Longtime venture capitalist Warren Packard turns entrepreneur
Nov 29, 2012 (San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
"Venture capital," joked Warren Packard, "is sort of like the Mafia: You can never leave." But the longtime managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson is doing just that.
After more than a decade helping other people's companies get off the ground, Packard two years ago launched Thuuz, a startup that alerts sports fans when a game becomes particularly exciting, then tells them where to find the action on TV or online.
The company, which Packard likens to "Pandora for sports" for its ability to help fans discover new content, recently landed $4.2 million in its first round of outside funding.
"We started the company as a side project," he said, "and realized that we were onto something big."
The startup's name (pronounced "thooze") is a play on the word "enthusiasm," and one of the entrepreneurs whom Packard backed while at DFJ says that's a quality the Stanford grad has in spades.
"Warren is one of the more energetic and passionate people you're going to run into," Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said in an email to this newspaper. Costolo's last company, FeedBurner, was bankrolled by Packard and DFJ in 2005; two years later, Google (GOOG) bought it for a reported $100 million.
Packard, 45, admits it's riskier to go
from running a portfolio of companies to putting all your chips behind just one. And, technically, he remains a part-time venture partner at DFJ, not wanting to abandon his handful of active investments there. But he said 99 percent of his work time is devoted to Palo Alto-based Thuuz.
Time, in fact, was what sparked the idea for the company. A father of four young children, Packard no longer had the leisure to watch sports on TV.
"I didn't want to spend three hours on the couch hoping that a game would get interesting," he said.
Then he started thinking about his early career as an engineer at Hughes Aircraft, doing numerical modeling for satellite design. He wondered if the same kind of modeling could capture sports excitement.
Working with a veteran software engineer and the longtime creative director of Oakland-based Pandora, Packard devised a system that combs live play-by-play feeds from providers such as Stats. Thuuz also takes into account Twitter and Facebook messages about ongoing games, combining the chatter and statistical data to determine in real time what Packard calls "the pace and energy shift."
So if it's the bottom of the eighth inning and Pablo Sandoval is on deck for the San Francisco Giants in a close matchup, Thuuz will send you a message -- and pointers on where to view the game, whether that's a local sports bar or a streaming feed on your mobile phone.
"Content is being fragmented, spread around on different devices," Packard said. "People are used to saying, 'The Giants are on TV today,' but you might not even know you could get that game on your phone."
If the game is being broadcast behind a paywall and a Thuuz user clicks to watch it, the company gets a "bounty" from the content provider. Thuuz also makes money by partnering with makers of set-top boxes and other devices powered by GoogleTV and Dish Network, which come with the app preloaded.
Working with a range of content providers, including ESPN, and mobile carriers such as AT&T, Thuuz covers about 250 games a week from pro and college football, baseball, basketball and soccer. Tennis, golf and motor sports are on tap for next year, Packard said.
Houston-based Plunkett Research estimates that the U.S. sports industry rakes in more than $400 billion a year, including ticket sales, endorsements and advertising, sports video games and retail sporting-goods sales. And, noted Jack Plunkett, the market research firm's CEO, the growing demand for sports content is changing the industry.
"The value of sports content continues to climb dramatically," he said.
Indeed, San Francisco sports-fan site Bleacher Report sold to Turner Broadcasting in August for a reported $175 million after garnering more than 10 million visitors a month.
Thuuz, for now, can only dream about such numbers: Packard said the free app has been downloaded about 350,000 times since its December debut.
The recent cash infusion, from international cable giant Liberty Global, will let Thuuz add "hundreds of leagues in coming years," Packard said.
David Adams, a Thuuz user and adviser who works for an interactive TV company, said other startups like Zeebox, GetGlue, Miso and SocialGuide are competing in the "social TV" space, aiming to give viewers recommendations on what to watch. The difference, he said, is that Thuuz does a better job making sure each recommendation matches a user's preferences and profile.
Adams remembers getting a ping from the service a few months back when the Giants' Matt Cain was in the midst of throwing a perfect game. After a mad dash to a local bar, "I got to watch from the sixth inning on," Adams said, "as opposed to hearing about it the next day."
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638. Follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.
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