WhatsApp investor started as journalist, later donated millions to charity

Michael Moritz, one of the founders of the legendary venture capital firm that found a $3 billion return this week by investing in WhatsApp, didn’t start out as a VC millionaire, but rather as a journalist for Time Magazine covering Silicon Valley.

The Menlo Park-based company, which was founded in 1972, was the sole investor in WhatsApp — a little-known but fast-growing mobile messaging service — that was bought by Facebook  for a cool $16 billion in cash and stock that represents the single largest purchase of a Silicon Valley-based company.

Sequoia’s $60 million investment in WhatsApp — over three rounds of funding in 2009, 2011 and 2013 — turned into a $3 billion coup that cemented Sequoia’s status as the “IT” VC firm of Silicon Valley.

But as Sequoia’s fortunes grew through investments in start-ups such as Apple and LinkedIn, Moritz wrote in a 2012 note to investors that he was scaling back his duties because of an unspecified, rare and incurable illness.

“I’ve been told that in the next five to 10 years, the quality of my life is quite likely to decline,” Moritz wrote.

While Moritz transitioned into a new role as Sequoia’s “chairman,” he and his wife, novelist Harriet Heyman, turned their sights to philanthropy.

The same year Moritz pulled back from his involvement in Sequoia, the couple donated $115 million to the University of Oxford to help low-income students. And last year they gave $30 million to help UC San Francisco Ph.D students in basic sciences.

The gift represented the largest endowment program for Ph.D. students in the history of the UC system.

Photo: Michael Moritz, a partner with Sequoia Capital, listens during the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco in 2010. (Noah Berger/Bloomberg archives)

Dan Nakaso Dan Nakaso (72 Posts)

Dan Nakaso returned home to San Jose to help tell the story of Silicon Valley and the people who keep the Valley humming.