Facebook exec joins Benchmark as GP

Benchmark Capital, which has been investing at a record pace, has added a new general partner to help with the work load.

The firm’s latest hire is 31-year-old Matt Cohler, who most recently worked as an executive at Facebook. he will join Benchmark in the fall as a general partner and will maintain a relationship with Facebook, serving as special advisor to the social networking company’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and to its senior management team.

Cohler, a graduate of Yale University, will tackle Internet-related services at Benchmark, says operating partner Steve Spurlock.

“He had an interest in venture capital as a next step in his career, but he wasn’t certain when that with be or with whom, as he’d been approached by other firms over time,” says Spurlock. “We spent a lot of time getting to know him and him getting to know us and it clicked.”

Spurlock said that Benchmark had a lot of dinner meetings with Cohler and an “offsite” with the group to convince him to join the firm.

Benchmark has historically picked new partners just as their careers were starting to take off, and Spurlock does not think that Cohler is particularly younger than other hires such as Peter Fenton and Bill Gurley.

The firm historically is willing to take on partners without as much formal business education as compared to other VC firms. Several of its partners, including Cohler, do not hold MBAs, for example.

“Our criteria are people we think can partner with outstanding entrepreneurs and flourish in a team environment, which is what we’ve got here by virtue of the flat organizational structure,” says Spurlock.

Previously, Cohler served as vice president and general manager at LinkedIn, a social networking site for business users, where he was a member of the company’s founding team.

“At a relatively early point in his career, Matt has managed to work with and partner with two of the most interesting entrepreneurs of our time: Mark Zuckerberg [of Facebook] and Reid Hoffman [president of LinkedIn],” says Spurlock. “Our expectation is that he can continue to attract entrepreneurs like that to work with.”

Benchmark has invested in 34 deals so far this year, according to data from Thomson Reuters (publisher of PE Week). It could surpass the 61 deals it did during 1999 at that pace.

The firm’s recent liquidity events include MySQL, which sold to Sun Microsystems for $1 billion in January. The open-source database company had raised $40 million from Benchmark and other investors.

The firm also sold data loss prevention company Vontu to Symantec for $350 million in November. The startup had raised $35 million from Benchmark and other investors. It sold Business.com to R.H. Donnelley Corp. for $345 million. The portal had raised $95 million from Benchmark and others. The firm sold open-source email server software company Zimbra to Yahoo for $350 million last September. Zimbra had raised $28.5 million from Benchmark and others.

Spurlock doesn’t feel that there’s any reason the firm is particularly busy, despite all the hiring and portfolio liquidity that has occured. “It’s just opportunism,” he says. “This is an inherently lumpy business.”

Benchmark used to almost exclusively hire tall people, so much so that it became a noticeable characteristic of the firm. Cohler doesn’t fit that stereotype though. “He’s definitely north of six feet, but not Bill Gurley tall, not freakishly tall,” Spurlock says. —Alexander Haislip