Those accustomed to reading sheet music may find the term ‘Accelerando’ familiar. Its origin is Italian and means ‘pick up the pace’. Wanting to be in lockstep, Arthur Patterson and Jim Swartz named their venture capital firm Accel — a play on accelerate and excellence. Accel Partners was primarily founded to invest in hardware companies and to capitalise on the founders’ experience at Citicorp Venture Capital. Ever since, the growth of the firm has been true to its name despite the occasional stumble along the way. Not only did it miss out backing Google, the lacklustre performance post the 2000 dotcom bust resulted in investors exiting the fund. But Patterson and gang did bounce back and in style. Since inception, Accel has delivered a 30% return, net of partner fees. While it has quite a few blockbusters to its credit, it is most famous for being the first major investor in social media phenomenon Facebook. Cottoning on early to what Mark Zuckerberg was up to helped convert the firm’s $12 million investment into a peak valuation of $10 billion. If this fact ever gets mentioned on Facebook, it surely will get its share of likes. Since then his firm has been a part investor in almost every major social media start-up. Patterson though likes to keep it low-key. He has hardly been interviewed before and the Apple store on University Avenue is a better known landmark than the office of Accel Partners. That’s despite having an entire stone grey building to itself in downtown Palo Alto. Patterson would rather let Accel’s investments do the talking.
The philosophy at Accel Partners is to be the first institutional investor in a start-up. Tell us about the firm’s approach and thought process.
You have to put it in context. We spend a lot of time thinking where we want to be first before we decide to be first. There is intense discussion about which areas are evolving, which ones are passé and which ones will be the most fruitful for us to focus and be really up-to-speed on. Our philosophy is to think about business areas deeply so that when an entrepreneur comes in to present a plan, the partners gauging him know 90% of what he is going to