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Coursera’s chief product officer just left to become a VC

Tom Willerer, who has spent the last four years with the online education company Coursera — the last two as its chief product officer — is moving on from the outfit to become a venture capitalist.

Specifically, Willerer is joining Venrock, a venture firm founded nearly 50 years ago to build off the successful investing activities of the Rockefeller family.

Venrock, which has offices in Palo Alto, New York, and Boston has become best known as a health-care firm. That owes largely to the success of longtime partner Bryan Roberts, who co-founded and incubated publicly traded Castlight Health; and led the Series A round of publicly traded Illumina, which is now the world’s largest maker of DNA sequencing machines, among other smart moves during his 20 years with the firm.

But Venrock’s partners — and it has seven now with Willerer — also back consumer-facing companies. In fact, partner David Pakman led the Series A and B rounds for Dollar Shave Club, the men’s grooming products company that sold to Unilever last year for $1 billion. And that’s the practice that Willerer — who also logged nearly six year at Netflix, where he was vice president or product management — will be helping, once he learns the ropes.

“I’ve done a few opportunistic angel investments and advised a couple of startups,” Willerer tells us. “Some have reached out to me, and I’ve clicked with the founders.”

Without more of an investing background, however, Willerer is already soliciting advice near and far about his transition into venture capital, and he suggests the best advice he has received is to “talk with a lot of people, get as smart as I can, try to be very methodical about evaluating companies and products and markets, then relying on my partners — who’ve been doing this much longer than I have — to give good feedback on what I’m looking at doing.”

Willerer isn’t the first Coursera executive to leave the five-year-old outfit to become a venture capitalist. The company’s cofounder, Andrew Ng, who went on to spend several years as the chief scientist at Baidu, is creating his own venture firm, as we reported in August.

According to an SEC filing, Ng is looking to raise upwards of $150 million. It will target artificial intelligence-related opportunities.

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