After a storied career running megacompanies from eBay to Intel — even Webvan — Bob Swan is joining Andreessen Horowitz's growth fund to help its portfolio companies achieve the same scale.
"There's more and more capital being put to work by more and more players, therefore I think success is going beyond making the right investments but also having the approach of helping the entrepreneurs build," Swan said.
The market in growth funds is also one of the most competitive spots in venture capital right now. Both Tiger Global and SoftBank are deploying large checks into startups, and using their ability to hold onto stocks into the public markets as their own edge to win out deals. The two have been the largest funders of startups in the first half of 2021.
Still, Andreessen Horowitz has remained competitive, investing in startups like Stripe, Waymo, TripActions, Plaid and Clubhouse. Its growth fund sits atop its other sector funds, like biotech and crypto, and is charged with investing in later-stage companies to help them scale to a level where they would go public. Unlike Tiger, which is "proudly passive" as a firm, Andreessen Horowitz's growth team sees its role as matchmaking its operating partner with startups to help them grow and scale, said David George, the growth fund's lead.
That's where Swan sees himself helping a16z differentiate itself from the crowded late-stage market. His experience is likely to be one highly sought after by startups. He started his career spending 14 years leading finance at GE, then was eBay's CFO for nine. He joined Intel as its CFO in 2016 before he was promoted to CEO in 2019, taking the reins from Brian Krzanich who stepped down after details of a workplace affair emerged.
Swan's tenure at Intel was marked by manufacturing woes and other challenges for the chipmaker, much of which he inherited from his predecessor. It ceded the No. 1 spot in the market to NVIDIA, and saw $60 billion of its market cap disappear in 2020 amid a broad tech rally. Swan ended up stepping down in 2021, but even while at Intel he wasn't far from the venture world. Swan said he worked closely during his tenure with Intel Capital, the 30-year-old corporate venture arm that said it invested over $735 million in startups in 2020.
"Spending time on the innovation and the technology in the semi space was a key aspect of staying in touch in so many ways," he said.
Swan was also CEO of Webvan, the grocery-delivery firm that became a poster child for the dot-com boom and bust. He joined the company in 1999 as a vice president, before becoming CFO and COO. He was promoted to CEO for a short stint — just four months before the company went under, sunk by the cost of its expensive warehouses.
Swan laughs about it now, 20 years later, but he's hoping that experience will help him guide other startups through highs and lows.
"Through that experience as well as a series of others, what I'm able to bring to the party with David and the team is rich experiences of getting it right and sometimes not," Swan said. "With scar tissue comes great learnings."