Google Ventures' King Maker Hunts for Next Big Thing

PHOTO: Entrepreneur Kevin Rose speaks onstage at Foundation: Chad Hurley & Kevin Rose during the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Hilton Austin on March 9, 2013 in Austin, Texas.
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"Invest in start-ups. Find the next big thing. Meet with entrepreneurs. Drink coffee. Hang out."

That was Kevin Rose's response to the question, "what do you do for a living."

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At 36, Rose has already made millions, co-founding Internet companies like Digg, a sort of crowd-sourcing news website, and backing the likes of Twitter and Facebook in their infancy.

Today, he is a partner at Google Ventures, where his job is to identify hot new companies, give them money and advice, and then hopefully turn them into hits.

"We're looking to place big bets and build big companies," Rose said. "We have a $300 million fund every single year. That is Google acting as our investor, giving us that money to go out and deploy that cash."

A day at the office for the successful entrepreneur might include a meeting at a hip coffee house, then doing pushups with an iPad fitness program at a new tech start-up, then more coffee chats and a visit to a trendy tea house. In between are lots of hellos on the street and glances at his ever-present iPhone.

"Sometimes I'm leaning in and offering a lot of product advice," Rose said. "[With] other companies, it's about making connections."

Rose took meetings with young entrepreneurs, who pitched him ideas they hope will be some of Silicon Valley's hottest new ideas. One was a photo-sharing app in the works called Cluster. Another entrepreneur named Matt Galligan pitched a new news app called Circa -- basically Cliffnotes for news, snappy and short for smart phone users' short attention spans.

"I'm a big fan of turning the cell phone into kind of a remote control, like the ability to summon different types of services," Rose said.

It's a real life "Shark Tank."

Rose has the power to give a struggling new company a chance most can only dream of. Galligan said his goal from meeting with Rose was to get a second meeting.

"It's like a first date," Galligan said. "You want to give the best impression possible, you don't want to overdo it, you don't want to seem overzealous, but you don't want to blow it."

A glance at the companies Rose has either founded, backed, bought or supported in some way, is a look into what many of us have on our phones: Pop culture's favorites -- for now. But figuring out the next big think is not so easy.

Rose had a shot at Pinterest when there were only three employees, but at the time, he wasn't convinced. He missed out on what became a multi-billion dollar hit.

"More than anything, I'm looking for something that's original," he said. "I don't want a clone of something else. I want original thinking. So I'm not the kind of person that's going to go and do 100 deals per year. I'm going to do one every four to six weeks and then I try to reserve enough space in my life to be able to help these companies out."

A few years ago, Rose decided not to invest in a photo app one of his friends was developing called Instagram -- the "Toaster" filter is named after Rose's dog.

FitStar is a startup he is watching closely. They designing a personal fitness app, which is an area Rose sees as fertile ground. He wears two separate devices from other companies which count his footsteps and monitor other health data.

To the young and ambitious inventors who are lucky enough to get a meeting, Rose is a rock star.

"Kevin is, I think, one of the heroes of the start-up world," said Tony Stubblebine, CEO and co-founder of Lift, a goal-oriented lifestyle app that helps users track and reach personal achievements.

Rose said we are living a modern-day Gold Rush in technology. The opportunities, he said, are endless, not just for good ideas but people who know how to execute them.

"I think you just have to keep yourself in the mix," he said. "You always have to be looking for the next big thing."

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