Tag Archives: BlueRun Ventures

Do’s & Don’t’s from SXSW

End of a 2 block line of pilgrims waiting to g...

I just got back from another “South By,” always a fun time.  I spent the weekend there, which given SXSW‘s total boondoggle nature, is I think about the right period of time to be there.  Having caught up with other folks who attended and having traded notes, and now having attended for 3 years, here are a few Do’s and Dont’s for SXSW.  Pro Tips (alright, potentially only semi-pro tips).

  1. Wear comfortable shoes.  SXSW is a place where you should be spending a lot of time walking and standing.  Wear the most comfortable shoes you own.  For me, I bring and wear a pair of Brooks running shoes.  I could walk to Arkansas in them, they’re that comfortable.
  2. Avoid conference sessions (unless I’m speaking ;). Every year I make this mistake…  I get my badge, and I think, wow I should do something useful like go to a conference session.  This year, I did this and I ended up at a session where a guy had as his powerpoint slides pictures of kittens… talking about what I parsed to be the evolution of work and questioning why our normal workday was roughly 8-5.  Snooze fest.
  3. Do make sure your app works.  Highly touted mobile app Highlight launched a new version of its app prior to SXSW.  They garnered press on their cool ice cream truck.  I thought I’d reinstall Highlight to see how it had evolved since the last SXSW.  Unfortunately, for me at least, I couldn’t get Highlight to work after installation.  When I click the “Sign in with Facebook” button to actually use the app, nothing happens.  So other than a splashscreen, Highlight doesn’t really offer me anything. I’d be interested to learn whether anyone else ran into this problem. (A few disclosures .. First, BlueRun Ventures, where I work, is an investor in Banjo, which is often positioned as a competitor.  Two, I reinstalled Highlight twice to try and overcome this issue, unsuccessfully–user error may be at work here, but I’m dubious.)  Robust testing pre-launch, especially for mobile apps where Apple will take weeks to approve updates, is an absolute must do.  Quick plug: check out mobile testing platform Appurify (disclosure: I’m an investor), when you want to put your mobile app through a rigorous QA and testing regiment.
  4. Drink a lot of water.  Next year I’m bringing a Camelback and just wearing it.  SXSW does have a lot of partying.  At the same time, Austin restaurants are pretty weak at getting you water.  Get water every chance and place you get.
  5. Always be charging.  ’nuff said.


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Thoughts on Apple’s Tim Cook’s Apology on Maps

Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook posted an apology letter to its customers over the release of its mapping product in iOS6.  It is direct and sincere.  It also recommends partner (or potentially competitor) products to users.  A link to the letter is here, and it is a clear sign of Cook’s leadership style and how this style differs from Jobs’ style.

One of BlueRun Ventures‘ portfolio companies, Waze, is specifically recommended to users.  This is quite a turn of events, as just a few months ago, Apple’s announcement that it was launching its own mapping product had led many in the technorati sphere to pronounce Waze roadkill.  What a difference solving a hard technical problem makes.

This is not a post that is negative to Apple at all.  It is still the most amazing and most valuable company in the tech world, and rightly so.  I am a big time Apple fanboy.  At the same time, today’s development is actually great news for startups as a whole for several reasons.

There are no sure things.  First, today’s note is evidence that just being the 800# Gorilla isn’t enough to guarantee winning a market.  With some markets, even if you are the most valuable company on the planet and you can literally devote limitless resources to a technology, you are not guaranteed a win, at least straight out of the gate.  In some market segments, like Maps, people depend on them and care about them greatly.  And it turns out the technology solution is difficult and takes more than just money to solve–it’s going to take, in the estimation of some analysts “two or three years,” to for Apple to build  a competitive offering.

Competition is good.  The second observation that’s good for startups is that this is evidence of a healthy and competitive marketplace.  Imagine that this happened in the PC ecosystem at the height of Microsoft’s dominance with Windows…  Users would have complained and raised a fuss, and Microsoft would have stuck with the message that ‘as more users use our [crappy] maps, the maps will get better,’ but there wouldn’t have been the same ecosystem support and robustness.  There’d also not have really been an alternative.

