Barry Schuler could be the first venture capitalist to win an Oscar—sort of. The former AOL chief, now a managing director with Draper Fisher Jurvetson, co-produced and co-financed “Look,” which is getting Oscar buzz. The movie is shot entirely from the perspective of surveillance cameras. “The point of the movie is to show you that there is no privacy in your life anymore,” Schuler says. “It’s not just cameras in hotels and traffic lights. You are a walking surveillance camera with your cell phone.”
Why would a VC make a movie? “I see a disruptive opportunity in this space,” he says. “The traditional model of making and distributing studio films is broken.” Schuler knows a thing or two about the industry: He started his career in advertising and directed TV commercials for products such as Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup.
Shuler says “Look” was done as a proof of concept to see if a high-quality movie could be shot in a 100% digital format and produced on a “micro budget.” He wouldn’t disclose the production cost, other than to say it was “way less than an indy picture.”
Just because it was cheap to make, the quality of the movie didn’t suffer. Schuler screened it at a recent meeting for DFJ limited partners and the response was very positive, he says. The movie also won the Grand Jury Prize at CineVegas, and movie industry magazine Fade In put it on its Oscar Watch list, nominating writer/director Adam Rifkin both for “Best Director” and for Best Original Screenplay.”
Interested? “Look” opens on Dec. 14 in New York and Los Angeles, then goes into wider release in 2008.
MDV has big hopes for Junior
, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, jokingly says it took a couple of days to pick dust out of her teeth from being outdoors in the Southern California desert for several days last month. But it was worth it.
Mahoney and MDV Partner Sven Strohband were on hand in Victorville, Calif., for the DARPA Urban Challenge, a series of robotic races sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which seeks to spur the development of unmanned military vehicles.
MDV is an advisor to the Stanford Racing Team from Stanford University, whose robotic car, named Junior, came in second, behind the vehicle from Carnegie Mellon University. More than half of the 11 cars in the race completed a 60-mile course in a city-like environment, navigating through traffic with no human help, relying instead on their own electronic eyes and brains.
Mahoney says she was on hand to see the first-ever robotic traffic jam when several racers approached the same intersection at the same time, and none of the vehicles moved.
The DARPA challenge isn’t just for fun. MDV hopes commercial applications arise from the software developed for Junior.
TheFunded founder unmasks himself
The point of the movie is to show you that there is no privacy in your life anymore.
revealed himself last month to be “Ted,” the once-anonymous entrepreneur who launched TheFunded.com, a controversial site in which entrepreneurs anonymously vote and comment on venture capital firms.
Ressi started TheFunded this year while he was still on board Game Trust, a New York-based company that helps manage online video game tournaments. The company was bought by RealNetworks this fall, for an undisclosed price, but not before it raised about $16 million from investors, such as Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, and firms such as Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Intel Capital, Silicon Alley Venture Partners, TopSpin Partners and CSJ Venture Capital.
Ressi told Wired magazine that he was motivated to launch TheFunded after Softbank Capital offered him a term sheet for a $10 million Series B, but the funding never came through.
On a scale of 1 to 5, TheFunded had Softbank ranked last month at 3.1, based on 6 votes. The top-ranked firm, with a score of 4.4, based on 12 votes was Kepha Partners, a one-man shop with GP Jo Tango.
Tim Draper said he was just as surprised as everyone else when Ressi revealed that he was “Ted.” Draper, whose firm had a rank of 3.2 rank based on 20 votes, also said that the site potentially offered valuable feedback to VCs. But he added that the site and its rankings would be more relevant when the sample size grows.
Draper joked that the site’s rankings would be more accurate if it removed “the venture capitalists’ votes out of the sample.”
Fountain of youth
Asked whether he believes it will be experienced entrepreneurs or 20-something prodigies who will kick-start the next generation of leading-edge companies, Sequoia Capital’s Michael Moritz replied: “Mozart was dead at 35.”
Addressed to a largely pre-gray-hair audience at a Web 2.0 conference last month in San Francisco, Moritz’s statement didn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with Sequoia’s investment history. A youth-oriented bias is evident in the firm’s most famous success stories: Google, Yahoo and YouTube, which were all founded by 20-something entrepreneurs.
But just how young is up for debate. Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson stirred up some controversy this year when he wrote on his blog that his investment portfolio indicated the ideal age for an entrepreneur to be somewhere in the 30s. Of Union Square’s 11 entrepreneurs, Wilson counted nine in their 30s, one in his 20s and one in his 50s. “That says to me that prime time entrepreneurship is the 30s,” he concluded.