After the reset at Kleiner Perkins, a new mentorship program: ProductWorks

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on December 11, 2013

From The News Desk

Bing Gordon , the new Chief Product Officer for ProductWorks.

Times, they are a'changin' at Kleiner Perkins, one of Silicon Valley's oldest VC firms. As a leaked memo revealed, five general partners at the firm are being taken off the early stage investment team and placed in new positions. As Pando reported today, the big changes are a sign that John Doerr is hitting the reset button, reorganizing and restructuring the team after a decade with some missteps.

Where will the five general partners go now? Multiple sources have told Pando that Chi-Hua Chien hopes to start his own seed fund. A few of the others will be shifting to different areas of KPCB, like growth investing or the China Fund.

The fifth -- Bing Gordon -- discussed his new role at KPCB today at an intimate roundtable lunch with reporters. Gordon will be taking on the role of Chief Product Officer, running the newly created ProductWorks program for KPCB companies. 

"In times of change it's good to go back to first principles," Gordon said.

Through ProductWorks, KPCB portfolio companies will learn more about product management and development by taking workshops by key industry product managers, attending monthly office hours with KPCB partners, tapping a pool of young talent from KPCB’s Design, Engineering and Product Fellows programs, and networking with other product managers at happy hours.

It's a university of sorts, KPCB General Partner Mike Abbott explained at the lunch.

"The product people need some love," Gordon said. "We look at the product people in the companies we work with and they're on the same island that CEOs were a decade ago. It's a really lonely job."

Despite being a lonely job, KPCB is valuing product expertise more and more. "We've come to believe that the perfect founding team is the head of product and the head of tech," Gordon said.

KPCB's ProductWorks is the type of program that Andreessen-Horowitz pioneered in the last few years, turning the firm into a veritable powerhouse of mentorship for entrepreneurs. VC’s have always advised and helped the companies they invest in, but Andreessen Horowitz’s success has spurred the formalization of such help at competing firms. VCs are introducing official teams of marketing, product, recruiting, and technical advisors for their portfolio companies.

The fact that KPCB is choosing to tackle product and design in its first formal program like this is worth noting. It is further cementation of the fact that these areas are becoming more important to startups. Anyone who has spent any time in Silicon Valley in the last six months has probably picked up on the rumblings of that. Everywhere you go people are talking about design.

Andreessen Horowitz is evangelizing entrepreneurship to art students around the country. GigaOM ran a two day Roadmap conference devoted solely to design. A Hacker News just for product fans called Product Hunt launched and Hiten Shah, Nir Eyal, Ashton Kutcher immediately signed up for it. And the new Tradecraft education series started taking applicants, with the purpose of teaching technical students the elusive art of “everything else” besides programming: product, design, and marketing.

Enter KPCB's ProductWorks program. The firm is taking design seriously with the new change, so much so that the firm has hired John Maeda, the former President of the Rhode Island School of Design. Maeda will serve as the “Design Partner,” teaching classes and mentoring KPCB portfolio companies. KPCB general partner Mike Abbott will be lending a supporting hand, as will partner Megan Quinn, the former head of product at Square.

As for Bing Gordon, he says he’s excited about his shift to focusing on ProductWorks. Gordon has a long history of product expertise, with ten years at the video game company Electronic Arts as the Chief Creative Officer. He serves on the board of Amazon and Zynga, but was unofficially advising many companies of which he didn’t sit on the board. His new role directs his talents in a more official capacity. It’s a big change though. When a reporter asked Gordon whether he'd still be investing in companies, he gave a definitive "yes," followed up with a hedge "But the goal is to be on half as many boards as a typical VC."

After the event Gordon and I sat down and chatted about the changes at KPCB and his new role. When I asked whether he wanted to make the shift from VC to Chief Product Officer, Gordon paused a moment. “I sat down with John [Doerr] and Mike [Abbott] and they said, ‘What do you want to spend all your time doing?’” He's a product guy at heart, one who likes advising and helping people. "It's very different from wanting to buy low and sell high," Gordon says. "So in this case I get to do more of what I like to do."

When asking how ProductWorks came about and where it fit in with KPCB's latest partner changes, Gordon described it as the end result of many steps over the last few years. It crystallizes work he had been doing for the firm anyways. Then he followed up by saying something along the lines of, "Sometimes when you're screwed you just have to jump and take a risk."

[Image via Wikimedia]