Case Studies - Venture Capital General Partners
The goal of this report is to determine what to look for in a General Partner of a venture capital firm, or what qualities to work on personally, by obtaining case studies of three of the top General Partners in VC firms, including details on experience, unfair advantage, and ruthlessness.
Neil Shen, Bill Gurley, and Alfred Lin are some examples of general partners in venture capital firms. They are part of two of the most reputable Venture Capitals in the world (Sequoia and Benchmark). They have in common discipline, focus, sharp minds, and vision. Lee Fixel, of Tger Global Management is another example.
1. NEIL SHEN — 52 years old.
- Shanghai-born Neil Shen is the founding and managing partner of Sequoia Capital China since 2005.
- He is a graduate from Shanghai Jiao Tong University with a degree in applied mathematics. He later received his mater’s degree from Yale.
- Shen worked as an investment banker for eight years at Deutsche Bank, Hong Kong, Chemical Bank, Lehman Brothers, and Citibank before becoming an entrepreneur and co-founding Ctrip, a flight ticket and hotel booking platform in 1999 with James Liang.
- Industry executives say that Shen is one of the main reasons for Sequoia's success in China, a region where other established Silicon Valley venture capital firms have failed to get traction.
- Alibaba Vice Chairman Joe Tsai added that “from day one, Sequoia had the right model. They picked Neil—who can identify founders and products that work in China—and gave him full autonomy.”
Years of Experience
- 28 years — Since 1991.
Years of Angel Investing Experience
- 14 years — Since 2005.
- Shen was a successful entrepreneur himself earlier on in his career, co-founding travel site Ctrip.com, before joining Sequoia. (S2)
- Number one on Forbes’ The Midas List of the best dealmakers in high-tech venture capital in 2019, and "100 Greatest Living Business Minds" in 2017.
- Math Prodigy.
- Shen has reportedly an ability to take the long view and was one of the early investors on now popular online services in China, such as Alibaba and Tencent.
- Colleagues, investors, and competitors describe Shen as a “razor-sharp thinker, a shrewd strategist and a ruthless dealmaker who has no time for small talk and seldom shows emotions.” He is also known for being very rational.
- Working for him can be intense; staff must be prepared for “detailed questions from the boss during Monday morning calls and unexpected midnight meetings in hotel lobbies. Mr. Shen also is known for his lightning-fast replies to emails and messages any time of the day.”
- Jixun Foo, a managing partner of GGV Capital, stated that “Neil is not afraid to make risky bets. And he is not afraid to exit if he no longer sees the value. He doesn’t get caught up in the emotion of it.”
- A managing partner of a Beijing-based venture capital firm. “Neil is thinking about deals 24/7, and he doesn't mind having many quick meetings with founders if making them feel special can lead to better deals and discounts for Sequoia.”
- A rival mentioned that “No matter how hard Neil chases you before the deal if you don’t keep winning, you won’t get to see him again. He doesn’t have time for underdogs.”
- GGV Capital’s Mr. Foo: said, “there are people who reach a certain point and say, ‘I have enough.’ But Neil continues to strive for more. In that sense, he is a role model for us.”
2. BILL GURLEY — 53 years old
- His early career was as a design engineer at Compaq Computer Corp. He then went on to work as a top-ranked research analyst in Wall Street, then spent three years at CS First Boston, focusing on personal computer hardware and software, before entering the venture capital business.
- He has been a General Partner at Benchmark for over ten years. Before Benchmark, he partnered with Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.
- His long-term interest was always to become a VC investor, even trying and failing to get a job at Austin Venture before going to Wall Street in the early 90s.
- He was one of the early investors in Uber and reaped one of the biggest paydays in venture capital history, an amount estimated to be more than $600 million.
- Gurley is considered the catalyst for the resignation of Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick, which is not usual for venture investors.
- He has an MBA from the University of Texas, 1993; and a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Florida, 1989. Chartered Financial Analyst.
Years of Experience
- 30 years, since 1989.
Years of experience angel investing
- 22 years, since 1997.
