecosystem that we went through with the early growth of iOS, the emergence of Google Play and evaluating trends at Amazon, Samsung and elsewhere. He’s been working in one of the top firms in venture capital in the Valley for many years and with that comes an enviable Rolodex. [Here is some help for the young ones if you don’t follow my old school reference ;-))
So what about this Kleiner to Menlo switch? Of course Kleiner has had a difficult couple of years. And throughout all of it I wanted to stand up on a hilltop and shout, “I can’t believe that Matt Murphy would ever have to take the stand in a gender bias case. He’s one of the most decent, thoughtful, rational and non-biased venture capitalists I’ve worked with.” I’m sure the two female engineering and ops leaders we’ve had at NextPlus can attest to that. But of course in a legal case it becomes impossible to speak up and I figured my weighing in wouldn’t help in a time where they just had to get through the facts. The court, as you probably know, ultimately exonerated Kleiner and Matt was never mentioned as an individual in the case.
I still respect Kleiner Perkins as a firm a great deal. I guess it was time for Matt to get and chart a course at a smaller firm where he could build Phase 2 of his career and I respect that. And at Menlo he found a long-time buddy of his from Stanford Business School and having a close relationship with your partners is certainly a plus in this industry. Menlo having been an early backer in Uber, Warby Parker and others also seems well poised to do well in the future.
It’s nice to see when great people land on their feet. And I’m personally pleased to now have a better excuse to find a way to work with Menlo Ventures.
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)