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Interviews


Jed Simmons T'87
COO, Sundance Corporation

Visit Date: October 15, 2003

Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship (CPEE): What does it take to be a successful media entrepreneur in this environment?

Simmons: Today, the media environment appears to be driven so much by technology, access to distribution, and how to build a brand. Looking back to where I came from, I will use Turner Broadcasting as an example. Ted was a great entrepreneur because he had a vision of ownership of content. At that point, content was still available to buy, and content became what we all love and see today. The challenge was this: can you own content, repackage it, and build it? Entrepreneurs like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch were successful through the ownership of content. Then they partnered with a company like Comcast for cable distribution.

Today, being a media entrepreneur is a tough play because content is not available and access to distribution is incredibly expensive. Because of these factors, I believe success becomes about servicing an underserved consumer segment-figuring out a way to create a niche in which you can provide a service that is interesting to those customers. Then figure out a way to access capital resources and leverage your idea into something that can be successful. That being said, entrepreneurial opportunities in the media space are much harder to find than they use to be.

CPEE: Do you think that the media market is fundamentally different in Europe? Are there opportunities in Europe that no longer exist in the U.S.?

Simmons: Europe has its own set of opportunities and challenges. There are different regulatory issues, different government involvement and ownership. The government often still owns the largest television station, and they are much more advanced from a technology perspective (wireless technology, for example). I think for a business to be successful-either in the U.S. or in Europe-it comes down to having really interesting content, awesome execution capabilities, and partnering with distribution providers. Unfortunately, in Europe the concentration of ownership is a big challenge that people are dealing with. There was a period in 1996-2000 when everyone was becoming a media entrepreneur with the Internet. What we have seen since is that the world has settled down. Some really good businesses and leaders emerged from that time by staying focused on what they were going to do. They figured out what their business model was, what content they were going to provide, and who their audience was. That [need to focus] didn't differ whether they were in Europe or the U.S. And I don't think it necessarily means they had to be first to market.

CPEE: Do you believe a media entrepreneur like Ted Turner could emerge in today's climate?

Simmons: If Ted Turner was just starting out today, it would be hard to say that he would not be successful. But if someone like Ted emerged today and said he was going to acquire content (which is what he built his company on), he just couldn't buy it. Now, there are pockets of content you could acquire if you are willing to overpay. But, when Ted was doing it, the content was readily available. Today, it's nearly impossible to get a channel launched because you can't get enough cable support. The question then becomes, if he couldn't buy content and distribution, what would the new Ted Turner emerge with? The new entrepreneur today would be more dependent on technology and would create a new form of content-not the classic form. However, it is going to be hard to find those individuals because the industry has consolidated.

These companies don't have to be overly complicated. Let's take the company that rents you a DVD and player before you get on an airplane. It is an obvious idea, but it is very entrepreneurial-it is distributing content in a new way and fulfilling a consumer need that has not been met.

CPEE: What are your thoughts on Video on Demand (VoD)?

Simmons: Video on Demand is right around the corner. The ease of use and convenience factors will ultimately make this business successful. What most people don't pay attention to is the technology entrepreneur that has helped facilitate VoD. I'm a user and big believer - but keep it simple. A few weeks ago, while in the car on the phone, I talked my 8 year old (who was at home) through choosing and starting a VOD - in less than 3 minutes and no frustration she had Goonies on the screen for $2.95. Now, that's how it should work.

CPEE: Do you feel that entrepreneurs are born, not grown?

Simmons: I wouldn't call myself an entrepreneur. I would say that I have enjoyed working for and with entrepreneurs. I think of an entrepreneur as the creator of a business, the visionary. I don't think of myself that way. I think that is a unique individual who is so special and, by the way, not able to do everything him or herself. So, for me, it is more about going to work for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies. Hopefully, one will be able to work within a small team of managers to take a particular concept and grow it in important and interesting ways.

So, are they born or are they made? There is no formula. But there is something they have in common-there is an ability to take a risk. Sometimes this can be because they have the means to take a risk or because they are geniuses and have invented something amazing. There are also entrepreneurs who have grown out of organizations where they watched an opportunity be missed. So, they leave the organization because the company is not going to get it, and they take that knowledge with them.

Now, are those people born? No. I think there are some events in their lives-personal, business, emotional, and financial-that give them a chance to be entrepreneurial at the beginning. I think the people like me who come to work in those types of organizations have to have some of that within them, because when you get in that environment, it is dramatically different from what you might expect inside a larger company. You have to be willing to take the risk and deal with the frustration that goes on in an entrepreneurial company. You also have to be able to be judged differently and judge others differently, while recognizing that some of the metrics you have at the beginning will change over time.

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