Three Partners Leave Venture Firm Social Capital Amid Strategy Changes

June 19, 2018, 2:30 PM UTC
Key Speakers At The 21st Annual Sohn Investment Conference
Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and chief executive officer of Social Capital LP, speaks during the 21st annual Sohn Investment Conference in New York on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Bloomberg/Getty Images

What’s going on at venture firm Social Capital is less of a shake-up and more of an upheaval.

We first learned that Arjun Sethi, a partner at the firm, would depart. And then Axios reported growth equity chief Tony Bates and vice chairman Marc Mezvinsky were also leaving.

It’s unclear what Bates and Mezvinsky will do next, but sources tell me that Sethi will raise a new early-stage fund with a likely focus on cryptocurrency and blockchain investments. This wouldn’t be all that surprising given Sethi’s track record of investing in crypto-focused companies such as SafeChain, {Set} Protocol, and SFOX.

The moves mark a time of high-profile turnover at the firm.

Social Capital co-founder Mamoon Hamid abruptly departed last August to join Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The company’s third co-founder Ted Maidenberg won’t be making new investments or participating in any future funds, although he’s currently still supporting the portfolio.

Following the departures, the firm has three venture funds (one of which is active), a $150 million Opportunity Fund, a hedge fund, and it’s held a first close on its $1 billion growth equity fund it’s still raising.

Sources close to the situation tell me that the firm will set out to raise another venture fund later this year. But the plans for the large growth fund have changed. Social Capital will course correct and use the funds to make follow-on investments in existing portfolio companies. The capital will be deployed by its venture team.

For years, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya has been hyper-focused on a data-driven investment approach and has continued to reiterate his vision—operational experience coupled with a heavy focus on data. (I have written extensively on the subject.) But as Social Capital veers toward an even more data-driven approach, sources tell Term Sheet that some people aren’t on board with the direction the firm is taking.

In a June 11 Medium post titled, “Only the Paranoid Survive,” Palihapitiya outlines that it needs to invest “more than ever” in engineering, product, data science and portfolio operations. He adds, “Over the next few months, you will see us accelerate some of these new efforts and push them to the forefront. This change may be hard but necessary.”

He was likely alluding to the avalanche of departures that were to come. In yet another Medium post published yesterday, he said the firm will be returning to its “core”—a renewed focus on its venture capital funds.

“Friends and mentors told me blindly scaling our asset base would distract me. Focus on technology, they said, and stick to what makes you unique vs what makes you the same. I initially thought they were wrong.

And so we embarked on trying to do both: build great products and scale assets across multiple new funds, all at the same time. It’s this last factor that is hard. Ironically, we tell our entrepreneurs all the time to do one thing really well, but found ourselves not following our own advice.”

He mentioned the change in strategy for the growth fund and added that the firm will not be raising a credit fund either.

Half-joking, one source told me that they wouldn’t be surprised if the operation turns into Palihapitiya’s family office. It’s not a wild idea given that 1) he has the money, 2) he’d be empowered to relentlessly pursue his data-driven approach without LPs, and 3) well, everyone keeps leaving.

As Palihapitiya told Term Sheet in November, his investment philosophy for early-stage is “Don’t miss,” while his strategy for later-stage investments changes to, “Don’t be wrong.”

“We can’t rely on a PowerPoint presentation or Excel spreadsheet when writing a $50 million to $100 million check,” he said at the time. “It’s just not enough. You need to use data science and machine learning to get the ground truth of what’s happening inside of a company.”

This “ground truth” principle is the foundation of Social Capital—rely on the data. Because unlike humans, data has no bias, no emotion, no gut feelings. Yet this approach begs the question: What happens when all the humans leave?

This article originally ran in Term Sheet, Fortune’s newsletter about deals and dealmakers. Sign up here.