Category Archives: Startup & Venture Capital

Madison Avenue Meets Sand Hill Road, kbs+p Ventures is Born

My vision since day #1 of joining this agency has been to foster relationships with early stage technology companies, as they are the rapid innovators within the market place.  The agency world has a lot to learn from them and their rapid pace inspires much of what we do.

I have begun executing on this vision with the awesome people in the agency by hosting The Media Kitchen Digital Media Venture Capital Conference (3 years in a row), Speaker Series events featuring prominent founders and VCs, Lunch & Learns with startups, and being open to the dozens of startups and VCs that reach out each year for introductions.

I recognize the value of innovation and startups within the advertising agency landscape because I grew up on that side of town.  I got my premature grey hair founding multiple startups and raising lots of Venture Capital and both losing my shirt and winning it back.  I didn’t sleep at night because I knew that our staff had families to feed and if we didn’t hit our revenue goals, we’d go hungry.  I had been on a Ramen diet for much of the early 2000s.  It’s hard to grasp being an entrepreneur when you don’t participate in the lifestyle and career choice.

Announced today is the evolution of both the agency and myself, a step towards aligning ourselves with innovation in even a greater sense of the word.  Not only will we bring startups and fantastic entrepreneurs inside our walls for advertising related opportunities, but we’ll even take it a step further and fund them as well through our new investment arm, kbs+p Ventures.  You can view the website here.

I’ll continue to lead, inspire, and execute against Chief Digital Media Officer responsibilities with the added responsibility of sourcing, analyzing, and green lighting (along with our investment committee) seed & early stage technology driven investment opportunities that provide mutual value to both the entrepreneur and to our agency at large.

There are three areas that we look for in opportunities that aren’t dissimilar to other investment arms/funds:

  1. Team:  Are we backing the best possible people who are exploring an idea thesis?  If not, what needs to be added to the team?
  2. Idea:  We like to back big ideas that can be executed against today.  If the idea is too large and is too far out in the future, then the idea isn’t for us, kbs+p Ventures.
  3. Demonstrable Traction:  We like to see momentum.  Can you demonstrate traction that you have gained with your idea?  Do you have either an open or private beta?  Demonstrable traction shows us two things:  1) the market at some level is taking to the idea and 2) it shows us that you can execute.

I’m looking forward to backing some fantastic entrepreneurs and investing alongside my friends at various funds.  We generally do not lead investment rounds and we’re complimentary to any super angel or early stage fund.

I’m excited to bring Madison Avenue and Sand Hill Road together.  It’s been way too long for this to happen and as the advertising world is becoming increasingly digital, it makes a ton of sense.

Thanks to all who supported the launch of kbs+p Ventures!

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PointCast & UberMedia

Bill, we’ve never met but I’ve been a big fan of yours since the idealab! days.  I’d love to chat with you based on your recent media coverage around UberMedia.

I’ve been reading lots of the recent news around the acquisition of TweetDeck and your other acquisitions..  This morning, I read an interview on PaidContent which really crystalized this for me and appropriately, Chris Dixon named you a badass swashbuckler.

I don’t have such a cool name for you, but I do want to share a few things with you that I’ve been writing now for the past 5 years.  Note, this is not everything, but snippets of what I could find indexed in Google from my blog.

Here’s a snippet of what was written on PaidContent this morning:

For some of us, like you, some of these ideas of push news, push information, we’ve been there, we’ve seen them fail. I was involved with PointCast. Here’s what I think has happened. Some ideas are really, really great and fundamental, like the push power of PointCast, which Twitter is very similar to today. However, the time wasn’t right. The devices weren’t ready for it. We didn’t have mobile devices, didn’t have smartphones back when PointCast was out, The bandwidth was too low. One of the big challenges PointCast has was taking over the bandwidth of corporate servers so they blocked it. At that time, the dial-up modem was just too slow to handle the push graphics. Today, it’s ideal. The ideal circumstances are there so sometimes old ideas at the right time are really powerful and I think that’s the case today.

As many of you who have followed this blog since day 1, I’ve said that there is room for PointCast to come back.  I even attempted to purchase PointCast 3 years ago but that failed and that’s when I began building Tomzy in my private time.  Tomzy will be released in the near future once a few developers can finish up the initial alpha code.

