The rise of the company builders is right. As Leena wrote in her spot-on post, “Operators are foregoing the traditional path of joining a traditional VC to instead create a studio-like holding operation.” The latest in a series of accomplished entrepreneurs wanting to lend their expertise to a new generation of companies? Serial entrepreneur Garrett Camp, who has set up the holding company Expa to nurture his ideas for products.
Camp tells me Expa will be very close in model to the holding companies started by entrepreneurs Max Levchin (HVF), Evan Williams (Obvious), Michael Birch (Monkey Inferno) or Ron Palmeri (MkII), and be more focused than organizations like Science or Betaworks. “I’ve come up with 10 ideas over the past year that I’m interested in,” he revealed, confirming that Expa will stay small. “But realistically only three or four will really come to fruiton.”
Camp became an entrepreneur in 2002 when he founded and bootstrapped discovery startup StumbleUpon, taking it all the way to a $75 million acquisition by eBay, and then a spin-out, eventually leaving the CEO role and handing over the company to Mark Bartels. He came up with the idea for transportation app Uber in 2009 and handed that company off to its hyper-focused CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick.
Nowadays, he’s spending time coaching the “Uber for private planes,” Blackjet, through the growth process from his home.
Derived from the words “experience apps,” Camp holds that the words “incubator” and/or “accelerator” aren’t a good fit to describe Expa, which he hopes will be primarily composed of companies that Camp himself built from scratch. “I’ve asked a lot of people what should we call it, and we don’t have an answer.” After a decade-long career, he believes he’s come up with an efficiency system to help startups reach their full potential. “Instead of doing angel investing, he says, “I’m trying to take that same amount of capital and put it into something where I can be involved in the branding and design.”
“I’d really like to be involved in the early stage formation of new ideas and new products,” he says, “And use all my lessons learned in the past 10 years. Every time I make a mistake with a company, I write it out and try to figure out why it happened,” he emphasized, revealing that he also does this for things he gets right. “I’ve come up with a good set of guidelines, and if I apply these guidelines through Expa, I can hopefully end up with a couple of cool companies.”
Right now Expa is self-funded, but Camp tells me that if it gets to the point where he needs to raise money for an individual company or an entire entity, then he’ll raise money. The company is currently focused on a stealth project in the realm of mobile data and analytics, though Camp says it’s too early to reveal specifics. He insists it’s not in the transportation space or “Uber for X” like Blackjet.
Though he’s not going to keep milking that cow, Camp says that Uber is a great structural model for what he’d like an Expa company to be. “When I think of all the things you can do right or wrong, Uber definitely got most of them right. There’s a few that they got wrong, but none of them are fatal. And I definitely see a correlation between how many things a company gets right and how fast a company grows.”
What’s the most important thing a company can get right? “Having the right amount of equity held by the right people,” Camp says. “Your goal should be fairness.”