Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

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.

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.

What Does Rick Rubin and Paul Graham Have in Common?

My brother recently took me to a Sound City Players show here in New York.  I’d never heard of the band before other than hearing it was a mashup of Nirvana, Foo Fighters and a dozen other artists.  How bad could that be?

In order to prepare for the show, he told me to watch this iTunes movie which is the history of Sound City.   I was not able to watch it before the concert but did end up watching it last night (romantic Valentines evening).

To sum it up quickly, Sound City was a recording studio in California that became famous for it’s location, home-y yet raw venue, and the volumes of gold and platinum albums that it turned out.  The studio was dedicated to tape based recording (pre-digital) and was magical in how it produced and directed everyone from Fear to John Fogerty, from Stevie Nicks to Nirvana.  The list of artists that stepped foot through their doors is unbelievably diverse and deep.

While watching the documentary, it got me thinking about how Sound City is similar to some of the incubator and accelerators that we have in the marketplace today for technology companies.  Are YCombinator, TechStars, Science, and others the next Sound City?

In other words, are recording studios similar to accelerators and incubators;  In many ways, they are.

I’ve spent some time in recording studios – specifically one here in New York City during my music business days.  Producers and recording engineers play similar roles to mentors and advisors that come thru accelerators and incubators.

Producers help to shape the music and if good, get the very best out of the artist.  They push the artist forward and move them into uncomfortable zones… often telling the artist things that they might not want to hear.

Recording engineers are making sure the music is being captured correctly and in a way that can move into production after its mutually agreed upon.

Artists who go thru recording studios are not guaranteed a hit song or album.  But the chances of going thru a solid recording studio with a reputable producer and creating an album will have a higher probability (I would think, not grounded in fact) of being taken seriously by the music business (A&R folks, etc).  The album also is accelerated thru the recording process as there is a lot of time dedication, attention, and focus on shipping the very best album possible.

Bringing this back to entrepreneurship, is Paul Graham or David Cohen the Rick Rubin of the accelerator industry?

It sounds like a hyperbolic and trivial statement, but think about it.

Not all startups need to go thru a accelerator or incubator.  Many artists don’t necessarily go thru a recording studios.  A big reason for this is that the digital tools available today do not necessitate getting together in a professional studio when Ableton Live or Pro Tools can have similar output at a fraction of the cost.  This is also similar in the accelerator space, though while the tools can be had whether or not in an accelerator, the network of people you engage with are most important.

Just something fun to chew on.

kbs+ Ventures: Creative Entrepreneurship

Just last week, we launched our first book at kbs+ Ventures.  The book was derived from the insight that our agency‘s staff wanted to learn more about innovation frameworks and what entrepreneurs have to do in order to build a business.  You can download the book here (more formats for the book coming in the near future, follow me on twitter to find out when launched).

Creative Entrepreneurship Books

Last summer, Lara, Eugenia, Taylor and I embarked on the process of creating this book with the support of our agency and MDC Partners.  A few months later, we had a finished product of the book in-hand and were ready to launch it.  We turned the book around in about four weeks.

We decided not to re-create the wheel and write all new content.  Some friends of ours are top venture capitalist and entrepreneurs who already write amazing content online so we asked them to donate some content to our book.  And they did;  some old posts they had written and some brand new content for our book.  A huge fist bump to all the contributors including Blake Masters, Tim O’Reilly, Paul Graham, Jay Jamison, Sarah Lacy, Felix Salmon, Mark Suster, Steve Blank, Marc Averitt, Fred Wilson, Charlie O’Donnell, Chris Dixon, Andrew Chen, Seth Levine, Scott Weiss, Babak Nivi, Matthew Waterman, Dave McClure, Dan Shapiro, Adam Penenberg, Robert Ackerman Jr., Walter Kortschak and Rutul Dave.

