Tom Perkins' hot venture
A legendary investor aims to be a racy novelist with his new book 'Sex and the Single Zillionaire.'
NEW YORK (FORTUNE Small Business Magazine) - Tom Perkins needs no help meeting women, thank you very much. The co-founder of Kleiner Perkins (www.kpcb.com), the most storied VC firm in Silicon Valley, is tall and fit. He has lively eyes, a strong jaw, and a good head of hair. He looks cool in an English pinstriped suit. His new boat, the Maltese Falcon, launching this month from Istanbul, is longer than your boat; at 289 feet, it's the longest private sailboat in the world.
So when Perkins got an offer from a reality-TV producer to mix it up on camera with a dozen gold-digging young beauties and pick one to be his bride, of course he turned it down. "If you really want to marry a 20-year-old," scoffs Perkins, 73, over a glass of merlot at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan, "I think there are probably better ways."
Probably. And probably that should have been the end of it. But Perkins, it so happens, is pals with Danielle Steel, the bestselling romance novelist. He was even married to her briefly, after his first wife died in 1994. Perkins likes to feed Steel ideas. (He says The Klone and I, Steel's book about a scientist who clones himself for his lover's benefit, was his concept.)
So he sat down and wrote a 12-page plot outline, riffing on the reality show and what might have been, and gave it to Steel. She liked it, but not for her; she dared him to write it himself.
"She basically said, 'I know you're not busy, and if you don't do it, it's because you're lazy.' "
Perkins is definitely not lazy. He founded a laser company, University Laboratories, in his early 30s while simultaneously running Hewlett-Packard's computer division. "I built it up and sold it without ever working there," he says. "I didn't realize it at the time, but that's what a venture capitalist does."
His fortune made, Perkins left HP and, with Eugene Kleiner, developed a new model for venture capital, one that values genius above business acumen ("The best deal is where the entrepreneur wanders in with just an idea") and trucks no illusions about who is steering the boat.
"A lot of entrepreneurs get hung up on control," Perkins says, "51% and all this stuff. It's ridiculous. If we're the primary investor in the first round, even if we only own 5% of the company, we're in control! Because if we don't want to put any more money in, what are they going to do?"
In his heyday, Perkins helped launch such Silicon Valley luminaries as Tandem Computers, which later merged with Compaq, and Genentech. He was chairman of 14 of the firm's portfolio companies at once, including three that were trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Sex and the Single Zillionaire, however, which comes out this month, is Perkins's first book. He says he wrote it in ten days. The hero, Steven Hudson, is a lonely widower with two grown children -- a daughter who is an artist and a son who is into computers. That much is autobiographical.
Otherwise, he insists, it's all made up: Hudson is an investment banker ("I'm a venture capitalist," says Perkins -- "we're almost natural enemies"); Henry, the son, spends Hudson's money and steals his girlfriends ("My son is very responsible," Perkins insists), and Hudson, unlike Perkins, says yes to appearing on Trophy Bride, after which, the book jacket teases, "his sober life veers quickly out of control."
Not without some fun, however, especially in chapter 16 -- right up until the moment when Eve, the final suitor, shows him the syringe. ("The thought of the sharp needle penetrating him -- twice! -- in that most sensitive of all places hit Steven like a fist.")
Last question: What if he writes a bestseller on his first try? Will Danielle still be his friend? Perkins chuckles: "I think she's got mixed feelings. I mean, she loves the book, but you know, that's her deal. Business is supposed to be mine."
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