Thompson’s appointment at Silicon Valley venture firm Lightspeed makes him one of the most prominent black venture capitalists.
John Thompson, the chairman of Microsoft, is joining one of Silicon Valley’s hottest venture firms as a partner. Thompson’s appointment at Lightspeed makes him one of the most prominent black venture capitalists.
Since taking over as chairman when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates stepped down in 2014, Thompson has played an important role supporting a bid by Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella to modernize the software maker and push quickly into the cloud business. At Menlo Park, California-based Lightspeed, Thompson will have a wide range of companies to work with. The firm’s investments include Snap, Honest Co. and AppDynamics. Lightspeed’s most recent fund from 2016 has $1.2 billion.
Venture capitalists are mostly white or Asian men, similar to the tech industry at large. There are few black VCs, but Thompson is the second high-profile hire from the business world in recent months. In January, General Catalyst named Kenneth Chenault, the former American Express CEO, as a partner.
Thompson plans to focus on young companies building cybersecurity or infrastructure technology for businesses, he wrote in an email.
Microsoft hasn’t been a startup since the 1980s, and it took only one venture deal, from Dave Marquardt at Technology Venture Investments, when Microsoft was valued at $200 million. Today, Microsoft’s market capitalization is about $720 billion. Once viewed as a stuffy, old-school software business, Microsoft’s efforts in areas ranging from cloud computing to augmented reality have raised its profile in the startup ecosystem.