by Nat Goldhaber and John Steuart
Moshe Alafi, a former mentor to both of us and investor in our startups earlier in our career, won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Haas School’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley last week. There wasn’t any doubt that he fully deserved to win this highly prestigious award.
Moshe, after all, has been called one of the founders of biotechnology. We believe he is the most successful biotech investor ever. He funded and helped start more than 60-plus life sciences companies through Alafi Capital, his venture capital firm, including pioneers such as Applied Biosystems, Cetus, Biogen and Amgen. A number of these firms went on to create new industries.
We were highly fortunate to get to know Moshe better than most people in Silicon Valley. Early in his investment career, when he wasn’t exclusively a biotechnology investor, Moshe invested in TOPs, Nat’s first startup, a computer networking company, which was later sold to Sun Microsystems for $20 million. Moshe invested in Nat again (and, this time, ultimately also in John) when Nat founded CyberGold, an Internet marketing and payment system company, which eventually went public. John was working with Moshe when Nat asked him if it would be OK for John to become a pre-eminent member of the Cybergold team as COO and CFO, and Moshe agreed to move John to the operational role from his VC role. John and I have worked together since those Cybergold days.
We learned first-hand what makes Moshe a great investor and mentor. He always gave sage, patient advice, and just the right amount – not too much, not too little. In tough situations, he was unflappable. And he had a great feel for the amount of funds to allocate – again, not too little, and never too much.
Perhaps most important, Moshe had superlative instincts as a gambler, a crucial skill in venture capital. As he says in the short biographical video, he used to go to the horse races at Golden Gate Park, and, the night before, decided which horses to bet on. As it turned out, he had a great instinct for the horses.
In biotechnology startup investing, he says, you are also gambling – on the technology, on the scientists and on the human beings (i.e., how would the people perform)? “You can predict this (even) better than the horses,” Moshe likes to say.
As a Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Moshe joins a very select group of world-class achievers, including Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the founder of Khosla Ventures, and John Doerr, the prominent long-time partner of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Others include the late Warren Hellman, Dick Kramlich, Sandy Robertson and Bill Hambrecht, as well as Edward Penhoet, the president and CEO of Chiron, and Alejandro Zaffaroni, the founder of drug delivery company Alza and several biotechnology companies.
We will post a video of the actual event highlights soon. Meanwhile, here is a link to the excellent biographical video about Moshe. Enjoy.