The Secret Power Brokers Of Silicon Valley

Quincy Smith CODE Advisors

Photo: Joi via Flickr

Some of the big names in Silicon Valley get all the attention.Everybody knows not to cross Ron Conway, that Marc Andreessen is the ultimate connected introduction broker, and that Paul Graham’s Y Combinator has changed how funding is done.

But there are plenty of powerful people who shun the spotlight.

We asked around: who are the quiet people in Silicon Valley who get things done? The bankers and lawyers who are in the room when the deal is signed? The introduction brokers and quiet board members who companies look to for advice?

We took the responses and picked 13 names that seemed particularly interesting. Some are up-and-comers whose power may be underestimated, some are old names that won’t surprise anybody who’s worked in the Valley for the last two decades.

Ted Wang, attorney at Fenwick & West

Several respondents pointed to Fenwick & West as one of the most important law firms in the Silicon Valley startup scene.

Of those attorneys, Ted Wang's came up the most often -- more often than any other person on this list, in fact.

Wang's clients have included some of the biggest VCs (Andreessen Horowitz, Accel, Sequoia) and some of the hottest tech startups of the current boom (Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Square, Path, and Dropbox), and one respondent spoke highly of his work with Marc Andreessen on standardising documents for seed round equity investments.

Other Fenwick & West attorneys mentioned included Mark Stevens and Sam Angus.

Quincy Smith, investment banker with CODE Advisors

Smith cofounded CODE Advisors, an under-the-radar investment banking firm with big clients like Spotify and Comcast.

He and the firm are incredibly well connected and highly regarded as a place to handle banking duties for mid-sized firms looking for an exit. They're not in the news much, but recently were named as helping Angie's List prepare for its IPO.

Smith got his start in VC working for the firm founded by Jim Barksdale (the CEO of Netscape) and Allen & Company, which helped underwrite Google's IPO. In 2006, he oversaw CBS's acquisition of CNET, which turned into CBS Interactive, then left to found CODE Advisors in 2010.

Keith Rabois, COO of Square and prolific investor/advisor

Rabois was named as an up-and-comer by a couple respondents, and it's easy to see why -- he sits on the board of directors at PayPal, LinkedIn, and Yelp, is an advisor to Google, and has investments in a bunch of hot startups like Yammer, Palantir, and Eventbrite.

Most recently, he's been in the public eye as the chief operating officer of payments company Square.

Scott Stanford, managing director at Goldman Sachs

Goldman seems to have the inside track for underwriting almost every big upcoming IPO, from Facebook to Zynga to Groupon, and Stanford is a big reason why, according to sources.

Also mentioned were Paul Kwan from Morgan Stanley and Frank Quattrone of Qatalyst Group, who stays mostly out of the media spotlight but is still a little too famous to be considered a 'secret.'

Bill Campbell, Intuit chairman and advisor to giants

Campbell was CEO of Intuit in the 1990s and is still its chairman. But he's best known for being an advisor to two of the most important companies in tech: Apple and Google.

He's been on Apple's board since 1997, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt says Campbell's advice to Google was incredibly valuable: 'He essentially architected the organizational structure.' He severed his ties with Google in 2010 when the conflict between the two companies in the mobile space forced him to make a choice.

If you want an introduction, there's no better person to know.

He was also the coach of the Columbia University football team from 1974 to 1979 and is still called 'Coach' in some circles.

Mark Goines, partner at Morgenthaler Ventures and angel investor

Not everybody can get in touch with Bill Campbell for an introduction, but Mark Goines -- another former Intuit exec -- is similarly well connected.

A longtime angel investor who oversaw the sale of his investment Mint to Intuit, Goines has been an investor and director at a bunch of startups in diverse areas, from electronic medical records (Practice Fusion) to financial services (Tempo, Credit Interlink) to self-help legal books (Nolo).

Naval Ravikant, angel investor and founder of AngelList

Naval Ravikant is a serial investor and entrepreneur who gained notoriety with VentureHacks, a site that told founders how to 'hack' the VC process.

Now he's founded AngelList, which is basically like Match.com for entrepreneurs and angel investors. It's shaking up the Silicon Valley startup scene in a major way -- angel Dave McClure called it the most innovative thing to happen to the investment community since Y Combinator.

Don't miss our exclusive interview with Ravikant from March 2011.

Jim Gaither, partner at Sutter Hill Ventures

Jim Gaither is a longtime lawyer turned VC in 2000, and also sits on the board of trustees at Stanford and has served on the board of the RAND Corporation, one of the original West Coast think tanks.

He's another of the old Silicon Valley guard who knows everybody.

Larry Sonsini, one of the big lawyers.

The former head of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati is one of the most famous lawyers in the Valley, but outside of law and tech circles he keeps a low profile.

He's a kingmaker from way back, and has sat on boards of cutting-edge companies like Pixar and Tesla.

One respondent called Gunderson the most famous lawyer that nobody has ever heard of.

He cut his teeth at several influential Silicon Valley law firms before founding his own firm, Gunderson Dettmer, in 1995. Last year, the firm handled more VC deals -- 815 -- than anybody else in the valley, and also oversaw some big acquisitions like Google's $700 million purchase of online travel company ITA.

He keeps such a low profile that this old picture is literally the only one that shows up on a Google Image search.

John Hennessy, Stanford University president.

Stanford is the intellectual centre of Silicon Valley, and the progenitor of companies like Google and Yahoo, so it's no surprise that its leader was named by several respondents as being influential.

Hennessy has old tech chops -- he helped invent the RISC computer chip architecture in the 1980s and sits on the board of both Google and Cisco. He's been the president of Stanford since 2000.

Amy Banse, leader of Comcast's new $750 million fund.

Another up and comer, Banse was the head of Comcast's interactive media group, where she saw the cable giant's acquisitions of companies like Plaxo and Fandango.

In November she was appointed to lead a new equity fund called Comcast Ventures, which combined NBC Universal's Peacock Equity with Comcast Interactive Capital. With $750 million to manage, a new office in Mountain View, and a portfolio including up-and-coming companies like Flipboard and SBNation, Banse is suddenly a power to reckon with.

David Lee, Ron Conway's right-hand man.

Everybody knows Ron Conway can make or break a company in Silicon Valley, but David Lee (right) is the managing partner of Conway's SV Angel fund and just as important and influential.

Earlier this year, SV Angel changed the game by teaming up with Yuri Milner to give every company in Paul Graham's Y Combinator accelerator $150,000. Lee is managing that fund.

Now, check out some of the hottest entrepreneurs in the Valley.

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