Bill Gurley: The sage of Silicon Valley

February 11, 2013: 5:00 AM ET

Benchmark's Bill Gurley has provided wise counsel to some of Silicon Valley's most successful entrepreneurs.

Bill Gurley at Benchmark's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters

Bill Gurley at Benchmark's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters

FORTUNE -- When Silicon Valley's smartest people want to get smarter, they often turn to Benchmark partner Bill Gurley. For instance, he recently advised Travis Kalanick, CEO of startup Uber, on a less expensive version of his rapidly growing limo service. Says Kalanick: "He really pushed us to lower the price so there's no room for competitors to squeeze in underneath us."

The 46-year-old Gurley sits on 11 company boards, including Uber's, and has written the popular Above the Crowd blog since 1994. The title is a play on his towering height -- he's 6-foot-9 -- but it could easily refer to his point of view, which is analytical and methodical. Benchmark co-founder Andy Rachleff says Gurley is distinguished by his "powerful intellectual honesty and insight about markets that few people have."

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Gurley is a finance guy who studied to be an engineer. A Texas native, he got his computer science degree in the late 1980s at the University of Florida (where he also played basketball for the Gators). In 1996, when Web 1.0's rock star Internet banker Frank Quattrone left Morgan Stanley (MS) for Deutsche Bank (DB), he recruited Gurley to come along. Gurley was the lead analyst on the Amazon (AMZN) initial public offering, a tech milestone, but his heart was in venture capital. In 1998 he decamped for Hummer Winblad, where Bill Gates put in a good word for him. But Quattrone had also introduced Gurley to the founders of Benchmark. He joined in 1999.

Among VC firms, Benchmark is a maverick. Unlike others that take the names of their founders and are structured hierarchically, Benchmark is a lean operation in which its six full-time partners share profits equally. It isn't trendy. And it hasn't adopted the Andreessen Horowitz model of staffing up with service providers and marketing teams. But in the past two years alone, Gurley counts 20 "exits" -- six companies went public, and 14 were acquired.

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Now Gurley is in the middle of a generational shift in which he often plays the bridge between old and new. Benchmark's founding members include pioneers like Bruce Dunlevie and Bob Kagle, who spotted the potential of eBay (EBAY) (see "eBay's Back!") early on. More recent additions include Twitter board member Peter Fenton and Matt Cohler, who led an investment in Instagram; Facebook (FB) paid more than $1 billion for the service last June.

Gurley helped recruit and mentor these younger partners. Last fall he flew to New York City for a dinner with former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt and Cohler to discuss 1stdibs, a retailing company in which Cohler had recently invested. Says Cohler: "Bill wrote an entire presentation about the company and shared it over dinner." For Gurley, it was a no-brainer. "All great teams lift each other up," he says. That kind of thinking could be why so many Valley veterans seek him out.

This story is from the February 25, 2013 issue of Fortune.

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Jessi Hempel
Jessi Hempel
Senior Writer, Fortune

Jessi Hempel is a New York-based technology writer for Fortune. She has written extensively about digital media, online advertising and social networking. Before joining Fortune in July 2007, Hempel worked at BusinessWeek and most recently served as their innovation department editor. Hempel is a graduate of Brown University and received a Masters in Journalism from The University of California at Berkeley.

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