Kara Swisher

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Jerry Yang Is Back (And Investing More Than Ever)

If truth be told, Jerry Yang never really disappeared from the Silicon Valley scene, even though he did leave Yahoo rather suddenly just over a year ago — resigning from the board and all other positions at the iconic company he co-founded with David Filo in 1995, and then going very quiet.

When I met him last week at the airy and newish office space of Ame Cloud Ventures, off Camino Real, he politely declined to talk about that Yahoo tenure and departure, although Yahoo and he are inextricably linked in the history of tech.

That’s because the former Chief Yahoo has moved onto the next stage of his career, which perhaps could be called Jerry 2.0 — a term he’d hate (and give me a hard time for using).

Still, in many ways, Yang has launched a new digital life by focusing on what made him interested in tech in the first place: Entrepreneurs.

“I feel like the thing I missed the most is what really early entrepreneurs were doing,” he said of his latest efforts, which have been well known among techies, even if Yang has never been one to toot his own horn much in general. “I’m not sure at all that I’m any good at this mentoring/investing business — that’s why I’m using my own money, and that’s why it’s not a career.”

Yet. Yang is calling his nascent investment business — he’s more than an angel, but not quite a VC — a “work in progress” that might morph into something more.

“There are no LPs — just me, myself and I,” said Yang. “I invest in things for the long term and have a long horizon and the flexibility.”

That said, via Ame — which means rain (雨) in Japanese and happens to be the acronym of the names of his wife and kids — Yang has already invested in about two dozen startups in which he has typically puts in $100,000 to $500,000.

Explaining the name, Yang said: “Without rain, there is no life.”

And it’s clear that Yang has been very busy dousing the startup sector with a wide range of interesting investments, including:

  • dotCloud, an application platform for developers
  • AeroFS, a private file syncing and sharing service
  • Impermium, an Internet security offering
  • Jetpac, a travel app for the Apple iPad
  • Lex Machina, IP litigation data and analytics
  • Tomfoolery, which is aimed at improving mobile enterprise apps

Yang said what informs his investment choices centers on the activity around mobility, sensors, cloud and big data that is enabling the next generation of computing.

“The main investing premise is the idea that devices are more and more network connected,” said Yang, who noted that data that is being collected is now at another order of magnitude than ever before. “The cloud has become the next-generation supercomputer, and the smartphone has provided the revolution to spur its use.”

To select from the companies he sees, Yang has only one young associate, Nick Adams, who codes, helps on deal mechanics, interacts with entrepreneurs and also has had extensive experience in Asia.

That has been important, since Adams also leads business development for China’s Cloud Valley, which is run by Edward Tian, one of Yang’s strategic partners there. It was with Cloud Valley that Evernote, the hot productivity app in which Yang is also an investor, partnered to create a business there.

Still, Yang is not completely alone. He has weekly meetings with another former Yahoo, Ash Patel — who started the $10 million micro-venture fund Morado Ventures, which means “purple” in Spanish, and has a lot of ex-Yahoos as investors — as well as individual angel and former Yahoo CTO Farzad Nazem.

The trio trade ideas and deal flow, sometimes making bets together and sometimes not. Most of all, they leverage their time in the tech sector, both good and bad.

“I might not have better ideas, but I think my experience is unique and helpful [to entrepreneurs] and there is a value to my network,” said Yang. “I think what I have to contribute, besides money and a network, is that I am very candid about the experience I have had.”

That is indeed the case, because it is clear that Yang has a lot of wisdom to impart from his long and eventful history at Yahoo, as well as his stature as one of the Internet’s most important pioneers.

And, having covered the often circumspect Yang for much of that time, I would have to say that these days he looks about as energized, excited and enthusiastic as I have ever seen him.

“I’m truly humbled by the talent that’s out there, and at the same time recognize it’s a very crowded space,” said Yang. “It is not a career yet, but I’m having a lot of fun, and we’ll see.”

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo