MENLO PARK -- Sequoia Capital made a fortune through early investments in startups that went on to became global icons. Think Apple, Cisco, Google, Yahoo, PayPal and LinkedIn.

But on Wednesday, the legendary venture capital firm hit a $3 billion jackpot.

Sequoia's $60 million investment in a little-known but fast-growing mobile messaging service paid off big-time when Facebook announced it bought the company, WhatsApp, for $16 billion in cash and stock. That represents the single largest purchase of a Silicon Valley-based company.

For Sequoia, the Facebook acquisition represented "a massive win," said Anad Sanwal, CEO and co-founder of CB Insights, a venture capital database. "They're just really good at what they do. They're really, really good."

Sequoia Capital invested in WhatsApp in 2009 and continued as the sole investor through two more rounds of funding in 2011 and 2013.

Sequoia's investment gave it a stake in WhatsApp that could be somewhere around 14 percent and possibly higher, said Justin Byers, director of business intelligence for VC Experts, who reviewed WhatsApp's regulatory filings.

In an email to this newspaper, Byers called Sequoia's $3 billion payday "a nice return."

It's increasingly rare for one venture capital firm to be the sole investor in a fast-rising Silicon Valley startup, Sanwal said.

"They're one of the few VC firms that can see around corners," he said.

In addition to its legendary status as an early investor in startups that became global icons, 41-year-old Sequoia Capital, based out of Menlo Park, also has invested in Nimbula, a Menlo Park-based cloud computing company founded by two former Amazon.com executives; Jive Software, of Palo Alto, which connects businesses such as Intel and Nike to customers through social networking; Inkling, of San Francisco, which provides college textbooks for mobile devices; SunRun, a San Francisco solar company; Evernote, of Mountain View, which creates software that allows people to save notes, websites and other information online then access them through mobile devices; and Hearsay Social, of San Francisco, which lets corporations interact with consumers via social media.

Sequoia partner Jim Goetz declined to comment Thursday.

Staff writer Peter Delevett contributed to this report. Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.