We plan to use this book for our Fellows Program.  We also plan on making the book much more widely available – it’s free to you.  We will be distributing the book thru different accelerators, incubators, venture capital offices and other places of entrepreneurship.  Reach out to me if you want to put a bunch in your office or in a place which could reach many entrepreneurs.

Here are some pics of our launch party for the book.  It was a blast.  And here is the writeup on our Tumblog.

We believe this book can have an impact and I’m super proud of the team who made it happen.


We Are Going to See Many Independent Agencies

Jack Marshall recently typed a piece about how there are very few independent agencies left after Razorfish, Digitas, Schematic, Blast Radius, AKQA, and Huge have all been acquired by Big Four ad holding companies (WPP, Publicis, IPG, and Omnicom).  The piece was titled “End of the Indies” and I wanted to respond to it with this blog post as its right in my passion wheelhouse.

For the most part, the advertising world innovates and acts similar to it did way back when.  There is not much foundational change.  Sure, there are pockets of brilliance (I’d like to think we’re doing very interesting things) but as a whole, the industry is working on a model that existed a long time ago.     Many people accuse this old model of being “bad” but then again, isn’t salt sold the same way it was bought by our ancestors thousands of years ago?

I think we are in the early days of the rise of the independent agency.   In fact, a whole wave of these indies.  In a couple of years, it will be the perfect time to start an agency.  There are a few reasons for this and I’d like to explain them:

People:  One can argue that the world is not becoming any more creative, but creativity now has a democratized platform to be distributed.  The new entrants in to the workforce never knew a world without a keyboard and mouse, ever-present connectivity, and digital cameras.  The DNA of this new breed has technological understanding as part of creativity.

This is very different than when I grew up; fewer rather than larger numbers of kids gravitated towards computers and it was typically known as a specialty.  I was known as a nerd, even while I was just playing games on my Mac IIe or LC (remember Stunt Copter?)

With this newly trained workforce, creativity is now at everyone’s fingertips which will unfold itself not just in better client strategies, media planning & buying, creative execution, but in organizational re-engineering, organizational behavior, and talent management.  The whole way we think about the advertising and marketing business is going to be impacted by this currently young group of people and they will be ready to start running businesses in the next few years.

Economy:  While I do not pretend to be an economist, it’s hard to debate that our economy is not overly stable right now.  Hearing stories of recent college graduates trying to find jobs to no avail is a commonplace.  Expect to see many of the recent graduates either create their own companies (made easier thanks to the Jobs Act) or go and work for a friends startup.  Just by the laws of large numbers, we should expect to see many new agencies created by people who have no other opportunity than to start their own company.

Technology:  While the workforce certainly understands technology such as how to use a mobile device  or download apps to tablets, technology is going to move to the center of the new independent agency.  And this will happen from Day 1, not retrofitted like many currently large (non) independent agencies.  Because it will be there from Day 1, we’ll see increased efficiencies and effectiveness, plus an open armed approach to welcoming new ways to leverage this technology.  Data will be part of all decisions including those in creative and the art of advertising will emerge in leveraging many of the sciences to derive insights that inform strategies.  The independent agency should be able to deliver on this vision.

Insurgents Become Incumbents:  I gave a pre-read of this post to a colleague of mine who reminded me of Clay Shirkey’s quote in a Wired article.    There are plenty of insurgents today who have become the incumbents, many named above and with the notion of the incumbents being much slower than an insurgent, plenty of talent is probably ready to jump ship and start all over again.  We see this happen all too much and expect it to happen again here.

I think there are significant opportunities for that emerging independent agency.  Plenty of them.  I’m curious to see if Adobe, Oracle, SAS, SalesForce, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! start to fund some of these agencies with both capital and technology.  I think that could be a really interesting model or eventually, where the insurgent goes to become an incumbent.