Today, not only is Apple recommending products like Waze, but analysts are wondering whether this will drive more users to Google’s Android platform, where Google Maps are happily distributed.  This is the wonder of competition–the invisible hand is clearly at work.  More competition at the platform level is good for startups and good for users, as it drives more diversity, more desire for offerings that each ecosystem can build upon.

Mobile is about local and real-time–maps here are key. The third observation that is that #MapGate and the customer uproar over it highlights things I’ve written about before.  Namely,  the Mobile Web 3.0 is upon us, and it offers the opportunity for real time commerce right here right now at the hyper local level.  When you  think about computing as being very local and real time, you realize that the map is the central locus point, that the map is extremely strategic in this world.  This is great news, not just for Waze, but for the coming future of the Mobile Web 3.0.



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Mobile Brand Connect Dinner

Last night in San Francisco, BlueRun Ventures co-hosted the Brand Connect Dinner.  We work with Mark Evans at Social Local to put these events together, and we were thrilled to have speakers from Facebook, Proctor and Gamble, and Topsy speaking.  Also, it was a great audience of brands and entrepreneurs, seeking to build relationships and trade information.

There are a few takeaways I had from the event.

We are in early innings of what’s possible for brand advertising through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.  These social platforms are offering a new way for brands to communicate and connect with users.  Currently, most brands are merely repurposing content and media from existing campaigns (TV ads, magazine content, etc.) and just pushing it onto the Facebook wall, where they attempt to drive views and likes, etc.  What we saw though were several very interesting examples of new types of campaigns and engagements that leveraged some of the unique elements of Facebook to enable users to engage in more personal, more deep connections with the brands.  This was exciting.

There will need to be a continuing evolution here.  But this is to be expected if you study the history of media.  When TV first came out, for example, the first ads were basically radio ads just read on TV.  It took a while for everyone to figure out how to leverage TV.  But leverage it they did.  Same thing will happen in Facebook.

Big brands need massive scale from a startup to really engage.  On the one hand, many of the big brands–P&G for example–are getting much more serious about engaging with innovative young startup companies.  We saw this at the Big Brand Hackathon earlier this summer, where Home Depot, Toblerone, Ritz Cracker, and Kraft Mac & Cheese, all joined us and a bunch of hackers to build mobile-oriented demo projects that met their specific brand objectives.  Big companies and brands recognize that these new media types and these new innovations are areas they need to build musclature around, and it is great to see them engaging and working to stretch themselves to strengthen themselves here.

At the same time, its important for a reality check.  Concretely, big brands are driving massive scale and massive P&Ls.  This means that for a startup to really matter to a brand, there is a very high hurdle that the startup has to cross to become meaningful.  As Sonny Jandial, P&G’s Head of Innovation pointed out, the Brand Manager for Dawn Dish Soap is selling $1B worth of soap per year at around $4 a unit.  That Brand Manager has to move *a lot* of soap.  By definition, for the brand to engage beyond a little pilot or experiment with a startup, then, the startup has to be able to deliver meaningful numbers.  It’s a tall order, and as Sonny pointed out, his role is to be more of an experimenter on P&Gs behalf and help startups get nurtured to a level where they can grow to a point where they’d have an appopriate amount of scale to engage.

Budgets seem to be coming.  Without holding the brands to any fixed numbers, it did sound as though there was real understanding and thinking around th e need to spend here.  Engaging with Silicon Valley is not a hobby effort–it’s real and it’s serious.  The bar is of course high, but it did seem as though the budget is there.

All in all, over the last 6 months, I have seen a tremendous amount of interaction between large brands and with our portfolio and with the startup ecosystem more broadly.  This is an exciting trend.  At BlueRun, we will definitely continue to drive further into helping engage and connect brands into the ecosystem, and I’ll look forward to the next opportunities to get together.  See you at the next Brand Connect dinner!



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How to Get a Job in Venture Capital After B-School

Aside from receiving a lot of pitch decks (which I generally love receiving), the second largest category of emails I get are from MBA students (and recent grads) asking how to get a job in venture capital.  This post is for you.