Here are a few of my blog posts about PointCast over the years.  The media landscape is so ripe for it especially as all of our media consumption “devices” are becoming connected.

Predictions for 2006 (1/2/2006)  We’re going to see a “Pointcast” type network emerge for media.  For those who do not know what PointCast was, it was a startup formed in 1992 that provided relevant news and information to your desktop thru a push application.  See the Wikipedia definition here.  Pointcast didn’t fail due to it’s amazing product- it failed due to poor management and the timing of the marketplace.  I’d like to see Pointcast come back in some iteration that may bridge iTV, iRadio, Internet, and video games.  Do I believe that media can be 100% ad-supported?  Not all of the media, but there are certainly a mass quantity of media that can be – so lets get Pointcast up and running and support that relevant media.  (I’ve got an idea, so contact me)

PointCast & Widgets (8/29/2006):  Are we going to see a resurgence of the PointCast Network?

The Adobe Air Up There (9/27/2007):  Lots of possibilities for this platform. The number one possibility I’d like to see it enable/bring back? PointCast. If PointCast had launched utilizing the Adobe AIR platform, the technical hurdles that the developers faced in the 90s would have went away and PointCast may be the next new network. Who knows. I’d love to place a bet that a similar [PointCast] model will emerge soon utilizing this platform.

Digital Ramblings:  Long Post Warnings (12/7/2008):  Boxee is really interesting for many reasons, but the first of which is getting digital content onto my living room TV.  I can watch everything from Fast Lane Daily to TED Talks, Hulu to Netflix.  Genius.  I want to see Boxee expand to the desktop as well in terms of a content distribution system inside of widgets.  Think PointCast model.  I’d be very interested in talking further about this.

Bill, I welcome a conversation with you next time you are in NYC or I’ll fly out to San Francisco to meet with you.  You can contact me thru this form (sorry for not giving email address due to search engine spammers) and I’ll gladly be in touch.

If you aren’t Bill Gross, but are an entrepreneur who has serious aspirations around a “new” PointCast model and you can think larger than the traditional “desktop” experience, lets chat too.

Happy Saturday.


Opportunities in Advertising Ecosystem

I gave a presentation at the First Round Capital CEO Summit yesterday in San Francisco on the subject of areas that need innovation within the advertising ecosystem.  While this is a very very broad topic and I only had 45 mins or so, I had to narrow it down to a few areas to speak in-depth about.

I modified the presentation for public consumption and reformatted it from it’s original version.  The presentation is obviously a “talking” presentation with much of the context and clarity coming from my voice overs.  I tried to put a few sentences under each topic so you can get a sense of what each slide is about.  It’s short and sweet – and would love to hear from anyone who has any “solves” for these opportunities.

Here is the link to the presentation on Scribd

Opportunities in Online Advertising

I had a great time at the presentation and met some awesome entrepreneurs and CEOs.

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Why I'm Excited About This Batch of Internet Driven IPOs

NEW YORK - APRIL 02: Changyou CEO Tao Wang pre...
Image by Getty Images via@daylife

Let’s assume the Internet started mainstream adoption in 1990 when Prodigy had approximately 465,000 subscribers and CompuServe had 600,000 (fact check here).  While those numbers in themselves aren’t mainstream to a country of 300MM+ people, they do signify a large group of people who were early adopters and started to spread the love about this thing we called/call the World Wide Web.

Throughout the decade of 1990s and within the technology sector, there were quite a few companies who attained liquidity thru going public (IPO).   Others raised quite a bit of private equity and venture capital and some are still around today, others are not.

IPOs of significance to this post:  Lycos (1996), Yahoo! (1996), eBay (1998), Akamai (1999), Razorfish (1999)

During the 90s, there was lots of hype and hoopla surrounding many of the IPOs which led them to appear much larger and significant than they really were.  The major reason for this was the promise of the Internet and implied valuations and multiples for what the Internet “will be” in years to come.  These multiples made up for the revenue traction (or non-traction) that the companies had.  The companies who had revenue traction then are more likely to be around today as they had solid foundations.

