Welcome back for part two of the interview on, “Building an Investor Brand” with #Jay Acunzo and #John Gannon.
In today’s installment we will cover; How Jay approaches outsourcing for his efforts on platform and the traction program, suggestions from John for newer investors that are trying to establish theirselves, other thoughts on the topic from Jay and his advice for both entrepreneurs and investors, the common missteps that platform VCs are making as they think about establishing an investor brand and then of course, we’ll learn a little bit more about Jay and John’s current efforts at their companies and wrap up with takeaways and a tip of the week. Here’s part two of the interview with Jay Acunzo of #NextView Ventures and John Gannon of #BEMAVEN.
Nick: You know that #Traction podcast that you do strikes me as something that’s really high touch and pretty significant effort. Is there anything that you can do to help automate or outsource some of that effort or is that you banging away and are you committing all the time on a regular basis without being able to benefit from some workflow automation?
Jay: I struggle with this question because I’m such a believer in the craft of what I’m doing. I just love the work and I feel like if I started to outsource everything you wouldn’t be able to say what you just said about the show. You know, we got rank on #Forbes as the top podcast for entrepreneurs after twelve episodes and…
Jay: … We were listed above other podcasts that had you know, hundreds and hundreds of episodes because what they’re doing is they’re just doing an interesting interview which is truly interesting but then they’re outsourcing everything and they’re not promoting it the right way it cetera so, that was the white space I identified. Is like, by virtue of not outsourcing it that was the competitive edge. Now you might find another medium that is completely raw. Maybe locally in your market it’s events or hands on workshops or a slacker or similar community that you could start to outsource it because you’re the only game in town but I kind of saw podcasting as has increasingly saturated and the way to do it different for us was to keep it in-house like try really, really hard for example. But you know I’m starting to do a personal show on the side and I’m working with a producer there. So you know, there are ways to actually like outsource it. I’m giving that producer a fully fleshed out script whereas when I do the traction podcast, I have a least idea of what I want and then I have a process that I run to be efficient. So, it’s kind of like two sides of the same coin right? You can outsource to save time. The question is, ‘Is the product in to be as good?’ When it’s content anyway, that’s just harder but it does depend on the medium and how saturated that medium is.
Nick: Right, right. So John, what other elements are important and what other suggestions do you have for newer investors that are trying to establish themselves?
John: Don’t be afraid. So as part of pivoting to be Main Event and starting to work on it, one of things I did is, I actually interviewed close to forty aspiring in current Venture Capitalists about their current blogging habits and so this is a group right, that should totally over index for its blogging right because there are so many examples of VC.’s out there blogging and getting all this content out there. You would think that, that group that is like dying to get into V.C. or even a social analyst level folks would be blogging like crazy. So it turns out, out of that group of close to forty current or aspiring VC.’s, only eighty percent of them or I should say eighty percent of them said that they blog rarely or never and there were two reasons why they don’t. One, is the time which makes sense but really the second reason and maybe it’s even the first if people are really honest with themselves is, they’re scared that no one’s going to read it. They’re scared that what they put out there is not going to resonate with people, right? It just… It’s a very human emotion and I’m sure you know Jay does a ton of content creation and you know I’m sure he gets butterflies every time that next episode of Traction goes out…
John: …and similar for me, when I put together a new resource you know, I started my mailing list where I was sending out these V.C. jobs and career advice. I mean that started from zero, right? I started sending these emails but no idea what I was doing, right? But I invested in it and over time it’s sort of become and it was a lot of hard work but if you don’t get over that fear of getting out there with something you genuinely believe is going to help that target audience be an entrepreneur as a potential co-investors, you’ve got to take that first step. You’ve got to get over that fear and that’s the actually I think the biggest challenges because we’re all creative people. If we all dig in, we can actually find that sort of unique set of ideas and experiences that actually can turn into something really compelling to help entrepreneurs or other investors but it’s getting over that fear factor.
Nick: And Jay, any final thoughts on the topic and/or advice for both Entrepreneurs and/or Investors?
