Kara Swisher

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Facebook's Matt Cohler to Benchmark

In a move BoomTown is still trying to noodle over, longtime Facebook exec Matt Cohler (pictured here) will be leaving the social networking site to become a general partner at Benchmark Capital.

Cohler, who is currently Facebook’s VP of Product Management, was one of its earliest hires and, as I wrote once, seemed like “the Yoda figure at Facebook to me.”

He will not leave the prominent social-networking company until the fall, even though Cohler is already featured on the venture capital firm’s Web site.

And, after he goes, Cohler will remain as a “special adviser”–is that like a special guest star on a television show a la Heather Locklear?–to Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and senior management.

It is a great get for Benchmark to grab Cohler, of course, who will be its youngest partner ever.

And while the venture firm was the hot shop in the Web 1.0 era, it has not been as prominent a partner in the Web 2.0 space, although Benchmark does have investments in sites like Yelp and Zillow.

A New Yorker, Cohler went to Yale, worked in China, was a management consultant at McKinsey and was also part of LinkedIn’s founding team.

(You know, the LinkedIn that just got $53 million in funding for a $1 billion valuation.)

As I also wrote once: “And don’t be fooled by the baby-faced looks–he apparently worked for a year as a jazz musician in Europe and, therefore, is a hep cat.”

Hep cat or not, he has been one of Facebook’s and Zuckerberg’s closer advisers from its earliest days and his departure will be scrutinized internally and externally.

The big question? Is the move COO Sheryl Sandberg cleaning house of old Facebookers or does the smooth Cohler–who already looks like a VC–simply want to be part of the larger mix in Silicon Valley?

Sources tell me the latter, as Sandberg and Cohler got along well with the recent transition in management at Facebook (some execs, not so much).

In fact, Sandberg tried to get Cohler to stay, said these sources.

In a twist on that, it was Cohler who was one of the key execs in recruiting former top Google (GOOG) exec Sandberg into Facebook.

But it is true that, as is typical as start-ups mature, a lot of longtime execs have left and still more will likely be leaving, as more professional managers arrive.

Former top exec Owen Van Natta left in February, and CTO Adam D’Angelo, who has been friends with Zuckerberg since high school, departed recently.

Cohler said, in an interview this morning with BoomTown, that he was content at Facebook and would not have left had he not been approached by Benchmark’s Peter Fenton recently.

Fenton came there from Accel Partners in 2006, by the way, for those keeping track, and Accel is Facebook’s largest VC investor.

And who says Silicon Valley is like a well-paid game of not-so-musical chairs?

“I would be staying at Facebook happily had this not come along… but it made sense to me,” said Cohler. “It was hard to leave, as I really am excited about what’s going on at Facebook.”

But Cohler did note the shift at Facebook from hot start-up to a more established player.

“Looking back at everything I have done [at Facebook]…I am a generalist and can cover all the bases and when the company was small, that was useful,” he said. “But I really find it interesting working with great entrepreneurs and that is also something I love to do.”

At Benchmark, Cohler said he will focus on Internet start-ups, obviously, and said he is especially interested in the mobile sector.

Benchmark partner Bill Gurley noted that bringing Cohler is in keeping with the venture firm’s focus on staying current with the typically younger entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

Gurley himself joined Benchmark at 33 and Fenton at 32.

“It is critical to stay relevant and one of those ways is to keep bringing younger people into our ranks,” said Gurley. “And if you had to say who would be best person in his generation to make a great VC, it would be Matt, who is one of the most networked persons in the Web 2.0.”

Also said Gurley, pointing to Cohler’s involvement in two of the Web’s recent hits, Facebook and LinkedIn, he added: “It takes a lot of judgment to get in front of trends like that.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald