Friday, February 10, 2012
Mike Jones On Science Inc.'s First Firms
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
In November, Michael Jones, the former CEO of MySpace, announced his plans for Science Inc. (www.science-inc.com), a new “technology studio” aimed at building new businesses in Los Angeles. This week, the firm launched two companies--EventUp (www.eventup.com) and MeUndies (www.meundies.com)--the first companies to come out of the group. We spoke with Michael about those companies he is launching as part of Science, and how they came about.
Can you talk about the companies you launched this week?
Michael Jones: There are two companies we launched this week. One is EventUp, which we are launching with someone I've worked with for a really long time, which fits into the concept of a marketplace like Airbnb. The idea, is how do we facilitate marketplaces which take under-monetized inventory and fragmented markets, and consolidate them? We realized that one problem with event venues, is that each city has a wedding website, but no one can actually determine pricing and availability of those venues. That requires a phone call. It turns out that there are lots of very high end real estate and real estate companies that would love to rent out very high end properties for events. So, we've built out a marketplace and are onboarding major venues. We've started getting incredible pickup. For example, if you know the show Entourage, we've got Vinny Chase's house, to post and beam modern castles in the Hollywood Hills.What's amazing, is you rent Vinny Chase's Spanish mansion for only $2000 to $3000 a day for an event. Knowing what it costs to run special events for parties and weddings, that's an incredible price. We're really excited about it, and have a big marketplace now of 350 to 400 venues. We're also enabling live booking, which will allow you to book and pay on the site for venues. There's just been an incredible amount of pick up, from venues at both the high and low end.
Is this the startup you're doing with Tony Adam?
Michael Jones: We've been working with Tony forever, and believe in Tony. He came to us with the concept. We got excited about it, so we offered to bring it in as part of the group. We're happy to be building the company in partnership with him. We're lucky to get him, and he's an incredible young entrepreneur.
How about MeUndies?
Michael Jones: That's a little different structure, as it was a group that was already up and running. We actually reached out to them, because we were fascinated with the e-commerce space. They were a group of really great young guys out of Beverly Hills, who understand how to build a brand, and figured out how to do it very quickly, and manufacture for a very low price. They are basically taking something which had been a very boring, very expensive, high end garment and made it at a very reasonable price. They love branding, and have built a brand with provides an aspirational lifestyle through their products. We were able to bring them in through a straight investment, and they're now working in our offices, and frankly really getting good growth after we engaged with them.
What was the most important factor in deciding to work with these two companies in particular?
Michael Jones: I think it's multi-fold. On one axis, we look for sectors we are interested in. One of those sectors are marketplaces, the other is content and e-commerce. We like those sectors. We are looking for a specific model, where there is enough margin and repeat business, and repeating user value to work. WE also spend a lot of time with the entrepreneur, to figure out if they have what it takes to build a successful business, if they can build technical team, if they are receptive for feedback. We want to know if we can teach them best practices they might now know to build their services. So, from this process, we found we like these guys, and like the economics of their business.
So what's the next step with your portfolio companies?
Michael Jones: I think with EventUp specifically, which we funded internally, we'll be raising external capital in the near future. There is already lots of attraction from Silicon Valley VCs, and we also love LA capital, so we are doing some time doing that. Next, we'll have a multi-city roll-out. Right now, it's a LA-based service only. In MeUndies, we're scaling the service. There are some partnerships, and celebrity partnership which mike make the service more compelling. At this point, they have a product, and released a women's line, and are scaling their customer base.
You're in the position to see a lot of startups in Los Angeles, and to pick out the best for Science. But, as you know, there seem to be a huge number of new accelerators and incubators in Los Angeles right now. Are there enough startups to go around?
Michael Jones: We choose who we want to engage with fairly specifically. For us, it's not a quantity game. There are very few companies who we'll want to partner with, and we're working with them in the office every day. For Los Angeles, I'm hopeful there is enough entrepreneurship in Los Angeles, and it does feel like enough, but incubators are different in that they're rotating companies through a set of advisors, and put very little money into those companies. We're more about partnering and co-founding companies, and staying with them day to day, and scaling with them. For us, it's not a numbers game, it's about tripling down on the companies in our portfolio, and really making them a success.
I'm sure you're tired of questions about it, but how much are you watching the Facebook IPO?
Michael Jones: I think it's amazing. I'm a huge fan of them. I wrote this article talking about a social operating system, and the more I think about it and the ramification of that on companies like EventUP and MeUndies, the more I see how completely it changes marketing and the scaling of businesses. I'm a huge fan, and absolutely a buyer of the stock. There is so much long term potential. They've built a great team around them, and are focused on a long term outcome. There are not lots of startups who can do that, so it's an exciting time.
Finally, back to Science—you mention that there are a few sectors you are specifically interested in, what are the others?
Michael Jones: We love social e-commerce, and we love marketplaces. We love harnessing the power of influencers networks, and companies working with influencers. We want to leverage the deep and large volume of socially mined data. We're working on other things in those two other sectors, influencers and social data, but we're also open to looking at things that might catch our fancy.