John: Yeah, I mean I feel like there… Whenever I see a platform initiative or it’s general Brand Building initiative or effort fall flat or kind of miss the mark, it just feels like copycat and it feels like it has been run through the same wringer that the Startup ideas that a V.C. is vetting is run through and that’s a shame because it’s so familiar. It should be so familiar for a Venture firm to you know, think of something as, ‘What, is this unique enough? Could this be big?’ and when I see somebody’s blog like they’re trying to be #Mark Suster, that’s to me not been run through that same mental trajectory as like the Startup idea that the same partners seeing that day. Right? And it’s so bizarre to me. So it’s disheartening because it’s like there is such an embarrassment of riches in the Venture community. I’m like a kid in a candy store every day. It’s like, “Oh, I can watch this person and that person and that person this organization you know. I could talk to Nick on his podcast and I can understand all of these mediums and initiatives et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…” and then some firms just do nothing with that and that’s like, “Oh, my gosh! You don’t know the unfair advantages that you have to build a truly special brand…” and then you look at the ones that do capitalize on it. Like, and recent are like #First Round and hopefully like a NextView and you know, we’re still building, we’re still young, we’re still hungry but we want to get there and hopefully what’s happening behind the scenes isn’t they’re being super futuristic and forward thinking. There’s some of that, sure. It’s certainly also not like they’re going to be the most prolific blogger or just blog and that’s the only initiative. Again there are some of that too but it really is like, they’re using those unfair advantages. The ability to find white space and be unique.The ability to harness and network and tap into the expertise and that would network at a distribution power of it and also the ability to just like realize you know, unlike a lot of other industries Customer Development is so easy for V.C.S. because you’re literally meeting with your customers as a profession. Like, that is what VC’s do all day, every day for the bulk of their day, is meet with entrepreneurs you know, if they’re actively investing. So that’s unfair, right? A lot of other brands are in an office building that’s enormous and some campus somewhere you know, and they have to like a way out of their way to actually understand how to serve their customers better. VC’s don’t have that problem and so you combine those three things, right and then you like underscore that with just the sheer brilliance of a lot of these partners and it should just produce amazing brand after amazing brand you know. Unique initiative after unique initiative and so often it doesn’t. So to me, that’s disheartening. There’s like one pithy way I can sum that up, it’s the #Jerry Garcia quote, “Don’t try to be the best of the best. Try to be the only one that does what you do.” You know…
Nick: Couldn’t agree more. Every time I get pinged by somebody and in platform, it’s always somebody on the West Coast. You know there… I think I’m based in Chicago and there’s only one other person in Chicago I think that’s even thinking about platform for V.C. and beyond the benefits that is 8:03 (unclear) for me, it’s just force me to get better. You know, I’ve got to study the industry on a regular basis, I’ve got to reach out to people, create connections. It’s force me to become a better writer. I still don’t consider myself a good writer but it makes me think about what I’m doing, if I have to focus, if I have intention. It’s a great discipline beyond all the benefits it can deliver if you’re doing it in a unique way.
John: Absolutely and I think so often I’m talking to folks in my peer set within the first week of them joining a firm as V.P. director. you know, whatever the title ends up being for them Brand Builder essentially, I’m talking them and we’re exchanging notes and I what to kind of realize is, they should not have called me. They should have gone and sat with entrepreneurs and figured out like, ‘Where do you feel under server? What questions you have?” You know, “What’s your day like?” It’s just it’s so easy to keep things simple and actually then build the big sexy brand but the were you mentioned that so valuable is ‘focus’ right? It’s really hard for someone in a V.C. firm that’s brought in to build the brand of focus. You have multiple sectors that maybe you invest in, multiple geographies, multiple stages, multiple partners. You have this noise and froth in the market both on the investment side and also all these platforms that are emerging and if you just focus just like clear all that out. Like, why do you start any type of business? It’s to solve a problem, right? And a product or service that people are pegged for or trying to break down your office wall to meet with you to get, that is a sign that you’re solving a problem well. So whatever you’re doing to build your brand is just a logical extension of that idea of the reason you exist, is to solve a problem. So why are you talking to other people doing competitive work when you should be talking to the people you know, that you’re serving which are the entrepreneur? This all comes back to like, we should be focused on serving the entrepreneur way better and it should be the best era ever to be an entrepreneur because all these VCs should be hell bent on solving all their problems in totally unique ways and instead I think it’s a lot of like, navel gazing and looking at each other like, “Oh, what should we do? How should we outcompete each other?” Right? And again, it’s disheartening but it’s getting better and that’s the best part. There’s so many firms that are doing this while now and again if I’m an entrepreneur, I’m psyched because I have all these firms that are trying to out help each other to you know, better serve me the founder and that’s great.
