By Adam Lashinsky

(FORTUNE Magazine) – THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF APPROACHESto the venture capital game. Some investors study one area so deeply they become experts. Others simply back the best entrepreneurs. A third type invests only in companies that aim for giant markets. Then there's the Tim Draper method, which is a bit like using a machine gun to shoot a fleeing duck: Fire enough bullets at the darn thing, and something will hit the target.

Because of his scattershot approach, it has long been fashionable with a certain crowd on Sand Hill Road, the VC power corridor in Menlo Park, Calif., to dismiss Draper as something of a hack. Back in 2001--when it was popular to mock the silly dot-com investments of venture capitalists--Draper was even singled out as one of Silicon Valley's "dumbest" VCs by the magazine eCompany Now (owned, like FORTUNE, by Time Warner). But nobody's laughing at him today. At the moment, Draper, 47, is the hottest venture capitalist on the planet.

Most of his peers would kill for even one investment in their careers as successful as his two coups this year alone. The hottest IPO of the summer was that of Chinese search engine Baidu, the shares of which soared 354% in their first day of trading. Draper's firm, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, invested $14 million in Baidu, a stake that is worth more than $500 million today. eBay's $2.6 billion deal to buy Skype gave Draper his second big hit of 2005. Together, Draper's Skype investments and that of his father produced returns of more than $250 million from a stake similar in size to what he invested in Baidu.

One advantage of Draper's flood-the-zone mentality is that it is virtually impossible for a promising opportunity to fly below his radar. The firm now has a network of affiliated funds in 28 cities around the world. All told, its 75 partners are managing $3.4 billion and currently are invested in about 500 companies. While Draper sits on only about five boards, he has a piece of every deal. "Tim is a bread-on-the-water kind of investor," says VC Bob Kagle of Benchmark Capital, a Draper admirer and eBay director. "He has the perspective that there's a lot of luck involved in venture capital."

He is certainly not afraid to act impetuously. Pankaj Shah, CEO of mobile-phone search company 4INFO, recently pitched his company to Draper's firm but was rejected. Days later, on a flight home from Los Angeles, Shah sat near Draper, who agreed on the spot to overturn the partnership's decision. "He thinks superfast," says Shah. "By the time most people come up with an answer, Tim's already five questions ahead."

Most firms wouldn't allow a partner to invest individually ahead of the partnership, which Draper effectively did with his father's early investment in Skype. But Draper, of course, is not any old VC. "My dad's investment company is its own entity," he says in a phone interview (using a plain-vanilla telephone rather than Skype) before embarking on a late- September trip to Shanghai, Singapore, Dubai, Greece, and four cities in India. "Our partnership was aware of this all the way along."

As consumed as he is with investing, Draper has broader ambitions. In 2000 he spent $26 million of his family's money on a quixotic California ballot initiative supporting school vouchers. Voters soundly defeated the measure. But he hasn't lost his taste for politics. And Silicon Valley insiders say he wants to run for governor. Perhaps as the successor to AH-nold? Draper won't comment. And he refuses to be pinned down by political labels, despite his obvious libertarian streak. "I consider myself to be a freedom fighter," he says. "I like the idea that the government does not intrude in my life in any way, shape, or form."

That's a curious perspective from a well-born VC who got his start in the business not from his accomplished father (a Reagan appointee in the 1980s) but rather with a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. "I was able to borrow $6 million to get started," says Draper. "After three years it looked as if it was not going to work. Then in 1990 we had a series of about five IPOs. It went from near disaster to the best-performing fund of its ilk. Now there's a picture of me in the lobby of the SBA." With all the money he's made, maybe he'll build a venture-capital hall of fame and hang his picture there too. -- Adam Lashinsky