Why Hollywood heavyweight Jeffrey Katzenberg jumped to tech

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It may not seem intuitive for someone like Jeffrey Katzenberg […]

It may not seem intuitive for someone like Jeffrey Katzenberg — whose storied entertainment resume includes co-founding DreamWorks after a decade-long tenure as chairman of Disney (DIS) — to leap into the life of a Silicon Valley VC. But, if you ask him, there’s absolutely a throughline: Katzenberg has always loved ambitious dreamers and big ideas.

“I’m attracted to entrepreneurs,” he told Yahoo Finance. “I’ve been one my whole life and though my ventures have mostly been in the entertainment business, the qualities of those people — dreamers who have ideas, passion, ambition, commitment, drive — it’s there. They have similar characteristics. They’re similar people, and I’m drawn to them.”

In 2017, Katzenberg co-founded VC firm WndrCo with Silicon Valley veteran Sujay Jaswa, who was Dropbox’s (DBX) first-ever chief financial officer. As Dropbox’s CFO, Jaswa was deeply involved in building the company’s valuation from $18 million to $10 billion. He’d joined Dropbox from time as a VC at New Enterprise Associates, where he’d invested in Cloudflare (NET) and Workday (WDAY).

“In terms of hyper-growth, there are so many different things that are being thrown at you, so you can always get distracted,” said Jaswa. “So, my view is that there are really just two things that matter. One is building great products for customers, and two is hiring amazing people. If you do those two things, and you get everything else wrong, you’re going to be just fine.”

To be sure, Katzenberg’s tech ventures haven’t all been successes so far. Famously, Katzenberg’s much-hyped media startup Quibi dissolved in December 2020, less than a year after its official launch. The company, which produced content in 10-minute episodes, originally raised $1.75 billion from investors, but ultimately sold its content library to Roku (ROKU) for under $100 million.

However, in the years that have followed, Katzenberg and WndrCo have bounced back, finding new mojo by focusing on areas in tech that have been growing in importance, particularly as the pandemic has re-made our world. For instance, one of the firm’s key investments is in Aura, a digital safety startup founded by entrepreneur Hari Ravichandran in 2017.

“From a consumer standpoint, [Aura] had such a clear vision of bringing together the very best features and functions that would actually give somebody a really robust, full menu of security around their personal devices,” said Katzenberg. “I thought, wow, I need that and I think all of us need that.”

SUN VALLEY, IDAHO - JULY 07: Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg speaks to the media at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 07, 2021 in Sun Valley, Idaho. After a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, and technology worlds will converge at the Sun Valley Resort for the exclusive weeklong conference.  (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

SUN VALLEY, IDAHO – JULY 07: Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg speaks to the media at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 07, 2021 in Sun Valley, Idaho. After a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, and technology worlds will converge at the Sun Valley Resort for the exclusive weeklong conference. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

WndrCo’s deals and strategy

The firm’s recent investments have been diverse, ranging from internet infrastructure provider Meter to Web3-focused Tally Labs. However, as they look at deals these days, WndrCo is primarily focused on the future of work and cybersecurity, the pair told Yahoo Finance.

“Those are really the two lanes in which probably 80% of our interests, our investments, and our efforts are being made,” said Katzenberg.

A headshot of WndrCo co-founder Sujay Jaswa, provided by the firm.

A headshot of WndrCo co-founder Sujay Jaswa, provided by the firm.

The investments that WndrCo makes fall into a few different categories; the firm has a seed-specific fund, and also invests in growth-stage startups that have already pinned down a “product-market fit,” according to Jaswa. There’s also a category that Katzenberg and Jaswa call “build investments.”

“This is where we’re really rolling up our sleeves, and we’re sort of behaving like the founders behind the founders,” said Jaswa. “In many cases, we’ll dive in operationally if the founder wants us to, or we’ll do a bunch of other things. Honestly, those are the most rewarding in a sense.”

Allie Garfinkle is a senior tech reporter at Yahoo Finance. Find her on twitter @agarfinks.

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