HONORING THOSE WE MISSED
Bessemer Venture Partners is perhaps the nation's oldest venture capital firm, tracing our roots back to the Carnegie Steel empire. This long and storied history has afforded our firm an unparalleled number of opportunities to completely screw up.
Over the course of our history, we did invest in a wig company, a french-fry company, and the Lahaina, Ka'anapali & Pacific Railroad. However, we chose to decline these investments, each of which we had the opportunity to invest in, and each of which later blossomed into a tremendously successful company.
Our reasons for passing on these investments varied. In some cases, we were making a conscious act of generosity to another, younger venture firm, down on their luck, who we felt could really use a billion dollars in gains. In other cases, our partners had already run out of spaces on the year's Schedule D and feared that another entry would require them to attach a separate sheet.
Whatever the reason, we would like to honor these companies -- our "anti-portfolio" -- whose phenomenal success inspires us in our ongoing endeavors to build growing businesses. Or, to put it another way: if we had invested in any of these companies, we might not still be working.
|(acquired by Hewlett Packard) BVP's Felda Hardymon was offered a position in Apollo Computer and passed. Within a year it was trading publically for 17x the price that he was offered. Apollo was subsequently acquired by HP for an even greater value.|
|BVP had the opportunity to invest in pre-IPO secondary stock in Apple at a $60M valuation. BVP's Neill Brownstein called it "outrageously expensive."|
In 1994, Gil Schwed pitched his idea to BVP's David Cowan, who said that Gil would never get distribution in the US. The next year, Check Point got a huge Sun OEM deal and sold $25M of firewall software.
|(acquired by Unilever) Shortly after the first viral video Ethan Kurzweil passed on investing in the company. He figured Gillette was bound to launch a competing subscription that would extinguish Dollar Shave’s momentum. He was half right: Gilette did launch a subscription, although it mostly served to drive awareness of Dollar Shave Club. A few years later Unilever bought Dollar Shave club for $1 billion.|
|"Stamps? Coins? Comic books? You've GOT to be kidding," thought Cowan. "No-brainer pass."|
|Jeremy Levine spent a weekend at a corporate retreat in the summer of 2004 dodging persistent Harvard undergrad Eduardo Saverin's rabid pitch. Finally, cornered in a lunch line, Jeremy delivered some sage advice "Kid, haven't you heard of Friendster? Move on. It's over!"|
|Incredibly, BVP passed on Federal Express seven times.|
|Cowan’s college friend rented her garage to Sergey and Larry for their first year. In 1999 and 2000 she tried to introduce Cowan to “these two really smart Stanford students writing a search engine”. Students? A new search engine? In the most important moment ever for Bessemer’s anti-portfolio, Cowan asked her, “How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?”|
|BVP's Pete Bancroft never quite settled on terms with Bob Noyce, who instead took venture financing from a guy named Arthur Rock.|
|Along with every venture capitalist on Sand Hill Road, Neill Brownstein turned down Intuit founder Scott Cook. Scott managed to scrape together only $225K from friends, including HBS classmate and Sierra Ventures founder Peter Wendell, who personally invested $25K to get Scott off his back.|
|After extensive diligence Jeremy Levine identified a fatal business model flaw: airlines wouldn't pay high fees for placement on the platform. Fortunately for Kayak, hotels did. As did Priceline when it acquired the company for $1.8 billion.|
|Ben Rosen, one of the founders of Sevin Rosen, offered Felda Hardymon the chance to invest in both Lotus and Compaq Computer on the same day. Says Hardymon: "Lotus wasn't proven yet, and I was worried about the situation there. As for Compaq, I told him there was no real future in transportable computers since IBM could do it."|
|David Cowan passed on the Series A round. Rookie team, regulatory nightmare, and, 4 years later, a $1.5 billion acquisition by eBay.|
|(acquired by Cisco) Felda Hardymon: "[Sierra's] Pete Wendell asked if I'd like to look at Stratacom, which was doing a 'fast packet switch.' I gave him a blank stare."|
|In 2006 Byron Deeter met the team and test-drove a roadster. He put a deposit on the car, but passed on the negative margin company telling his partners "It's a win-win. I get a great car and some other VC pays for it!" The company passed $30B in market cap in 2014. Byron recently paid full price for his Model X.|
|David Sacks pitched David Cowan and Ethan Kurzweil on funding Yammer as a spin-out from Geni in 2008 at a $25 million valuation. But Twitter seemed to have the whole social messaging thing wrapped up, and besides, the deal was complicated, requiring us to do some actual work. Four years later, Microsoft bought Yammer for $1.2 billion.|