Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew has a knack for finding innovative consumer tech before rival venture capitalists — he was the first to discover and invest in Snapchat, after all.
But now Liew is part of a new project to try and get an edge in the VC game: Apple’s new show that debuted this week, “Planet of the Apps.”
You can think of “Planet of the Apps” as a “Shark Tank” for app developers. App makers get help from celebrity mentors like Jessica Alba and Will.i.am, and then pitch Liew and his colleagues, hoping they will invest.
The show runs every Tuesday exclusively on Apple Music.
‘A ton of reservations’
While a chance to work with Apple on its first big foray into TV — and raise the public profile of Lightspeed Venture Partners at the same time — might seem like a no-brainer, Liew told Business Insider his firm wasn’t immediately sold on the idea.
Lightspeed was the first investor in Jessica Alba’s startup The Honest Company, which sells natural and eco-friendly household products, and it was Alba who first approached Liew about being on the show.
“It wasn’t on our list of things to do for 2017,” Liew said. And at first, Liew had a “ton of reservations,” he admitted.
“What if you make us look terrible,” he said, recounting his questions at the time. “Are we going to be the bad guys?” Lightspeed also had to commit to investing $US10 million in various companies over the course of the show. What if they didn’t find companies they liked?
But the concept grew on Liew, who realised that it would help him with his investing strategy. Liew, unlike some of his partners, invests in consumer tech. And on the consumer tech side of the business, finding the next big thing is often not about some specific technical expertise, but rather unique insights into consumer behaviour, he said. Those types of insights often happen outside of Silicon Valley rather than inside, in places like Chattanooga or Fayetteville, Liew continued. The VC industry in general has always been great at tapping into that talent, and it’s sometimes hard for Liew to find those founders.
“In that context, you can’t know [the up-and-coming founders] already, they have to know you,” he said. “Brand is important.” Liew’s hope is that if people have seen him on “Planet of the Apps,” Lightspeed will be on the short list of people they reach out to. It’s not necessarily about the founders on the show (though a few will get investments from Lightspeed), but the ones who are watching at.
The risk, however, is that the show will make Lightspeed look silly. The early reviewers have not been kind to “Planet of the Apps,” with Variety slamming the show as a “bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of ‘Shark Tank.'” My colleague Avery Hartmans called it an “unintentionally comical train wreck.” Ouch. (Though she was more favourable to Liew himself.)
But Liew said he’s not sweating the critics. “My future is not going to be in entertainment,” he said. He’s a VC. What Liew wants is for viewers to think he’s asking the right questions to the founders. And most of the criticism has centered on the celebrity mentors, not the VCs.
In the end, Liew will take a few punches from critics if it means an increased public profile for Lightspeed. Finding the next Snapchat might depend on it.