Entrepreneurs are Idealists and Agencies are Realists

So far this year, I’ve probably met with over 100 unique start-ups,  inclusive of mentorship, investing, and media buying activities.  Since I’ve met with a high volume of companies, I’m starting to see a pattern.    Most entrepreneurs in the advertising and technology space are pitching an idealistic vision.  Unfortunately though, we do not live in an idealistic world so in my mind, I need to take their vision and transform it into something that’s much more tangible.

The Addressable Market

Advertising agencies are looking for solutions that solve today and tomorrow’s problems and we need companies who can help us do it with flawless execution.  Many early stage organizations are far from flawless not because they are terrible, which they are not, but they are early stage and building out their product and team while trying to satisfy the demands of a large agency and a global fortune 500 marketer.  It’s hard to do both.  The early stage organizations who can do this are the ones who accelerate revenue fastest.

Additionally, because entrepreneurs tend to be idealistic, only a portion of their product vision can be bought off today.  It’s rare, though not impossible, that we as an agency can buy a total offering from an early stage company. Agencies are trying to get their clients key performance indicators satisfied and surpassed and sometimes much of the entrepreneurial product is not relevant to do so.

So, what’s the net/net?

As an agency, be very specific with what you need from an early stage company and make sure you understand the ins/outs of working with a startup.  It’s one of the most rewarding experiences to work with an early stage company but it’s also one of the most painful.  Back in May of 2011, I released this document thru The Media Kitchen about lessons we’ve learned working with startups.  Read it.  For the record, I am pro-startup and working with as many early stage companies as possible.

As an investor, try and understand what the market is ready to buy today.  While you are ultimately investing in a vision for the future, as well as a solid team, the market rewards current acceleration.  Also, product changes and pivots are common, so make sure to understand what media buyers are looking for.  We’ve all heard Wayne Gretzky’s quote, “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” and that’s also relevant here, just don’t go too far up the ice or you’ll be waiting for your portfolio company to be generating revenue.

As an entrepreneur, understand that not everything you are selling might be bought off today.  Build a product that can be serviced today but has enough visionary legs to pull it into the future.  Your product you are selling should be relevant for today’s needs.  Meet with agencies to understand exactly what those are.  There are some great people you should connect with to take the temperatures of agencies.  Here are just a few of them:  Brandon Berger, Ian Schafer, David Berkowitz, and Mark Silva (sorry if I forgot to mention you).

** The graphic from this post was something I drew after being inspired by Hugh Macleod.  Hope you enjoy.

Business Plan Competitions Don't Reward Business

I recently judged a business plan competition at Skidmore College and it was a fantastic experience.  The college and organizers did a fantastic job putting it together and making it all happen.  Here is a recap video that has been posted to YouTube.

I got back to the office yesterday and was catching up with Taylor about the competition and we got talking about the overall topic of business plan competitions.  While business plan competitions are fun and exciting, they actually do not reward business; they focus purely on the idea of a particular business.

One of the pieces of advice I always give out is that a mediocre idea executed great is better than a fantastic idea that’s poorly executed.  Execution is the key term.  Business plan competitions don’t reward execution, they just reward ideation and that’s a dime a dozen.

Something to think about.

An Annecdote about Entrepreneurship Education

I was fortunate to be asked back to my alma matter, Skidmore College, to judge a business plan competition that was open to all students at the college.  I drove up last Thursday eve and spent all day Friday with alumni judges and students.  It was phenomenal and blew away my expectations.  The students had obviously prepped hard for this day and it showed.   We saw 10 presentations that ranged from non-profit dance troupes thru iOS apps for customer service.

I loved the passion for entrepreneurship.  But candidly, even though I’ve been back to Skidmore numerous times to speak to college students, it was weird to be back sitting at a business plan competition.  Let me explain.

