Ozy Media founder Carlos Watson

Carlos Watson first made his name in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur, then parlayed the ensuing celebrity into television gigs on CNBC, CNN and MSNBC. Now, after a brief dalliance in investment banking, the man once listed among America’s most eligible bachelors is set to unveil his latest venture.

And, perhaps not surprisingly if you read the last paragraph, it’s a media-focused startup.

OZY is an online magazine of sorts that promises in its tagline to be “smarter, fresher, different.” Now, the Stanford-educated Watson is certainly smart — smart enough to know that online media startups are a risky business. (His earlier effort at a political blog, called the Stimulist, lasted less than a year despite angel funding from the likes of Silicon Valley high-roller Roger McNamee.)

What’s different this time? Well, for one thing, Watson is getting more help from his friends; he says he’s raised several million dollars from legendary valley lawyer Larry Sonsini, Google legal chief David Drummond and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of the late Apple CEO.

Powell Jobs, in fact, is doing more than writing checks: She’s already shot several video roundtables with Watson and valley political consultant Jude Barry that will air on the site, with topics ranging from tech to government policy to the NBA. (“Man, she knows a lot about basketball,” Barry claims.)

The press-shy Powell Jobs declined to chat about her involvement with Ozy, but she and Watson met years ago when both were volunteering at Carlmont High on the Peninsula. Together, they founded a nonprofit, College Track, that helps minority and low-income kids prepare for college. Powell Jobs later invested in Achieva, the startup Watson launched to make online educational tools and which test-prep giant Kaplan snapped up in 2002 as part of a $25 million buying spree.

One might think Watson’s taking a huge risk in pledging to produce “100 percent original” content and assembling a staff that includes media veterans from Yahoo and USA Today. But Watson believes there’s appetite for a high-end alternative to news aggregation sites like the Huffington Post. “They all seem to have the same 10 or 20 stories, and they’re all algorithmically driven,” he said in an interview.

Pointing to examples such as Homeland, JetBlue and, yes, Apple, Watson’s confident that consumers will pay a premium for a product that gives careful attention to quality and presentation.

Lest that sound like hubris, it’s worth noting that the company’s name derives from Ozymandias, the 1818 poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley about the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II.  You know, the one that goes, “Look on my works ye mighty and despair.” The poem (as “Breaking Bad” fans were recently reminded) is a warning against delusions of grandeur. Asked why he chose that name for his company, Watson told me: “It’s all about thinking big but staying humble.”

 

 

Peter Delevett Peter Delevett (184 Posts)

Peter Delevett covers startups and venture capital for the San Jose Mercury News. He's been a journalist in Silicon Valley since the dot-com daze.