GCube Ventures drew a lot of attention when we wrote about them last August as an investment fund that would focus on the game industry. Many observers saw it as a sign of financial maturity for the game industry, which had long struggled to gain favor among venture capitalists. And, in fact, 2008 was probably the best year in history for VC investments in game companies and virtual worlds, with at least $885 million raised. But now two of the three founding partners have left GCube and the remaining partner, Jawad Ansari, is refocusing the venture capital firm as a merchant bank.
That leaves Ansari, a former fund manager, who has rechristened the company GCube Capital, with a base in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles. Ansari said in an interview that he is working to bring aboard new people.
One of the problems was that GCube took time to close on its venture fund, and, like many others out there, saw its potential investors wither away during the financial crisis that started in October.
But Ansari said that as a merchant bank, GCube will help arrange deals and invest a small amount of money alongside larger venture and private equity investors. If GCube can do a $10 million deal, for instance, it might put $500,000 of its own money into the investment. The firm is Ansari’s fourth investment firm; the others were Skyline Ventures, Miven Venture Partners and Corporate Metrix. With the merchant bank strategy, Ansari says he can leverage his relationships with the global VC community, private equity, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, rich families and corporate and strategic investors.
It will be challenging to get going but perhaps not as challenging as it was to raise a large venture fund. Larger investors may not see the need to work through a middleman such as GCube. But Ansari said the company remains focused on being a specialty financier for game companies. The whole problem in the game industry, Ansari said, is that despite its consistent growth, it has not reaped financial rewards for entrepreneurs in the same way that other industries, such as Internet search, have done. While many industries shrank last year, the game industry grew 22 percent. And even in February, the industry grew 10 percent.
Ansari (right) said in an interview that the company will work to put together investors in international markets with game companies. Ansari said the company is interested in markets such as video games, media, education, technology, and outsourcing.
But Ansari now has to replace Akmal, who had a wealth of experience making video games as a former executive at THQ. Ansari has learned a lot about games, but he still needs to find a partner with a deeper game history, in part because games is an industry that runs on deep relationships.
GCube’s web site lists advisory board members Ed Fries, former head of Microsoft Game Studios, and Mark DeLoura, founder of Shrinking Planet, a startup focused on using games for education and communication. DeLoura was also formerly manager of developer relations at Sony’s U.S. games business.
Other advisory board members listed include Riz Khan, a journalist in Washington D.C. and Dubai with shows on CNN and Al Jazeera that are seen by 120 million households; Ashfaq Munshi, founder and chief executive of Terabitz; Raj Singh, founder of Redwood Venture Partners and founder of startups Cerent and Siara, both of which sold for huge prices to Cisco and Redback, respectively; and Rex Wong, a serial entrepreneur who founded companies such as Applied Semantics and currently CEO of Next.TV, an Internet TV broadcasting company.