Andy Rubin has a new gig as a venture capitalist, rekindling a relationship that the Android creator and former Google executive credits with taming his wilder ideas.
Rubin is a partner at Redpoint Ventures, working at least one day a week identifying and evaluating investments in mobile technology and open-source software.
Redpoint, meanwhile, is an investor in Playground Global, Rubin’s new incubator for hardware startups.
At Redpoint, Rubin will work closely with co-founder Jeff Brody, who has known Rubin for almost two decades and backed prior Rubin startups. “Andy’s experience will be super-additive,” Brody said.
Rubin has worked on robotics for decades, while developing technology to help mobile devices communicate. He’s run startups, changed when plans fizzled and negotiated with CEOs of big technology companies, while maintaining relationships with hundreds of partners as head of Android at Google.
Rubin, who left Google last year, wants to use this experience to advise young entrepreneurs.
“I can help guide and test their ideas,” Rubin said. “I don’t have a poker face. If I don’t like or understand something it’s apparent.”
Rubin has long leaned on Brody for guidance. In 2003, Rubin stepped down as CEO of Danger, which made an early smartphone known as Sidekick. Soon after, he joined Redpoint as an entrepreneur-in-residence, with an office next to Brody’s, to develop new business ideas.
One was Fotofarm, an operating system for cameras. He showed Brody a prototype with face recognition, a wireless Internet connection and GPS. The venture capitalist asked how many cameras were sold a year. Rubin found that sales growth was slowing as people began taking photos with phones.
“I didn’t get that,” Rubin said. “I just kept saying, ‘Look, it does face recognition!’ ”
Instead, Rubin built a phone and accompanying operating system that included features from Fotofarm. This became Android.
Rubin and Brody wanted to avoid the fate of Danger, which sold a few million phones but didn’t create a mass-market hit.
Danger generated revenue by selling its phone to wireless carriers, running an app store and sharing in carriers’ data charges.
By contrast, Android gave away its operating system to device makers, which helped them make cheaper phones and opened up a larger market. Android then developed features for wireless carriers, such as address books, geolocation services, voicemail and an app store. Android shared some of the revenue carriers generated by selling phones and service plans.
But Brody worried Android couldn’t do this alone. He thought Android needed support from a large company. At the time, Android had about eight employees.
In late 2004, Rubin said he tried and failed to persuade Samsung to invest in Android. Samsung declined to comment.
Rubin emailed Google co-founder Larry Page to tell him about Android. In early 2005, Rubin pitched the company to Page, co-founder Sergey Brin and early Googler Georges Harik. A few days later, he got a call offering to acquire Android. Brody advised selling, and the deal closed a few months later for about $50 million.
Google replaced Android’s early services with its own and now sells advertising next to searches, as it does on the Web. It also takes a share of revenue from downloads at Google’s Play app store.
Last year, 81% of smartphones shipped world-wide used Android, according to Strategy Analytics.