Leonard Brody has been called a “controversial torchbearer for the new world order.” He is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, best-selling author and a two-time Emmy nominated media visionary. Most recently the President of the Digital Group at the Anschutz Companies, he has been a part of backing hundreds of new startups raising hundreds of millions in financing, been through one of the largest internet IPOs in history and has been involved in the building, financing and/or sale of four companies to date. The Australian newspaper recently talked to Leonard about his career and his new partnership with Forbes called “The Great Rewrite”:
What do you look for in an entrepreneur? A typical investor answers that question the exact same way — they say they’re looking for drive and experience, the usual bullshit. What I look for most are two things: is this person a domain expert — do they know this sector inside and out; and have they mapped the kind of business they’re trying to build to their life goals. By that I mean, have they asked themselves: do I want to be on an aeroplane all the time, do I want to have kids, how much money do I really need and want to make in my life?
Why is that so important? The failure rate in start-ups is 80-90 per cent, and I would argue a significant chunk of that is because entrepreneurs focus on the idea of the business rather than mapping it to their personal lives. If you look at immigrant businesses — and I’m sure this is the same in Australia — and you map the failure rate in immigrant-based start-ups it would be much lower. I think one of the reasons for that is because if you ask a recent immigrant entrepreneur why they’re doing it they would say it’s for one of two reasons: I want to educate my children and I want to put a roof over their head. When the shit hits the fan those are two very grounding life objectives that keep you in the business.
Do you invest in a start-up because of the idea or because of the person behind it? One hundred per cent I invest in the person. If you’re investing in a pre-Series A round it’s got to be the person because you’ve got a 60-70 per cent chance that the business they pitch to you isn’t going to be the business you’re going to be involved in three years later. The business will pivot very clearly in that time, so you’ve got to invest in the individual. If you’re investing in a C or D round it’s probably a bit more about the company.
It must be exciting to see a company pivot so quickly from where it started off.Let’s just say I had a lot more hair five years ago.
Do you thrive on the excitement of watching a company evolve like that? No, I don’t. I actually hate it, to be perfectly honest. I don’t really enjoy it. I invest a lot but I’m much more interested in being the entrepreneur, in building companies myself.
Why do you invest then? I invest for two reasons. The first is because I want to give back to the community and I want to make sure that I’m putting into the start-up ecosystem and not just taking from it. The second is hopefully they’ll be good investments. But I actually don’t enjoy it; 95 per cent of the meetings I take I have to say no to people and I would much rather be the person being said no to than the one saying it.
You sold your company, NowPublic, to global conglomerate Anschutz and then became the president of its digital and innovation group. How did you find the transition from start-up to corporate giant? It was a difficult transition for sure, but they were very good in recognising my skill set. They let me do what I was good at and didn’t really put a tonne of restrictions on me.
Did it make you realise that the corporate world wasn’t where you wanted to be? I didn’t want to be in a classic corporate position, but while there I got a deeper understanding of how large companies are struggling to stay relevant or pick a world view. Once you help them define that world view you can help them build around it in a parallel environment to the mothership.
How did you come to co-own Coventry City Football Club? I played soccer a lot when I was a kid and everything about the game fascinated me. Then I worked at a sports agency business where we represented football players around the world and I met the owners of Coventry City and ended up becoming a shareholder.
Didn’t you have a pretty controversial idea that fans could text in substitution suggestions during live matches? I had a conversation with a reporter who took that quote out of context. I was saying that football clubs are going to have to be smarter about revenue. I said one of the things I could foresee was clubs handing over in-game decisions to fans. My “text a sub” idea was that fans would pay to vote for one substitution in the game and the manager would have to do what the fans voted for. I still think ideas like that will become important. The way the game is run today is just not sustainable.
What tech trends are you watching? I’m really interested in advanced technology and artificial intelligence. As we get better at AI, brand new markets will get created and you’ll have an entirely new wave of wealth generation. Between robotics, AI and machine learning you’re going to see this trifecta where the workforce is going to change dramatically over the next decade.
Where is the media industry headed? Media businesses have to get more transactional. If I have a travel section in my newspaper I should own a series of online travel businesses and use the news and content as lead-generation for those businesses. That will be a huge turning point for the sector.
What’s next for you? I have a partnership with Forbes magazine in the US and we’re launching a series on where the world is headed. I also have a large co-building partnership with a major Hollywood company, and I’m also starting a company that will be a rewrite of the hotel business. At Wired for Wonder I’ll be talking a lot about what I call “The Great Rewrite”.
What is “The Great Rewrite”? In 2008 there was a perfect storm of events that put us in this position where we kind of outgrew innovation. Innovation as a concept just wasn’t really relevant any more, and there were much bigger things going on that didn’t have to do with just technology or business models. We basically put ourselves in this position where we are rewriting the planet from the ground up. We are living through what will, over the next three to five years, be the largest period of mass institutional change in the history of humanity. From education to religion to government we’re rewriting the planetary operating system.