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Silicon Valley Venture Capital Pioneer Tom Perkins Dies At 84

Tom Perkins co-founded a California capital venture firm in 1972.
Ben Margot AP
Tom Perkins co-founded a California capital venture firm in 1972.

Tom Perkins, one of Silicon Valley's first venture capitalists, died this week.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the financier died at 84 at home in Tiburon, Calif., of natural causes. The firm he helped co-found, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, confirmed the news to NPR.

Perkins and Eugene Kleiner co-founded a venture capital firm in 1972 — "at a time when parts of Silicon Valley were still largely fruit orchards," as the Times points out. The firm later grew into a behemoth, propelling a new approach to investment, the Times reports:

"Perkins and his partners popularized a model of investment that involved putting small amounts of money into promising young start-ups in return for a stake in the companies, giving them advice and counsel to spur their growth."

In a statement given to NPR on Thursday, KPCB co-founders Brook Byers and Frank Caufield called Perkins a pioneer in the venture capital industry, who witnessed the "start of the biotech industry and the computer revolution."

"He defined what we know of today as entrepreneurial venture capital by going beyond just funding to helping entrepreneurs realize their visions with operating expertise," they wrote. "Tom was our partner and friend, and we will miss him."

Over the years, KPCB has invested in numerous tech giants, including Google, Twitter, Amazon, Square, Airbnb, Uber, Spotify and various biotech and energy firms.

Perkins served on the board of directors of several companies, such as the biotech firm Genentech, that bloomed into successful corporations.

As a board member, Perkins played the pivotal role in a phone-spying scandal that embroiled Hewlett-Packard in 2006 and resulted in the resignation of chairwoman Patricia Dunn and an overhaul of the board, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time:

"The California attorney general charged [Dunn] on four felony counts of fraud and conspiracy, saying she led the H-P board into criminal violations of privacy when the company pried into personal phone records to investigate boardroom leaks. "Mr. Perkins set the charges in motion by storming off the board and alerting authorities to the phone snooping. He contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission and California's attorney general, pressing them to take action."

In 2014, Perkins also landed in the headlines for a letter published in the Journal that compared the San Francisco protests against the "one percent" of rich tech entrepreneurs to the 1938 series of coordinated attacks by Nazis against the Jews.

His firm, KPCB, distanced itself at the time, tweeting that it was "shocked by his views" and he "has not been involved" with the firm in years.

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