Jeffrey Katzenberg On The ‘Concerning’ US Economy, Working With Steve Jobs And How Hollywood Actors Compare With Tech Entrepreneurs
‘Surprisingly, there are more similarities than there are differences,’ Katzenberg said of actors and startup founders.
To some, Jeffrey Katzenberg will always be the movie mogul, the co-founder of Dreamworks SKG and former chairman of Walt Disney Studios.
But Katzenberg has proved there really are second acts in America, despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald once said. Five years ago, Katzenberg, along with Sujay Jaswa, former head of global business and CFO at Dropbox, co-founded WndrCo, a venture capital firm based in Los Angeles.
Today, WndrCo has raised $750 million and invested in more than 30 companies, with a recent emphasis on investing in cybersecurity companies, such Aura and Twingate.
But Katzenberg talked about other matters too, including
whether Hollywood actors and entrepreneurs have traits in common, and legendary Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs, who Katzenberg used to work with in Hollywood, among other issues.
Here are edited excerpts from that interview:
Would you consider yourselves effective pioneers in security investments?
‘Pioneer’ is a strong world. We’re this year’s pioneer. [Laughter.] But we didn’t start this category. There’s a lot of great companies, a lot of great entrepreneurs that have done remarkable work here. To add to what Sujay has said, I think that cybersecurity on pretty much every level—whether it’s enterprise, SMB or consumer—it continues to be a massively important part of all of our lives. And Covid has accelerated that 10X, because we went through a generation where all of us gathered inside firewalls, be they small ones or medium ones or large ones.
So you envision continued heavy investment in the security market?
Sujay and I talk about this all the time. If you think of places over the decade where the needs and the opportunities are large, there’s not likely to be many much bigger than [security].
Will WndrCo be pushing the channel more with companies in its portfolio and future investments?
Absolutely, we want to do that. We value and understand the opportunity in partnerships to better align with the channel. And I think that in these initial couple of efforts that we‘ve had, we’re seeing more and more the power of the channel and want to really devote resources to it through [WndrCo’s] portfolio companies.
Are you starting to get a little worried about the U.S. economy? Where do you think it’s going?
Yeah, I mean, the answer is yes. The macro economy is certainly concerning. I would say we have turned cautious as opposed to pessimistic. But the interesting thing is that security is something that tends to be strong, no matter what the economy. And you can look at many aspects around the macro trends of security, [and] they actually improve in difficult financial [times]. I don‘t think this will be any different.
Cyber-attacking, in other words, is recession-resistant.
It seems to be. And historically that has actually been the case.
Switching gears a little bit, there’s almost insatiable interest in you becoming an investor because of your background. You've gone from motion pictures to investing. What are the differences between dealing with artists in the motion picture industry vs. technology entrepreneurs?
Well, surprisingly, there are more similarities than there are differences. Because think about a great entrepreneur, who is someone with a big idea, incredible enthusiasm, ambition, perseverance, a dream. They will do everything and anything to make something great. That‘s what a great entrepreneur brings. So think about it—a storyteller [in film]. Those are the same qualities in terms of the fundamental things that drive a great storyteller and someone who is an entrepreneur. There are lots of differences after that, but if you just think of it from the human qualities and signals that you look for in a great entrepreneur, they’re actually not that different.
What's it been like working with Sujay Jaswa and the other partners at WndrCo?
It‘s been as much fun as anything I’ve ever done. In other words, this chapter to me is the best chapter. I know it‘s hard for people outside to look at it and see, but it will reveal itself over time. I can just say to you that the day to day of what I’m doing today is as interesting, exciting, challenging and, frankly, fun, as any other chapter of my career.
You were involved with Pixar Animation Studies and negotiated directly with Steve Jobs when you were in motion pictures. What’s the difference between Jobs and some of the technology entrepreneurs you deal with as a partner at WndrCo?
I think it‘s impossible to compare Steve Jobs to anybody. I think it would be equally impossible to compare Elon Musk to anybody. These are true unicorns, real once-in-a-generation people. Steve was, is, and will always be in his own category. I had many encounters and many things that I did with him over a number of years, and they were always interesting encounters, never a dull moment.