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Why Ted Schlein of Kleiner Perkins and Accel's Ping Li Are the Best VCs

Researchers rank VCs on their board seats, their network centrality--and their pearly whites.
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Finally, data hounds are attempting to answer the question entrepreneurs and limited partners alike really care about: Who are the superior venture capitalists, and who are the ones we just like to complain about?

Using data coupled with a decent sense of humor, researchers at CB Insights ranked tech VCs in five categories, then boiled the whole thing down to a ranking and a big social graph.

Most rankings of VCs rely solely on exit data. That's certainly helpful--of course we want to know which partners made the most money for their funds. It's also backward-looking. In this experiment, CB Insights tried to get a bit ahead of the ball, looking for VCs that sat on the boards of promising companies and also trying to evaluate the networks of each of the more prominent VCs. That's also a bit risky, since even the most promising private companies aren't guaranteed great exits, and the influence of one's network is hard to quantify.

There's more information available on CB Insights' website, so if, for example, you think "influence" (or, more likely, "smile,") is a totally spurious measure of VC capabilities, you can tweak the results to omit that particular criteria. Here's how CB Insights did it.

Board Seats

At the beginning of this year, CB Insights identified 590 private-tech companies with valuations, “real or rumored,” of at least $100 million. So the first measure of VC ability looked at how many of these high-valued boards a VC sits on. By my reading of the results, this is by far the most important criteria. Some 26 investors sit on at least five of these boards, so they make the first cut.

The winners: Ted Schlein, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Ping Li of Accel Partners each sit on seven of these boards. They get the early lead.

Betweenness

CB Insights also looked for investors that most often act as a direct connection between others in their network. The theory here is that since access to information is an important part of being a good VC, those investors who best position themselves as a conduit for information have a significant advantage.

The winners: Benjamin Horowitz, of Andreessen Horowitz, is ranked No. 1. Mary Meeker, of Kleiner Perkins, comes in second.

Reach

Sorry, massive numbers of Facebook fans and Twitter followers didn't help here. Instead, investors with a high score in the reach category had lots of direct links with other investors and were relatively close to everyone else in the network. If this measure of ability sounds a lot like betweenness to you, you won’t be surprised at the winners.

The winners: Once again, Benjamin Horowitz and Mary Meeker come in first and second, respectively.

Influence

CB Insights says its influence ratings are based on the rule of "Eigenvector centrality," which holds that “connections to high-scoring investors contribute more to the score of the investor in question than equal connections to low-scoring investors." In other words, investors are judged by the company they keep.

The winners: Peter Fenton, of Benchmark, travels in the most highly-ranked circles. Peter Sonsini, of New Enterprise Associates, comes in second.

Smile

A happy VC is a good VC, right? So the researchers used facial recognition software to determine which VCs, based on the photos on their firms’ websites, looked happiest.

The winners: Bryan Schreier, of Sequoia Capital, gets the nod for the best grin. John Doerr, of Kleiner Perkins, comes in second.

So who are the top 10 overall?

  1. Ted Schlein, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers
  2. Ping Li, Accel Partners
  3. Mike Volpi, Index Ventures
  4. Peter Sonsini, New Enterprise Associates
  5. Harry Weller, New Enterprise Associates
  6. Rory O’Driscoll, Scale Venture Partners
  7. Danny Rimer, Index Ventures
  8. Byron Deeter, Bessemer Venture Partners
  9. Sameer Gandhi, Accel Partners
  10. Bandel Carano, Oak Investment Partners

Congratulations to all of the top-ranked investors--and, of course, their dentists.

IMAGE: Courtesy Companies
Last updated: Mar 5, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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