Fast forward to today.  There is starting to be some talk on the various mainstream and niche news sites about the forthcoming IPO marketplace for Internet related companies such as Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn, Twitter, amongst many others.  In talking with many investors, journalists, and entrepreneurs, they are a bit hesitant of this IPO landscape which is the opposite of my thinking.  Maybe I’m the contrarian here.

I’m excited for some of the forthcoming IPOs.  Let me explain why but before I do, lets remove any external factors outside of this blog post about the US economy, worldwide economies, etc.   Let this solely be around the Internet.

  • Internet Adoption:  In it’s most simplest sense, there are more people using the Internet today than there were in the 1990s; here in the US and in the world.  By more people using the web, there is inherently more demand for innovation.  Instead of introducing home PCs to people, we’re now introducing tablets and smartphones.  Access to the web isn’t “if” or even “when” now, it’s more about “how much” access thru multiple devices.
  • Internet Understanding:  It’s 20 years post 1990 or 11 years (an entire decade+) since 2000 and the mainstream public now knows how to use a computer and browse/surf/dabble across the web.  500 million people have logged onto Facebook and created a profile.  This was not the case 10 years ago.  Fundamental understanding and most important, comfort, with the Internet is here and more people are discovering, transacting, communicating, and planning each day online.
  • Advertising Dollars:  For the past 20 years, dollars have been allocated to the digital channel.  Search, display, rich media, video, mobile, etc all have helped grow the digital advertising pot. Currently as it stands according to eMarketer, online ad spending is roughly 15.3% (2010) of total ad spending resulting in approximately $25.8B.  This number is going to grow and help bolster digital tv, radio, print, and OOH (all of those channels will have digital backbones eventually).

So why I’m particularly excited about the idea of the Internet IPO resurgence is because there is a strong foundation for these companies to grow on top of in terms of Internet users, comfort level, and ad & product spending online.  The previous companies had very little to build atop which is very different now.  The landscape is a bit more mature which should allow for companies to go big and have a higher rate of success.

(note, I’m not bullish on all of the companies listed in this post -just using them as examples)

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My First Ohours Day Competed

For those note familiar with Ohours, it’s my friend Nate‘s new experiment with helping to connect people looking to network and connect with other interesting people.  He also coded it from start to finish as his working education to learning programming.  I thought I’d try it.

I held my first Ohours day on Friday, January 7.  I made an hour of my time available in 20 minute increments and met with three different people.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect going in and was very curious to see who would pick me.

I will leave out the names of the people I met with due to confidentiality purposes but will give some insight into the content of the meetings and my overall opinions:

  • Probably no shock, all three meetings had to do with entrepreneurship and for me to give quick feedback on certain aspects of their business (fundraising, business development, hiring)
  • The meetings underscore to me that the New York tech scene has a lack of development talent which has been written about quite a bit lately or people just do not know where to look (which seems to be less of an issue now)

Here is some advice if you are using Ohours (and feedback for the product in general):

  • 20 minute meetings are tough.  By the time you are done with intro’s, then you have 10 minutes to talk.  Not a ton of time.  I’d say minimum meeting times should be 30 minutes (an extra 10 mins means a lot)
  • Ohours should send an email with brief bio’s of each person you are meeting with.  I actually had only met one of the three people I had met with before and wasn’t able to research their backgrounds before meeting individually with them.  If Ohours could pull from the various sources online (like LinkedIn) with bio information, it would be helpful.
  • A private feedback mechanism would be helpful to see how the participants in the meeting felt about it.  It could be less about “did I like the person” but more about “did the meeting add or enrich value” (or something along those lines)

The next 2 weeks are grueling for me and laden with travel so I’ll have another Ohours in February.  It’s not posted yet on the site but will tweet it out when it eventually is posted.

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Optimizing My Content Consumption

Image representing Summify as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

It’s very rare that I have time to web surf and pop onto random websites and consume whatever is there.  24 hours just is not enough for me at this point in my life and so I need the best possible filtering agents to help me consume/optimize my time online.

What I expect from a filtering solution today:

  1. Takes inputs from me and understands what I want from them
  2. Look-a-like model against my input list and expand it
  3. Understand what my social graph is consuming

What I expect from a filtering solution tomorrow:

All of the above, but with use cases built in:

  1. Business needs (be able to filter results based on what I need for business – maybe understanding this by time of day and day of week consumption habits?)
  2. Personal needs (be able to filter results per above)

Currently, I’m using Summify and  Both are early in their existence and are making good strides but would love to understand what else is out there?