The emails I receive generally take this form:

 Dear Jay,

I’m a second year student at XYZ MBA program, and I’m interested in getting into a career in venture capital (or private equity) after I graduate.   I believe that with my strong analytical background, intellectual curiosity, and leadership skills that venture capital would be a great fit for me.  I would appreciate learning whether BlueRun Ventures has any plans to hire an Associate, and if so, whether I could speak with you about this opportunity.


Joe (rarely Jane) MBA

 There are a few parts to my answer to this type of approach.

The first question that I would discuss with you is whether working as an Associate help you build a career in venture?   I don’t think that this is at all clear.  The most common post-MBA entry-level jobs are  investment banking or consulting, and both have very established Associate programs.  You join the ‘i-bank’ or consulting firm, and you work at a certain level, and things follow a well defined pyramid of ‘up or out.’  After 12-24 months, you’re either promoted up to the next level of the pyramid, or you move on.  And the skills you learn as an Associate, generally help and prepare you to be a Vice President, which in turn prepares you to become a Managing Director, etc.  Very clear and generally well understood processes exist there.

In venture, this defined process doesn’t broadly exist.  While some firms take an approach similar to what an I-bank or consulting firm would do in an Associate program, most especially in early stage investing don’t take that route.   Instead of setting the Associate up to become a Principal or Partner, the firm asks the Associate to get out into the startup community and meet as many founders as possible, to see everything.  Generally this involves a very large expense account and lots of parties and networking—a job that can be fun as all get out, but not one that necessarily sets you up with the skills you’d need to be value accretive to the firm or the venture industry long-term.  More often, these Associate roles are kind of a two year hiatus of meet a bunch of founders and build your network, help run due diligence, and give input at partner meetings.  Then after two years, you’re meant to get out into the ecosystem to ‘build operating chops.’

This is certainly a route, and to be fair, some who start as Associates do end up climbing the ladder to become Partners.

At the same time, if you’re going to consider doing the Associate gig at a firm, it’d be useful for you to know whether there is a track record at that firm of Associates moving through the ranks or whether it’s more a 2-years and out program.  So that’s the first thing.

The second element to this though is probably even more important, and deserves deeper consideration.  That is a more strategic view of how do you as an individual add sustainable value to a venture firm, thereby giving you differentiated substance as to why you should earn the role relative to your competition.  This is important not only to land a role in venture; its important to think about how you add value over time once you’re in a firm.

To me this is all about what is the equation of value creation in venture, and how you showcase it.  To me there are three elements of value that really matter: (1) proprietary deal flow; (2) credibility; and (3) value add with founders.

Deal flow is lifeblood to a venture capitalist.  And proprietary deal flow is about how do you get access to great deals.  The more of the great deals you can bring to the firm and get done, the more valuable you are.   This is true for anyone in the industry: top partners at the top firms, all the way down to first day on the job associates.

If you don’t have a network in tech startups, you’re at a severe disadvantage IMHO, and you need to work on remedying that.  One MBA candidate who contacts me every few months to look for a job in venture attends a top B-school in the Midwest.  Every time we speak, I tell this person that he’s got to get out here and get to know people and get a network.  Sitting in b-school class in the Midwest does nothing to get him any network or any insight as to what deals are interesting or what teams are worth watching or knowing.  Why wouldn’t a venture firm just hire some kid from Stanford who’s worked on their on campus incubator?

If you’re a b-school student who’s not out here in the Bay Area, then find ways to get out here.  Do a summer internship out here.  Visit during breaks.  Get involved in any way you can so you can meet people and start building a network.

Credibility is also important to build: both with the partners of a certain firm and with founding teams.  This is also a challenge for most MBA candidates targeting early stage firms.  The challenge most often is that the MBA candidate lacks both technical skills and insight and concrete experience working in a very early stage company.  While the MBA candidate may be analytically rigorous and a quick study, their inability to approach a partner or portfolio company founder with credibility of having been in the environment or having had strong technical skills makes it difficult to convey value to stakeholders key to your career.

