Meet the man behind Denver's $80 million cable TV mystery
Jeff Binder wants his service to speak for itself
Continuing the legacy of Colorado’s cable industry, Layer3 TV announced in 2013 the “next generation cable company” would locate its headquarters across the street from Denver Union Station. A year and a half, more than $80 million investment dollars and about 100 employees later, the business remains cloaked in mystery, having yet to launch its product or service.
At the helm of the yet-to-be unveiled cable-TV service is 50-year-old Jeff Binder, whose previous business successes include mass-produced customized audio cassette tapes, golf travel management alongside Jack Nicklaus, and the founding and milestone sale of Broadbus Technologies – a video-on-demand infrastructure – to Motorola in 2006 for about $200 million. Since, Binder has set his sights on the cable industry, with Layer3 TV.
CB: You come from an entrepreneurial family. Describe your upbringing and how it impacted you as a businessperson.
JB: I don’t think I knew it was an entrepreneurial family. My grandfather was an entrepreneur from the time he was in his 30s until the time he died. He invented paint-by-numbers and the cork white board. He was also one of the early franchisees of McDonald’s and he had a fastener-manufacturing business. Not in crazy terms, but he was an American industrialist. So it was all a big influence on me. My dad was a lawyer and went into business with my grandfather. But the thing is, the word “entrepreneur” didn’t have the same meaning then as it does today. Entrepreneur today tends to apply in venture contexts, but the vast majority of businesses don’t come out of VCs. For me, they were just business people … but I think I always knew they were in control of their own destinies.
You’ve been described as a “perpetual motion type.” You’ve had a series of successes in business. Can you take us through a highlight reel?
I started my career on the Chicago Board of Trade, traded for a few years, and then my dad, who’s very much an entrepreneur, had an idea for a business. He had the concept of building a system that would mass-produce customized cassettes, and I had a background as a musician through my teens, so I decided to help. The mass duplication system we sold to major record companies, but it was a pretty small business relatively speaking.
Then I started a series of companies in the software space, in the sports and leisure and marketing and travel spaces. Then we took a lot of the technology that we built in the cassette business for the TV business in the late ‘90s. We foresaw in the TV world a desire for on-demand systems, and so we founded a company called Broadbus. We raised capital in one of the toughest tech markets, literally right after the tech bust. We grew that company and then sold to Motorola, and then I stayed on at Motorola for about a year and a half and worked there in the mobile space on the predecessor to the Droid. Then I left and formed a boutique private equity firm with Dave Fellows, my co-founder at Layer3, and we worked closely with TPG and Silverlake, primarily in what is called the TMT space – technology, media and telecommunications – and worked with them for five-plus years. And then we felt there was an opportunity to build a next-gen cable operator.
The concept for Layer3 TV existed since the mid-2000s. We bought the URL (layer3tv.com) in 2007. But the market wasn’t ready, and the technology wasn’t ready and the programming side wasn’t ready. We didn’t yet have a viable model. So we kept watching the industry.
When was it ready?
Well, you were able to move video around more reliably with higher quality, better agility. You were able to work on the cloud, on a network basis, and that allowed you to lower your cost. And then, just a variety of what I would call IP television technologies matured. The usable, cost-effective evolution of the broadband infrastructure.
Also, the paradigm around the watching experience is and has been changing. Consumers look for TV everywhere and are more demanding. There’s just an appetite and a hunger for improving the user experience.
Talk about the marketplace you’re working in.
There are 100 million paid TV households in the United States – that’s bigger than almost any industry. It’s one of the top five industries worldwide. It’s how people spend their time – you go to work, you sleep, you watch TV. It’s an endemic part of American culture and it generates a massive amount of revenue. It’s not really a niche that we’re in. There just needs to be more diversity.
And how is or will Layer3 be lending itself to a more diverse cable TV landscape?
We’re trying to help define innovative ways to distribute content, shifting the way we see TV and serving the customer in a way they’re not yet accustomed to being served in this market … like Uber. There’s been a huge amount of consolidation in the paid TV space. Today, there’s Direct TV, Comcast and the new Time Warner-Charter partnership will collectively own 60 percent of a $200 billion market. So there just isn’t a lot of consumer choice anymore. Our focus is less around price per se. It’s more about improving the overall experience. Some consumers want a better product; some people want whatever is least expensive. So there are tradeoffs.
So, when will consumers be able to experience this?
The mainstream launch will be very soon.
Why so secretive?
We don’t consider ourselves stealthy. Our philosophy as a company is we don’t want to talk the talk – we want to walk the walk. We want the products and the marketing of the products to speak for themselves. We don’t feel the need to share our plans and road maps. A lot of companies want to talk about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. This is not something philosophically that will change after an official launch. We will continue to be closely guarded. A good historical model of that has been a company like Apple.
What enticed you to bring this business here to Colorado?
Well, Colorado has been the center of the cable industry for decades. Also, the incentives the state gave us helped us weight our decision between basing here and in Silicon Valley. We seriously considered going there.
In a vacuum, I’ve had a house in Breckenridge for many, many years and have spent a lot of time in Colorado. I was in a band that played here in my teens and early 20s. But it was a very different place back then.
Now, there’s a great culture in Denver … we have no issues with talent acquisition.
Any fears or concerns for the business, the market?
I hope the economy continues to stay robust here. Denver has faced some awful downturns in the past.
Best piece of professional advice that was ever given to you?
I don’t know if I can attribute it to any one person, but hire good people. Don’t compromise. If someone works for or with you, and you wouldn’t hire them again, then you probably need to do something about it. Then, with those people, make sure they’re happy and productive and the work is fulfilling. The people you surround yourself with, in politics, in your personal life, they’re who describe your experience. It’s no different in business. And it’s much easier said than done. And actually, good people aren’t even enough. You need great people, and there are very few. It’s hard to find them and even harder to keep them.