In Mary Meeker, Kleiner Perkins Looks to the Future

Mary Meeker, the Queen of the Net, in a manner of speaking, is coming home; she’s joining Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, the white-shoe, Silicon Valley, venture fund. Frankly, there was no better place for her to go. She and KPCB Senior Partner John Doerr have been attached at the hip since the first Internet boom (and then the bubble); she championed Netscape, [email protected], AOL (s aol), (s AMZN) and later Google (s GOOG), which are all Kleiner companies. Doerr, in a 1999 profile of Meeker in The New Yorker, called her “an awesome diviner of opportunity.”

Just like Morgan Stanley, KPCB is run like a traditional corporation, though in this case Doerr is the proverbial CEO. KPCB has been looking for a digital media partner for months now, as I reported earlier.

Meeker, now 51, was born in Portland, Ind., and went to school at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.. She joined Merrill Lynch in Chicago, went to Cornell for her MBA, and in 1986 joined Salomon Brothers and later worked for Cowen & Company. By 1991, she was at Morgan Stanley and worked on PC stocks. Then came the Internet, and she became the “Woman in the Bubble” as The New Yorker famously put it.

Meeker, who is abrasive and charming in equal parts, depending on your station in life, has one thing going for her: She’s a true Internet believer. She wasn’t afraid to call the bull: She predicted that at least 70 percent of the Internet companies would go bust or end up trading below their IPO price. She was right. Meeker also championed eBay (s EBAY) even when her firm didn’t get the business, and she rightfully saw the big potential of Google early on.

Lately, she has been championing the mobile web, and she’s right. As my readers well know, I’ve been calling for the shift to mobile for past six years. Regardless, in hiring Meeker, KPCB has made another big publicity splash, just as it did with the launch of its iFund for iPhone-oriented (s aapl) startups and more recently, the sFund for social web-focussed companies.

These funds help the firm put on carefully staged marketing events to attract entrepreneur attention and potentially return to relevance. For a while, KPCB has focused all its efforts on cleantech investments, but now (from the outside at least) seems to have decided to refocus its energies on the Internet.

Despite having successful exits such as Ngmoco ($400 million) and chest thumping by more vocal partners such as Bing Gordon, the firm is perceived to be part of the old Silicon Valley and not part of the new Valley, which is represented by angel investors such as Dave McClure, Keith Rabois and Chris Dixon.

In Meeker, the firm gets a workaholic who has dedicated pretty much all of her life to the Internet. That means she’s going to meet a lot more companies, which gives her an opportunity to meet the next black swan, and possibly score a big hit. Of course, one can’t ignore the fact that unless you’re incredibly lucky, it takes about six years to develop the kind of nose for investments that makes you, say, Michael Moritz. So Meeker clearly has a long slog ahead of her.

The big challenge for Meeker will be to endear herself with the early-stage digital media companies run by twenty-somethings, who have little or no institutional knowledge about her. Having spent her whole life as an analyst, she also has the challenge of being a non-operating person, and these days, startups demand more than just money.

Perhaps the best thing for KPCB would be to unleash her on its growth fund; it’s where she can add instant value and perhaps instant returns. Nevertheless, I’m glad to see her join the venture capital world. Now comes the hard part.

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