Tag Archives: San Francisco

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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Beware the Generalizations

This week I got the rare opportunity to have a low key dinner with the founders working at the NewME Accelerator in San Francisco.  It was a great visit—the energy and sophistication of the teams there was really strong, and I enjoyed the time.

This talk was strictly Q&A—just me sitting with a group of around 15 founders, fielding questions one after another.  I love this format.  But if you’ve spent time with me, you’ll know once I get started I don’t really stop talking, so this may not be all that unique.  :)

The founders’ questions were many.  Some were specific and use case oriented, such as, “Our team has built a product, we’re getting traction, and we think we need to raise a small seed round.  Some are suggesting we raise more, what do you think?”  In your case, given the instincts that’ve gotten you this far, I reco following them going forward.  If you have an offer to raise more, then think about that then.

Or, “I’m a founder with unique and differentiated real world experience in a specific market, and I want to hire a tech team to build a product this industry needs.  How do I raise money to hire them or how to do I hire them before I have money?”  Catch 22 — not sure what to say, just have to figure out a solution.

Others were pretty hypothetical, “If you had one company with 2 million users and no revenue, and another company with a small number of users and $50,000 in revenue, which would you be more likely to invest in?”  Hm.  Totally depends on trajectory and relative opportunities of the two.

In answering the questions, I often had to reiterate a caveat I find myself making a lot these days.  Namely, when I’m answering a question on a business I know only lightly, as in when I show up at a Q&A with founders, my answers are going to be broad brushstroke generalizations.  These generalizations may not work for you in your particular situation.  Mileage can vary, a lot.  The core truth is that your on the ground reality may be the sort of thing where my advice, or the advice of other outside perspectives, is pretty useless or even harmful.

In my own experience, in building startups the core on the ground reality is pretty muddy and opaque.  This is a constant reality—startups are inherently dealing in uncertainties, and uncertainty creates ambiguity.  Uncertainty and ambiguity is more the norm than the exception.

At the same time, many in our community, investor types like me and other outsiders, present a worldview that is much more certain.  Company 1 is screwed, Company 2 is can’t miss.  Do A, do not do B.   The world is black; not white.  Approach y worked for company x, so you should think about doing y too.  In an uncertain world, the narrative of certainty is valued.

I disagree with this thinking.  Far more is unknown than known, especially by those of us far removed from the front lines of our business.  I encourage founders to hear out different opinions, but retain your own perspective, informed by the reality of your situation.

In most cases, the situations we’re dealing with aren’t black and white.  They’re gray.  Beware of people who make you think the answers are simple and that generalities work.

If the answers were simple, anyone could do this stuff.


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Reflections from Glimpse Social Discovery Conference

This week, I got the opportunity to participate on an investor panel at the Glimpse Social Discovery Conference in San Francisco.  I was onstage with Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures, Josh Elman of Greylock, Christina Brodbeck (Co-Founder of theicebreak, and prominent angel investor), with Dylan Tweney of VentureBeat moderating.

It was an interesting discussion for a few reasons.  First, there had been a pretty prominent set of press the morning of the event around a recent Paul Graham note to his YC companies and alums saying that the fund-raising environment was going to get more challenging as a result of the weakness of the Facebook IPO.  Also, there was a lot of interest in the category of “Social Discovery,” in part owing to Facebook and LinkedIn’s recent IPOs, and with the excitement and interest that we’re seeing with services like Pinterest, Instagram, and others.

I thought the insights from the other panelists was great.  Elman, in particular, whom I’d not met before, really I think framed well the whole category as basically saying that he thought social and social discovery was basically just replacing what he called “media”.  I think this is apparent–but what I liked here as that he’s just thinking about it simply.  Nothing fancy, just good old fashion disruption.  Elman also pointed out, based on his experiences working at Facebook, Twitter and others, that for him as an investor, distribution is really key.  Figuring out how the flows of the product and the sharing really draws people in and enables you to gain new users is vital as he evaluates early stage teams and business opportunities.  Great advice here, and indeed this is something that in my experience many teams skip over or think about too lightly.

Another point that was a fun discussion was raised when Dylan asked us how businesses get built via social discovery.  In my view, again, borrowing from Elman’s thesis that this is all replacing media, is that with eyeballs comes the opportunity for revenue from businesses.  With all the information and intent information that these new services are capturing–where you are, what you like, what you want, etc.–the proposition in terms of promotions to offer are way more interesting and useful than what I’d call old world media.  I continue ot believe that.  I also talked a bit about how I believe that we’ll continue to see growing social media channels–how I interact on Path is different from how I interact on Twitter is different from Facebook, etc.  Given that, I think we’ll have different media channels, as we have many different cable TV channels today on TV.  This was basically just a reprise of articles I’ve written before.

