Gary Kremen, the founder of Match.com and former owner of Sex.com, is trying to cleanse his soul, he tells me during a recent interview at a cafe in the Mission District of San Francisco. That means that four years ago, after roughly a decade of building Internet companies and delving deep into the online porn world in one of the most epic, crazy tales of the dot-com boom, he turned all of his attention to being an angel investor in early-stage greentech startups. “I wanted to do something positive for society after doing evil porn for so many years,” says Kremen.
Kremen, who tells me that if possible he likes to write a startup’s first check, has invested dozens of small rounds of hundreds of thousands of dollars into companies that are building the next generation of green technologies, like solar power and energy efficiency. His portfolio includes Clean Power Finance, which he founded and put a sizable amount of funding into; as well as home area network startup People Power (one of our Green:Net launchpad companies); home audit startup Recurve; energy software company Greenbox, which Silver Spring Networks acquired; and carbon software company Carbon Flow, among others.
What some might find surprising is that while many greentech investor heavyweights have yet to find either exits or make much money, Kremen doesn’t seem to be doing all that badly, though it’s still early days. Greenbox was sold off to the smart grid industry’s networking leader and last month Solaicx, an 8-year-old maker of silicon wafers for solar cells, was sold to MEMC (Kremen is a limited partner in Green House Capital Partners, which invested in Solaicx). Kremen described some of his investment wins as “some lucky things have happened but I’ll have some toilet paper.”
Kremen’s greentech investment funds come from his $15 million sale of Sex.com — which he turned into an adult search engine — to Escom LLC in 2006, as well as a couple of other investments. It’s not a whole lot compared to the funds of the greentech VCs on Sand Hill Road, but as Kremen puts it, is “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” If you haven’t heard the whole saga of how a porn mogul stole Sex.com from Kremen — who in the early days of the Internet registered websites like jobs.com, housing.com and sex.com — and then how Kremen won it back in court, do some serious googling.
Now after four years of concentrating solely on greentech angel investing, he’s a sage of sorts, having seen and met with pretty much every firm in Silicon Valley. He thinks the wealth from the Internet will emerge in the opposite way to greentech: “In the Internet a lot of people made money early and lost it later. I think cleantech will be the opposite. There will be a lot of people that lose money early on and make it later.” It’s those big VC funds that went in aggressively early that will probably get some of the arrows in their backs, says Kremen.
Kremen isn’t just using cleantech as a way to cleanse the soul; he’s reformed his personal life, too. He recently got married and adopted a baby, whom he shows me pictures of on his iPad at various times throughout our meeting, and — like all new dads — seems to still be slightly in shock about fatherhood. It’s somewhat of a
360 180 to Kremen’s previous life, and which San Jose Mercury writer Chris O’Brien referred to as downright serene in a recent article. But Kremen says abashedly: “I think we can actually –- I hate when people say this — but make a difference in a big way.”
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