Jon Goldman AB '87 serves as Co-Chairman at Skybound Entertainment, the multi-platform entertainment company creating awesome content across comic books, TV, film, video games, interactive, podcast, merchandise, and beyond. Skybound is well known as the intellectual property holder of THE WALKING DEAD, INVINCIBLE, IMPACT WINTER, and over 150 more award-winning IPs.
Jon’s roots lie heavily in video game venture capital, having started his career at a boutique investment bank focused on US-Asia strategic deals. He brings more than two decades of experience in video games to Skybound, where he focuses on corporate development and general leadership. Jon has been instrumental in securing capital for the company through innovative approaches like Regulation A+, Kickstarter, and traditional venture investment.
In addition to his role at Skybound, Jon runs two early-stage funds in the video game and VR gaming areas - Tower 26 VC and GC VR Gaming Tracker Fund. He has also served as a Board Partner at Greycroft and Jerusalem Venture Partners.
Jon was Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Foundation 9 Entertainment, recognized as one of the largest independent video game developers in the world, spanning 11 studios and 1000 employees. Foundation 9 created hundreds of video games based on top-tier global brands such as STAR WARS, THE MATRIX, THE SIMPSONS, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. He sold the company in 2006.
Jon holds a BA from Harvard University in Asian Studies (graduating Magna Cum Laude) and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He also earned a Management Development for Entrepreneurs (MDE) Certificate from UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Q: Skybound recently did a Regulation A investment raise, allowing your fans to become shareholders in the company and the IP that they love. This is one of many very innovative aspects that separates Skybound from other entertainment companies. Can you talk about the process of deciding to invite fans into the company in this way? How did Skybound build that kind of close relationship with their fans?
It has been pretty amazing to see over 5000 fans and regular people become a part of Skybound. We tried to make things very accessible for our fans to get involved with investments as low as £10 in the UK.
In terms of how we built a relationship that made this possible: most important, we treat our fans as part of our world with lots of information and content through our Insiders program. We do not just market to them or crush them with "buy now" buttons.
Q: Skybound has been a creative force behind an abundance of exciting content across comics, film, television, video games, merchandise, even wine! In the development of new intellectual properties, what criteria does Skybound consider to ensure the uniqueness and marketability of each concept?
It’s still pretty old-fashioned. We focus on letting great creators like our partner, Robert Kirkman, tell great stories. Then when something hits, we have the business-ready units ready to back it up. There are no analysts, focus groups, or consultants shaping the content.
Q: How has your own educational journey, including studying at Harvard, then at the University of Kyoto, and then participating in an entrepreneurial management program at UCLA, contributed to your ability to navigate and lead in the dynamic and competitive entertainment industry?
I’ve been an entrepreneur since 24. My first partners were a buddy from Japanese class at Harvard and one of my roommates. So obviously, the network is real! Beyond that, I came to realize that the rigor of being around hyper-talented and competitive people at age 18 toughens you up for the “real world.” I just wasn’t afraid.
Now my current partner, David Alpert, also went to Harvard, exactly 10 years after me. So, I guess I stick close to home…
To be honest, University of Kyoto was just fun. I had a fellowship and pretty much drank that money. Like Japanese kids after high school, I barely went to class!
The Anderson program was great actually. I didn't have time to get an MBA when I was already running a growing video game business. I learned financial analysis in a way that helps me in evaluating acquisitions and other opportunities to this day.
Q: With your past international experience, how has that global perspective shaped your approach to business and entrepreneurship in the entertainment and gaming sector?
When I first started working, the US was still the center of the universe for entertainment. The biggest advantage of opening yourself to the world is simply being open itself. At Skybound, we now have businesses in Europe and Asia, based on relationships we started nurturing decades ago.
Q: As the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Foundation 9 Entertainment, you played a pivotal role in building the largest independent video game developer globally. What were the key challenges and strategies involved in managing such an expansive company (11 studios and 1000 employees!)? How has this experience played into your role at Skybound?
I wasn’t the only founder. It was great to work with [a] team of friends. But the biggest challenge was always resources. At the time, no one thought you could build a thousand-person studio. All of the power rested with publishers. That’s not the case now. And publishers (as publishers do) would squeeze us to the edge of death. It was only by figuring how to build size and scale, raise money, and apply some math to our deal-making that we evened the scale. By the time I turned 40, we were doing $100MM in revenues, which was a big number back then before there were so many billion [dollar] companies!
Q: Can you share an example of a project at Skybound where you pushed the boundaries of storytelling, perhaps using a medium in a way that hadn't been done before?
I’m super proud of how our fictional podcast, IMPACT WINTER, has launched an entirely new IP in audio. The soundscaping, casting, story are all amazing. I had NOTHING to do with putting it together, as we have so many talented leaders in the company. IMPACT WINTER hit #1 on all of Amazon fiction, not just audio, and there is [a] lot more coming about this one. At this point, I take pride in helping to shape the environment that allows others to succeed.
Q: What’s been your favorite project to be involved with so far at Skybound? What are you most proud of that the company has done in your tenure?
Can’t pick among beloved children! I even love our mistakes. I’ll respond slightly differently: I am extremely grateful that what we do resonates. Our animated superhero drama INVINCIBLE (which you should watch on Amazon Prime!), has been a huge success globally and hopefully will follow the path of THE WALKING DEAD. I don’t say “grateful” as a humble brag. You can make great stuff and the world doesn’t respond. When it happens, it feels so good. And I am proud of the animation studio we built under the leadership of Marge Dean, which has made this show such a success. And, not surprisingly, all the great video game adaptations coming out over the next few years. Our video game ATOM EVE just [came] out. I am writing this from Thanksgiving vacation and have truly unplugged, but I think we have over a million players in just 10 days or so.
Q: What kinds of exciting projects are you working on right now? Can you share anything that’s in the pipeline?
We have started to buy companies to grow more quickly. TV/film production companies in Europe, a joint venture in Japan, a significant stake in a vide ogame company in Pittsburgh. Other things I can’t discuss. I’m also excited about an internal video game studio we are building in Southern California. Expecting great things from them in 2025.
Q: Given your experience in interactive entertainment, where do you see the most significant trends shaping the future of the industry, and how is Skybound positioning itself to stay at the forefront of these developments?
Skybound started as a side hustle for Robert Kirkman and David Alpert, became a licensing business, and now directly operates in comics, TV/film, video games, audio, and merchandise. We have internal technical resources including engineers working on software. So we are powering up to take advantage of fan demand to interact with the universes we create for them.
We call our business model The Wheel of Awesome: we break new IP in low-cost, fast areas like comics and now audio. We popularize them in TV mostly. We then aim to make the most money in video games. But we can’t get there if the early spokes in the wheel don’t get going.
In terms of overall trends, we are seeing an oligopoly of buyers in linear content trying to drive the upside of creative teams like Skybound. Our Wheel of Awesome strategy where we take control of every form of content development and commercialization is how we thrive in this tough environment. It reminds me of competing against giant publishers in the video game industry 20 years ago. Plus ça change…