When Benchmark raised $425 million for its eighth venture capital fund late last year, we reported that the Bay Area firm was in search of at least one new general partner. Today Benchmark announced that the recent recruit is Eric Vishria, co-founder of social browser RockMelt, which was acquired last summer by Yahoo (YHOO).
Vishria still plans to spend a couple more weeks with Yahoo, where he currently serves as vice president of product management. Then he will become Benchmark’s fifth partner, leading investments in early-stage companies.
What follows is an edited transcript of a conversation with Vishria and existing Benchmark partner Mitch Lasky:
Fortune: Yahoo bought RockMelt last August. Is your departure related to the upcoming anniversary, such as an agreement to stick around for at least one year?
Vishria: No, the timing ended up being coincidental. I’m so thankful to Marissa and the rest of the Yahoo team for the amazing opportunity I’ve had there. We’ve gotten all of the RockMelt technology and team integrated and launched the digital magazines. I’m really optimistic about everything at Yahoo. But the Benchmark opportunity is super unique, and as soon as it came to be I immediately told everyone at Yahoo.
How did the opportunity come about?
Vishria: After the acquisition, I think it was Peter [Fenton] who reached out and we started talking about the opportunity. Having been an operator and an entrepreneur, I hadn’t really thought about becoming a VC and really wanted to better understand it. So I spoke to as many entrepreneurs as I could about what they did and didn’t like about their investors, so I could better learn if I would want to do it and be good at it. Pretty much everyone said the same two things about what they wanted from VCs: (1) Situation-specific advice and support to realize their vision. That was pretty consistent with what I had wanted as an entrepreneur and, when you look at Benchmark, that’s exactly what they focus on. It also invests in companies at the A and B stage, not C’s — which means it’s involved at the most fun part of the cycle, where you have a real opportunity to deliver valuable advice and support.
Mitch, why were you interested in Eric?
Lasky: Our hiring is spread out and situational — our last partner hire was five years ago — so the stars really need to be aligned. There are a number of people coming up in the industry we keep our eye on, and Eric was on that short-list for quite a while. We felt his character and attitude really fit in well with the team, and admired him for his intellect and experience not only as a CEO in the consumer space, but his previous work as VP of marketing at Opsware in the enterprise space. Enterprise is an area where we felt we needed additional firepower.
Did you look at people with VC background, or just operators?
Lasky: Absolutely. We cast a very broad net. But we felt we made the best choice with Eric.
Eric, once you concluded that you might want to go into venture, did you then shop around or was Benchmark the obvious destination?
Vishria: It’s more the former than the latter. To a large extent the ‘equal partnership’ thing is inside baseball, but it really does matter. In an equal partnership, everything is aligned for everyone to help with every company. For example, Mitch is on the Snapchat board, but [Matt] Cohler has great insights that he works with the team on. So you can get the advantage of both of them, plus Fenton in open-source customer building and [Bill] Gurley’s mastery of marketplaces. To tap into all of that experience is really special.
Benchmark has maintained a traditional VC model, while many newer firms — like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz — have hired large support staffs to work on everything from portfolio company marketing to product design. What are your thoughts on that divergence?
Vishria: When I spoke to entrepreneurs about what they wanted from a VC, not a single on of them said services. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for others, but building a company is super hard. The highs are high and the lows are low. What entrepreneurs want most is to be able to tap into the partners, the decision-makers. That’s what we have here.
Lasky: We admire the other models, and Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz certainly are having success. But we just don’t believe those models would work as well for us.
Benchmark was rumored to be looking for at least one new partner. Is another hire on the horizon?
Lasky: The hiring of partners for a firm like ours is serendipitous, and at some point in the next few years we’d like to be six people.
Are you in discussions with someone else that are at the same stage as your talks with Eric a month or two ago?
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