SV Angel's David Lee stuns Valley insiders with a move to LA

By Sarah Lacy , written on December 10, 2012

From The News Desk

We got a tip this morning that I almost couldn't believe: David Lee is leaving Silicon Valley.

For those who don't know him, Lee is a co-founder and the managing partner of SV Angel. SV Angel and its other founder Ron Conway have long been the Godfathers of the Silicon Valley seed investing scene. And most entrepreneurs who've raised money from SV Angel -- which some days feels like nearly everyone in Silicon Valley, including us -- know that Lee is very much the one who keeps SV Angel humming.

Marc Andreessen always calls Ron Conway the "human router," and Lee has become the router-behind-the-router. I regularly get emails from him hooking me up with an entrepreneur who wants some coverage or someone that would be helpful for me to know as a first time CEO. And he never wastes my time.

And SV Angel isn't just known for investing in Silicon Valley. It's taken on a central role in organizing, a consortium of tech companies working together to make San Francisco more tech friendly.

Considering how closely Lee works with so many early stage companies, this news will no doubt be a little jarring to a lot of our readers. When we reached out to Lee to confirm it, he emphasized that he is not leaving his job and will be in San Francisco every week. In fact, during the week, he'll be living in San Francisco, not Palo Alto as he was before. In a sense, he'll be closer to where the action is these days.

The decidedly undramatic reason he's leaving is because of how he wants to raise his family. Lee's wife is from LA, and they have a lot of extended family down there. He has a young daughter, and he simply wants her to have the same warm, family-centric upbringing his wife did. In addition, his wife, Grace, works at Twitter on the TV partnerships team, so living in LA is a seamless move for her career.

We caught Lee amid a day of personal phone calls, letting people know about the decision. It's a big enough deal that SV Angel has also sent a letter to its limited partners this evening to let them know of the change.

I asked Lee if there was any catalyst, and his answer caught me by surprise. It was watching the show "Homeland." The show about terrorists is not exactly the Waltons, but if you think about it, the themes of Homeland all tie into the sense of belonging people get from family. When you're gone from that too long, you fall out of sync with it.

"Relationships and families are built on the little things, and you can't make those up," he said in a surprisingly authentic and candid conversation about the news this evening. "It just hit me, watching that show. I can keep saying we'll do this later, but my daughter is three. She's building relationships with her cousins now. I just wanted her to have that. And I have the luxury of work being just an hour plane ride away so commuting to San Francisco is plausible. It all felt very right."

While a very personal reason, it's one that a lot of new parents in the tech world are also grappling with. Silicon Valley is in the middle of a big baby boom, as a lot of the people who moved here in the late 1990s finally have enough stability, time, and income to think about raising a family. Like Lee, most of them are transplants who moved here for the industry, with their families living far away. Tech news has been peppered with stories about what all that means for women working in the industry, but few ever address the sacrifices that new dads wrestle with.

Lee is arguably at the peak of his career. His star has risen in the last few years as he's become the managing partner of SV Angel and invested a lot of time in mentoring entrepreneurs. And his personal blog has started to develop a real following. It's impressive to me that he's making a sacrifice like this simply because it's best for his family.

While he's downplaying what the move means, it couldn't have been an easy decision. I wasn't surprised to hear Conway was supportive of it. If you've ever been to a Conway party, you know they're all very much family affairs. He's one of the only investors who asks me how my son is doing before he asks me how PandoDaily is doing.

Oddly enough, counting Chris Sacca, Lee is the Valley's second high-profile angel to relocate to LA for family reasons. Neither moved specifically to invest in Silicon Beach, but Sacca was only there a year or so before deciding to open a local fund. Certainly, having Lee there will likely be a boon for knitting the two ecosystems together. "It wasn't the driving factor, but we have some great LA companies as part of the portfolio, and I imagine that will only grow," he says.