Steve Jurvetson is staging a comeback, disclosing today that his new San Francisco-based, early-stage venture firm Future Ventures, has raised $200 million for its debut fund.
“It’s good to be back in the saddle again,” says Jurvetson, whose career was somewhat derailed in the fall of 2017 when a former girlfriend wrote a Facebook post, accusing DFJ — the firm Jurvetson cofounded in 1985 — of “predatory behavior.” DFJ said publicly the next day that it was already investigating “indirect and secondhand allegations” about Jurvetson, and within weeks, the firm and Jurvetson apparently had enough of each other, mutually deciding that it was time to part ways. (Jurvetson, who was recently wed for the second time, has since said he poorly handled his love interests, some of which he acknowledges were extramarital.)
It was surely an embarrassing chapter for Jurvetson, who’d enjoyed a pristine reputation, but notably, he didn’t lose the support of some of his former colleagues. At the time, two founders who worked previously at DJF spoke up on his behalf, crediting both Jurvetson and DFJ with “cultivating an environment where women advance professionally.” And Jurvetson has formed Future Ventures with another former apprentice who he mentored for a year at DFJ: Maryanna Saenko, who Jurvetson says is a “full partner” in the endeavor and who he characterizes as “the most talented investor I’ve ever worked with.”
Certainly, they have much in common in the way of interests. Jurvetson has famously funded companies that seemed dangerously futuristic and capital intensive at the time, including Space X and Tesla. Saenko, who has two degrees from Carnegie Mellon in materials science and engineering, has long been fascinated with deep learning, space exploration, and robotics. She even helped start up Airbus Ventures before joining DFJ, where she worked with Jurvetson on deals like the “clean meat” company Memphis Meats and Orchid, a San Francisco-based startup that’s developing a a surveillance-free layer on top of the internet.
They must work well together. Soon after Jurvetson left the firm, Saenko also split, spending six months at Khosla Ventures before rejoining him in November, when they began putting together a pitch deck in earnest for Future Ventures . Meetings with prospective investors soon followed.
Asked about Future Ventures’s backers, Jurvetson says they are “people who know what I’m doing and want to invest in that — tech CEOs, other VCs, hedge fund [investors] — people who’ve known me for decades. I figured that was the easiest place to start.” Not that anyone is funding Jurvetson out of blind loyalty, one surmises. Future Ventures is charging 2.5 percent in management fees and 25 percent of any profits earned, above the standard “2 and 20” that many fund managers charge and more in line with the what the best-performing funds are able to secure from their investors.
He seemingly has the track record for it. Future Ventures hasn’t written its first check just yet, but “the vast majority of term sheets I’ve issued [over my career] have been the only term sheet offered to the company,” claims Jurvetson. Pointing this editor to the companies he has funded over time, he adds that: “In almost every case, I was the first VC to offer a term sheet and take a board seat, and there was no one competing with me.”
Among his bets that look prescient in hindsight are SpaceX and Tesla, on whose boards Jurvetson still sits. But he also holds a seat on the board of the quantum computing company D-Wave and was an early investor in Planet, the satellite company.
Whether he still has the magic touch is something he’ll have to prove at Future Ventures, but the firm’s investors are giving it more time than is standard to invest the fund: 15 years instead of 10. Future Ventures will also be able to pull the trigger faster on deals than some firms because of its size, which is small by design, says Jurvetson. Though he and Saenko may eventually bring aboard a “partner-track associate,” for now, two is the right number of partners and “never more than five.”
Team size is “so important,” says Jurvetson. “My favorite time was when i had a three partners” at the outset of DFJ, which he formed with investors Tim Draper and John Fisher. “You can have meetings whenever you want. You can iterate and deliberate. You want your team to be cognitively diverse but also small. Once you have more than seven people, it’s no longer a team.”
As for what Future will back, Jurvetson says the future of food production remains one great area of interest, as is the proliferation of neural networks at “the edge — of your phone, your car, your security camera.” The latter, he notes, can be a “pain in the ass today, [issuing] false alarms all the time. But you can build a sensory cortex so that it becomes more intelligent and recognizes the owners of the house and doesn’t sound the alarm when it shouldn’t.” And it doesn’t need to push that information to the cloud to know it, either.
Jurvetson admits that earlier in his career, he had the propensity to “fund science projects” that were not necessarily businesses that could scale. Longtime industry observers may recall, for example, Jurvetson’s early enthusiasm for nanotech. (Jurvetson was right — just too early — if you put synthetic biology in this bucket. )
But he also says that his reputation for investing early in what may sound crazy has paid off, and he’s counting on it continuing to do so. It’s why he’s a fixture at places like space conferences; they make it easier for him to reach founders who are focused on things he hasn’t necessarily heard of before.
Indeed, if everything goes as planned, he says, “What I’ll be most excited about five years from now” won’t be anything that interests him right now. It will “be an industry sector that I couldn’t name for you today.”