What I like about Summify:

  • Simple email is sent to me at a specific time (usually in the early AM) with up to 6 items that should be relevant to me based on my RSS + social graph.  I like the simplicity of this.

What I like about

  • I like the web interface to expand my collection into what other people similar to me are consuming/creating

Media optimization is a big space that I’m tracking for 2011 and expect to make an investment or two.  If you are in the space and want to reach out, I’d welcome it.

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2010 Post Highlights

I’ve written a bunch of posts on this blog in 2010.   Not all are my favorites but below, I’ve highlighted the ones that are.  You can find a list of all-time favorite posts here ranging back to 2006.

Organizational Behavior

Data, Marketing Technology

Twitter & Social


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Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality protest at  Google HQ - GoogleR...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

Jon Borthwick (@borthwick) penned a piece for TechCrunch this morning called Neutrality or Bust.   This followed a piece by friend and fellow investor Brad Burnham (@bradUSV) entitled Internet Access Should Be Application Agnostic.

While Net Neutrality has been talked about for years, it’s now getting a lot of attention by the industry because action is about to be taken.  It’s serious and has far reaching implications for the entire ecosystem of advertising, technology, telecommunications, and media.

While I’m not going to write a long essay on what I believe is right, I will point you to the two articles linked above and state my thoughts quite simply:  The Internet has grown at the pace it has because all access has been equal.  I believe it should remain that way.  I do realize however that infrastructure costs  change a bit in a mobile/wireless world and we have enough smart people in this country to figure out a mutually beneficial infrastructure.  Keep the web neutral.

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Why These Frothy Times for Angel Investing are Actually Good

I’m going to play contrarian for a post.  There is so much talk right now of the angel investment scene going bananas from venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, journalists, academics, and even lolcats.  I agree that it’s going bananas, but where I don’t agree with many people (and many people who I respect) is that it’s a terrible thing.

I believe it’s actually a good thing.

I’m an occasional angel investor.  Back in ’00-’01, I lost a lot of money in early stage investments.  Too much money.  I vowed never to do early stage financing again.  But I’ve had enough toes in the water over the past 7 years here in New York to understand where we were and where we are now.

If you are an entrepreneur, this is a great time to raise capital.  There is a ton of capital for many different reasons and access to it has never been easier.  It used to be that you had to have a top lawyer who knew people, or was asked to pitch at an angel group.  The web has fundamentally changed this.  I receive 3-4 deals a day on AngelList of companies I’ve never heard of but have demonstrable traction and already have hundreds of thousands committed.

Since there is a capital supply glut, simple economics say that it’s in favor of the entrepreneur.  Valuations are higher than a few years ago which is not in favor of the investor.  You need to put more money to work from an investment standpoint to have the same ownership percentages than just 365 days ago.

So as an entrepreneur, times are great.  If you are on the fence about raising capital, go and do it.  Cost of capital is cheap so take advantage of the opportunity.

As for angel investors, it sucks to be us.  But then again, it’s great to be us.

I spent a few hours in a board meeting today with angel investor and friend Jerry Neumann and he mentioned that the best part of being an angel means that you don’t have to do deals that you don’t want to do.  So lets use some simple logic:  if the deal terms are atrocious right now yet money is getting poured into early stage investments, then who is being ridiculous?  Us, – the angels!  No one is forcing us to put money to work in angel investing.  If the deal terms are so ridiculous, shouldn’t we be looking at other investment vehicles to generate wealth?

So why isn’t the well running dry in the angel investing ecosystem?

These frothy times will weed out the morons, or more importantly, the people who deserve to be weeded out.  Maybe the term moron is way too harsh, but it’ll weed out angels who are either a) way too green, b) investing on ego (I see quite a bit of this), c) people with no sense of simple math.  Is that a bad thing for the angel ecosystem?  Not if you ask me.

So, in 365 days from now, hopefully the froth has died down, angels who have no business being angels run out of capital earmarked for angel investments (but hopefully they saved for their children’s 529s), and more entrepreneurs than ever have startups and are dominating the world.