Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman of Kleiner Perkins: “More than 80%” of pitches now involve AI

Last week, at a StrictlyVC event in San Francisco, we sat down with Mamoon Hamid and Ilya Fushman, two longtime VCs whose paths first crossed as children in Frankfurt, Germany, and who were brought in to reboot the storied venture firm Kleiner Perkins roughly six years ago.

They’ve seemingly accomplished their mission to burnish the brand. Among Kleiner’s bets in recent years: Rippling, the workforce management company founded by serial entrepreneur Parker Conrad that was valued at more than $11 billion last year; Loom, a video messaging outfit recently acquired by Atlassian for just under a billion dollars; and Figma, the design tool company that came this close to being acquired by Adobe for $20 billion – and that Fushman and Hamid argue is now happily charting a course as an independent company.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, team Kleiner is also leaning heavily into AI investments, and it’s these about which we spent the most time talking. You can find video of that chat at page bottom; meanwhile, excerpts from our conversation, edited lightly for length and clarity, follow.

The last time we sat down together in person was four years ago, at an earlier StrictlyVC event. At the time, SoftBank dominated the conversation. It has since retrenched; what do you think its impact was on the industry?

IF: We’re coming off of three to four years of just incredible amounts of capital going into venture, and that’s not just SoftBank – that’s a lot of folks who’ve had growth funds, crossover funds. And that flooding of capital has done a few things. One, it created a lot of big companies. Two, some of those companies [became] overfunded and some of them now have to rationalize what happens to them. Our contrarian approach when we were here four years ago was to go back to basics and focus on early stage [startups] primarily, where we said, ‘Hey, we’re just gonna have a venture fund and a very small team.’ We’ve always thought this is much more a boutique business than some of these larger players. 

Your firm appears bigger than when we last sat down. You now have investors and specialists and advisors from the old guard [at KP], including Bing Gordon and John Doerr.

MH: I think we might actually be smaller than we last met. I think our total headcount in the firm is in the low 50s. 

Does ‘everything AI’ change anything? Can you do more with less, or do you actually need more people chasing after all these AI researchers who keep leaving Google to start companies?

MH: It’s incredible to have this tidal wave of technology innovation. I moved to the Valley in 1987 when we were in the middle of the internet boom, and to be able to live another boom like this twice your lifetime feels like a dream. So I think there’s there’s no better time to be alive than today and to invest in startups because to your point, there is going to be a step-function change in how we all get to live and experience life, as well as how we work because the step-function change will come in the form of productivity that we will all gain through AI, and I think we’re already seeing that in the kinds of businesses that we’re backing – whether it’s like in legal or in healthcare or for software developers. AI is really supercharging the highest paid type of employees that are out there. They get to do more in less time.

Regarding all these AI engineers spinning out, are VCs actively reaching into these big companies with offers to stake them? Have you done this?

Image Credits: TechCrunch

I think that’s definitely happening but the pull factor of AI – the wow factor – has actually pulled folks out of these companies themselves. As these tools become more useful and data becomes more accessib