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Spark Ventures CEO talks Qrious, Digilife and smart data

Sathya Mithra Ashok | Sept. 16, 2014
Rod Snodgrass discusses the focus areas of the NZ unit within the larger group, and its semi-independent nature that allows the division to function like an incubator within a telco giant.

Q: What is the people strength at Spark Ventures and what are your hiring plans?
RS: In total, across the ventures portfolio, depending on what day it and how many contractors are in, between a 120 and 150 people. That includes Skinny, which is 40 to 60 of the total strength. We have a core little group in the middle. We are sort of called the hub. We do strategy setting, we do early market validation and we look at things like doing the business case, standing up the business, et cetera. That's around 15 people. And then there are a bunch of businesses of varying sizes. Bigpipe has got less than 10, Lightbox less than 15. It is very much a hub and spoke model and it dials up and down a little bit depending on where we are on the development cycle.

We are always looking for talent, particularly in the areas that we know we are going to need more resources. You look for in areas such as user experience (UX), interaction design, data science, media -- some of it is based on the industries that we are moving into. We are very focused on what we call UX. We have just hired a head of design out of HP, from offshore to help drive that. Having very good customer experience is central to all of our stuff.

Just about everyone from the Lightbox team is from the media industry, not from telco. We are building a new media capability there.

We are always on the lookout for certain talent and skills that we need. We are more of a human centred business than a technology one. We don't own the network. We are more about the IT and Internet and content type layers, so people talent is quite a critical component of our mix.

Our portfolio of ventures are working on an iterated model. They are all quite independent but not fully so. We do have a platform enablement team who do a lot of the build for some of the ventures. They do a lot of shared customer care on a shared customer experience platform, particularly across Lightbox and Bigpipe at the moment. We are using the same resources and people platform for that. We are trying to use the same design methodologies and principles, so there is a shared layer.

Q: Can you explain the internal processes that you follow to build or kill ideas?
RS: The process for finding new ideas is both top down and bottom up. We have a rough idea on the areas that we are interested in. We are in a mobile and Internet world now. We look at what is happening around that such as video, data, local, social and what are the key trends in areas that are logical for us to work in. Data tends to be involved in almost all of those. We have got a broad idea of the areas that we think are interesting and are quite adjacent and natural for us, and we do things in those areas.


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