Sequoia Capital has funneled millions of dollars to scores of well-connected entrepreneurs and academics, who invest and look for ideas
Startup investor Jason
Calacanis took a $25,000 gamble five years ago on a company almost no one had heard of called UberCab. That investment in what is now Uber Technologies Inc. has ballooned to roughly $110 million...... Most of Sequoia’s scouts are entrepreneurs whose startups were funded by the firm. That means they know a lot about what Sequoia is looking for and will recommend the firm to other entrepreneurs. ....... Forging tight relationships that generate new deals for venture-capital firms is more important than ever as the cost of creating startups falls. The resulting acceleration in company launches has made it harder for venture-capital firms to identify the best opportunities as startups emerge. And competition is growing as new investors who are flush with capital invade the technology world. ...... Sequoia made early bets on many of today’s tech titans, including Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. ...... It was the only venture firm that backed messaging company WhatsApp, sold to Facebook Inc. last year for $22 billion. Sequoia invested about $60 million for a stake valued at $3.5 billion in the deal. Sequoia now owns stakes in 33 private, venture-capital-backed companies valued at more than $1 billion apiece, more than any other venture-capital firm. ...... If a scout’s investment is successful, the vast majority of gains are shared by the scout and Sequoia’s limited partners, Mr. Botha says. Other scouts and Sequoia partners themselves get a small piece of the gains. ..... Sequoia says it instructs scouts to tell startups in which they invest where the money is coming from. But the firm tries to hide the investments from rivals by making them through limited liability companies with odd names. The names include Dragonsteed LLC, Vermillistock LLC and Rocketbooster LLC. ...... In addition to a small number of professors who are scouts, a separate team of unpaid students at Stanford, Harvard University, Columbia University and other elite colleges is on the lookout for promising ideas and entrepreneurs. ...... “VCs want their brand names on campuses,” says Daniel Liem, who says he was a Sequoia scout while studying computer science at Stanford. “They want to find the next Zuckerberg or Spiegel,” Mr. Liem adds, referring to the founders of Facebook and Snapchat Inc. ...... Sequoia’s scouts usually invest about $30,000 at a time and are given initial access to about $100,000 a year. Mr. Botha says the amount can grow if scouts identify even more hot ideas. ..... For scouts, the appeal is membership in an elite club and free money to make seed investments, which they might not be able to afford. .... Scouts are a “very early warning system, like having a bunch of little satellites installed across the Valley, picking up blips on the radar,” he says.