Ex-KP veteran locks down first fund

When Joe Zhou pulled out of KPCB China in March 2008 to launch his own firm, it raised more than a few eyebrows.

But a little over a year later, he has managed to pull together $200 million for Keytone Ventures.

Zhou’s partners include Stella Jin and Peng Jin, two investors formerly with IDG-Accel’s China Growth Fund.

Keytone says its first fund was raised primarily from North American and European limited partners. Although the firm has not publicly disclosed its investors, documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission show Copenhagen-based Industriens Pensionsorsikring and Beijing-based Bertelsmann Asia Investments AG were substantial investors at the time the firm had its first close. MVision Private Equity Advisers served as the firm’s placement agent.

Zhou called the fund-raising environment “challenging,” in a statement about the new fund. Fresh statistics from analyst firm Zero2IPO back him up. The firm reports 17 China-targeted domestic and foreign venture capital firms raised $1.3 billion during the second quarter, down from the 42 firms that raised more than $3 billion during the same period last year.

It’s been a challenging environment for startups looking for financing, too. The number of deals done and the amount invested by VCs fell by nearly half to $567 million, according to Zero2IPO.

Still, Keytone has made at least one investment recently. It backed Borqs Inc., a mobile phone services provider, with a $17.4 million Series B. Keytone invested alongside Norwest Venture Partners and GSR Ventures.

Everybody seemed happy when Zhou helped launch the Kleiner Perkins China fund in April 2007. Kleiner Perkins passed out pictures of Zhou standing next to John Doerr, smiling. “I believe KPCB is the best firm to accelerate venture capital in China and will strive to make KPCB the best venture capital firm in the world,” Zhou said in a prepared statement at the time.

Zhou had been investing in Chinese startups since 1999, when he had worked with Softbank China Venture Capital. He later worked with the same firm’s infrastructure investment team and notched up a serious exit with casual gaming company Shanda Interactive Entertainment (Nasdaq: SNDA), which launched a $152 million IPO in 2004.

Four months after Zhou left the firm last year, Founding Partner David Su also left in favor of a position as one of three managing directors at competing firm Matrix Partners China.

Kleiner Perkins’ Ted Schlein blamed a personality conflict with one of the group’s other partners, Tina Ju. “Between Tina [Ju] and Joe [Zhou], they had different styles. That’s not a secret. It was a great decision on their parts to make the change. I think they’re both in a better position and stronger,” Schlein told PE Week sister publication VCJ at the time.

Zhou did not respond to a request for comment. —Alexander Haislip