FORTUNE -- Sequoia Capital partner Doug Leone made waves over the weekend, by saying at an MIT conference that “big is the enemy of great” when it comes to venture capital firms. So I rang up Leone, to get a better understanding of what he meant.
For starters, Leone explained that he was only referring to the investment side of things. In other words, he wasn’t knocking firms that create large portfolio services or firm services platforms (good thing, since I hear Sequoia is in the midst of recruiting a chief marketing officer).
He added that Sequoia limits its number of investment decision-makers to between five and eight, which allows it to work quickly without sacrificing a variety of experiences. Moreover, the firm’s various groups – China early-stage, U.S. early-stage, growth equity, etc. – each make decisions independently of one another (even though sometimes there is some overlap).
Leone also cleared something up about Sequoia Capital 2010, a fund that had more than $1.3 billion in commitments (according to a regulatory filing). He says it actually is three separate, independent funds: A U.S. early-stage fund with around $400 million in commitments, plus a China venture capital fund and a China growth equity fund.
Finally, I asked Leone about the following MIT comment, which raised a bunch of Silicon Valley eyebrows:
“We have co-opted seed funds. You know, Y Combinator, that was completely our money. We have secret handshakes with a whole bunch of people. Very dangerous, because word gets out that so-and-so’s money is Sequoia’s money, that would not be a good thing.”
Leone insists to me that he only was referring to Sequoia’s well-known Scouts program, and that there are “no seed investors with masks on that have Sequoia behind them.” He says the financial partnership with YC was known, kind of like its current investment in Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund. In other words, Sequoia isn’t secretly backing any known seed funds.
It is worth noting, however, that many Sequoia partners have personal stakes in seed funds via Heritage – which is Sequoia’s in-house wealth/investment management group. Word is that Heritage has directed money to the Kaszek Ventures seed fund in Latin America, Kae Capital in India and ZhenFund in China.
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