Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Venture Capital Family Tree

About six months ago my friend Chris Fralic (@ChrisFRC) invited me to a screening of Something Ventured, a film about the origins of the US venture capital industry. Definitely worth checking out. One of the things it got me to thinking about was how intertwined the early VC firms were. So, in the spirit of one of those genealogies of rock music posters, I gathered some data and made a visualization. It's not pretty like the rock and roll one. And it's woefully incomplete, which I need your help on. We'll get to that.

The whole thing

Zoomed in on some interesting '90s reshuffles

I used jquery and d3, although I had to customize d3 a bit. Because it's d3 and there are a lot of svg objects, it could be slow on slower computers. Also, screen size makes a big difference here, not recommended for mobile viewing.

I was trying to put in firms from the early days and firms that were critical links between the early days and today, so there are a very few firms founded in the last ten years in there. It's a historical study, not a contemporary view. The founders of the firms are noted, but not seminal later partners (i.e. Kleiner and Perkins but not Doerr or even Caulfield.) Although new partners can have a huge impact on a firm's direction*, I just didn't have time. Maybe in the next iteration.

Firms founded in New York are blue, in Boston are red, and in Silicon Valley are green. Others--including those that do not yet have an entry for place--are orange. Type a firm name or founder into the box (there's autocomplete) and click to zoom in on that firm. Also, pan and zoom using the mouse.

Venture firms never really die, they just fade away. And some firms stop being VCs (in the '80s many firms abandoned venture for PE) or were financial orgs and became VCs. This is denoted by a 'tear' at the beginning or end of the firm's bar--the firm had a life before or after, but was not an active venture investor.

I've also started adding noteworthy investments, but there are only a few. As far as I can tell, there is no extensive list of who backed who when. Which brings me to my ask.

I've put in info as I came across it for the last six months, but I have other commitments, so it's been slow. And the easy info sources are running dry. So I slapped on a form, hoping you all would help. All contributions are welcome, but in the spirit of the thing, I'd like to prioritize adding firms that were either critical links between the past and present, that trained a bunch of people who went on to found their own firms, have been influential for a long time, or were influential in the past and have disappeared (i.e. TVI, MPA&E.)

When contributing investments made by firms, I would rather not add every investment. I've tried to add investments that were important or household names. This is a public historical document, I think it's more interesting (and puts the better foot forward) to show that Starbucks and McDonnell Aircraft were venture backed (or Pizza Time, for that matter, even though it failed) than, say, Kozmo.com**.

To contribute either click on the '+' button on the upper right to add a new firm, or click on the name of a firm to edit/augment their info. When you hit 'submit', it should reflect locally, but it doesn't add it to the database (I'm not a back-end guy) it emails me. I will edit and add data, I don't expect to get a ton of submissions. The data is open source (cc by-sa), and any contributions will be considered open as well. I will add your name to the contributor list on the help page if you put it in the 'Comments' box on the form (there's no other way for me to know who you are.) Also, put your email address there if you want so I can contact you re your submissions.

But please, do submit! It struck me as odd when doing the research here how little the venture community values its roots. Law firms have web pages and sometimes whole self-published books celebrating their founders and history. Your typical VC firm comes across as if it's in the witness protection program. It's crazy that I can't figure out who all four founders of Menlo Ventures are and where they came from, or who backed Federal Express and when. I've got decent google-fu, and I looked, trust me. Someone out there knows, and you should enter this stuff. The mainstream industry is now some 50 years old. We are in danger of losing our past.

If someone knows of a source of data for this (that is either free or you can get me access to), I will port stuff.

Primary sources were firm web sites, Wikipedia, and The New Venturers by John Wilson, a great book now out of print. Some data was taken from Venture Capital at the Crossroads, Creative Capital, Valley BoyThe Startup Game, and Elfer's Greylock. I'm planning on skimming Done Deals and Venture Capitalists at Work for more. Other sources are in with the rest of the data as 'cites'.

*  In a couple of case, Paul Bancroft joining Bessemer from DG&A, for example, I think it was significant enough to consider that the start of Bessemer's venture activity, even though that is not strictly true.
** Well, hard to say. I can only think of interesting companies because I only remember the interesting ones. Kozmo might actually be an interesting investment from a dot-com bubble point of view. Maybe just send me whatever you want and I'll figure out some way to highlight some and not others. I don't know.


Ben Dubin said...

Jerry - Pitch Johnson, our founding partner, put together a really good similar chart in the 1980's that had the venture industry from the very beginning to 1980 or so. We can get you a copy of the chart or send you am image of it. It will really help for the early days of the industry.

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