If you’re at Launch Festival in San Francisco this week, you may see the startup event’s founder, angel investor Jason Calacanis, trailed by a camera crew—he is in the midst of shooting an upcoming television series that will show how he invests in and helps launch startups.
Calacanis, who was famously the third investor in Uber and got into companies such as Thumbtack and Wealthfront early on, is producing the as-yet-untitled show, which has been sold to an as-yet-unnamed network, alongside the Weinstein Company. And while Calacanis is routinely seen on networks such as CNBC and is known for his podcast, this is the first time he is fronting a television series.
He has been asked to do a reality show at least a dozen times, and he always said no until Harvey Weinstein approached him last year about doing a business-themed project through the company’s television division, which produces Project Runway. “He was like, ‘Hey, we want to do something in this space,’ and they had some ideas. And I said, ‘Why don’t you just come and fill my incubator?’ That’s where the conversation started,” says Calacanis, who had a few conditions. “I said, ‘Number one, I pick the companies. Number two, I pick the judges. Number three, I pick the winner, and number four, we do it in San Francisco.’ “
Those conditions were amenable to Weinstein, and a deal was done.
The concept for the show, which Calacanis says will likely premiere this summer or autumn, is pretty simple: Calacanis is going to invest in a dozen companies, and then viewers will see those companies evolve over 12 weeks, with advice from Calacanis and some of his VC friends. The company that performs best will get a million-dollar investment from Calacanis and his crew, and they’ll also join the board. “They’ll basically get a Series A-type investment,” Calacanis says, noting, “It will be the first time you’ll see on television how these companies are actually formed.”
Calacanis stresses that his show will be all about business. “We’ve had a couple of false starts here in Silicon Valley. Bravo did a show that had a bunch of what I’ll call outsiders,” he says, referring to Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, which ran for one season back in 2012 and was full of drunken drama. “I think the Bravo show cast people based on their propensity to get naked and get stupid, and that’s not my investment thesis. I want to find businesses that can become billion-dollar businesses that are founded by entrepreneurs who are hardworking and who have skills.”
He started looking for those entrepreneurs at last weekend’s Launch Hackathon and will also be recruiting at Launch Festival this week. There will also be a formal casting process that will find Calacanis on the road in search of candidates.
While Calacanis looks forward to discovering the next big thing and helping smart people start innovative companies, he has a goal for himself, too, that he believes this new show will help him reach. “I’m halfway through my 10-year plan to be the greatest angel investor of all time. I’m in the top 10 angel investors right now, but I’m not number one,” he says, musing, “In order for me to be the number one angel investor of all time, I’ve got to find another Uber, or I’ve got to find three more Thumbtacks.”