We moved to San Francisco seven months ago. It’s a wonderful city – beautiful vistas, incredible light, happy people and smart people all looking to change the world. Every other person on the street is either starting a company or investing in one. For a newcomer, the concentration of ideas and entrepreneurs in the 30-mile radius that is Silicon Valley is thrilling – a virtual petri dish of possibility.
Precisely because Silicon Valley is such a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, it attracts extraordinary people willing to invest extraordinary sums. In the past 12 months, the Valley’s top firms have raised funds of over $500 million, the largest being Andreessen Horowitz’ fund III at $1.2 billion. In 2011 alone, Internet-specific companies received a total of $6.9 billion spread across 997 VC deals, an increase of 68 percent in dollars and 24 percent in number of deals from the previous year.
Not only is the startup world competitive for startups themselves, but also venture capitalists now have a lot of competition as each firm vies with the others to deploy each dollar in the best, most promising companies and ideas. Where does Comcast Ventures fit into the mix? What are our goals and how do our dollars differ from the others?
I joined Comcast in 1991 at a time when we had just over 1 million subscribers. We were not a new company, but one with most of its growth still ahead. Today we have over 25 million cable subscribers, 17 million high-speed Internet customers and 1 million small- to medium-sized business Internet subscribers. In January 2011, we purchased 51% of NBCUniversal with its broadcast reach in to over 110 million households and its studio and theme parks. Of the 102,000 employees who work at Comcast and NBCUniversal, the vast majority spend each day delivering the premium products and services at the core of our company.
Then there are the 20 of us at Comcast Ventures. Our job is different. We are looking for what comes next. We want to deploy our assets, our experience and our platform on behalf of startups. Even as our colleagues run the company on a daily basis, we hope to harness the company in support of new businesses to grow value.
I’ve been at this for seven months and the more I do it the more excited I become by the potential of our approach and our platform. It’s a rare company that we can’t help in some way. We are a media and entertainment company, so startups exploring digital media, second screen experiences, over-the-top video and bandwidth expansion are natural fits. But, we are also much more: a large enterprise seeking innovative healthcare solutions for our employee base, the largest buyer and seller of advertising in the U.S., and a huge customer of database services. We own a pipe that is capable of delivering the bandwidth that makes home entertainment possible. But beyond that, many of our subscribers are looking to technology to improve all aspects of their lives, not just their entertainment.
If as Marc Andreessen claims, software is eating the world, then we are nicely positioned to support that revolution.