Big Loss: Matt Cohler Leaves Facebook

Today, Facebook announced Matt Cohler was leaving the company to become a general partner at Benchmark Capital. A long-time Facebook exec who was part of Mark Zuckerberg’s brain trust, Cohler was vice president of product management, and his presence will be sorely missed.

Jim Breyer, an investor and director at Facebook, has told me several times that he thinks the world of Cohler. “Cohler is a rock star,” Breyer told me several months ago. “He is one to watch.”

Kara Swisher reports that Cohler was not pushed out, and I have to believe that is true. That Cohler will remain a “special advisor” to Zuckerberg and the company’s management after he leaves is pretty good proof that this is an amicable separation. Cohler, a really smart, cool and nice guy, was very popular at Facebook, and always seemed to know his role as Mark’s consigliere and didn’t step over those bounds (unlike some other execs). When I asked him a few months ago what advice he gives Zuck, Cohler wisely replied: “I ask him questions and that elicits things.” A guy with a golden touch, Cohler will be a great asset at Benchmark, helping them suss out Internet investments.

Cohler joined Facebook in the summer of 2005 at Peter Thiel’s request. Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did with Matt from June 2007 when he spoke about how he joined Facebook. It shows you the tightness of the Silicon Valley network. He was an exec at LinkedIn at the time but felt that Facebook was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that could not be passed up.

“In August 2004, Mark came in to meet with Peter Thiel, Reid’s old boss, to raise some angel money to keep the company expanding quickly,” Matt told me. “Reid and I were in Peter’s office an hour before. Peter said sit in and listen to this Mark Zuckerberg guy. I sat in on the conversation. Right away I was floored by what I was hearing. The quantitative data that Mark was getting, about the user uptake. I started tracking the company. Peter invested in September of 2004 and became a director. A few months later, Peter asked me to join Facebook. I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I officially joined in spring of 2005. There were 5/6 employees.”

One key question now is this: Who will take over product management when Matt leaves in the fall? Product management is still arguably the most important job at Facebook. It will be interesting to see if Mark Zuckerberg takes it over, or if he appoints someone else from inside the company. It’s hard to see Facebook bringing in an outsider to take over product development at this point, given its importance and the uniqueness of the company’s culture.

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