Monday, November 21, 2011
Interview with Mike Jones, Science Inc.
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
The Los Angeles area has seen a surge in the last month in companies and organizations looking to bolster entrepreneurial activity and startups in Southern California. Joining that surge last week in startup activity was Science, Inc. (www.science-inc.com), headed by Mike Jones, the former CEO of Myspace. Science is looking to incubate its own set of companies, make investments, and otherwise work to create the next successful startups. We sat down with Mike to better understand Science and what it's trying to do.
What is Science?
Mike Jones: Coming out of Myspace, I looked at both operational roles and joining a venture fund. I wanted to go back to both, with an operation and investment focus. I had been doing a lot of angel investing, and I kind of felt a lot of the time of angels was wasted, because companies were spending so much time raising money and basic operations. There was not enough time for the CEO and team to spend on the business, because they were limited by all of this other stuff and dealing with setting up their company. I thought it would be interesting to raise a tranche of money, to have a platform where we could incubate our own concepts, work with the best entrepreneurs around, and build new businesses. So, I went out to the community, and we were able to raise $10 million, or around there, for Science. It really has three core structures to how this works. One, is we'll come up wit our own ideas, and work with really early stage entrepreneurs in-house. Essentially, they will be EIRs, Entrepreneurs In Residence, working with our concepts daily, and putting our sweat into those businesses. It's different from making an investment, and it's also different from an incubator, in that it's a long term relationship. We're committed to build them as a core business. We'll do only a few every year. The second kind of structure kind of structure we are putting together, is we'll also do strategic advisory and early stage investments in companies. If we find a company or group we like, we'll make and investment, and provide strategic advisory, lending our time and labor to that business. The third component, is we'll be looking at later stage assets ripe for innovation. They may be venture backed, but next some next generation business models applied, or they might be a corporate spinout. We're really focused on those three things, and doing it here in Los Angeles, here in Santa Monica on Second Street.
You just left MySpace--when did you decide to start Science?
Mike Jones: I have liked the structure of how like Betaworks and Idealab. I got done with my time at MySpace in September, looked around, and formalized the capital in October. We were up and running in November. It came together pretty quickly, and investors were really receptive to it, and we were able to narrow down our initial companies.
How many companies do you think you'll be working on each year?
Mike Jones: It's really hard to say, but it will be a small portfolio of companies, and we'll be spending a lot of time focusing on each of them. It's nothing akin to the early stage programs you typically look at. It will be a small number, less than twenty. We'll be spending lots of personal time on those businesses, working with the founders, and creating a great outcome for the business.
You're very familiar with the accelerators emerging here in Los Angeles--how would you compare what you're doing to them?
Mike Jones: We like the accelerators, because they are identifying early stage teams, who can work with us from an investment perspective or an internal studio perspective. We're very supportive of the accelerators, and will be very active with the accelerators. They're unlike us, in that we're not program or class based, and we're not going to be pumping out companies every three months. We'll be handcrafting our companies, and investing strategic capital.
Are there any specific kinds of companies you'll be targeting?
Mike Jones: We are looking for companies from the social angle, because we understand that really well. We'll also be looking at the content and commerce space, the interaction between content and commerce. There will also be lots of mobile products. Those are the three general themes, but we're also looking at the broader range of things.
You have a pretty unique perspective, having both created a startup here (Userplane) and run arguably one of the largest technologies companies to emerge here. What will it take to establish a true, anchor technology firm here in Los Angeles?
Mike Jones: The bigger the companies we're able to build in LA, the bigger they'll get. As there are more and more successful, strong startups, we'll see better and bigger companies come out of the ecosystem. I think, as you have companies reaching one billion in value, there is a network of entrepreneurs who come out of that, and start creating their own companies with larger and larger value. There's a natural growth curve as you build successful companies which create a tent pole for the industry. I think it's a unique time, because I can think of multiple companies with the potential to become billion dollar businesses, in interesting spaces. They're pioneering interesting forms of commerce and business models. I love what is happening in Los Angeles.
Finally, what do you want to see come out of your efforts in the next year?
Mike Jones: I hope that there will be a few, great businesses coming out of Science, which will get the support of the LA community and investor base. I'm excited to grow companies quickly, and show how we can build really great companies out of this platform. I'm focused right now on finding the very talented individuals, the next generation and wave of entrepreneurs. I've very excited about it.
Thanks, and good luck!