Nick: John, can you talk about what you’re currently most focused on at BEMAVEN?
John: Sure! So BEMAVEN is a branding platform for companies to brand or rather promote the brands of their most important employees. So, if you think about what a company like, #HubSpot for example and #Jay’s Backyard has done for content marketing, you know they’ve really focused on the corporate level and helping marketing department start to build brand for a company but what we’re seeing in 2016 and beyond is that there’s been a huge shift in terms of how people buy their. They’re buying from people; they’re not buying from a company. They’re not buying from #I.B.M. anymore, right? And so what we do is we actually empower companies like #Razorfish to enable teams or whole groups of individuals to actually help them start to build that brand and that audience and that following because it’s traditionally been a very and both you know on this podcast obviously, traditionally that’s been an extremely time consuming process; and so our platform and in tech enabled service let you cut the time that’s required to do that brand building by ninety percent or more.
Nick: And Jay, we’ve touched on this throughout the show today but can you talk about what you’re currently most focused on at NextView?
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. So the end of last year we launched a better hub for all these resources we’ve created. It’s nextviewventures.com\platform and our goal, our North Star is you know, we want to build the world’s best resource for all these ideas of problems you face during the Traction stage whether that’s acquisition which is the classic idea of Traction or hiring a product and design it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first step in something at any stage in your startup. We want to be able to deliver some kind of resource. So you know, the thing I’m really focused on is, how do we bring together and a community of experts that can contribute to this? You know, it can’t just be NextView bi-lining everything. It’s wonderful that some of those VC. blogs out there are just from the VCs but we see just so much knowledge swirling all over the web that’s pretty Ad Hoc. Occasionally you’d find one founder on a personal blog writing about the 12:36 (unclear), a media company or resource here and there and we want to bring it all together and give you a go-to, how did this like idea of traction. So, that’s what I’m most focused on. I think the podcast is the first step in creating an unassailable asset for the firm that you know, it’s hopefully something that people can look at and respect and in taking that knowledge that we get on the podcast putting it everywhere but we want to do a lot more with like harnessing the entrepreneur communities like collective knowledge.
Nick: Yes, speaking of that, is there a different way that you approach platform pre-investment or you know Startups that may benefit from your base of content in your approach before they ever reach a seed or an A round and then also is there a way that you think about it after a sort of pre-seed investment and is a part of your portfolio?
Jay: Absolutely! So there are you know, the vast majority of our initiatives are available publicly for everybody and I think it’s a) the right thing to do and b) it obviously does increase our deal flow and our brand equity and things like that but we do have proprietary things that we have internally only you know systems and prophecies and consultants and things like that, that we only offer to our portfolio. So you know, one example of that is we have something called the ‘Town Exchange’ which is a portfolio only email list that services top talent. It’s not overly differentiated because a lot of firms do that but where we try to add more value is we actually do the warm intro. We find that just a better hit rate to not only fly in the talent but actually making sure we pointed to each of our portfolio companies that’s hiring and then we’re doing a lot to test other ideas around this idea of talent. So can you bring in people that have a really good process around hiring and not only help people source inner portfolio but make it stick here when they get a candidate to go through a process that’s really effective to vet candidate and hire them. So, there are some ways we think about adding more value. We call that like the ‘Impact Stage’ of my work. A lot of my work does se kind of more at the top of the funnel sourcing stage which is all of our content in our public initiative. So that’s kind of like the two different phases of platform NextView.
Nick: If we can address any topic in venture, what topic you think should be addressed and who would you like to hear speak about it? How about John first and then Jay.
John: Yeah, I think even though. You know, sort of you know Venture deal have been and Venture Capitals have been for a long time, there’s still a huge lack of understanding in the Startup employee world of how stock options work and how they don’t work and how you get bitten by them if you’re not careful; and in terms of someone who could talk about that, you know someone like a #Brad Feld who wrote the book about Venture Deal certainly would be a great person. You know, someone who’s really been around the block and seen how this is stock options can certainly change employee’s lives but also the big gotchas that come up again and again that start employees you know, even now just really don’t seem to be aware of. I think that’s a big problem with the industry as a whole. They just have a lack of transparency there and I’d be great to see people take steps to try to address that.
