Jana Cain and I (Grace Yokoi) went to LA in mid-June to meet with alumni, founders, and others in the media startup ecosystem. Our biggest takeaway: there is a *ton* of opportunity in LA for MBAs interested in new media and content. In the startups especially, we sensed an openness to accept (demonstrated) passionate and smart people that may not have direct relevant experience, but are knowledgeable and really interested. It was a breath of fresh air. We also noticed, not surprisingly, that the world is very small and that everyone knows everyone there. People who are executives at these startups are also very involved in building the startup ecosystem in LA, mentoring founders and being involved with incubators. They feel passionate about bringing talent to the area…music to our ears.
One name/theme that kept on coming up was HBO. It seems many of these companies aspire to become like HBO, and/or follow the path HBO followed– unsurprising given the current energy around original programming. Another theme was the scaleability of online video– many we spoke to mentioned they were “global from day one”.
Here’s our recap! Reach out to us if you’re interested in learning more.
Given that we are women non-gamers, we didn’t know much about Machinima but quickly learned that, like many other Youtube multi-channel networks, it “operates just like a TV network” in that it produces its own content and also distributes content from others. Their target audience is the male gamer who is 18-25 years old (so we missed the age threshold too ).
We met with a Stanford Law School alum and EVP of Business Development and Strategy, who showed us around the offices, including a few “studios” that looked more like big closets with some equipment. It was amazing to see what they mean when they say it costs very little to produce their content. We learned that Machinima has been focused on product and the tech side, scaling globally, and diversifying off of Youtube. At the time we met them they had about 220 employees.
Maker Studios was also high on our list of places to visit. We met with the SVP of Business Development and Operations, who told us that everyone who reports to him (four direct reports) all have MBAs, and have finance and strategy experience. He characterized Machinima as a financing/distribution organization, while Maker is into producing; and mentioned that the multi-channel networks are “uniquely LA”– where there’s a confluence of creative talent, technology, youth programming, and a VC community. Traditional media views these players as both a threat and an opportunity for new growth.
Maker hires a lot of USC MBAs with film backgrounds. Part of this is that they like to have help during the academic year, and many of these students can be converted to fulltime hires if the timing works. Prior experience or knowledge of the business is important.
We met with alum Karan Nischol ‘09, head of mobile product. He’d joined fairly recently, and had just been promoted to his current position, and we met him during those days Hulu was up for sale (again) and a bunch of players were making bids for it. We were surprised (but not surprised) to learn that many of the alumni we’d known or heard of had left. Karan gave us a great rundown of how the product team was organized, as well as where MBAs would typically be a fit (product, customer engagement, content acquisition, marketing and BD). He also mentioned that a technical background is important for product roles.
We could feel the uncertainty in the air about Hulu’s future as we spoke to some HR people, who mentioned that any fulltime discussions (conversion from the summer) would likely happen in January/February. They also mentioned that they will start recruiting for internships in the February/March timeframe. Internships are 10-12 weeks, and the interviewing process is not standardized across the groups that hire interns.
Dubbed “the Food Network of YouTube”, Tastemade is creating a vibrant online community for global food enthusiasts. We met with a co-founder, who gave us a tour of the studio and shared some great insights about the multi-channel network model. For most content creators, YouTube channels are a great way for them to promote their content while still owning it 100%. Tastemade seeks to make it easy for food enthusiasts anywhere to gain access to the Tastemade support resources, and build their online brand through their network. They recently launched an app (iOS 6+ only) that will enable users to upload their own mini food review videos to the Tastemade channel.
On the personnel side, (demonstrated) passion for what they do is an absolute must. “People need to be the embodiment of the brand”, they say. They hire based on “highest and best use”, allowing their highly talented staff to move around the company as it (and they) grows. They are always on the lookout for smart people to join their team. At the time we visited, the company was 18 employees and growing quite rapidly, both in terms of staff size and popularity, with GE partnering as a provider of all studio appliances.
We met with alumni Pablo Perez de Rosso ’07, Erik Barmack ’01, and Pablo’s boss, an HBS alum. They work in content acquisition and content planning (the latter does all the analytics for the former group). They shared valuable insight into how Netflix evaluates their business moves, as well as tips for students interested in pursuing careers in the space.