- During his time at Wall Street, he made a reputation for blending his technological know-how with financial modeling. He was the first to call Dell Computer’s comeback.
- According to Matt Maloney, founder, and chief executive of Grubhub Inc., Gurley is “an extremely powerful ally. He thinks strategically and sees around corners.”
- Gurley is known for an acid wit and friendly, easygoing demeanor.
- When discussing the situation with Uber and Gurley role in it, Frank Quattrone stated that Gurley was “incredibly candid about his experience there, warts and all, displaying humility and ability to learn from his mistakes. In an environment where some leading VCs defer to founders to a fault, he was willing to stand up for the values he believed were right, even if it risked his relationship with founders more broadly."
- During a presentation to students at the University of Texas about how to “Succeed and Thrive in a Career you love,” he said that the five most important aspects include finding your passion, honing your craft, developing mentors in your field, embracing peer relationships in your field, and always being gracious and humble.
- One statement that stands out is, “be obsessively curious about your field. Consider it your obligation to learn everything you can about it."
- While most VCs chose to display optimism publicly, Gurley has stated that high-tech is in the midst of an unsustainable bubble that is about to pop.
- He stated that he prefers to do meetings face-to-face, saying “your ability to persuade someone if you have face-to-face time is so much higher.”
- In a 2017 interview, he said “I love the venture game. I love entrepreneurism, I love technology, I love betting, I love investing."
3. ALFRED LIN — 46 years old.
- Alfred Lin has a B.A in applied mathematics from Harvard and an MSc in Statistics from Stanford.
- He started his career as a VP Finance, and he went on to become the COO at Zappos (before Amazon acquired it).
- He then co-founded and was a General Manager at Venture Frogs, before becoming a Partner at Sequoia Partner.
- Lin specializes in consumer internet, enterprise, and mobile.
- Some of his investments include Airbnb, Reddit, and DoorDash.
- He was an early personal uber investor.
Years of Experience
- 23 years, since 1996.
Years of experience angel investing
- 20 years, since 1999.
- In his Sequoia profile, he stated that “I find a variety of products and technologies interesting, but what they have in common is that they have disruptive business models.”
- During an interview, he claimed that "to develop your competitive advantage, execute and win, you have to be clear-minded about your realities, focused on the few things that matter most and take a disciplined approach. That’s the difference between an amateur and a professional."
- He also mentions that "The business world is humbling, and there are few hard and fast rules. You can be right and lose money, or be wrong and make money. Being wrong is a daily occurrence. If you are not willing to admit that you’re wrong and correct your mistakes, you won’t get very far."
- Lee Fixel became a partner at Tiger Global Management in 2006. This gives him 13 years of experience. Since he is only 39 years old, he got involved with venture capital at an early age.
- On June 30, 2019, Fixel left Tiger to possibly start his own firm.
- Fixel is known to have an aggressive approach to investing and at times will decide to invest after just a brief Skype session with entrepreneurs.
- Fixel has been described as ruthless when making investment decisions. He does not let emotion play apart in his decisions.
- Reporting indicates that Fixel had promised a further investment in a company called Letsbuy, but did not follow through when he found another company he preferred to invest in.
- Rational, dedicated, sharp, and visionary seem to be common characteristics among the case studies analyzed. One feature that is common in all the cases above is the individuals' ability to own up to mistakes and do something to fix them.
- They also tend to take calculated risks, such as in the case of Alfred Lin personally investing in Uber after Sequoia passed on the opportunity. An ability to see further than most combined with strategical and focused thinking seems to be the great connector between the Venture capital partners presented. The “go-getter,” “never-give-up” attitude is also a recurrent trait, along with the quick and face-to-face meetings, present in 2 out of 3 cases.
The case studies presented were chosen based on the list previously presented during the strategy phase. To portray the best possible (or most successful) cases, we chose the top 4 VC partners (except for Lee Fixel) for the report.
Information about the personality (or how ruthless) of Alfred Lin was a little sparse. However, we found some interviews that allow us to understand enough about him to conclude, and we included them in the report.