Category Archives: Startup & Venture Capital

Raising Capital? Watch This Video

I’ve been loving the 30 for 30 documentaries on ESPN.  On my cross country flights for work, I’ve been managing to sneak in a couple between answering emails.

I just finished watching There’s No Place Like Home which is a documentary about a gentleman who has a crazy dream to purchase the official rules of basketball (James Naismith) at a Sotheby’s auction.  Only one tiny problem:  he does not have the finances to make it happen by himself and the estimate is that the auction will be $1M+.

Some lessons for anyone raising capital and/or trying to sell an idea:

1.  Show, don’t tell.  Show a video, show a prototype, show something that can help build emotion with your dream and vision.

2.  Know the social graph.  Investors don’t like to jump alone, nor jump first.  Know who is connected to the vision and work the graph at the same time.  Using boosters, evangelists, or other investors to convince each other is helpful – we all like to do things when we know our peers are doing it too.

3.  No can be temporary.  We’ve all got turned down at one point or another but that’s purely a moment in time.  Stay persistent.  People can change their mind.

4.  If you don’t dream, it won’t happen.   We all have crazy ideas… but even the crazy ideas can happen.  Keep dreaming or we won’t push the world forward.

Enjoy the video – it’s certainly worth it.  I was skeptical before I started watching it but really enjoyed it.  A great 60 min video.  You can learn more about it on ESPN’s page here.

 

 

Some Good Reading for This Week

Been a super busy couple of weeks but wanted to highlight some posts/articles that have been getting my attention as of late:

The Internet of Things by Benedict Evans.  This man is smart and gets me thinking.  Great post.  Fred Wilson posts a follow-up this morning.

The NYC b2b list via Bowery Capital.  A major plus since the list has been open-sourced.

Economics of a Small VC by Charlie O’donnell.  Great recap of how a small VC operates and is a great primer for entrepreneurs to understand how that side of the ecosystem operates.

Who Will Fight for your Digital Rights?  by Andrew Parker.  Short but sweet post making you think about who will stand up for your rights/identity online.  Very Mozilla.

#codecon  Sorta upset (at myself) that I forgot to get a ticket and book my travel.  This conference flew under my radar.  Looking forward to attending next year.

Zero to One.  Blake sent me an advanced copy of his new book with Peter Thiel.  Excited to read it.

Fubnub.  Excited to check out this new project by uberhacker Kevin Marshall.  Should be a better way to take notes.  Also, Amol has a new co that’s focused on note-taking (which pushes email’s boundaries) as well called Knotable.  Check that out.

Any good posts I’ve missed?

VRM, The Intention Economy, and The Thank You Economy

It’s not uncommon for me to get the questions, what looks interesting to you these days? … or where are you focused?  Since joining Mozilla, I’ve filtered pretty much all of my knowledge and history with “user empowerment” and the area I keep coming back to is the quiet but growing VRM space.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s Vendor Relationship Management, the opposite and complimentary tool of CRM:  Customer Relationship Management.

PowertothePeople

The VRM conversation is being championed by Doc Searls of Harvard Berkman Center but at this point, the ecosystem is growing larger than the one individual.  You might recognize Doc’s name as he was one of the authors of the book, Cluetrain Manifesto and followed it up with The Intention Economy.

In the beginning of The Intention Economy, Doc posits that soon, customers will be able to:

  • Control the flow and use of personal data
  • Build their own loyalty programs
  • Dictate their own terms of service
  • Tell whole markets what they want, how they want it, where and when they should be able to get it, and how much it should cost

When you think about these four points, they empower the customer/user and play nicely into the idea of VRM.   Joe Mandese, a VRM list subscriber and all around amazing MediaPost Editor-in-Chief wrote a piece recently titled:  Acronymity:  The Three Most Important Letters You’ve Never Heard Of.  In this piece, Mandese writes about the shift from brands at center to users at center of the value equation.

Per the above points and Mandese’s piece, you’ll start to see some consistency around empowering the user.

On Madison Avenue, there is a lot of talk about empowering the user but the funny thing is, it’s done completely opaque, without user permission (or with permission under a ton of legalese), and the user has been given no access to their data…. among many other things.

Social media has pushed us a little closer to a world of VRM….incrementally- but at least in the right direction.  In social channels, users have a voice – one that can be exponentially radiated.   If I have a bad experience on Delta, a simple 140 character tweet can help solve the problem where not-so-long-ago, it took a penned letter and weeks of waiting to hear back from them.

In The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuck writes, now customers’ demands for authenticity, originality, creativity, honesty, and good intent have made it necessary for companies and brands to revert to a level of customer service rarely seen since our great-grandparents’ day, when business owners often knew their customers personally, and gave them individual attention.

Books

The power of social media (individual voices) and VRM (individuals being empowered, commercially or otherwise) will put us ahead in the next decade.  It’s a bigger opportunity than search (SEM*).  So, this is where I’m focused for now and hiring people and meeting people who want to experiment here.   If you do, please contact me.

* SEM:  probably one of the purest forms of intentcasting which plays into the VRM space but is not entirely the VRM space.

