Friday, March 7, 2008

Fund, fund, fund

Thursday was the big day for the iPhone. Apple finally announced its SDK, it has a new partnership with Microsoft for Exchange server support, and has intimated that white-market (not gray market) iPhones will show up in Asia sometime soon.

All of these things were interesting, and the Microsoft alliance was somewhat (but not entirely) unexpected. But the oddest thing was the deal with KPCB to come up with $100m for the iFund, to fund iPhone (and iPod Touch) startups.

The KPCB FAQ explains

Q: Does the iFund focus on specific investment areas?

A: The iFund is agnostic to stage and size of investment (from seed stage to established products with revenue), but targets companies with long-term standalone potential. Focus areas include location-based services, social networking, mCommerce (including advertising and payments), communication, and entertainment.

Q: Why did KPCB establish the iFund?

A: KPCB believes that the iPhone and iPod touch are a fantastic platform for mobile applications and services, combining a world class development environment, great devices and UI, an advanced customer base, and strong global distribution. This confluence of factors will ignite a wave of mobile internet innovation, generating opportunities on par with or greater than the PC internet. We expect the most innovative mobile companies and entrepreneurs will choose to develop their apps for the iPhone and iPod touch platform.

Q: How much will the iFund invest in each startup company?

A: The iFund will invest anywhere from $100K of seed capital to $15M of expansion capital in mobile application and services companies.

As with any venture fund, this is not a promise to fund specific companies — presumably the VCs will only put their money where they think they have a good chance of earning their desired return.

But why KPCB? Yes, they’re the bluest of blue chip VCs in Silicon Valley, and partner John Doerr (who shared the stage with Steve Jobs) is the king of active VCs. But Apple was funded by Arthur Rock, and NeXT by Ross Perot, so Jobs had no obvious linkage to KPCB linkage.

I was scratching my head. And then I saw it: Algore, one of 8 directors on the Apple board, and also “team member” at KPCB. Apparently Gore has brought Doerr and Jobs together before to sell his passion for “greentech” investments.

I was initially skeptical of Gore’s initial appointment to the Apple board, that it was merely a self-indulgent, feelgood move by the aging hippie iCEO. But if Gore brokered the iFund creation, he certainly earned his director fees for a few years.

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