If someone invested a quarter of a billion dollars in my entrepreneurial vision, the world would have many more ice cream parlors, unicorn zoos, and planes with furry seats and disco balls. Alas, no one has chosen to do this. Yet.
Cox Enterprises, however, is investing $250 million in one man, placing a massive bet on his ability to create successful companies. The media conglomerate has entered into an exclusive partnership with serial entrepreneur Tripp Rackley to back any startups that Rackley wants to found.
Rackley is a well-known figure within the Atlanta technology community. He successfully started and sold two companies to Intuit and Qualcomm, and he claims to have created more than $1 billion in shareholder value and more than 500 jobs in Georgia. He joined the Cox Enterprises board a few years ago, providing expertise, working with partners, and investing in other companies.
During a phone interview, Rackley said how this unorthodox agreement came about. He was and Cox chairman Jim Kennedy were having a casual conversation about the various ways to grow the startup scene in Atlanta. They discussed venture firm and incubator programs, but both felt that these structures are limited in their scope. Ultimately, they came around to the idea of creating a fund centered around Rackley.
“This is a completely new model,” he said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of investors and venture capitalists, and everyone says the same thing- ‘whatever you do next, I want to invest in.’ That’s the game, but I’ve never had someone who wup with a quarter billion dollar check and say we really mean it.”
Rather than build businesses one at a time, the $250 million is at Rackley’s disposal. He is first and foremost an ideas man who will come up with the foundation for a company and use this money to run with it. He plans to explore a number of sectors, including mobile, payments, security, and media and bring in people he trusts to manage the day-to-day operations.
“My role in this is highly on the innovation and creative side,” he said. “I am exceptionally methodical in my thinking, but my thinking is quick. Everyday I wake up and something changes, you have to be able to move quickly. To have this much capital and a single investor across a variety of companies gives you an immense amount of flexibility and focus in that relationship.”
Experience is the partnership’s first investment. The premise is simple. You are at a sporting event and spot an array of irritatingly empty seats far below. Experience is a mobile app that gives fans the opportunity to upgrade. Once inside the venue, they open the app, indicate the number of people, and choose from available seats. Users pay for the upgrade within the app, receive a digital ticket, and can cruise on down to their new spot.
The fund is separate entity from Cox Enterprises and its subsidiaries. Cox Enterprises is a large cable operator in the U.S. that also holds automotive services, and radio and TV stations. It generates revenues of nearly $15 billion and has more than 50,000 employees. It allocates a significant amount of resources to developing new technology, and research and development, but the fact remains that a large organization can’t move as fast as one man with $250 million in his engine.