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The Kleiner Perkins Guide to Venture Capital Jargon

Are you a self-starting thought leader looking for learnings that move the ball forward up your power alley?

Vicki Behringer

Venture capital is an intentionally obscure world with difficult-to-parse financials, internal organization and pathways for success. It’s also an industry shrouded by euphemism. Because venture capitalists don’t talk the way the rest of us do.

One thing the Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers lawsuit has given the world is an unparalleled peek into the thought processes and inboxes of some of Silicon Valley’s most influential venture capitalists.

And maybe you’re a self-starting thought leader looking for learnings that move the ball forward up your power alley. Or maybe you’re not. Either way, here’s a special expert guide for you, with definitions taken from the context of the trial.

Board Buddies

Definition: “Where a junior partner goes to a board with a senior partner to kind of learn how to be involved and help. … I really do believe it’s an apprenticeship business, and you really do need to learn the business, and one of the ways we accelerate that is to be a board buddy.” —Matt Murphy, general partner at Kleiner.

Example: Trae Vassallo reported to the independent investigator Stephen Hirschfeld that men didn’t want to “board buddy” with women.

“Trae felt it was helpful to have board buddies?” Therese Lawless, Pao’s lawyer, asked.

“Yes,” Hirschfeld replied.

“Ms. Vassallo told you that mentoring and sponsorship was really the heart of the partnership, and that the male partners gravitate toward the male partners?” Lawless asked.

“She said the male partners gravitated toward someone and it turned out to be a man; they went after guys. She wasn’t saying to me that they were sexist guys, and I’m only going to align myself with men. As it turned out they felt more comfortable with someone and it was a man,” Hirschfeld said.


Definition: “There’s a little bit of arrogance with some entrepreneurs.” —Ted Schlein, Kleiner supervising partner.

Asked a juror: Is there a difference between cocky and confident?

“They can border one another, I suppose, but you kind of want to get the right one.”

Schlein used the word “cocky” in a review of a potential hire to indicate a positive attribute.

Can there be bad cockiness?

“If you’re cocky and by the time you’re done talking to somebody and they don’t like you,” Schlein said.

Magnet Skills

Definition: “[Ellen] didn’t have the personality skills, the magnet skills. I had hesitancy as to whether I thought she could overcome those.” –Schlein.

Example: “Chi-Hua Chien was a magnet for consumer digital innovations and talents. He brought some incredible investments to the partnership. We’re looking for thought leaders who can articulate the vision and serve as magnets, we’re looking for custodians of the brand.” —Juliet de Baubigny, Kleiner’s recruiter.


Definition: “Kleiner Perkins is flat where possible. For the most part it tries to act like a meritocracy. What you need to be able to do is influence your partners and you have to use your skills as a communicator and an influencer. In a partnership, you have to be successful via influence.” –Schlein

Example: To the jury question of what Juliet de Baubigny meant when she called Silicon Valley a boys club in an online essay, she said: “I grew up in the U.K. and I’m an immigrant and so for me Silicon Valley is a really progressive industry that is also a meritocracy but because there are so many men at the top leadership positions it is a boys club. What’s great is that companies like Google and Facebook are publishing their diversity statistics.”

The judge interjected: “I’m not sure you really answered the question — what is your understanding of boys club?”

“More men than women,” de Baubigny said.

Pattern Matching

Definition: “Male nerds who had no social or sex life trying to get help from an online service. That correlates more with any other success factor that I’ve seen. … So when I see that pattern coming in — which was true of Google — it was very easy to decide to invest.” —John Doerr, leading Kleiner partner.

Example: “It’s very important to have very good people skills because at the root of everything is the ability to source, to make entrepreneurs want to work with you — next thing is honing that judgement and being able to pick and figure out what makes a good investment, a lot of that’s done in pattern matching.” –Schlein

Power Alley

Definition: “RPX had growth with good revenue potential. … The venture was sourced by John Doerr, and I don’t remember the exact sequence but John had Randy [Komisar] and Ellen [Pao] on it to determine whether it was a good investment to make cause it wasn’t up his power alley, if you will, his area of expertise.” –Matt Murphy

Power Corridor

Definition: “When you asked last week whether I would be uncomfortable sitting across from Ajit, I didn’t realize that I would be opening myself up to sitting in the back corner of guest offices. I’d much prefer to remain in the central area or ‘power corridor’ where I have more opportunity to interact with others. I also believe it is better for the firm if visitors see at least 2 women (assuming Aileen returns soon) in the main area among the 11 men, especially given the large number of female partners you have hired.” –Ellen Pao

Self Starter

Definition: “To be networking, to be out in the marketplace, to rub elbows, you have to be a self starter.” –Schlein

Example: “To be effective at sourcing in venture capital, you have to be a self starter. Venture capitalists sell by persuading the people who are involved or potentially involved in a company to accept their offer of investment — but perhaps more importantly you’re constantly trying to bring new people into the company. Persuasion is important.” —Chi-Hua Chien, senior Kleiner partner.

Thought Leader


Thought leadership really means expertise in a domain that is investable.” — Wen Hsieh, Kleiner employee.

“You need to be a thought leader among your peers if you’re going to be effective. Being a great partner is as important as being smart and being right. Because the partnership did not have a hierarchy, influence comes through thought leadership.” —Randy Komisar, general partner at Kleiner.

“We’re looking for individuals with deep technology backgrounds, who have a vision for where the industry is likely to evolve, we’re looking for thought leaders who can articulate the vision and serve as magnets, we’re looking for custodians of the brand.” –de Baubigny

“[Ellen was] trying harder but still struggling to find an interesting sector and give learnings that move the ball forward. … On this notion of thought leadership and putting together some kind of a piece that moves the ball forward — helps us figure out where to spend time, where the relevant companies are.” –Murphy

“Ted, we’re about a week away from the 60 day mark that we established in Ellen’s review to reassess her performance. While I’ve seen a bit more effort since our conversation with her … I still see her struggling to establish thought leadership.” –Murphy

“I’m trying not to use the word ‘thought leadership’ because it’s kind of sensitive here.” –Wen Hsieh

Too Native

Definition: “Being too native on something, that’s what we mean, you’ve lost objectivity, you believe and want it too much and you no longer have a sense of truth.” –Murphy

Example: “Ellen can tend to go too native.” –Schlein

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