Don Valentine, a venture capitalist who founded Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that helped cement the area’s rise as a technology hub, died on Friday in Woodside, Calif. He was 87.
Mr. Valentine died of natural causes, a spokeswoman for Sequoia Capital said.
Mr. Valentine’s career spanned four decades and included roles at the chip maker Fairchild Semiconductor, regarded as Silicon Valley’s original start-up, and National Semiconductor, which was spun out of Fairchild. In 1959, when he joined a silicon company, “the word ‘Silicon Valley’ hadn’t been created yet,” he said in an interview at a technology conference in 2013.
In 1972, Mr. Valentine established Sequoia Capital, and it soon became one of Silicon Valley’s most successful and enduring firms. Sequoia backed companies including Oracle, Microchip Technology, Linear Technology and Network Appliance. Several tech giants, including Electronic Arts and Sierra Semiconductor, were created in Sequoia’s offices.
Mr. Valentine invested in Atari in 1975, and three years later, he wrote a $150,000 check for Apple Computer. He also invested in Cisco Systems and was the networking equipment company’s chairman for three decades.
Venture capital is often called a “people business,” and many top firms have stumbled as they tried to pass the reins from one generation to another. But Sequoia survived that transition when Mr. Valentine handed control to Michael Moritz and Doug Leone in the mid-1990s. He continued to attend partner meetings for the next decade.
“Don’s life is woven into the fabric of Silicon Valley,” Mr. Leone, global managing partner of Sequoia, said in a statement. “He shaped Sequoia and left his imprint not just on those of us who had the privilege to work with him or the many philanthropic institutions that invested with Sequoia, but also on the founders and leaders of some of the most significant technology companies of the later part of the twentieth century.”
In a tribute to Mr. Valentine posted to Sequoia’s website, the firm noted his quirks. He “favored green ink, never drank coffee, listened carefully” and “understood the virtues of silence,” the firm said. Mr. Valentine also evaluated start-ups by their ability to answer the question “Who cares?”
On Twitter, Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia who has been positioned to lead the firm’s next generation, wrote to Mr. Valentine, “You were a legend and an inspiration.”
In 2011, Mr. Valentine appeared alongside other early figures of the venture capital industry in “Something Ventured,” a documentary about the early days of Silicon Valley. In it, he poked fun at himself with comments such as, “No one has ever accused me of underestimating … myself.”
The firm’s directors, Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, said Mr. Valentine had an “uproarious and droll sense of humor” and “disarming honesty.”
In the 2013 conference interview, Mr. Valentine explained one element of his success. “The key to making great investments is to assume that the past is wrong, and to do something that’s not part of the past, to do something entirely differently,” he said.
Mr. Valentine is survived by his wife, Rachel; three children, Christian, Mark and Hilary; and seven grandchildren, according to Sequoia’s post.
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