Reviewers have not been kind to Apple’s first TV offering, “Planet of the Apps.” Variety had a particularly entertaining, if biting, take, with writer Maureen Ryan likening the show to “something that was developed at a cocktail party, and not given much more rigorous thought or attention after the pitcher of mojitos was drained.”
Earlier today, we talked with one of the show’s “stars,” Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners, about those reviews, along with how many startups he found through the filming and where he’s shopping now. Liew said he doesn’t mind the critics’ opinions but worries founders could miss a solid opportunity to learn from the pitch meetings aired in the latter half of each episode. “I don’t think there are many opportunities like this for people to understand how the process of pitching a VC works in real life.”
The next episode airs tomorrow. More from our conversation, edited for length, follows.
TC: Lightspeed reportedly had to commit $10 million across various companies as part of this show. How many investments did you make?
JL: We made about a dozen investments altogether across the 10 episodes. We committed to making our best effort to fund interesting companies, but we were also clear that we weren’t going to drop our standards. Because of the nature of the show, we made more seed- and pre-seed stage investments than is typically the case for the firm [but in solid teams].
TC: How many pitches did you sit through for the filming of the show, and did you feel like they were vetted well enough?
JL: We probably sat through 35 to 40. They were very well vetted. Thousands of people applied originally; the founders who met with us had made it through a number of levels [including talking with show mentors Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Will.i.Am, and Gary Vaynerchuk, as well as participating in six-week incubator] before we talked with them.
There’s a pretty big investment that gets made tomorrow night. We made a few investments that would qualify as Series A size checks.
TC: You were holding one-hour long meetings with these companies — not listening to the escalator ride pitches that are a feature of the show. Do you believe in elevator — or escalator, in this case — pitches?
JL: Absolutely. Investors, journalists — we get pitched a million times a day. If someone is inarticulate or unable to capture in 30 seconds why we should pay attention to them, they either don’t have [an interesting story], they don’t understand what’s special about their business, or they don’t have that charismatic, visionary feel that you often need to change the world. People do need a good elevator pitch. You have to give someone a good reason to spend an hour talking with you.
TC: When people participate in a show, they’re often surprised by the final product. Do you feel like the editors did you justice?
JL: I do think I come across the way I actually am and that the nature of the conversations we had with the entrepreneurs was very well-preserved. For people who want to understand how VCs make investments, it’s an excellent window onto how the process works in real life. To some extent, the [filmmakers] could have chosen all the clever things or dumb things or nice things we said, but I think they captured the essence of the conversations pretty accurately. Anyone wanting to know what a real pitch process is like could do a lot worse then watch them to see what works, what doesn’t, the kinds of questions you get, how people can answer those questions well and answer them badly. I don’t think there’s another resource quite like it.
TC: Outside of the show, where are you shopping right now?
JL: E-commerce and m-commerce continue to be the gift that keeps on giving as more people buy things online. My most recent investment, for example, was Rothy’s, an e-commerce startup that makes fashionable women’s flats. [Editor’s note: The Times wrote up the company in its Style section last week. Its shoes are made from recycled plastic water bottles.]
The special twist is the shoes are made through a 3-D knitting machine that enables them to use different colors and styles and enjoy a great deal of flexibility. They’re also known for being super comfortable to wear.
TC: You’ve also been a bitcoin bull for several years. Are you still actively backing bitcoin and blockchain technology companies?
JL: We have four investment right now: Ripple [the real-time payment system], Blockchain [the bitcoin wallet company]; [the Chinese bitcoin exchange] BTTC, and LedgerX [a company that’s right now awaiting final approval from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for its bitcoin options trading service].
We may have more to report in that space in a little while. But as everybody is seeing, the industry has been heating up over the last 12 to 18 months after a bit of a slow start. You’re seeing much broader adoption taking place right now across industries, across geographies, and across use cases.
TC: What do you make of internet coin offerings, or ICOs, and should VCs be nervous about them as an alternative means for startups to raise money?
JL: I think it’s a super exciting space. Whenever you have people pushing the envelope, you’ll see some success and failure, and we’re paying a lot of attention.
TC: Have you taken part in an ICO, just to better understand firsthand how the process works?
JL: I haven’t. But the more important question is what happens to those tokens after the product launches and whether a liquid market develops beyond speculation. As those markets and tokens develop, we’ll see what those opportunities look like.
TC: You led an investment for Lightspeed in Snap, which is now down 30 percent from its IPO price. Did you sell at the IPO? Are you concerned about its prospects?
JL: Snap asked some of the early holders to sell a little bit at the IPO to provide additional liquidity at the float, and we complied with that request, as did all the other early investors.
TC: Think the stock is misunderstood?
JL: I’d never bet against Evan Spiegel and his product sense. He has a once-in-a-generation type mind for product. I think he has a lot of interesting stuff up his sleeve, too, that we’ll start to see over the coming quarters.
TC: As we speak, you’re in a car en route to the airport. You’ve traveled a lot in recent years, saying Silicon Valley is an echo chamber and you can get a better feel for consumer trends elsewhere. Is that still the case?
JL: I’m still traveling a lot, yes. I made 45 trips last year, and I’m on track to do the same this year.
Part of why we participated in “Planet of the Apps” is because we’re seeing more entrepreneurs starting outside of the Bay Area and wanted a better mechanism to reach those people. I’m on my way to Luxembourg right now. I’ve been to Belgrade, Tennessee, Arkansas, the University of Chicago.
Infrastructure entrepreneurship is still largely concentrated in the Bay Area, but consumer entrepreneurship is so distributed; if you want to see great founders, you need to be willing to get on a plane.