New Boy of Benchmark: Rockmelt’s Eric Vishria Talks About Becoming Fifth Partner at VC Powerhouse
The Boys of Benchmark — as I like to call the well-known venture capital firm, since they are four dudes — have added a fifth member, with Rockmelt co-founder Eric Vishria joining as a general partner.
He’s the first partner to be added to Benchmark in five years, part of a system in which each one has an equal stake in the firm. Apparently, it makes them all play nice.
In a blog post, Benchmark’s current partners — Bill Gurley, Mitch Lasky, Matt Cohler and Peter Fenton — waxed on about Vishria, who is currently at Yahoo after it acquired the social media browser company last year: “Eric’s keen intellect, his experience as an entrepreneur and CEO, his depth in infrastructure and enterprise software, and his infectious optimism about technology make him an ideal Benchmark partner.”
But, Vishria is indeed a smartypants, graduating at 19 years old from Stanford University with a math and computer science degree. Vishria then joined enterprise software company Loudcloud, which changed its name to Opsware and was sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2007. A year later, he co-founded Rockmelt, which tried hard and with a lot of hype to become a new social search and discovery paradigm — and, well, failed.
Yahoo — which never met a distressed startup it didn’t buy — scooped it up for $70 million last August, with an aim of using its technology to turbocharge its myriad of media and mobile properties. Vishria has been parked there since as VP of media products across the company.
As I wrote then:
The deal is not much of a win for investors, who pumped close to $40 million into what was essentially a moonshot effort to compete via differentiation with major browser powerhouses, including Google Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
Rockmelt’s funders included a panoply of big names in venture and also angel investing, such as Accel Partners, Khosla Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, Bill Campbell and Ron Conway.
But not Benchmark, which liked Vishria’s moxie anyways.
“While RockMelt may not have achieved all of its intended objectives, it gave us a window into Eric’s true character,” said the Benchmark Boys in an attempted failure-is-good pivot, noting that well-known Silicon Valley figure Bill Campbell was Vishria’s champion in the new VC search. “He never gave up, ultimately finding a home for the company and a fair outcome for his employees and investors.”
I visited Benchmark’s offices earlier this week to talk to Vishria, as well as Cohler, about the move.
Vishria said he had been mulling the VC life for a while. “Benchmark was a unique opportunity and venture has intrigued me for a very long time,” he said.
His focus at the firm will be wide, despite his history. “I had the benefit of doing enterprise and infrastructure, but I am super interested in all that is happening in data,” Vishria said. “Storage, analytics, processing — every area is growing in ways we did not imagine before.”
Besides data, Vishria was not specific about the kinds of companies he would target.
But his experience at Loudcloud and Rockmelt was instructive. “I feel like both were in the early stages trying to invent cloud computing,” he said. “We built very talented teams of people, but, in both cases, the probability of massive breakout success was small.”
Added Vishria: “I am really proud of what we did. Do I wish it had turned into the next Google? Absolutely.”
I asked Cohler what took so long to get a newbie at Benchmark, which focuses on early-stage investments, getting in on the beginnings of current bigs like Snapchat and Uber. The partners once described Benchmark to me as “artisans practicing a craft,” rather than your typical investment mosh pit.
“We are a small and focused partnership,” said Cohler, noting that the firm has been looking since he came on five years ago. The tight group at Benchmark, which is not a full-service team as other VCs have become, “does not scale,” Cohler added, so how the new partner got along with the others was critical.
“We watched the whole ecosystem [for someone who would get along with current partners],” said Cohler. “Our model and culture does not yield to industrialization.”
In its search, Cohler said Benchmark talked to a plethora of candidates, including several women. Lack of diversity, especially gender diversity, is an ongoing issue at VCs.
“We had several really great women on our ongoing prospect list,” said Cohler, who noted that Benchmark is likely to add one more partner going forward. “We’d be thrilled to have a woman partner.”
Just not today!
Said Cohler: “Eric had that set of attributes we were looking for — drive, determination, hard work.”