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Senior executive Matt Cohler leaves Facebook

June 19, 2008 | 11:19 am

Departing Facebook exec Matt Cohler Matt Cohler, a senior Facebook executive and one of the early employees of the social networking phenom, is leaving to become a general partner with Benchmark Capital.

Cohler has distinguished himself in recent years as consigliere to two of Silicon Valley's top entrepreneurs: Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and LinkedIn founder and chairman Reid Hoffman.

Cohler, 31, will join the Silicon Valley venture capital firm in the fall. He plans to remain a special adviser to Zuckerberg and other senior managers at Facebook. Cohler, who served as vice president of product management, joined the Palo Alto company in early 2005 as one of the first five employees.

He's widely known as Zuckerberg's right-hand man. He also has been credited with helping drive Facebook’s strategy, organizational growth and product direction.

This is a move bound to provoke all kinds of speculation. But our sources tell us that new Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and others tried to keep Cohler.

Cohler says he began discussing his aspirations to become a venture capitalist with Zuckerberg before he joined Facebook. He said he credits his experiences at LinkedIn and Facebook with helping learn "on the job."

"During my short career, I have tried to work with great entrepreneurs to build companies that will last," he said.

A few weeks ago when Benchmark Capital partner Peter Fenton approached him about joining the venture firm, Cohler said ...

... it was an offer he could not refuse.  "There is never a perfect time," Cohler said, but added that Facebook had a "great management team" and was "really well set up to move forward."

The company has not yet figured out how it will replace him, Cohler said.

"Mark and I are really, really close. I feel as close to him as I do to my family. I think he's an amazing guy and the real deal," Cohler said. "That's a lot of why I wanted to stay involved as an adviser."

"Matt is a valuable member of our team and one of our earliest executives," Zuckerberg said in a statement. "He has been an important contributor to Facebook’s growth and success, and we are pleased he will continue working in a formal role as a special adviser to me and the Facebook management team."

Hoffman says Cohler has the instincts, experience and network to be a successful venture capitalist.

"Matt's plan all along was wanting to be a great VC," Hoffman said. "Matt has done the exact right approach: Pick up a lot of specific operating experience learning how to scale a company and how to confront the problems you get as an early-stage start-up and convert that into being an investor and collaborator. I think he did the exact right thing. He's someone I would work with."

Before LinkedIn and Facebook, Cohler was a consultant in the Silicon Valley office of McKinsey and worked in Beijing at telecom company AsiaInfo Holdings.

At Benchmark, Cohler will identify Internet investment opportunities, which is a good thing because, he said, "I don't know a whole lot about semiconductors."

Cohler is the latest high-profile departure from Facebook, which in March hired Sandberg from Google, where she had been instrumental in developing the Internet giant's fast-growing online advertising business. In February, early executive Owen Van Natta left Facebook. He was followed in May by Chief Technology Officer Adam D'Angelo, who has known Zuckerberg since high school.

When Sandberg joined Facebook, Zuckerberg put Cohler in charge of all product operations.

"Matt has an incredible network, a real passion for start-ups, and he's a great guy," Benchmark general partner Kevin Harvey said.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo by Jakub Mosur / For the Times

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