When I was a student at Skidmore, I tried to push the entrepreneurial/business vision forward but was met with much resistance from the school.  It was known internally that the business department was necessary but not a place where Skidmore placed many resources.   I started the first entrepreneurial get together (appropriately named Skidbiz) on campus in 2000, but could not get it sanctioned as an official club as it was too business focused.  I pitched it multiple times to the Student Government Association and college administrators to no luck.  My adviser, who was the head of the business department couldn’t believe it and found funding for the get-togethers from a local alumnus and it helped pay for the pizza and donuts for our events.  We never were “legit” but this allowed us to operate under our own freedom.  The club grew and had a great following.   True story.

What’s the moral of this story?  Entrepreneurs don’t understand boundaries.  If things are going to happen, they will.  I’m glad Skidmore recognized this and got behind it, and look forward to participating with them in the future of entrepreneurial education.

btw – Skidmore’s website currently is running a feature story about me on entrepreneurial thinkingFunny the way it is.

Of Acceleration, Inspiration Spaces, and Funds: 2011 TMK Digital Media VC Conference

One of the areas that I focus on is bridging Madison Avenue with Silicon Alley/Valley.  I think it’s unbelievably important for the future growth of both ecosystems.

At The Media Kitchen, in 2008, we launched our first Digital Media Venture Capital Conference.  We haven’t looked back since and we’re going on our 4th year of doing this.  We’ve had venture firms such as Union Square Ventures, First Round Capital, DFJ Gotham, Spark Capital, Betaworks (not a full VC firm), and IA Ventures present in the past with a wealth of CEOs and founders from amazing startups including but not limited to Meetup, 33 Across, AppNexus, Pinch Media, Izea, ContextWeb, DoubleVerify, Boxee, 5Min, TargetSpot, ChartBeat, Bit.ly, Zenetics, Metamarkets, FourSquare, GetGlue, Tumblr, and Twitter.  Here’s a link to my post from our 2008 conference.

This year, we’re changing it up a bit and not focusing 100% on Venture Capital funds, but around the ecosystem that surrounds entrepreneurship.  I think this is very important to present because the more people that we inspire about the surrounding ecosystem of entrepreneurship, the more people will feel comfortable with the possibilities of innovation.

We’re holding our TMK Digital Media Venture Capital Conference entitled, Accelerators, Inspiration Spaces, and Startups on May 17, 2011 here in New York City.  I have the ability to give 5 lucky readers of this post admission to the event which will be from 8;15am-12:30pm.  It’ll be an intimate group  of <150 awesome people.

If you are interested in attending and want to come, please reach out using this form with 1-2 sentences of why.  I’d love to give the right people the opportunity to be here to mingle with our entire agency, our clients, and our friends from the entrepreneurial world.

Video Search: A Big Opportunity

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a startup idea that I think is ripe.  Time is now.

Lets try and learn from the past and apply it to the future. Alta Vista, Excite, Yahoo!, Overture, Dogpile, InfoSpace, Metacrawler, Gopher, Ask Jeeves, Webcrawler, Bing, Google (and many others) all evolved the way that we search for information.  Gone are the ways of card catalogs (I actually learned how to use one in grade school) and in are digital search boxes.

These search engines in varying degrees have been helpful to us when looking up textual based content and in some capacities, are helping us pull social, graphic, and video content.

As digital becomes less of a standalone channel and more of a backbone, I’d have to think that Video Search is going to be a huge business in the mid-future.  I don’t know the exact statistic, but X out of 10 televisions are being sold with either direct-to-Internet capabilities or STB’s that plug into a wireless routers which enables your big shiny new television as a portal to all the content on the web.  That “X” number will increase over time.

Since I find it hard to think I’m going to use my 70″ LCD TV to write Powerpoint documents from my bed, I’d have to think that the primary use will still be to view video content.

If Fred is correct, which I certainly believe, we should get together to build some beautiful video search apps for Android that will be positioned to deliver video search capabilities with potential for social interactions.

I’d have to imagine that the current big (and small) search engines were not created with video search capabilities as the technical infrastructure is fairly robust so either they will eventually come knocking.

My Tuesday morning thoughts.

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