• U.S.

Venture Capitalist: The Man with the Money

4 minute read
Romesh Ratnesar

If you want Eric Chin to be your venture capitalist, you have to pass the beer test. It is a gauge of how cool he thinks you are. “I ask the following: ‘Is this someone I want to hang out and have beers with after work and pass up spending time with my wife?’ I’m going to be an active investor. So I’d better get along with you and respect you.”

At 31 Chin is about to make partner at Information Technology Ventures, a small but rising Palo Alto VC firm. Chin handles the firm’s portfolio of seven Internet companies and scours the Valley for others to fund. It’s a frenetic job, but Chin crackles with rapid-fire energy. “We’re going for the early-stage, high-risk, big hits,” he says, piloting his midnight-blue Mercedes down I-280 on a recent Wednesday. “When I evaluate start-ups I ask, ‘Is this a multibillion-dollar market? Can this be a billion-dollar company?’ We want companies that can be industry leaders.”

At 2 p.m. he arrives in San Mateo, a 20-min. drive from his Menlo Park office, for a meeting with the founders of iEscrow, a website that provides escrow services for online consumers. Chin’s firm has decided to fund iEscrow, and he’s here to seal the deal. “How often will we see you?” one of the CEOs asks. “We’ll see you at the public offering,” Chin says, implying that he doesn’t plan to help out much. He’s just kidding. “Look, you can tell I have a passion for this. I’m the Internet guy,” he says. “My style’s very active. That’s because I love it. I’m a strong backup for you.” Minutes later he is instructing them to “hire the Navy SEALs to get things done here. That’s what it’s all about in building your company: the culture. The fit. Karma.” They nod.

On the drive back to Palo Alto, he phones Peter Van Alstine, a classmate from Dartmouth who founded a Boston e-commerce start-up that Chin is backing. When Van Alstine tells Chin how much stock a prospective executive has asked for, Chin nearly swerves off the highway. “Get outta here!” he yells. “He’s baked, man! He’s getting greedy.”

Chin pops into his office long enough to check his e-mail before he meets with the founders of TimeDance, a schedule-planning website that is looking for a second round of venture funding. While he listens to the company’s pitch, Chin sips a diet Coke and leans back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. He interjects constantly with enthusiasms. “This is just dynamite,” he says at one point. “I could use this website 50 times a day. This could be ubiquitous.” He arranges a second meeting.

Before going home, Chin will sit through a presentation by an online wine shop and have sushi with a man who claims to have a blockbuster e-commerce idea–he just won’t tell Chin what it is. Chin will take his chances. Like every young VC in the Valley, he needs to land a big IPO score to become a real player. He’s too sure of himself to admit being worried that many of the companies he backs will never make it that far. “It’s a guess; it’s a bank shot–you throw it on the wall and hope for something,” he says. “I’d like to have one big success, but I could just as easily have all failures.” He goes on a long, breathless riff: “I mean, I love this. I could do this for the rest of my life. It drives my friends crazy. But it’s amazing, cool stuff. If you can be part of the next big revolution–man, that’s a trip!”


More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com