So my recommendation here is that if you have no operating background in the high tech startup world, then get some.  Work for a small company or even work for a larger established company, e.g., Facebook, Google, etc.  The most important key here is to establish that you have operating chops and you have a perspective formed around getting products into market and getting users interested in what you’re effort has produced.

Finally, and related, you’ve got to have credible value add for founders.  If founders think you’re a joke, you’re not going to survive in the industry.  The good founders all know each other and your reputation in the industry is mostly controlled by these folks.  If you’re useful and effective, then they’ll say that.  If you’re not, they’ll let the network know that too.  Whenever I speak to an MBA candidate about getting a job in venture, I’m visualizing what an interaction with that candidate and one of our portfolio company CEOs would look like.  Too often, my assessment is that the CEO would basically ask me to never put the MBA candidate in the room with them again  as they would be a time waster.

With these as the core components of creating value in venture, then my recommendations to MBA candidates seeking to build a career in venture are basically the following:

Don’t limit yourself to looking for a venture role right out of B-school, look also at operating roles at tech companies.  Especially as so many Associate roles are 2 years in duration and then you’re bumped out into industry to gain operating skills, why not just start by building the operating skills?  In an operating company, you’ll have the opportunity to build a network.  You’ll gain opportunities to create real value and gain experiences that give you credibility in your industry.  This helps you gain credibility with the partners and the founders in your space.  And when you start interacting with rockstar founders, they’ll see you as someone who’s accomplished something, who knows what you’re talking about.

Get out to the Bay Area.  New York and Los Angelese are both surging as startup areas and I don’t mean to take anything away from them.  If you have strong proprietary networks and connections in either place, then sure, consider those markets carefully.  But all things being equal, more venture firms, more startups and more people in the industry are here in the Bay Area.  If you want to build a long-term career in this industry, the smart bet is to come out here.

Evaluate your progress on the 3 elements of value I describe abve, and commit to joining venture in the long term.  I’ve described above what I think are the 3 core elements of adding value in venture.  If you’re really passionate about joining this industry, then commit to getting there in time.  Understand that irrespective of when you join the industry, it will be important to always be making progress on these 3 elements of value add.  In my view, you want to track progress on these 3 elements before and during your career in venture.  So I’d say get started, build your network, build your credibility, and figure out how to add value to founders.


Good luck!



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Opinionaided–my opinion on our newest investment at BlueRun

This week Opinionaided announced that it had raised $4.3M in venture funding led by SoftBank Capital and BlueRun Ventures (that’s us!).  Opinionaided also launched a new version of their iOS app, which is really slick.

I am very excited to be an investor in Opinionaided, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the journey.  I thought I would discuss briefly the reason for my enthusiasm, as it illustrates some of the things I talk about when I speak with founders about building startups and raising capital.

Silicon Valley legend, Marc Andreesen wrote a few years ago about what mattered most in startups.  As he does so often, he distills things usefully.  He listed 3 things: big market, great product, awesome team.

On top of that, Marc also provided a great analysis around prioritizing between these three.  He basically prioritizes big markets as the most crucially important.  When I talk about this with groups, this often is pretty controversial–surely team or product should be the most important.  Marc made the point, which I agree with stronlgy, that a great product and team in a terrible market can and do often not amount to their full potential.  Conversely, in fabulous markets, also-ran products and teams can sometimes stand out.

What is exciting about Opinionaided for me is that it is scoring high across all three vectors.  First, the market around getting real-time interaction and answers from your mobile device is one I see as having huge potential. Second, the product engagement is strong, as evidenced by the 125M responses and 73 responses per question.  And finally, as we’ve gotten to know Opinionaided CEO and Founder, Dan Kurani, we’ve been very impressed.  He brings a great blend of strong vision, customer empathy, work ethic, and humility to his work–someone we are excited to have the opportunity to work with.

Congrats again to Dan and Opinionaided team on the great progress and on the funding.  On behalf of BlueRun Ventures, we’re thrilled to be embarking on this journey with you.




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