The "grandfather of Silicon Valley venture capital," Don Valentine, founder of Sequoia Capital, showered money on the likes of Cisco, Apple, Electronic Arts, and Oracle, and has been amply rewarded — including Thursday night, with a lifetime achievement award from Deloitte, the auditing and consulting firm. But a speech he gave while accepting the prize showed Valentine as more doddering than domineering. Complaining that an internal presentation by Sequoia about tough economic times to come — headlined "R.I.P. Good Times" was leaked to the press, sending a shock wave through Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial set, Valentine said, "We thought it was all in the family."All in the family? If Sequoia is a family, it is surely the Borgias. The venture-capital firm has become known more for its ruthlessness than its nurturing. The partners there are obsessively concerned with making a mistake that causes them to lose face among their peers, and don't hesitate to jettison a CEO just to calm their nerves. And entrepreneurs? They know Sequoia well enough to trumpet its brand name — and watch their backs. No wonder family reunions, like Sequoia's crisis summit, prove to be awkward. Aside from showing up to accept the award, Valentine has become press-shy. He inexplicably turned down a friendly cover story from Venture Capital Journal. Perhaps he realizes he's out of touch. His biography page has a picture of him dated 1967. Since then, Sequoia has grown far too large to be the family operation Valentine recalls from its founding years, and Silicon Valley has changed beyond recognition. Valentine's career in semiconductors is little help to the companies he invests in now. And entrepreneurs are far more gossipy than they were in his heyday. Valentine's lament — that Sequoia's presentation spread beyond the VC firm's control — just shows how lost a chip guy is in a world of information networks.
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