Meeker’s smart call on Amazon: VC chops?

November 30, 2010, 11:52 PM UTC

by Patricia Sellers

Many people are asking: Will Internet analyst Mary Meeker be savvy enough at spotting brand-new businesses to succeed as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley?

Quitting Morgan Stanley , where she’s worked for 19 years, to become a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is a major career switch. “Will I be good at this?” is one of several questions she asked herself, Meeker, 51, told me yesterday.

The question is fair for anyone to ask since Meeker’s mojo — and stature as one of Fortune‘s Smartest People in Tech — lies mainly in spotting mega-trends (her 424-page report on the mobile Internet was on every techie’s reading list a year ago) and analyzing companies just before they go public and after the stock is trading.

As I said yesterday in my Postcard on Meeker’s move, Morgan Stanley CFO Ruth Porat claims that Meeker is so good at “seeing around corners” that she’ll thrive in her new West-coast gig. Porat recalls that in the late ’90s when she was an investment banker working with Meeker to finance startups such as AOL and eBay , Morgan Stanley couldn’t work with on its IPO because Barnes & Noble was a client. Meeker’s prediction at the time: Amazon’s stock-market value would exceed Barnes & Noble’s sometime soon after the IPO.

This was the spring of 1997, one year after Meeker had garnered fame by publishing the first of her analytical tomes on the future of the Internet. But as she contended that Amazon would revolutionize customer relationship-building as well as book-selling, most people thought her prognostication was nuts. How could a tiny Internet retailer possibly supplant a national bookstore giant.

It happened, by measure of market cap, in just over a year. Amazon’s stock-market value surpassed B&N’s on June 9, 1998. Both companies were worth about $2.4 billion then.

And today? Amazon is worth $78.8 billion. Barnes & Noble: $829 million.

P.S. This evening, I’ll be interviewing Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz at a Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in Silicon Valley. What should I ask Bartz? Please suggest questions. Click here if you’d like to watch the Bartz interview live on Tuesday at 8 p.m. PST.

Related stories:

Talking Mary Meeker and tech investing with Kleiner Perkins’ Ted Schlein

Why Morgan Stanley’s Meeker is moving to Silicon Valley