John Doerr's quarter-billion dollar bet on the future of social

October 21, 2010: 5:38 PM ET

Kleiner Perkins thinks we're in a third wave of technology. Doerr, Zuckerberg, Bezos and Pincus are throwing a $250 million "party" in order to ride it.

The last time venture capitalist John Doerr opined that a technology wave was about to sweep over the globe it was just before the height of the Internet bubble in the 1990s, when he pronounced that the Internet was under-hyped. Yes, there was Internet startup Armageddon after that, but a decade-plus later, Doerr was mostly right.

On Wednesday he did it again. Standing at the headquarters of the greatest social web company so far, Facebook, Doerr anointed the social web as the technology wave of the moment and the future. If the web of the present (or recent past) hinged on web pages and documents, the web of the future is all about people and their context at any given moment.

"We are at the beginning of a third wave in technology (the prior two were the commercialization of the microprocessor, followed 15 years later by the advent of the web), which is this convergence of mobile and social technologies made possible by the cloud," Doerr said. "We will see the creation of multiple multi-billion-dollar businesses, and equally important, tens maybe hundreds of thousands of smaller companies."

Of course, Doerr would like his firm to back the biggest winners, and to that end, he also announced a new $250 million Kleiner Perkins' fund, the sFund, to back startups in catching this social technology wave. While the fund will be invested by Kleiner Perkins, the money came from re-allocated commitments both from existing limited partners of Kleiner Perkins and new money from outside investors including Amazon (AMZN), Facebook, Zynga, Comcast (CMCSA), Allen & Co. and Liberty Media (LINTA). "Think of it as a quarter-billion-dollar party," Doerr said.

Joining Doerr on stage were some of his new limited partners including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Zynga CEO Mark Pincus. The growth of Zynga, the fastest growing investment Kleiner Perkins has ever made in terms of revenue, convinced Doerr and fellow Kleiner Perkins Partner Bing Gordon to set up the fund about a year ago, Doerr said. Gordon will manage the fund.

Certainly Facebook was already huge a year ago, and there has been no lack of investment in "social" startups by Kleiner Perkins and other venture capital firms. Which begs the question of whether this money-fueled "party" is starting late. Doerr is emphatic that his firm is not late to the game with the fund, and that while Facebook is clearly the winner in underlying social networks, there are multiple opportunities in other verticals as Zynga demonstrated in gaming as well as infrastructure plays that will support these new social efforts.

Facebook's Zuckerberg, not surprisingly, agrees. "We think every industry is going to get fundamentally rethought and redesigned around people," Zuckerberg said. "There is an opportunity over the next five years or so to pick any industry and rethink it."  That includes everything from travel, to healthcare and education. Zuckerberg cautioned, however, that just bolting social features onto existing services won't cut it. "It can't be some lightweight layer, built on top of something else," Zuckerberg said. "The companies and services that are built from the ground up to be social will have an advantage."

Amazon's Bezos seemed the least starry-eyed of the bunch. If the social web is going to set off a gold rush of sorts, funded by Kleiner Perkins and others, Amazon wants to sell startups lots of tools from its Amazon Web Services division. "I am hopeful that most of that $250 million will be spent on Amazon Web Services," Bezos said with a broad smile. "Those are a lot of reasons to get excited by this."

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About This Author
Michael Copeland
Michael Copeland

Michael V. Copeland joined FORTUNE as a senior writer in September 2007. Copeland has covered everything from electric cars to e-readers. He is a creator of Tech Mate, an irreverent video series in which he debates (and skewers) digital issues of the day. Before joining FORTUNE, Copeland was a senior writer at Business 2.0. Copeland graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.

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