Facebook Exec Leaving For Benchmark Fuels Funding Fever - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
6/19/2008
08:14 PM
Michael Singer
Michael Singer
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Facebook Exec Leaving For Benchmark Fuels Funding Fever

Matt Cohler, one of the first five employees at Facebook, is shifting gears and adding his talents to the venture capital community, which begs the question: Will he turn around and help line Zuckerberg's nest with cash?

Matt Cohler, one of the first five employees at Facebook, is shifting gears and adding his talents to the venture capital community, which begs the question: Will he turn around and help line Zuckerberg's nest with cash?In a phone conversation, Cohler, 31, said he would continue to run with CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook until the fall before taking on his new duties at Benchmark Capital. He joked that his time off between the two gigs would be short.

The way Cohler tells it, he was courted by Benchmark, having previously been working with general partner Peter Fenton, although the choice was tough to make, he said, because of the success that Facebook has seen lately.

"It wasn't something I was looking for right now, but I've known Peter for some time," Cohler said. "What's interesting is that Benchmark fits in with my idea that you have to find really great companies and work with them. I'm passionate about the early-stage technologies, and it's just a personal thing."

While at Benchmark, Cohler said he would identify investment opportunities in Internet-related services -- meaning social networks and the technologies that run them. Specifically, Cohler said he was fond of open source software such as MySQL since it's part of Facebook's DNA and the company contributed much code to the project. Benchmark also is known for investing in open source technology startups, including ones that standardize on Ruby on Rails.

"I was a programmer as a kid and loved computer sciences, so it's easy for me to seek out these primary technologies; however, my primary focus will be products aimed at the consumer level," Cohler said. He's expected to maintain a relationship with Facebook, serving as special adviser to Zuckerberg and his senior management team.

Cohler joined Facebook in early 2005 and has been credited with helping drive Facebook's strategy and product direction. Previously, Cohler served as VP and general manager at LinkedIn, where he was a member of the team forged by founder Reid Hoffman.

Cohler's appearance at Benchmark has not gone unnoticed in the VC community. Speculation about a financial coup for Facebook began to run rampant as similar social networking site LinkedIn secured a $53 million capital shot in the arm this week from Bain Capital Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, and Bessemer Venture Partners.

While laughing off any predictions about Facebook's financial plans, Cohler said he can't imagine that he alone would trigger a new series of funding or even an IPO.

Benchmark's Steve Spurlock may see it differently. The VC's general partner said the firm keeps a solid pulse on Internet technologies, but adding Cohler to the mix is frosting on Benchmark's cake.

"Matt stands above the crowd and he is well connected," Spurlock said in a phone interview. "Matt's relationships with Reed Hoffman and Mark Zuckerberg and his track record are extraordinary. He brings his skill set, his track record, and a passion for this business."

When asked about investments in Facebook, Spurlock said Cohler's move did bode well for the company.

Here is video of Cohler prognosticating about the social networking market in January at a conference in Germany with Andrej Nabergoj, Reid Hoffman, Lars Hinrichs, and Joanna Shields.

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