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Google Ventures’ new chief, David Krane, is the überconnector

The company swapped the dreamer for the networker.

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015 - Day 1 Steve Jennings / Getty Images for TechCrunch

At the helm of its venture arm, Google swapped the dreamer for the networker.

Friday is the final day for Bill Maris at Google Ventures, now GV, the investment firm he formed in 2009 inside the search giant as it was expanding into unconventional terrain.

To the wider world, Maris pushed those frontiers even further, leading a charge into experimental medicine and biotech. He appeared on a magazine cover behind the words, “Google Wants You to Live Forever.”

His replacement at GV, David Krane, a managing partner and its new CEO, has less public renown.

But Krane is very much a known entity in Silicon Valley — and at Google. As one of its first 100 employees, Krane spent a decade as a top company PR rep, acting as interpreter and gatekeeper for the peculiar founders.

Krane and GV declined to comment for this story.

People describe Krane as a consummate mixer and tireless enthusiast. More critically, entrepreneurs and former colleagues say he has political savvy — a quality that may explain why he was chosen to navigate a multibillion dollar fund inside the Byzantine world of Google parent Alphabet.

“He’s a politician,” said one investor who worked with him.

Unlike Maris, who is drawn to life science companies, Krane does not have a niche. He backs more consumer-focused startups and has an interest in the future of food, but his investments span industries. He is more startup nurturer than VC visionary.

“He’s very energetic. He has a lot of heart,” said Balaji Prabhakar, co-founder of Urban Engines, a transit startup backed by GV. Casting about for a description of Krane, Prabhakar offered his opposite: “Think of Spock.”

Brian Sharples, CEO of HomeAway, another GV company that Krane worked with, said he has “the energy of a human tornado.”

“Above all else,” Sharples went on, “the guy exudes palpable enthusiasm when he believes in an idea or a person or a market opportunity.”

Two market opportunities, in particular, defined Krane’s tenure at GV. He backed and worked closely with Nest, the connected device company that sold to Google, one of GV’s nine* $1 billion-plus exits.

And Krane introduced GV to its tenth. Several sources said he facilitated the meeting between Google’s venture team and Uber, perhaps its most lucrative investment.

Whenever the assertive founders of Nest or Uber would call GV, Krane commanded the firm’s entire resources to address the issues, someone who worked at GV told me.

According to multiple sources, Krane has effectively been running day-to-day operations at the $2.4 billion fund since he became managing partner in 2014. Several portfolio companies we spoke to said they did not foresee any immediate changes with the CEO switch.

Yet the fund’s pace of investment has slowed since 2014, particularly on seed investments.

Krane will now need to determine whether GV accelerates investments and how it remains competitive with other funds, just as the overall financing climate cools. And he will have to play politics well at Alphabet.

It’s not always easy. Nest, which Krane was close to, has had a troubled run under Google so far. Its founder, Tony Fadell, exited earlier this year in a sea of controversy. And the Uber investment is a delicate issue, particularly as the ride-hailing juggernaut moves more into mapping and self-driving cars: Alphabet territory.

Still, others say Krane is well prepared on this diplomatic front.

Sharples, the HomeAway founder, said one of Krane’s first moves as their adviser was to help recruit YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki to its board. Krane also connected the company with Google’s search team. (Sharples said he never received “special treatment” there, but that the proximity was “hugely helpful.”)

Krane works regularly with Airtime, the video chat app from early Facebook exec Sean Parker. “I expect a lot of the stuff David wants to put his stamp on has already been in the works,” said Daniel Klaus, Airtime’s president.

Additional reporting by Kurt Wagner

* An earlier version of this article said that GV had six exits over $1 billion, citing CB Insights data. Apparently GV includes those companies that exceed a $1 billion market capitalization in their first year of being public, giving GV nine of those companies.

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