They come. They work. They vest. Then they move on to startup investing. That’s long been the plotline for tech executives. These days, the story is replaying often at the Mountain View, Calif.-based campus of Google.
Chris Sacca, head of special initiatives at Google, is among the latest to depart the Googleplex to become an investor. Sacca, previously a corporate attorney, has led alternative access projects at Google and has overseen the company’s wireless initiatives, including the company’s inclusion in the federal government auction of wireless spectrum in the 700 Mhz frequency band to be held in late January.
Sacca’s no newcomer to early stage investing. He previously backed founders of Twitter, which allows for blogging from anywhere, and Auctomatic, a tool for tracking eBay sales. He also bought a stake in photo-sharing provider Photobucket, recently acquired by MySpace. The next step, Sacca told me, is to raise a dedicated fund for investing in Web and wireless startups.
Q: Why are you leaving Google to pursue early stage investing?
A: I have been looking forward to getting back to working with small teams in a variety of sectors rather than specializing in just one area. Investing from my fund will allow me to work with a diverse group of entrepreneurs across multiple business areas. The timing of this move is the result of having been here for over four years and being ready to get back to being an entrepreneur. The grand plan is a little more formal than traditional angel investing. I am raising a fund that will invest in early stage ventures focused on the consumer Web, mobile and wireless equipment spaces with an eye toward small and ambitious engineering teams.
Q: Wireless carriers have griped about applications like Google Maps and Slingbox sucking up bandwidth. For startups, is there a way to benefit from higher wireless data consumption?
A: While I do think the constrained capacity of wireless networks creates opportunity for interesting infrastructure startups, I think most of the tension has come from carriers who have seen revenue growth plateau from existing applications. Carriers are starting to see that the next phase of growth for them will result from actually encouraging customers to consume more bandwidth and to sign up for larger and larger data plans.
Q: Wireless carriers, such as Verizon and AT&T, are talking about opening their networks. What does this mean for startup investors?
A: The impending openness creates huge opportunity. Although I was hopeful about getting them to open their networks, I must admit that even I didn’t expect Verizon and AT&T to be competing with each other for the title of most open. The result will be that small teams can build apps that users want and get them directly into the hands of consumers without having to suffer through months of costly deal negotiations with carriers.
Q: What kinds of new phones and features do you see coming out of the Open Handset Alliance and the Android software development kit?
A: I am excited about it, but I don’t want to answer for those guys. I will only say that I have played with Android devices and they are amazingly cool. I am sure the developer community is only going to make them cooler.
Q: What’ll you most miss about leaving Google?
A: Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin manage Google as a 100-year company. They encourage those of us who lead teams to make decisions at a scale and with an outlook that conventional public companies just can’t digest in an environment where business is managed quarter by quarter. The resulting culture is one which allows Googlers to ignore short-term distractions and instead focus on achieving sweeping long-term change.
Beyond that, I am addicted to the amazing food we get at Google. Every day, hundreds of chefs cook fresh, local, organic produce into the most tantalizing assortment of free breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack foods. It is hard to imagine where I will find nourishment when I leave.