In the latest issue of Fortune, a feature about venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins pointed out that the company has yet to make any investments in Web 2.0. The firm which was an early investor in Google has not been so bullish on the likes of Facebook. (The investment in Friendster couldn't have helped.) Instead, it has continued to focus on biotech on the one hand and changed focus to cleantech on the other. Reporter Adam Lashinsky noted that KP didn't even send a representative to the Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference this year, and relays the bad buzz from Carlsbad:
Several Valley investors who monitor startups tell me they don't bother sending Web-oriented entrepreneurs to pitch Kleiner anymore; they say the firm just doesn't seem interested.
Why would these gamblers leave the table where just a few years ago they were winning big?
For starters, broadband penetration in the developed world has nearly reached the saturation point, meaning that new Web services are increasingly competing for share in a market of fixed size. Sure, bandwidth demands are increasing because the media and tools being developed are getting richer, but those are ultimately incremental plays, and barrier to entry is much, much higher than it was for Google. The fact that there hasn't been a significant Web IPO since Google, or another acquisition the size of YouTube, tends to make me think less that Kleiner Perkins has lost its touch and more that they've smartly shifted focus to areas where big dollars make a difference.
The market that is growing worldwide is mobile, because mobile devices are less expensive than traditional computers and deploying wireless data networks is much cheaper than building out fixed-line access. Hence, in developing markets in Asia, South America and even Africa, there's a hunger for killer apps besides voice and text that will fit into your pocket — hence the $100 million iFund. Even if the money is nominally for development of iPhone applications, there's no reason to think that a good product and business model for that device can't be translated for devices running Palm, Windows and Google's Android as well.
But the key lies in John Doerr's missionary zeal for cleantech. In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore (now a KP partner) wrote the following about global warming:
What are the opportunities such a crisis also offers? They include not just new jobs and new profits, though there will be plenty of both. We can build clean engines; we can harness the sun and the wind; we can stop wasting energy; we can use our planet's plentiful coal resources without heating the planet.
The fact is, no matter how big Crpstr.com gets, the upside falls short of the profit potential in energy and transportation by at least three or four orders of magnitude. As Lashinsky points out, the size of the energy market is $4 trillion.
It's important to remember that long before California was where you went to start your social networking startup, the primary industries driving the economy were mining, oil and defense, roughly in that chronological order. Transportation and communications technology merely allowed capitalists in the state and beyond to extend their reach in these fields around the world without leaving the comfort of their Atherton or Upper East Side home.
Telling are both KP's investment in oil exploration firm Terralliance and Gore's cheerleading for clean coal technology. While finding new and better ways to arrange for some nookie with your iPhone while wandering up and down Valencia may seem like a good investment to horny geeks, KP is looking beyond placing small bets at Faro and looking to buy the table — because the house always wins, and in global capitalism, the energy market is the house. (Photo by AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)