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November 22, 2004

Should Warren Buffet worry about Ram Shriram?

Ram Shriram of Sherpalo Ventures, an early investor in Google, is free to become a billionaire anytime - ie, anytime GOOG trades above $190. As of last Tuesday (November 16, 2004) the lock-in period on his shares - and that of other early investors in Google - expired.

Here is an extract from SiliconBeat (a blog created by two writers at San Jose Mercury News and seemingly, huge fans of Shriram), which "calculates" that Shriram's Google investment was "the best, if not the best, investment in a company ever":

Shriram is keeping the exact amount he invested into Google a secret. However, the angel round in 1998 of slightly less than $1 million consisted of four main investors, of which Shriram was one. When you factor in that a few other individuals, family and friends may have invested some money, we'll assume Shriram invested between $100,000 and $200,000 give or take.

Given that his return is near $1 billion (see math below), he's made between 5,000 and 10,000 times his money back. That's got to be a record, right? True, much of Shriram's investment profits from Google are still on paper. But Google insiders, including Shriram will be allowed to sell some more of their shares tomorrow, after a three-month lock-up period expires.

Here's the math. Shriram owned 2.2 percent of Google's shares, and first sold a portion at the IPO, raking in $22.6 million. He still holds an additional 5,058,427 shares, which at today's price of $185 (at least at the time of this writing) translates into an additional $935.8 million. That's a total of $958.4 million.

Ok. Enough talk about numbers. Who exactly is this guy, Shriram?

Here is an extract about his background from the profile (finally!) revamped Sherpalo web site:

Immediately prior to founding Sherpalo, Ram served as an officer of Amazon.com working for Jeff Bezos, founder & CEO. Ram came to Amazon.com in August, 1998, when Amazon acquired Junglee, an online comparison shopping firm of which Ram was president. While at Amazon, Ram helped grow the customer base during its early high growth phase in 1998/1999. Before Junglee and Amazon, Ram was a member of the Netscape executive team, joining them in 1994, before they shipped products or posted revenue. He drove the many partnerships and channels that Netscape employed to get massive distribution for its browser and server products during those now legendary early days of the Internet.


To me, the most notable - and fascinating - feature about Shriram's investments is the way he has kept his faith in consumer Internet companies right through the "Internet bust".

Check out his list of investments here. Will his other investments fare any where as well as Google? I don't think so. But, who cares. Even if Sabeer Bhatia (of Hotmail fame) never ever creates another successful start-up in his life, he will continue to remain a great entrepreneur. Similarly, Sherapalo - the only company that Shriram has actually *founded* - is already a great model angel fund.

PS: Talking about Sherpalo's founding, I had to Google (!) to locate the fund's co-founder, Randy Korba. He's now working with Buyer Leverage, an e-commerce technology company. Kind of sad that the Sherpalo web site does not mention Korba at all these days. Wonder why. Maybe it's good meat for yet another Shriram-related story for SiliconBeat?