The top cloud VCs: 7 stars + 5 up and comers

Written by on April 9, 2012 in Press & Events

GigaOm, 4/9/2012 — Infrastructure has become a hot area for VCs, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise given that the cloud provides the foundation for the entire web. Not only is the cloud attracting more VC funding, infrastructure pros are joining the investment community in greater numbers.  On Tuesday, North Bridge announced that Jonathan Heiliger, previously of Facebook, had joined the firm. He follows Michael Abbott, the former head of engineering at Twitter, who joined Kleiner Perkins in December. But not every one of these VCs has a deep enough Rolodex to find the engineers who can take a business from hundreds of users to hundreds of millions — or has the corporate development contacts to make sure that same company eventually finds a buyer. So if you’re a cloud startup, which VCs should you work with?

We at GigaOM talk to a lot of startups, VCs and big companies buying up cloud startups — and the some names keep coming up again and again. Some of these guys (yes, they are all guys) have specialities within infrastructure, like networking or chips, while others are particularly skilled at building companies. With the list below, we’ve picked the VCs that are doing deals and real knowledge and influence in the space. On the up-and-comers list are newer VCs and those working with very early-stage companies, which means they haven’t had any exits yet.

If you’re building an infrastructure startup, these are the guys you’d want on your team.  (They’re listed in alphabetical order.)

The tried and true.

Alex Benik: General Partner at Battery Ventures
Current deals: Cumulus Networks, VSS Monitoring and Traceltyics
Exits: Anobit, which sold to Apple and Optichron, which was acquired by Netlogic.
Our take: Networking and semiconductors are some of Benik’s favorite topics, and he also has a lot of connections into Wall Street’s IT shops where enterprise meets webscale. He’s one of the few VCs (along with others at Battery) who still invests in semiconductors.

John Connors: Partner at Ignition Partners
Current deals: Opscode, Splunk, Tier 3
Exits: Heroku, which sold to Salesforce.com, Xensource which sold to Citirx, Likewise which sold to EMC
Our take: His experience as the former CFO of Microsoft means he has business savvy and plenty of connections (he’s on the board at Nike), plus his track record in the cloud space as an investors speaks for itself.

Satish Dharmaraj: General Partner at Redpoint Ventures
Current deals: MapR, StorSimple
Exits: Cloud.com which sold to Citrix and Posterous, which was acquired by Twitter
Our take: Dharmaraj has a special affinity for where the cloud meets the consumer, especially on a mobile device. He’s also part of the team that scouts for investments that Verizon can make to populate and better its 4G network.

Peter Fenton: General Partner at Benchmark Capital
Current deals: EngineYard, New Relic, DotCloud, Twitter
Exits: SpringSource, which he sold to VMware, and JBoss, which he sold to RedHat.
Our take: Fenton is super connected, and he understands large webscale platforms better than anyone.

Ben Horowitz: General partner at Andreessen Horowitz
Current deals: Factual, Nicira, Okta
Exits: Andreesen Horowitz is new enough that Horowitz doesn’t have infrastructure exits associated with it yet, except for Fusion-io’s public offering in 2011.
Our take: He has a lot of operational experience and built a cloud company before it was cool. On top on that he has a breadth of investments that help him understand the big picture.

Ping Li: General Partner Accel Partners
Current deals: Nimble Storage, Nimbula and ScaleXtreme
Exits: Reactivity which cold to Cisco and Fusion-io which went public in 2011
Our take: Li gets webscale at the consumer level and also understands what it takes from the infrastructure side to build it. He’s also in charge of Accel’s Big Data Fund and will have a front row seat to the infrastructure requirements of the big data era.

John Vrionis: Managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners
Current deals: Embrane, Tintri, Niciria, Boundary
Exits: IO Turbine which sold to Fusion-io and Pliant which sold to SanDisk
Our take: Vrionis has a very clear view of the changes happening in the networking world inside the data center, but he’s also thinking big thoughts on big data and the infrastructure to support it.

The up-and-comers.

Mike Abbott: Investment Partner at Kleiner Perkins
Current deals: Abbott joined KPCB in December of 2011 so we’re still waiting on his portfolio
Our take: Abbott is a practitioner who helps grow Twitter’s infrastructure and engineering team. He also helped create Palm’s next-generation webOS platform and while new at the VC game, he has connections and knowledge to help entrepreneurs find their way in a mobile and cloud world.

Puneet Agarwal: Partner at True Ventures (see disclosure)
Current deals: Puppet Labs, Loggly, Urban Airship, Piston Cloud
Our take: Agarwal is best at the ooey-gooey middle layers between the hardware and the software. Think configuration management software or PaaSes, and with he’s comfortable working at the early stages, so is a good place to start when you’re tossing around an idea.

Frank Artale: Partner at Ignition Partners
Current deals: ServiceMesh, Bromium, AppFog, ScaleXtreme
Exits: He’s only been at Ignition since 2011.
Our take: Artale is one of two Ignition Partners team members on the list. His experience building sales channels at Citrix and focus on making cool tech into a marketable product is invaluable for starry-eyed entrepreneurs who think they have something cool, but don’t know how to make money off of it.

Jonathan Heiliger: General partner at North Bridge Venture Partners
Current deals: none yet at North Bridge, but he is invested in Tango and Sonus Networks
Exits: Last.fm which sold to CBS and Contendo, which sold to Akamai
Our take: His investments remain to be seen, but when it comes to scaling infrastructure and knowing the people who know how to build at webscale, Heiliger has the contacts and the knowledge base. Plus, he’s a nice guy.

Mike Volpe: Partner at Index Ventures
Current deals: Big Switch Networks, StorSimple and Path
Exits: Cloud.com, which sold to Citrix
Our take: Volpe is not exactly and up and comer in the investment space, but he hasn’t done that many cloud deals. But as networking rises in importance we expect him to make a splash. He also knows the enterprise sales channel better than anyone else thanks to his time at Cisco.

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