Venture Capital on Sand Hill Road

By Deane Barker on November 26, 2007

I was in the Bay Area couple of months ago for FM’s Conversational Marketing Summit, and I needed to go visit a client down in Mountain View (no, not Google, though they were right down the street).

I went south on the 101, but that was boring. I was looking for something a little more scenic on the way back, so I drove up 280, which was a gorgeous drive through forested hills. It was just beautiful.

I also have a weird hobby — I like to visit famous college campuses. I don’t know why, I just like to drive around to see what they look like. I was in Boston last year, and I went to visit Harvard — it was amazing.

So, I was quite pleased to see signs for Stanford as I came up 280 through Palo Alto. I succumbed to my little addiction, and took the exit. I drove through Stanford for about five minutes, which was very cool. Now I know what it looks like from the ground, so episodes of Chuck make much more sense now.

In the end, this was a long way of explaining how I came to be sitting in my rental car on Sand Hill Road.

Sand Hill Road is ground zero for venture capital. Anybody who is anybody in the VC world exists on Sand Hill Road. It’s become a synonym all its own — “I don’t know how your pitch is going to play on Sand Hill Road…”

The genesis of this VC mecca appears to have been Stanford itself.

It has been said that the venture capital industry was born in the mid-1960s at San Francisco’s University Club, where young, wealthy Stanford and Ivy league graduates would meet to entertain investment proposals from aspiring entrepreneurs.

It’s to the point where the only thing that matters to many new VC funds is the address on the letterhead.

“People want to retain that Sand Hill address no matter what, so we have a lot of tenants that have several offices in multiple spots within the complex,” Wimmer said. “If you were to poll the tenants to find out whether they care more about the physical need to be here or the letterhead, I don’t know what they would say.”

People will apparently rent a broom closet in order to use the address.

So, there I was in my rented Jeep Commander driving down Sand Hill Road, trying to find all these VC firms. I got to the east end, and it dead-ended into the Stanford Shopping Center.

So I turned around and went west, toward the ocean, still looking for this hive of VC firms. I found a couple, but not much, and then I got back to the on-ramp for 280.

I was a little depressed.

But, there was this little turnoff, just before the exit to 280. Against my better judgment, I drove down this little out-of-the-way road. It was narrow, with no sidewalks. It went up over a ridge, then down a little hill, then…there I was.

Sand Hill Circle is what I was looking for, it turns out. Here is the satellite view from Google Maps. There’s a hidden office complex in this circle, and the directory is absolutely filled with nothing but VC, in every size, shape, and permutation.

I would venture a guess that there’s not one non-VC company in the complex.

I drove around for a while because — I’m slightly embarrassed to admit — I was looking for some cool cars. All these folks got crazy-rich off the dot-com boom, so I figured there had to be one Ferrari among the couple hundred cars in the parking lots in and around the office building.

Sadly, no Ferraris. Lots of Mercedes, a couple Porsches, and a Maserati that was being washed in its parking spot by a mobile detailing service. I was a little disappointed.

So, that was my little adventure into the world of VC. I didn’t run in and try to make a pitch, but I at least stood in the center of that universe and soaked up the ambiance.

I hope it made me a better person, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it just made me more of a geek. I mean, seriously — the highlight of my trip to San Francisco? I visited an office complex in Menlo Park.

The only thing worse is if I were to actually blog about it. Oh, wait…

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  1. I know the guilty pleasure of looking at fancy cars on the street. I hate being THAT GUY who ogles at a nice car as if he’s never seen anything like that before… But sometimes it’s hard to resist.

    This is a real pleasure in Europe, you can see some amazing cars on the highways. I was in Italy a few months ago, and it’s not an uncommon occurrence to run into a meeting of the Ferrari club of Modena or some other club, right in the town center… Something magical about seeing 20 different Ferraris of all models parked under a 2000 year old Roman arena.

    And driving in the middle lane of the highway on a Sunday is like having a constant parade of amazing cars whizzing past you on the left. …and from there, it’s only a couple hours drive to Monte Carlo, Monaco… where every car park is better than most car shows I’ve been to.

    Which reminds me, I’d better get to work… I still have 5 more payments to make for a bus ride to the local Ferrari dealership.

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