Serial entrepreneur, investor, and overall Internet good guy Kevin Rose is stepping down from his role of general partner at Google Ventures. The Digg and Revision3 founder will be moving into a part-time role at the firm, and will be using all his spare time to embark on a whole new adventure building a mobile startup called North.
The return to entrepreneurship probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise: After all, Rose has been all over the Internet for more than a decade building companies like Digg, Revision3, Pownce, and Milk. If anything, his two-and-a-half year stint as a venture capitalist at Google Ventures was more of an anomaly than these plans to found a new company.
Rose came to Google, and later Google Ventures, through the search giant’s acquisition of his last venture, Milk. That company was mostly a mobile design firm that sought to build and launch a series of products to the world and see what worked. But it was acqui-hired by Google shortly after the release of its first product Oink, which was a location-based mobile app for rating things in the real world. The folks at Milk joined Google’s design team and Rose soon after joined Google’s venture arm.
His newest venture will be called North, and will be focused on building a series of mobile and social products. In an interview with Rose, he told me the plan is to start with a small team of about three and to create a new product each quarter. And if one of those products becomes a hit, Rose says he’ll recruit a team and try to build a company around it.
If the model sounds familiar, that’s because it was kind of the idea behind Milk. But the world has changed since then, according to Rose. “The biggest thing that’s changed in the last three years is that back then we spent a lot of time spent building out the back end… But the scaling piece is a solved problem,” Rose told me.
Nowadays he says, a lean startup can work specifically on product and design, and leave the infrastructure side of things to someone else. He envisions North as a team that has one product person, one design person, and a full-stack engineer to get products going, while outsourcing much of the actual development work to trusted friends and colleagues.
Rose isn’t the only entrepreneur operating under that type of model: Uber and StumbleUpon co-founder Garrett Camp has Expa, Twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone have Obvious Corp., and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin has HVF. In each case, those founders are operating on a model of incubating a portfolio of interesting products and then building teams around them.
As Rose heads back into the startup world, however, one might question his track record of success. After all, Digg grew fast and then floundered, Pownce was sold to SixApart and deadpooled, and Milk… Well, Milk never really got a chance to get fully off the ground.
Rose points out, however, that two of the ventures he founded returned money to investors and that Revision3, after spending a decade as a tech-based online video production outlet, was acquired by Discovery and is now the backbone of that company’s digital media business.
“I just like creating products, and I’m used to building very large products at scale,” he said.
There’s no doubt, however, about his track record as an investor. As an angel, he put money into companies like Twitter, Foursquare, OMGPOP, Square, and Facebook. Meanwhile, at Google Ventures, he led the firm’s investment in a number of portfolio companies, including Medium, Nextdoor, Blue Bottle Coffee, Clever, High Fidelity, and FitStar.
From the investment standpoint, Rose and Google Ventures general partner Bill Maris says that not much will change. GV will still get exclusive access to Rose’s dealflow, and he will remain on the boards of and continue to work with companies that he’s invested in with the firm.
In fact, Maris characterized the move as a win-win for all. After all, while Rose is advising portfolio companies for Google Ventures, he will also be facing many of the same struggles that they see in building their products. And, the idea of part-time VC and entrepreneur isn’t exactly a new one: Greylock’s Reid Hoffman, True Ventures’ Tony Conrad, and Khosla Ventures’ Keith Rabois have all shown that being a successful investor-operator can be done.
For Rose, it’ll just be a more formal arrangement for what he’s mostly been doing all along. He notes that his investments in Twitter, Foursquare, and others as an angel came while he was busy building all those other companies he had been working on.