Jay: I love that John. We just released the playbook for running a process to find that, negotiate the Startups if you’re an employee trying to get a job and that was a huge part of it. It was like understanding that is still so nuanced and complex for a lot of people. I love that.
I think my answer would be, around diversity and I mean that and you know like… So there’s two ways that you can explain diversity and its importance. One is through data and research and my wife is in psychology so I’ve kind of gotten close to that a little bit and the other is, through story; and I’m a writer, so that’s my hammer and everything is a nail. Everything’s an opportunity to tell a story whether it’s through my podcast of NextView or otherwise but I think we need to do a better job in our industry of not just saying, “We need this and here’s what it looks like…” You know, “Here’s how many female partners we have in the world or whatever” but I think like looking at diversity from all angles, diversity of thought just makes everything better, right? More effective and more well rounded and more creative and so we should promote the data a little bit more, you know. There’s actual like scientific proof behind this and maybe that’s how you speak to some older school, more logically driven people in the industry but also telling stories more. Right? Like highlighting… You know, it’s great there’s resources out there. There are people that are saying, “Here’s what it looks like. Here’s what diversity looks like at a firm…” but like I’d love to hear the stories behind that. You know, whether it’s the story of a female entrepreneur or the story of you know running an idea through a pressure cooker where you have multiple diversity and multiple diverse viewpoints in the room. Whether it’s your gender or something else, right? Just somebody with a different background in #SAS. I just think it’s so important and we could be solving so many more interesting problems as a tech community if we talked about it but I think it’s… We’re now at the awareness stage and I think to make it really more impactful and action oriented, we need to do both of those things. Share the data more broadly and also tell the stories of when the diversity has very effective and kind of make everyone who’s not as diverse like jealous. That’s really what I’m getting at. So that would be my answer there.
Nick: And finally guys, what’s the best way for listeners to connect with each of you?
John: Sure. This is John, you can just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or through VC John Gannon e-mail list which is at Johngannonblog.com/vc-careers.
Jay: And Jay Acunzo is: jay_zo@twitter, you can also go to the NextView site and click on either the two controls at the bottom. It is a very minimalist site. If you subscribe to our platform or to our blog, I’ll follow up with an email right away that has like our most popular resources and links to the Traction podcast that Nick has mention.
Nick: Well John, we’ve known each other for a while and I appreciate all your input that you’ve given me and being a sounding board and Jay you’re new in my network but I’ve been admiring from afar for some time and just great job with the podcast and everything. Please keep it up. It’s a huge value for me, for investors and for entrepreneurs as well.
Jay: Thank you. Yeah, this is great.
John: Nick, thanks.
Let’s recap the key takeaways from the interview.
The first is called: The Platform V.C.
This is a relatively new term in the industry that’s become ubiquitous as of late. Venture Capital firms have acknowledged the need to create a brand for theirselves and now have “platform” initiatives and most are hiring non-investment professionals like Jay, to lead these efforts. From my exposure to this trend so far, it seems that platform efforts include one or more of the following:
1) Content: Creating original content that entrepreneurs want to consume.
2) Events: Hosting events and plugging into the activities around the ecosystems.
3) Community Building & Services: This could be as simple as coordinating a tech meetup or as involved as creating a connected community amongst an investor’s portfolio companies. Many venture firms are creating virtual and in-person methods for their entrepreneurs to interact with one another and also leverage shared services that can help during the early stages.
And John cited a couple investors that are doing all of these things; Creating original content, hosting large conferences and creating a community of entrepreneurs. This included investors like #Jason Lemkin and #Jason Calacanis that are, effectively, becoming media companies. And in Jason Calacanis’ case, he is running a blog, a podcast, a large conference called #Launch, an accelerator, and he manages one of the larger angel syndicates on angellist.
This isn’t to say one needs to build a media company. Some of the strongest brands have a single approach and are very targeted in their efforts. Jay encouraged investors to think about why they exist. What value will they add to the community and to the customer and as #Maia Heymann emphasized in episode 65, the investor’s customer is the entrepreneur.
