It was hard not to be taken aback at the sight of John Doerr earlier today, as he announced that Kleiner Perkins has launched a new, $250 million “social fund” for social Web startups called the sFund.
I’m not talking about Doerr’s legendary status in the venture industry. In fact, there were so many other stars at the event, held at Facebook’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, that it bordered on ostentatious. Doerr’s partner Bing Gordon was there. So was Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Zynga founder and CEO Mark Pincus and Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. All billionaires, or close to it, they were assembled as investors in the sFund, whose backers also include Comcast Interactive, Liberty Media, and Allen & Co.
No, that Doerr himself was in attendance wasn’t the surprise. It was what he was wearing: black jeans, a gray T-shirt, and, gulp, a black hoodie. The site was made all the worse given that Zuckerberg, also wearing jeans and a gray T-shirt, was sans hoodie. In fact, publicly at least, Zuckerberg seems to have shed the hoodie right around the time that he was nearly boiled alive in one at the All Things D event back in June.
I won’t argue that Doerr wasn’t dressed age appropriately, though I personally prefer seeing him dressed professorially, as he usually is. But it says something that just as Doerr is diving headlong into the social ecosystem of Facebook dressed almost identically like Zuckerberg that Facebook’s 26-year-old leader has seemingly moved on.
It’s a lot like KP’s sFund. No matter how you look at it, KP is shockingly late to the social media game. As Infectious Greed author Paul Kedrosky told me earlier today: “The sFund in 2004 would have been ballsy. Unfortunately [for KP], it’s 2010.”
Kedrosky said he “gets it. The returns from their current fund are likely to come from Zynga. But it looks like a big fund that’s surprisingly late in a sector that looks overheated.”
Indeed, earlier today, Miguel Helft of the New York Times asked Doerr what had taken the firm so long. Doerr answered: “With the arrival of Zynga — and it exploded about a year and a half ago — we realized the applications opportunity was going to be enormous, and that’s when we set out to organize the fund.”
Maybe it really took KP 18 months to organize the sFund, though that’s hard to fathom. I asked the firm earlier today if the money has largely been reallocated from a larger fund, but it hasn’t responded.
Either way, KP’s move looks like an overreaction by KP to the angels and so-called super angels that have been leading the way in social Web investing for years — and to which many founders now gravitate.
“It’s a bazooka shot right into the heart of any super angel following this stuff,” said Kedrosky. “It’s showing angels and entrepreneurs that, ‘We’re so serious, we don’t have a partner but a whole goddamn fund into this.’”
Put another way, good luck with your $15 million, superangels. Kleiner can fund your entrepreneurs through 2020 if necessary.
And that’s worth something, certainly. When the next Zynga comes along, Kleiner can promise to go all in. But Kleiner could easily have done that without the sFund and the announcement. In fact, unveiling a $250 million fund that’s expressly for startups that are cheaper to run than ever before seems more than showy. It’s also surprisingly incongruous — much like seeing John Doerr earlier today, dressed like Mark Zuckerberg.