Yesterday I aired the theory on Google Watch that by joining Benchmark Capital as a venture capitalist in training while remaining as a special advisor to Facebook, Matt Cohler would be well-positioned to help the social network spot bleeding-edge Internet startups.
While Cohler didn't cop to this idea outright, he did nothing to dissuade me of the notion in a phone interview June 19.
First, the background: Cohler, a vice president of product management at Facebook who has helped CEO Mark Zuckerberg drive Facebook's strategy, organizational growth and product direction since 2005, is joining Benchmark in September to help find hot new Web companies for General Partner Peter Fenton and the rest of the VC firm's brain-trust.
At that time, he will be double dipping, continuing to formally advise Zuckerberg and the rest of the management team as they try to contend with the mystery that has baffled even Google: socially oriented advertising.
I asked Cohler what kind of synergies would exist between his role at Benchmark and his role at Facebook. By joining Benchmark, will he be inclined to look for companies that Facebook might want to acquire as it heads into battle versus Google, MySpace and other Web platform providers?
Actually, my question was this: "It's conceivable that you're going to find some things that would be really, really attractive for Facebook. Is there something in the contracts for Benchmark or Facebook that says that if you're at Benchmark and you spot a company, you could recommend that Facebook acquire or invest in it?"
In short, he confirmed this is a possibility, but here's his full answer:
"I can't speak to the contracts per se. If you look at what Facebook has decided to do as a company, we made a decision a long time ago to be a platform and to have an environment where other entities are able to build real sustainable business with great products on top of Facebook. That's something that I know Facebook is going to continue to build out. Absolutely, I could see potential synergies between the work that I'll be doing at Benchmark and that broader platform that Facebook represents. So far Facebook has only done one acquisition and it was a small acquisition, a talent acquisition [Web platform start up ParaKey in July 2007]. We certainly wouldn't rule out doing other acquisitions in the future, but the core of what the platform strategy is about [is] saying we don't have to own or build in-house every one of the endless thousands of ways that people could use our service and system to create great applications. Let's open it up and let the world do those things."Cohler, then, is sticking to the open Web platform mantra, but you know what? Google spent years clinging to the search platform as its primary portal, and when it got successful enough, it branched out. Expect Facebook to do the same as the company continues to make money and gain resources.
After the direct question, I next tried a hypothetical situation on Cohler.
I said that I could see him being at Benchmark four or five months from now and finding what he thinks will be the next Slide, the super successful social application company that parlayed a few Facebook apps and millions of users into a $500 million valuation. He could recommend Facebook buy it and voila, Facebook has another weapon to wield versus Google in the Web platform war.
He wouldn't exactly bite: "That's an interesting idea."
As for the Facebook F8 developer event July 23, Cohler said he'll be there, adding that he is excited about what the company is launching at the event. Of course, he wouldn't comment on what that might be.
Does anyone have any ideas?