Even some of Dick Kramlich's friends worry he's headed for trouble. The 74-year-old co-founder of the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates just raised a new fund so large that many in Silicon Valley think he'll never be able to keep up with the returns at other top firms. NEA's $2.48 billion fund is 20 times the size of the average venture fund raised last year and is the largest launched since the financial crisis. Bob Ackerman, the founder of Allegis Capital who made his first fortune with Kramlich, says NEA's task would be tough in the best of circumstances and looks near-impossible now because it's so hard for venture firms to sell their startups through initial public offerings. "Big funds need big IPOs to generate a return, and those have been in short supply for a very long time," says Ackerman.
Such skepticism is widespread as the Valley legend begins his last act. Kramlich says NEA's 13th fund will be his last as a full-time partner, capping a career in which he helped commercialize everything from balloon angioplasty to PowerPoint. When it's over, he says, he'll have the last laugh. "With me, you're dealing with a different kind of cat," he says. "I don't have an ego. I have quiet confidence."