Key takeaway Number two is called: White Labeling & Repurposing
Jay and John had some great content advice on a) how to check if one’s content is original and b) how to leverage great content for the best reach. On the former, Jay suggested that every content producer asks theirself, “If you were to white label this content, could you still tell who the source is?” There are many cases where I’m reading an article and it feels like something I’ve read before, with no original voice. A couple topic examples of late, that have been beaten to death are the standard “We are founder friendly” or “Be prudent with your burn rate as an entrepreneur.” I feel like I’ve come across those articles a hundred times. And, to Jay’s point, if it were to be white labeled, I wouldn’t be able to tell you who the author is. It’s just the same recycled content over and over. So, when one can test their content by asking if others can tell who’s written it, if you strip away the attribution.
On the later point, how to leverage great content for the best reach, Jay and John had some great insights. When one has a piece of content that does very well, they shouldn’t immediately move on to the next article. Rather, they should do more with what they have. Jay gave the example of converting articles into a deck on slideshare. There are also other re-purposing mediums like #Medium, # LinkedIN or even #Facebook. The methods are numerous for getting more miles out of great content and John also mentioned that you can get more use out of successful content by generating new material about how you created it in the first place. A familiar example of this that I recently came across had to do with #Gabriel Weinberg’s book, Traction. Of course, he has been a guest on the program multiple times, which is an example of him getting more miles out of the content; and he’s also created a long medium post about how he conducted the interviews for the book, how he put everything together and subsequently, how he marketed it. This is a great example of what John was talking about. Take a success, repurpose it and eventually talk about how it was created in the first place.
Okay, key take away number three is called: Types of Investor Differentiation
As discussed in this episode and others, there are two clear categories of differentiators. Capital-based and non-capital-based. The capital centric differentiators have to do with an investor’s check size, speed-to-close and ability to attract other sources of capital. Yes, everybody’s money is green but a $1,000 check that takes four months is quite different than a $100,000 check that can close in a week.
And then there are the non-capital differentiators. Sometimes this manifests when an investor has been an operator and has a directly attributable experience set or maybe an investor has a very narrow investment thesis, centered on a business model, sector or trend and uniquely understands the area better than most. Other times it has to do with network and an investor’s ability to connect entrepreneurs to customers, partners or the media; and of course, as we covered, it can relate to the extent of one’s reach and medium by which an investor reaches others.
And, from personal experience, relating back to one of the very first tips of the week titled “Don’t be a jerk,” one of the strongest differentiators that I’ve come across is just being good to work with. There are still a surprising number of angels and VCs that operate with an elitist approach. Of course, to each their own, but I have trouble seeing how this helps. Personally, I prefer to work with people that are smart, helpful, inspiring and fun to be around. If just being a decent, supportive human being is your biggest differentiator, my opinion is that it will serve you well in investing and in life.
Okay, let’s wrap up with the tip of the week and and this week’s Tip is called: Finding the White Space.
Jay talked about how VCs are fast followers. They more often than not, follow what others have done that is working, rather than create something innovative of their own. It’s a bit counter-intuitive that they are in the innovation space and yet they often employ a me-too strategy. People may want to blog like #Fred Wilson, #Mark Suster or Brad Feld; but those guys already exist.
In today’s interview we talked about building a brand in an original way. Not competing within existing mediums or methods but in entirely new ways. Identifying the white space, so to speak. I referenced how when I started recording interviews for my podcast, there were no other Startup Investing focused podcasts. That soon changed when a16z launched their program but fortunately it was a completely different format and approach. Just like with the entrepreneurs we invest in, we want them to be creating new markets or fundamentally disrupting the constructs of existing markets.
If you are familiar with the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, the authors discuss what they call red oceans and blue oceans. Red oceans are established markets with many competitors, fighting and clawing for every bit of market share. While blue oceans are the white space, completely untouched and unknown to large companies. It’s in these areas that one can get fast traction, deliver and extract strong value, and be more customer focused instead of competition focused.
When one finds these blue ocean opportunities and launches something that can not easily be copied, the opportunities can be significant and defensible. And, as Jay mentioned, the first-mover and innovator in these markets is often one step ahead of the competition. Copycat entrepreneurs or investors, that aren’t doing anything original, will always be following the innovators. A great quote from Jerry Garcia that Jay cited is as follows: “Don’t try to be the best of the best. Try to be the only one that does what you do.”
All right that’ll wrap things up for this episode and head over TheFullRatchet.net to check out all the links and contact info for Jay and John. Until next time, remember to over prepare choose carefully and invest confidently.
See you again soon.