So all in all, a lot of fun and I got some good info from.  Hope to get chance to participate next year!



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RIP Zune

Today’s New York Times has an article titled “RIP Zune” that notes Microsoft’s announcement that its discontinuing the Zune Music/Video service in favor of the better known XBOX Live services.  A no-brainer decision by MSFT, more wood behind a stronger arrow.

I received a Zune device (generation 1, I think) in early 2007 as a gift for a launch I’d worked on at Microsoft.  It was alright, and truthfully, the rental service–a lot like an early version of Spotify though with a smaller catalog–worked well.  The iPod at that point was still just so much farther ahead that it was difficult to see how the Zune would really catch up.

I did have a funny Zune story though.  I left Microsoft on August 31, 2007 and was on a flight back to the US from Tokyo, where I worked, on September 1, 2007.  As I got into my seat on the flight to San Francisco, where I would be starting my new career and head into the unknown, I dropped my Zune.  My seat mate picks up the device, looks at it for a few seconds, and says, “Is THAT A ZUNE? I’ve NEVER seen one!”  I let him play with it for a few seconds, as we giggled about the rareness of these devices.

Within a week of moving to the Bay Area, I’d dropped the Zune for an iPhone.  Within a quarter, I’d moved from Windows to a Mac.  Now our home is filled with Apple devices–Macs, iPhones, iPods, iPads, and Apple TVs.  Come a long way since owning a Zune 5 years ago!


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StartupProTip: Don’t Punch Your Customer

I was speaking to an exec at one of our portfolio companies recently. We were talking about selling, and he recounted an experience where he’d seen a sales person basically tell a prospect, “I have very close relationships with [your 2 main competitors.” Came out like a punch in the nose to the account, a strange way to start a conversation!

We talk a lot in this industry about how we need to listen to customers, walk in the shoes of users, etc. In the context of selling, this takes a whole deeper level of focus and attention to detail. Having the insight to realize that your customer might spend his/her days fighting a key competitor is important, and your role as a sales person is to help the customer in front of you achieve her goals: which could well include putting her competitor out of business.

Anyway, this story reminded me of an experience early in my Microsoft experience. I worked on the team that launched Windows 2000. This launch targeted businesses and IT—we were coming out with a desktop OS as well as an entire line up of Windows Server offerings. One of my responsibilities was to get customer testimonials and case studies teed up for Bill Gates’ keynote at our launch. This included producing videos, which we did of ADP, NASDAQ, Continental, CSFB and the ESPN X-games (a fun filming experience!).

I also had to find a high profile CIO that we could invite onstage with Bill to talk briefly about plans to migrate and deploy Windows 2000. I built a target hit list of companies to approach, and after some discussions, we landed on General Motors’ CIO, Ralph Segunda, as the on-stage testimonial to have with Bill Gates.

Landing this took some work. In addition to several conference calls, I flew to Detroit at least twice to sell the idea in to the GM PR and tech teams. We got their commitment to have the GM CIO on stage, and then I shifted in to nailing the logistics of getting him to and from San Francisco for the event that we were holding at the Moscone Center.

As I recall, the GM team flew to SFO via a corporate plane, and I had to nail all other elements of their visit. I wanted this to be perfect and I took the initiatve to just pull out all the stops, make sure everything was done with military precision.

I called Boston Coach and had a set of Town Cars ready on the tarmac to bring them to the hotel.

I got them rooms at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, so that the accommodations were top notch.

I ordered gift baskets. I hand-wrote thank you notes for each of the gift baskets. I was waiting at the Ritz for their arrival, so that everything was perfect….

They arrived at the Ritz precisely on time, and the team walked in. My VIP and most of the GM entourage kind of brushed by me with ashen, grumpy looks on their faces: something was wrong, very wrong. I blanched and wracked my brain as to what might have been a problem. I finally peeled off one fo the GM folks from the group, a guy I’d built a good relationship with.

Says me, “Hey, is everything alright? It looks like there’s a problem.”

Guy pulls me aside, whispers, “You picked us up in a fleet of LINCOLNS.”


Of course.

I’d basically punched a team of GM execs in the face with that, wouldn’t have occurred to me in a year to have covered that angle.

Happily, the Ritz Carlton concierge was able to find us a town car service that only ran GM Cadillacs.  Visit saved.

Don’t punch your customer.

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