Big honor for Bobby Lent, a huge investor with a small public profile

Based on the portfolio of Hillsven, his seed venture capital firm, Bobby Lent is one of the most successful investors in Silicon Valley. Based on his publicity profile, he’s one of the least visible.

And that’s just the way he likes it.

Bobby Lent

“The way I do my business today, we work really hard at being the least known venture capital firm in the Valley,” the Hillsborough resident says. “We don’t like to promote ourselves. The reason is we have a trusted proprietary network we rely on.”

Nevertheless, Lent, 60, will step into the limelight when he accepts the Business Leadership Award, presented by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Business Leadership Council at its annual breakfast on May 14 at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco.

The award honors local Jewish business leaders who incorporate Jewish values in their personal and professional lives, and who design innovative solutions for community challenges. Past recipients have included Richard Goldman, Richard Rosenberg and John Osterweis.

Lent will receive the award at the 7:30 a.m. breakfast and sit onstage for a conversation with business journalist Peter Waldman. Randi Zucker-berg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, will deliver the keynote address.

During the conversation, Lent likely will recount his success stories, including his 1995 co-founding of Ariba, which became a leader in the field of enterprise spend management and propelled Lent to exalted status in Silicon Valley. The cloud commerce company was acquired by SAP last year for $4.3 billion.

He also will discuss Hillsven and its 10-year track record of investment in Internet, cloud, e-commerce and mobile startups in Silicon Valley and Israel. Lent says the companies his firm invested in have generated more than $1 billion in market capitalization after being sold.

Hillsven’s portfolio companies include Bleacher Report (acquired by Time Warner), Traiana (acquired by ICAP), Adify (acquired by Cox Communications), Check, Livefyre, Expensify, TouchofModern and Qlika.

Lent is also a prominent philanthropist in the Bay Area Jewish community.

Through their Levine-Lent Family Foundation, Lent and his wife, Fran, have been leaders in the Jewish day school movement, especially in the South Bay. The parents of three are major donors to Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto (which they co-founded) and to two Foster City schools, the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School and Chai Jewish Preschool of the North Peninsula.

Why the emphasis on Jewish education?

“It’s important for Jewish children to grow up in a Jewish reality,” says Lent, who is observant. “Since a fundamental basis of reality for any child is school, that is the most impactful place for Jewish children to grow up. You live by the Jewish calendar in a Jewish school. Everything revolves around Jewish time.”

In 2005, when few Bay Area Jewish schools offered Israel trips, Fran Lent persuaded the Wornick School to start one for eighth-graders.

“We provided the seed funding for a couple of years until the school could support it,” says Bobby Lent, who grew up in Burlingame and Hillsborough. “As a result, it inspired every [Jewish] school in the Bay Area into doing an Israel trip.”

One venture that didn’t meet with similar success was his Mountain View glatt kosher gourmet restaurant, the Kitchen Table, which Lent financed. It opened its doors in 2009, but closed in 2012.

Lent is glad he gave it a go, but he learned one valuable lesson: a facility like the Kitchen Table requires an on-site, full-time owner. “It’s not an absentee partner business,” he says in hindsight.

Spending several months out of the year in Israel, Lent is proud of how he has balanced career, family and Jewish interests. He spends an hour daily in Daf Yomi (Talmud study of one page per day) before plunging back into the push and pull of business.

“I’m fortunate in that I can fashion my day as I wish,” he says. “Spending time with my family, being able to travel when we want, being able to go back and forth to Israel, I feel very fortunate with these things, but they are all a part of a whole. I am a Jew first and foremost.”

Business Leadership Council Breakfast, 7:30-9:45 a.m. Wednesday, May 14, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F. $100, plus minimum donation to federation required. or (415) 369-2875


Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.