 

Teaching Your Kids How to Play Sports

My kids are at the age where they are starting to participate in sports.  I get excited about this because I played sports growing up and enjoy them today – both watching and participating.  One of the highlights of last summer was watching my son [who was 4 at the time] and my wife do a competitive home-run derby in our backyard.  And he wasn’t hitting off a tee!

I took the kids ice skating last weekend and while my older one had taken skating lessons in the past, lets just say he’s still learning.  And my daughter who is younger, seriously enjoys ice skating but she’s all over the place on the ice and enjoys making ice angels versus taking long strides.  I find them both adorable on the ice.

Ive been talking to Kevin Marshall recently about what he’s building with Coach Wizard.  I’ve known Kevin for years and have brainstormed with him a bunch about different projects I/he was working on.

He’s back at it with Coach Wizard and is helping solve a fundamental issue that I am witnessing per the above:  how can parents or guardians (or anyone else) can teach kids sports.  Most of us are not trained coaches.  I have no idea how to teach my kids to ice skate as I’ve not taken lessons in 25 years, so I completely forgot what instructors once taught me.  But… eventually** I, Coach Wizard could provide lessons so that I can teach the kids how to skate.

The goal of Coach Wizard is to provide lesson plans, drills, etc for things you can do at home to practice in between formal team-practices.  Makes a lot of sense to me.

If this peeks your interest as an investor, advisor, or someone who could use Coach Wizard with your children’s team/league/whatever, reach out to Kevin or on twitter @falicon.

* I don’t think ice skating is part of his initial product roadmap for lesson plans
** Note, I’m not currently an investor but I am informally advising.    My intentions with this post are to get more people aware of what Kevin and his SWAT team are doing.

The Documented Evolution of Tech in NYC

Back in 2007, I wrote a post titled, An Early Stage Entrepreneurs Guide to New York City.  At that point in my career, I was a founder of a venture backed (Intel Capital, NBC Universal, Morgenthaler, etc) in-game advertising company called IGA Worldwide and was part of the nascent NYC tech ecosystem.  I used to hold darrenSalon‘s (remember those?), brunches, and other gatherings of likeminded entrepreneurs.  Heck, the NY Tech Meetup was still 12 of us sitting around a table.

Across my feed this morning came a tweet by Steve Schlafman, a principal at venture firm RRE about a new presentation he created called The Guide to NYC Tech.  I’ve seen many presentations over the years about who/what/when/where/why is happening in NYC but this is one of the most comprehensive presentations.  If you have a spare 15 minutes, you should certainly check it out.

Having been part of the different waves of entrepreneurship in NYC, I can honestly say that while other waves have been just as innovative and exciting, this wave feels like there is the most substance and staying power.  There are ad dollars to support the publishers, there is bandwidth to make video + streaming a reality, there is comfort in purchasing online, and organizations are opening up to digital disruption.  I am super excited to be part of the ecosystem and will continue to do what I can to support #nyctech.

AngelList Syndicates

A couple of months ago, Taylor (kbs+ Ventures) asked my opinion about AngelList Syndicates.  We had a pretty brief conversation and I basically dismissed the idea. I forgot my exact reasoning but I did not pay too much attention.

I love the idea of AngelList though have not invested in a company that I’ve solely met through AngelList but I have contacted a few that I thought were interesting.

I got interested in the Syndicates offering once I read about them in more detail.  There have been some good posts outlining the opportunities and benefits of Syndicates written by folks I admire.

As a potential Syndicate investor, I see a potential issue.  If I join the Syndicate of someone, say Jason Calacannis, I make the commitment to invest in the rounds he does up until I opt-out of his Syndicate.  This means I, as an angel investor, might be committing quite a bit of capital and quickly, depending on the speed at which Jason invests.  While I understand my own bank account, my asset mix, and the risks associated, I might have to withdraw out of Syndicates at some point as I don’t have unlimited funds.  I imagine the majority of investors on AngelList are doing a few deals, not volumes of deals, such at the pace at which Syndicates could theoretically operate.

So today, on AngelList, the Syndicates look pretty darn powerful because it’s easy to pledge that you’ll invest alongside someone.  But a few deals later, will those Syndicates be as powerful with the same amount of investors pledging?  (assuming AngelList keeps growing I suspect the answer is yes, but I can see investors pulling out due to constraints).

Just a thought.

New Twitter Analytics

I read last night that Twitter released their analytics to everyone on the platform.  Really smart move by them and the analytics look pretty sweet.  I have to imagine they will have a freemium version of analytics in the coming months but that is purely speculation.

I took a screenshot of what my follower chart looks like.  While this data is readily available thru other services, it looks pretty sweet thru Twitter and was impressed with their execution.

I especially like the list of “Your Followers Also Follow.”  For me, it’s Jon Steinberg (Buzzfeed), Michael Learmonth (AdAge) and Ben Lerer (Thrillist, Jack Threads, Lerer Ventures).  Not bad company.

The way you access this is thru the Twitter Ads function which is located under the Settings drop down.  Once under Settings (the little widget/gear), go to Twitter Ads then to Analytics.

