Still The Benchmark To Bet On?

It may have been the best six months any investment firm ever had. On June 27, 1997, a little-known venture-capital firm called Benchmark Capital invested $5 million in eBay Inc., a fledgling Internet auction site. Through the rest of 1997, Benchmark took stakes in six other startups, including software insurgent Ariba and online grocer Webvan Group. By last year, when many of Benchmark's companies started going public, the tech world stood amazed at the firm's Midas touch. Benchmark's eBay stake, for example, ended up worth $4.2 billion. Overall, the upstart firm turned its first $85 million investment fund into about $7.8 billion--a jaw-dropping ninety-twofold increase. "The very best funds in the business do 20 [times] or so," says James W. Breyer, a partner at rival Accel Partners. "Anything over 10 is extraordinary."

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