Benchmark Capital

Benchmark Capital gets minimalist

November 6, 2012: 12:22 PM ET

Benchmark Capital breaks away from the VC herd.

FORTUNE -- When I read yesterday that sandwich chain Potbelly's was considering an IPO, I went to the Benchmark Capital website to see if the VC firm still listed Potbelly's as a portfolio company (the original investment was more than a decade ago, and Benchmark isn't exactly known for food services).

But Benchmark's website no longer lists its portfolio companies. In fact, it no longer lists much of anything beyond an office address and Twitter handle. Not even a phone number or partner names/bios. So minimalist that it makes the sparse Andreessen Horowitz website look like an encyclopedia.

Here is the explanation from Benchmark partner Matt Cohler, via Quora:

"Benchmark is a small, focused partnership which has always functioned like a guild of artisan craftspeople rather than like a corporation. We believe this is the best model for supporting the entrepreneurs and startups we back. We updated the Benchmark logo and website to better reflect these core beliefs and values. The entrepreneurs and startups we back are important players in their fields and our focus is on having their stories heard. If you're looking for information about those entrepreneurs and startups you can always find it on our Twitter timeline and our Twitter lists, on Facebook, on Wikipedia, and on Quora."

I mentioned Benchmark's new strategy in this morning's Term Sheet email, and that I wasn't yet sure what I thought about it. That prompted the following reader email:

Whats not to like about them? They get great deal flow, make their investors out-sized returns, make seasoned professional decisions, are a name that most private firms would covet in the cap table… in short they don't have to promote their skills, their results do it for them.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that I don't "like" Benchmark. I'm simply trying to reconcile its website reduction with a broader industry trend in which firms have argued that increased transparency helps entrepreneurs better understand if their company fits the firm's strategy and expertise. Not only in terms of investment focus (e.g., "we concentrate on early-stage consumer IT companies"), but also how specific partners think about issues (i.e., links to partner blogs). Plus basic partner biographical info that would let an entrepreneur know what companies individual partners have backed, plus what they did before becoming venture capitalists.

To be sure, Cohler is correct that enterprising entrepreneurs can find most of that information elsewhere on the Web. And perhaps there is value in preemptively weeding out those who don't bother to make such an effort. But the flip side is that Benchmark also could be opening up the firehose of startup pitches, since it no longer makes clear the types of companies it doesn't support. Or, even worse, Benchmark could cause certain entrepreneurs to favor other firms that make their lives mildly easier.

Or perhaps I'm reading way too much into a redesigned website. Interested in your thoughts... Oh, and in the meantime, Potbelly is "liked" on Benchmark's Facebook page.

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