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Brook Byers is a founding partner of Kleiner Perkins and a renowned lifesciences investor.
How did you get interested in science?
As a youngster growing up in Georgia, I was a tinkerer, a habit my parents indulged with ham-radio kits and chemistry sets. I had a high school teacher who took me under his wing; he gave me extra science homework and took me to visit the labs at Georgia Tech, which is where I ended up going to college to study electrical engineering and physics.
You joined Kleiner Perkins in the early days. How did you end up here?
I saw venture capital as an opportunity to capitalize on my lifelong passion for science, to work with scientists and engineers to create new products and build companies. Early on, I apprenticed with Pitch Johnson, the venture capital pioneer. In 1977, Eugene Kleiner and Tom Perkins invited me to join them as they expanded Kleiner Perkins. Pitch supported my move; we collaborated on several investments. At the time, venture capital was like that—people worked together and helped each other. It’s still the way I like to work.
You’ve focused on life-sciences companies. How did that come about?
Kleiner had incubated Genentech, which pioneered the use of recombinant DNA technology to develop drugs for the most serious diseases. I’ve been interested in biotech ever since. I am particularly proud of Rituxan, a monoclonal antibody therapy discovered at a company I incubated at Kleiner Perkins, serving as the company’s first CEO. Over 4.4 million patients have been treated for cancer and autoimmune diseases with Rituxan.
What do you look for in entrepreneurs?
It’s a tough and sometimes lonely job being a founder; it takes a special people person to succeed. They must be bold, ambitious, collaborative and a natural leader.
How do you view your role when you invest in a young company?
My role with founders is to serve as mentor/coach, applying my experience to help them manage the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey. Like all good relationships, it requires shared passion, honesty, courage—and, every so often, humility and candor.
Outside of venture, what interests you?
Anyone who walks into my office knows two things about me immediately: I collect art, and I like music. Both have brought rich dimension to my life and kept things in perspective. As the Grateful Dead sang: “Sometimes the lights are shining on me…sometimes I can barely see….lately it occurs to me….what a long, strange trip it’s been.”