5 questions with Craig Cooper

Craig Cooper knows a thing or two about the mobile business. Cooper, a longtime investor in mobile companies, co-founded Boost Mobile in 2000. The now Irvine, Calif.-based company developed a youth-focused mobile phone service in Australia and in New Zealand.

Cooper, along with Peter Adderton, helped bring the brand to the United States in 2001.

After Nextel Communications bought Boost in 2003, Cooper returned to investing in mobile companies, first at the SoftBank Capital Technology Fund and then with VantagePoint Venture Partners.

Now Cooper’s heading up a new venture practice at private equity firm Saban Capital Group. PE Week Senior Writer Alexander Haislip caught up with Cooper recently to discuss the current climate and his latest $3 million investment in Skydeck, which provides an online service that helps users track their mobile phone calls, and which raised a $3 million Series A round from Saban.

Q: How is the financial crisis and the economic downturn affecting your investment activities?A: I don’t know how it’s going to affect the venture sector at this point. Companies that raised Series A rounds that are going out for their B rounds, but haven’t proved out their business models, may do down rounds or close. Venture firms are going to be much more aggressive on that front.

Q: What’s the outlook for mobile phone apps?A: There’s a lot of talk right now around the apps sector, from Apple’s iPhone to Google’s Android. But it’s very hard to build a sustainable business model. People may spend 99 cents for the Koi Pond application, but are you going to build a business model around that?

Hopefully, something exciting is going to spin out, but it’s hard to build a business model around sustainable applications.

Q: So you’re not bullish on iPhone apps?A: You go buy an iPhone, you’re excited, it’s cool, you download five apps, you play a few games for a few days and 90% of the time you forget about it. That’s not a sustainable business model. We’re trying to build sustainable usage platforms within the phone.

Q: How does Skydeck fit into that outlook?A: Skydeck is something we believe is going to become a platform in the mobile space. Your true network is the people you interact with via email and your mobile phone. That’s the network Skydeck is trying to provide the analytics and tools to better manage.

Q: So how did you hook up with Saban?A: I just became very, very familiar with what they were doing in media. It was just a more transformative opportunity. Companies like Skydeck right through to large scale public and private entertainment companies. It’s a much wider canvas to find investment opportunities. More and more what they realized was that so much in media was being driven by what was happening in the earliest stages of digital media. We’ve realized internally that we had to focus on early stage.