 

Twitter Follower Chart

Constantly Changing Ad Products Does Not Help Adoption

For good or for bad, Madison Avenue takes a little bit of time to adopt new features and services en-mass.  Dollars flow into ad units and products once there is a comfort level with them.  Yes, sure we’ll buy the one-off sponsorship or launch that costs a couple million bucks, but beyond that, we probably won’t be back for repeat business.

But your investors and the street want and expect repeat business.  Recurring revenue.  Having a new ad product launch each month and getting a launch advertising sponsor each time dilutes over time.

Constantly changing your ad strategy actually hurts, IMHO.  It takes time for creative and media folks to ramp up knowledge of ad unit specifications and availability – and if they are ever changing, then we do not have enough time to do each unit justice.

I agree consumers like new things.  And brands like being fresh.  And in this whole world of digitally delivered content, being new and fresh is the whole point.

But for a publisher or platform, please be consistent with your offerings.  Don’t keep sunsetting what we’ve gotten good at buying and executing against.  Introducing new ad products every 6 weeks and wondering why others are not getting adoption isn’t rocket science.

This post was in reaction to this piece re: Facebook.

What I do on a daily basis

While at the Digital Media Summit last week, a few friends came up to me and asked me what I was concentrating on these days.  I get that question fairly often from people who aren’t involved with me on the day to day so I thought I’d write a post and explain as I figure it will help [you] self-select the conversations and opportunities we should have.

Chief Digital Media Officer:  At The Media Kitchen and it’s parent, kbs+, I work with the teams to help inspire and execute through digital media.  Not all of the media we plan or buy is digital, though about 55% is, so that’s a big chunk of change.  I cross multiple digital channels including display, video, mobile, search, and social and work on making sure we have the right infrastructure and advertising operations setup so that we can execute.  The role of the Chief Digital Media Officer will evolve over the next few years as digital becomes purely a delivery mechanism and the channel itself won’t be as important.  Meaning, we do not have a Chief Radio Officer of Chief OOH Officer, so this thinking will have to change with the time.

Venture Investor:  I invest in marketing and advertising technology companies thru kbs+ Ventures.  This is done not by investing out of a fund but opportunistically off of our balance sheet.  Launched at the end of 2010, kbs+ Ventures has built up a portfolio of companies who are testing different thesis we have in the marketplace.  You can read a recent article about kbs+ Ventures in AdAge.  The majority of all my investments in recent years have been thru kbs+ Ventures but I do make a small handful of non-competitive investments in other areas of digital media including my most recent one (more coming soon!).

Golf Tournament Coordinator:  Many of you know I founded and host The Silicon Alley Golf Invitational almost 9 years ago.  It all started as a way to get founders to network outside of the hustle and bustle of NYC and has grown into an event that attracts sponsors and is home to 100+ founders, execs, venture capitalists, and ecosystem supporters.  I’m in the middle of planning and executing the 2013 SAGI event as it’s coming up on July 22.  For more information about SAGI, you can contact me here.

Digital Student:  While I technically don’t go to University, I am a student of all things tech + web and am constantly learning different platforms.  One of the platforms I’m studying is Wanelo and you can follow me here.  I’m testing the usage of the platform to bookmark things for me and for my family.  Medium is also a platform that I’m noodling around with but less about writing and more about reading.  Lots of good content on Medium so far.

Husband + Dad:  This August, I’ll be celebrating my sixth anniversary to being married to Sherri.  We’ve been blessed with two amazing children who are each coming into their own and developing some amazing personalities.  We live in Westchester County, NY and I try to spend most of my evenings with them.  I’ve seriously cut down on the amount of after-work activities to prioritize my family in recent years.

I hope this helps shed some light on what I do.  The agency work and investor work are like peanut butter and jelly – both can live on their own but when together, they taste delicious.  What makes us a good investor is that we know what the agency wants and needs and vice versa.  It’s a nice feedback mechanism to help make better agency decisions and venture investments.

Put the Service Back in Technology

I meet with plenty of technology companies who sell to marketers and agencies and  I also meet with many marketing and advertising technology startups who are pitching for venture funding.  Sometimes they are one and the same.

I’ve been witnessing companies coming thru the door and telling me that they are a pure technology platform, not a service business.  Most of the time, their motivation to say this is to achieve a technology multiple (on sale) versus a service business multiple.

I think this is faulty and a mistake.

There is nothing wrong with wrapping services around a technology, especially in the early days of your company.

If your idea is new and unique, then most marketers or their agencies will have no idea how to build the assets necessary to deploy on your technology platform; thus a service business is needed.

If your idea isn’t overly unique, marketers and agencies still generally want help to get assets created or implemented.  A services group can help enable this to happen.

At the end of the day, as a startup or technology company, you want marketers or their agencies to have the best possible experience when using your platform.  I define experience by performance and service.  This will have a higher chance of keeping them back (and the dollars flowing).    By creating an organization that can enable this to happen (creating the right assets, trafficking properly, building KPI’s and metrics), you are at least starting off the relationship on the right foot.

Put the service back in technology.  It’s not such a bad thing.