Menlo Ventures Steps into the Spotlight With Deals Like Uber and Poshmark

2/27/13Follow @wroush

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the velocity of growth increases over time, which has a very non-linear explanation. That narrowed it down to maybe four or five people who really understood this space.”

Two of those people, Chandra says, were Pishevar and Menlo managing director Pravin Vazirani. Over the course of 15 days last fall, “I spent probably 20-plus hours with them,” including a barbeque at Pishevar’s house, he says. “It was a very deep, intense dating process of looking at numbers and forming a relationship at a personal level—creating, a deep understanding of what my vision is and what their value system is. I felt they took the time to understand my vision and open up their hearts.”

In the end, says Chandra, “we had a few other meetings [with other firms] but we decided not even to go to the partner meetings.” It didn’t bother Chandra that Menlo Ventures was better known for its enterprise hardware investments than its consumer deals. “When they came to us they had investments in two other companies in our peer group, Uber and Fab, which have blossomed to become amazing companies, so I had a very good sense that this was one of the firms I would like to talk to,” he says.

Menlo hopes to keep building on that momentum. But they’ll have to do it without Pishevar as a constant presence—shortly after I met with the firm, stepped down from his managing-director role and became a venture advisor in order to spend more time on Sherpa, a “startup foundry” he recently co-founded with Goldman Sachs banker Scott Stanford.

Venky Ganesan, managing director at Menlo Ventures

Venky Ganesan, Menlo Ventures' newest managing director.

By coincidence, however, Ganesan has come along to help fill the vacuum. At Globespan, Ganesan invested in companies like Plaxo, oDesk, Palo Alto Networks, and Jajah, a Skype-like company acquired by Telefonica. Now that he’s with Menlo, Ganesan says he’ll continue to invest across the consumer and enterprise sectors.

He says he’s particularly interested in “remote work”—technologies that make it easier for people to do their jobs from home. He’s also excited about what he calls “the last-minute economy,” where nobody bothers to make travel, entertainment, or dining plans in advance because it’s so easy to make choices instantly via smartphone.

Somewhere behind every smartphone app and cloud service, of course, is a network and a data center. And Menlo’s portfolio is still strong on enterprise infrastructure companies like Coraid, a supplier of inexpensive storage drives, and ParAccel, maker of a database management system that’s optimized specifically for big data analytics. Siegel says Menlo will keep investing in the transition to what he calls “the software-defined data center,” where processors, storage, and networks are all virtualized and commoditized.

“Nobody cares anymore whether you are running on a Dell or HP or IBM server, nobody cares whether your traffic is running over a Juniper switch or a Cisco switch,” Siegel says. “We are seeing all these new startups that are virtualizing this functionality, and as an enterprise application designer all you do is talk to the software.” Tintri is one of the Menlo portfolio companies taking advantage of this shift—it’s developing storage appliances specifically designed for virtualized environments. “People will tell you this stuff us not very mature and still needs a lot of features, but there are a bunch of exciting companies there,” says Siegel.

From now on, Menlo probably won’t be staying quiet about its excitement. It won’t try to steal the spotlight from its entrepreneurs—but it won’t hide from it, either.

“We play too important a role in the economy for us not to be in the news,” says Ganesan. “Andreessen Horowitz have shown how being in the news can help you build a brand and a franchise, and have forced every venture firm to re-look at their marketing platform. So now that we have to be in the news, let’s figure out how to actively manage it. I think that is a transformation going on across the business.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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