Kara Swisher

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Hire Like It's 1999: Kleiner's Doerr Finally Lands Meeker After 11 Years of Trying (and It's About Time)

BoomTown is showing my age quite a bit today, after I unearthed notes this morning from 11 years ago.

It was for a story I never ended up doing in December of 1999 for The Wall Street Journal–where I was pretty much the only Internet beat reporter for the newspaper in Silicon Valley then–about the possibility that Mary Meeker was considering leaving Morgan Stanley in New York for two hot West coast jobs.

The high-profile Wall Street Internet analyst never made the move back then.

But, at long last, Meeker finally decided today to take one of those offers, joining Kleiner Perkins today as a venture partner in the digital arena.

It’s a much-needed hire by the legendary firm and its most prominent partner, John Doerr, given Meeker’s deep well of experience and the critical need for the still-lagging-behind-hotter-VCs Kleiner to wade more definitively into more current digital trends that she knows well.

For sure, Kleiner dominated Web 1.0 by backing what are now its golden oldies, such as Netscape Communications, Amazon and Google.

But it’s more recent Web 2.0 investments and influence has not been as impressive, especially with regards to its brighter lights and sharper entrepreneurs.

As in: No Facebook. No Foursquare. No Groupon. No Twitter (yet).

To be fair, Kleiner has made some interesting moves–mostly due to its iconoclastic partner Bing Gordon (pictured here)–such as one fund to focus on Apple iPhone and iPad apps and another on social.

And it’s has one big and shiny Web 2.0 bet–which it never fails to point to an awful lot–in gaming phenom Zynga, also courtesy of Gordon.

Bringing on Meeker to add to that now will surely help Kleiner at a critical time, giving it new investment chances, as the digital space shift sharply again.

In an interview with the Journal today, Doerr correctly called the time–a mash-up of social networking, e-commerce and mobile–“a third wave of innovation.”

In a quick interview this morning, Meeker underscored this, noting, “the level of engagement from large companies and the innovation coming from all over Silicon Valley makes this a unique time to invest in and build important companies.”

She said she was attracted to the team at Kleiner to help her move to a new level of expertise and will be spending more significant time in Northern California at her home here.

“This is an opportunity to stretch myself in a great spot at a great time,” said Meeker, noting she was especially interested in the mobile space. “It’s a pretty massive shift going on right now and I wanted to be part of it.”

But a move way back when by Meeker would have been an even bigger deal, since the Web 1.0 was at what turned out to be its peak moment in December of 1999–the ill-fated AOL-Time Warner merger would not be announced for a month, in fact.

And Meeker–who was involved in that deal and most of the other bigs ones, especially the IPOs–was the undisputed “Queen of the Net” from her powerful perch as the top kingmaker on the booming scene.

After working at other firms, she had come to Morgan Stanley as an analyst in 1991, covering PCs, hardware, software and the still nascent Internet scene.

I had met her several years later in a late-night interview in her office in Manhattan, Chinese food included, while I was working on a book on the rising power of AOL.

AOL was one of the many companies she had introduced Wall Street to, and she had become one the key nexuses for all the newly hatched Web players.

For her to leave her job then would have caused reverberations everywhere, since investors far and wide were taking her recommendations on the new companies of the moment, such as Amazon and eBay.

So–while she would later endure negative scrutiny for some of her too bullish cues, after the bursting of the Internet bubble came soon after–nabbing her at the time would be been a very big story.

And who was trying to entice her?

Well, Bill Gross of Idealab for one, offering her the possibility of big IPO stock options (which would turn out to be less than valuable soon after).

Said Gross in an email to me this morning:

Back when we were opening an Idealab office in NY, we wanted to get the best talent in the universe, and that led us right to Mary. She was brilliant and ahead of her time then, as now.

At the time, we talked about working with her to have her insights about industries and companies help us inform the direction our existing companies should take, as well as brainstorm together what new companies to create.

I think Mary was just too happy doing what she was doing, and she went on to have another great 10-year run doing just that!

And the other suitor? That was Doerr of Kleiner Perkins.

A longtime friend and a star venture capitalist whose investments benefited greatly from Meeker’s attention, he had long tried to recruit her.

Fast forward to today, as Doerr seems to have finally sealed the deal.

Meeker’s title at the investment bank has most recently been as its head of global technology research.

At Kleiner Perkins, no surprise, she’ll focus on the firm’s investments in social, mobile and e-commerce, trying to turbocharge its efforts.

Presumably including, as NetworkEffect’s Liz Gannes reported earlier today, Kleiner making a big push to invest in a new badillion-dollar funding round for Twitter.

Meeker’s presence could help there for sure, especially since she has been a big proponent of the microblogging service, as you can see on page 18 of her most recent annual Internet trends report–titled “Ten Questions Internet Execs Should Ask & Answer.”

It’s clear, as you will read below, those are just the kinds of queries Kleiner needs to be making.

Check out her presentation deck for some clues as to where Meeker could focus first as a newly minted VC:

Internet Trends Presentation

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google