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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.

At the same time there are a lot of people who come to us and say, "We have got this idea". We generally look at it and say, "Does it fit on our map, do we think it is a business that could be worth tens of millions, not just millions?" We are a bit too big for those businesses. We are looking for ones that may not be billions of dollars but at least tens of millions.

App La Carte was an interesting one. It would maybe not pass some of our filters on size. But it has a portfolio effect, considering that we own a mobile data network and we sell mobile phones. Applications are a logical bundling and extension of that, which is we bought into App La Carte, and we believe we can extend their business through our channel.

We look at it quite simply -- does it fit on our map, is it the right size and most importantly are we a natural owner? What we mean by that is, are we a better owner and supporter of the business than somebody else? What do we bring to it? We are not a venture company. So can we bring help with network experience? Or can we scale it through our distribution channels? Or can we put that product with one of our products and create a better outcome for a customer? We do have a structured process but I wouldn't say it is tightly structured. It has got enough flex in it to introduce new opportunities.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges so far and what lies ahead?
RS: One of our major challenges to date is not doing too much. The reality is that we have spun off about eight or nine ventures and they are not fully independent. So you do end up finding some choke points, not so much in funding but in certain people capabilities, or certain platforms that multiple ventures rely on. So we have had some stuff around just managing the portfolio and across different constraints, mainly in capability.

Challenges looking forward are being very clear about where a venture is in its life phase and what it means to be in that. Few of our older ones have come out of that early phase and are now in execution, driving customer and market outcomes.

It is also about giving the CEO and the board confidence that we are not just out there spending a lot of money creating things, but that we are driving real outcomes and creating a path for long-term wealth.

Probably one of the biggest challenges for us is to stay true to our model and find the talent we need as we move into different life phases -- particularly around businesses like Qrious that require quite a different skill set to what not just Spark but even its fringe units require. There is not exactly a big pool of data scientists lying around that we can easily grab onto.


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