In spite of the rapid growth in the digital media space, it is still helpful for students to have/gain traditional media experience. Deal experience (2-3 years) is also extremely helpful. Netflix typically does *not* hire straight out of business school and does not do internships. They also guard well their content strategy, which may explain why you haven’t ever seen them on campus. We discussed a possible BBL in winter/spring, not to recruit but for them to raise awareness and “plant seeds” with our students.
CAA: BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT GROUP
We met with a recruiting team member who gave us a great overview of how CAA operates, and the typical career trajectory for interested MBA candidates. CAA is one of few, if not the only, full-service agency, meaning that in addition to representation, they are also equipped to provide creative resources to their clients when they pursue their entrepreneurial ventures. Essentially, they will act as an incubator for business ideas, and will partner with VCs and the clients to bring those ideas to fruition. (They view their work as business development for their clients.) The Business Development group has about 20 people, including assistants, who work full time business deals, including packaging digital content for sale/distribution (e.g. they sold House of Cards to Netflix). There is also a small fund available for the BD team to invest on the agency’s behalf.
Interested candidates must be truly passionate about the space, and open-minded about their career path. Interns are not guaranteed to convert – conversations around full-time opportunities do not happen until the exit interview. All full-time staff members start as some form of an assistant for a year before moving into a two (or more) year training program. Upon completion of the training program, candidates then move toward becoming an agent or a partner.
We’d spoken to a few investors who were wildly enthusiastic about Scopely, a mobile gaming network that develops multi-player games; and were able to grab breakfast with Tiago Domingos ‘12, product manager (we were also able to chat briefly with the VP of Business Development over the phone, weeks later). Tiago chose to join Scopely because he found the product compelling and the monetizing opportunities “huge”, and also loved the team (“culture of very young engineers”). He moved from San Francisco for the job and has loved LA (traffic has not been a problem for him, and the cost of living there is so much lower!). At the time we spoke to them Scopely had 70 employees, a number of them MBAs (GSB, HBS, Wharton).
Product managers here do not need CS degrees, but having advertising or social media experience is helpful. They try to hire people who “do something better than anyone else in the company” and often don’t hire for anything specific (“generalist startup talent”).
We met with CEO Brian Robbins, who has an extensive background in television, both in front of and behind the camera. AwesomenessTV has a staff of approximately 40 people, and was recently acquired by Dreamworks Animation. A YouTube (and now Nickelodeon) channel, AwesomenessTV produces content exclusively featuring and focused on tweens and young adults. They will also be partnering with Netflix to produce original tv content.
For hiring, interest and passion trump any specific skillset. Per CEO Brian Robbins, “there aren’t enough smart young people”. They are most interested in talent adept at building out fundamentals, namely in finance and business affairs. They are looking for COO types who can turn an idea into a business (e.g. both left brain and right brain), and are more entrepreneurial. A successful candidate’s passion for the space must translate into familiarity with the space. In other words, the candidate needs to know that that [opportunity] is where they want to be, and not just a job that will get them where they want to be. Brian’s advice to students is to vet companies like a VC – there are lots of opportunities for smart people.
FULLSCREEN (phone call)
We spoke with the COO, who by all accounts is extremely capable (as well as affable). He explained that they, like Machinima and Maker, are building a network of channels, but unlike the other two are more technically oriented. They also work with media companies and brands (eg, GE, Fox, McDonalds) on their Youtube strategy. When we spoke to him they’d just raised $30m, with which they were planning to invest in more original programming and international expansion (he mentioned that 50% of their content creators are from 90 different countries!).
They were 180 employees as of the time of the call, tripling in size from last year. And– they “love MBAs”– though having a digital media background is key, and they also appreciate banking/PE experience. Other backgrounds of interest include international experience in growing consumer tech or digital media, and ad sales.
MANATT (phone call)
We spoke with Hale Boggs (SU ‘83) and Peter Csathy of Manatt Digital Media (MDM). MDM is the digital media focused arm of the law practice Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. the firm focuses on three key areas: traditional entertainment (mostly music, followed by movies/tv), venture capital, and advertising/brand (mostly Fortune 50 companies). The group launched in May 2013, as an effort to seize opportunities in [advertising/brand] client companies shifting more and more of their business online. The group has approximately 25 employees, almost all of whom are lawyers. However, they do see a need for MBAs, particularly JD-MBAs. They want to emphasize their non-legal business advisory services, and are interested in placing MBAs in all of their locations (LA, Palo Alto, SF, NYC, and DC). Successful candidates would need to have all of the attributes of an entrepreneur.