Category Archives: Startup & Venture Capital

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.

 

Facebook, Ad Servers, and $344B in Media

There is $344B in media* market cap that own and operate ad serving systems now.  

Google acquired DoubleClick ($274B mkt cap), AOL acquired AdTech ($2.86B mkt cap), and Facebook acquired Atlas ($65.4B mkt cap).  ValueClick owns MOJO and retained Mediaplex ad-server ($2.05B mkt cap).

When we think about ad servers for Madison Avenue, our guts tell us DART and Atlas**.   Both of these two ad serving solutions are now owned by larger-than-life media platforms.  MediaMind, the challenger of ad serving solutions is making inroads across Madison Avenue and believe it or not, has surpassed Atlas as the number two platform.***

Having heard the speculation turned news recently about Facebook acquiring Atlas and reading Gokul’s post on AdExchanger, I still do not understand why they did this acquisition unless Facebook thinks they can convince Madison Avenue to use them as their 3rd party ad serving tool of record.

My question to Madison Avenue:  Wouldn’t you want an impartial 3rd party to be your ad serving tool?  Why would you rely on a media property who is going to make more money off media than ad serving to deliver you your attribution models?

And with this, I’m not saying Google is any better.  It’s a big reason why the majority of our clients are not on the DART ad server.

In the finance world, there is significant rules around proprietary trading (prop desk) and analyst/research work.  The two basically do not intermingle and in the recent laws, the two might have to split.   This is FINRA rule 5280.

(a) No member shall establish, increase, decrease or liquidate an inventory position in a security or a derivative of such security based on non-public advance knowledge of the content or timing of a research report in that security.
(b) A member must establish, maintain and enforce policies and procedures reasonably designed to restrict or limit the information flow between research department personnel, or other persons with knowledge of the content or timing of a research report, and trading department personnel, so as to prevent trading department personnel from utilizing non-public advance knowledge of the issuance or content of a research report for the benefit of the member or any other person.

I understand that advertising is not finance, but wouldn’t we take clues from a more robust industry?

If you are a marketer or agency and put all your media plan data in a company who is selling you millions of dollars of advertising media, don’t you think that the data will be used against you?

Here is an example, purely from illustrious purposes:
Property A – $6/cpm $3/cpa
Property B – $8/cpm $3.50/cpa
Property C – $7.75/cpm $3.40/cpa

Imagine the three properties above have their data in an ad server controlled by Google, AOL, ValueClick, and now, Facebook.

When you go to purchase media from any of these four properties, they can see what you are currently paying and what the actual performance is.

This gives these media platforms a significant leg up on pricing & performance as they know where they need maintain or beat.

Is it just me that’s skeptical?

On a completely other note, I do not run M&A for Facebook but I would have suspected they would have built their own Ad Server and maybe acquired an attribution company such as Adometry, C3 or VisualIQ (or the many others in that space).

* Companies who own significant media properties.  Google, AOL, Facebook, ValueClick.
** There used to be a trade magazine that showed ads served each month by ad server, but I haven’t seen it in a while.  Purely based by my conversations with other agency heads, Atlas and DART are the primary ad servers that come up in conversation.  MediaMind is coming up more and more.
*** Updated after an email conversation with MediaMind.

Evolving Corporate Strategic Investing

We had a nice piece written about kbs+ Ventures in the WSJ today that spoke about the evolved model we are bringing to market.  I’m glad the WSJ initially reached out because it’s truly a great story to tell.  You can find the article here.

A month or two ago, we also put a short video online to explain kbs+ Ventures within a Made Here series that our agency is releasing.  The video showcases Taylor and myself talking about our investment vehicle as well as how we incorporate Ventures thinking into the larger agency.  You should check out the video if you’ve not already seen it.

I’ve always said that the world does not need another investor.  There is no lack of venture capital available today to startups of all shapes and sizes.  But, what Madison Avenue needs is to get closer to the technologies that have the power to disrupt our business in the future.  Some agencies are going to wake up 5-10 years from now and realize that they do not have a business any longer.  Other agencies such as ours and some of our peers will embrace this change and start investing in the future.

Its been fun and we’ve really only scratched the surface with what the big opportunity is for us.  Thank you for all of your continued support.

On a side note, if you haven’t yet downloaded our kbs+ Ventures book, what are you waiting for?  You can download Creative Entrepreneurship here.

Marketing Technology that Powers $42.3B in E-Commerce

Quick link:  Download report here.
This was our second year releasing the Marketing Technology Holiday E-Commerce report.  It’s no Lumascape, but it’s damn interesting.

It started as a simple project for me to understand which top e-commerce players were using different Marketing Technologies.  This year, we included trending information from last year’s report.

Here is a link to the new 2012 report (PDF), and a link to the old 2011 report (PDF).  The actual data set that it is derived from can be downloaded here for your own analysis.

I owe a big thank you to my friends at Evidon for providing me this information as Ghostery powers much of it.

AdExchanger was kind enough to write up the report late yesterday and hopefully you had a chance to read it.

Here are my takeaways:

1.  Social.  100% of the 20 surveyed sites were using social plug-ins or another form of social connectivity.  While social is the grouping, this shows the power of “earned” media; or at least the potential power of “earned” media.

2.  Audience.  I’ve been harping on this for years now.  We need to understand audiences in marketing.  Not just online, but in store too.  We’re seeing these top e-commerce sites learning about their audiences by deploying different marketing technologies that could help shape audience experiences, products, customer service, etc.

3.  Mixpanel.  I was surprised to see them in the top 10 marketing technologies utilized.  They are an analytics platform for the desktop and mobile web.    Impressive to see them breaking into the top 10.

4.  Slow decline of the ad networks.  Not the death as many folks have predicted but 51% less ad networks year over year.  Google AdWords was the top ad network (no surprise).

Again, the report isn’t perfect due to classification of companies but it’s directionally accurate.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!