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Barely two months after slowly exiting Myspace as its last CEO under News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS), Mike Jones is debuting his new company, Science Inc., which is, in parts, a hybrid venture capital firm, technology studio and consultancy. And in some important ways, Jones tells paidContent, the Los Angeles-based venture, which has raised $10 million from investors including Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures, News Corp. digital media head Jonathan Miller, is none of those things.
Other investors in Science Inc. include Rustic Canyon, White Star Capital, The Social+Capital Partnership, Jean-Marie Messier, Philippe Camus and Dennis Phelps.
Jones’ goals in terms of the kinds of companies he wants to invest in and build are pretty simple: geographically, he primarily wants to begin Science Inc.’s focus around Los Angeles, as he sees the city’s tech company’s largely ignored by the VC crowd compared to places like Silicon Valley or New York. Secondly, the company will provide emerging startups with operational advice and capital, and third, transform later-stage internet businesses with new talent and ideas.
In essence, it sounds like the kind of relationship Myspace might have liked to have had with News Corp., which sold the entertainment-based social network to online ad tech firm Specific Media for roughly $40 million in June. As News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch confessed to shareholders at the company’s annual meeting, after paying $850 million for Myspace in 2005, “We then proceeded to mismanage it in every possible way.”
While Jones has already given his post-mortem on Myspace’s experience under News Corp., saying it was a “mistake” to keep the MySpace brand after it was repositioned as a social entertainment hub in October last year, he is quick to note that his creation of Science Inc. has other influences beyond the things he learned at his last job.
“Coming out of Myspace, I could have stepped into an established tech company or another distressed asset, but I decided what I really wanted was to work early stage investing,” Jones told paidContent. “It takes a long time to raise money and figuring out the basics when you’re a startup. And if you’re somewhat established, but having difficulty moving forward, it can be a significant distraction. At News Corp., I was really struck with how the film division was set up. There’s an infrastructure that takes care of financing, distribution, the marketing and the ways of tracking audiences. The film studio takes care of all the basics and allows the creative arm to focus on the product. That’s the model that tech companies need.”
In terms of the kinds of businesses Science Inc. is planning to back, Jones said not to read too much into the company’s name. “Science” talks to the process, rather than the type of company Jones wants to work with. For example, there’s the the science of leveraging the social graph, he said, which will underlie the approach the company will take toward investing and advising companies within its fold.
In terms of the sectors Science Inc. is looking towards, Jones and his four-person staff are looking toward the same areas that pretty much all VCs are interested in these days: the e-commerce and daily deals space, as well as anything involving mobile. Science Inc. is already working with a few companies, Jones said, but he declined to discuss what sort of businesses they are or reveal the names of the brands.
But Jones is clear in how Science Inc. is different from VC or PE firms. “Science is unlike a venture group, because we’re going to be very hands on with the companies we take a stake in, we’ll be part of the day-to-day business,” Jones said. “And it’s different from operating in the way a consultancy does, because we’re not taking fees. We’re going to be both a backer and a partner at a much deeper level than those other two models allow.”