Conferences

techcrunch_disrupt_2011

TechCrunch Disrupt @Venture Panel

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead

Shervin Pishevar of Menlo Ventures shared this quote to characterize to the Silicon Valley culture, just before announcing the Menlo Talent Fund on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco last week. He described it as a “quick decision angel fund” to help entrepreneurs launch their ventures with up to $250,000 in seed funding. With a prominent “Jedi Council of Mentors” and eight companies already funded, he claimed to fund within 24-72 hours of a pitch and offered to “back your dreams and change the world together.”

While this sort of rapid funding approach sounds enticing and may accelerate the deal process and help VCs avoid missing opportunities, it seems like little more than an option to me and not entirely strategic. The Menlo announcement gave way to an interesting discussion about the role of venture capitalists and their relationship with entrepreneurs.

What do entrepreneurs really want from VCs? According to host Michael Arrington, they of course want money, but they would also like for their VCs “not to screw it up,” suggesting they should stay out the way until the companies really need them. Put more diplomatically by other members of the panel, startups should expect their investors to add some intrinsic value to the venture, not just their money. According to Joe Kraus of Google Ventures, there was a time when the VC’s role was primarily to help hire the senior management team and make business connections. Today, he said it’s also about knowing what the business needs and teaching the skills they know best and young entrepreneurs aren’t expected to know yet, like how to hire great engineers.

James Slavet reiterated the point by explaining that venture capitalists aren’t necessarily good at everything, the same way no single employee can do everything. He challenged entrepreneurs in the audience to identify the areas in their relationships VCs where you can get the most value and to understand value can show up in different ways at different times. Slavet predicts the future of venture capital will see fewer firms investing in companies at a wider range of stages, but said it’s hard for a VC to be a generalist and said operating experience, flexibility and specialization within a particular category will always be useful at any stage.

There was a general consensus among the panel that the physical proximity of a startup to its venture capital partner matters to its success, based mainly on contacts and the notion that not being in the same market slows down a company’s ability to hire and limits the number of potential exit opportunities. Arrington suggested this may be more symptomatic of Silicon Valley investors being lazy. After all, there are startups all over the world who are plenty successful. Regardless, it was a poignant reminder that even in our connected world, success comes down to trusted relationships and doing business with people we like.

Wherever a company or its investors or based, venture capitalists should be able, and expected, to make valuable connections for their portfolio companies. Everybody’s money is green. It’s the money that adds the most value to a business that matters most.

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ad:tech SF 2011 – Arianna Huffington keynote

I’ve been thinking a lot about cause marketing lately, and based on her recent IMPACT post had fully expected Arianna Huffington to touch on the subject during her keynote address at ad:tech San Francisco. What I didn’t anticipate was to hear so much passion and such a commitment to connecting journalism and online advertising to a higher calling for humanity. 

In an inspiring speech that quoted great poets and thinkers, both dead and alive, Ms. Huffington plainly laid out the case for embracing cause marketing, capitalizing on the power of local media and reminding us all of the importance of disconnecting for our own health and productivity.

Just as Shakespeare kept to the formal constraints of the sonnet, she suggested that today we must find ways to use the tools of social media to tap humanity and the noblest part of ourselves. Echoing Guy Kawasaki’s talk the day prior about moving from engagement to enchantment, she encouraged us not to dwell on those things that are disfunctional and suboptimal in our world, but to focus on the what is being born all around us today that allows us to connect at a deeper level than ever before.

As an example of cause marketing, she cited the Chivas Regal “Live with Chivalry” campaign where the value of nobility is used to sell whisky. If marketing and advertising is a leading indicator of what’s happening in our culture, we need to identify its meaning and tap into this large and profound trend.  We are moving to an era when doing good is not just good for humanity, but also good for the bottom line — where it doesn’t just affect our business, it affects our lives.

Expressing disappointment in the mainstream media, she spoke of how they have let us down by not focusing on solutions and placing too much emphasis on what is not working rather than so many things that are. Whereas mainstream media suffers from ADD by only covering a story for a brief time before abandoning it, in digital we have OCD and the ability to cover stories obsessively until there is a solution.

This is made even more powerful when we engage our communities at a local level. Local, she said, will bring together communities at a time when the media is increasingly more disconnected than ever from our lives. All human existence is local, and that’s where people trust what’s going on around them and feel empowered to get things done.

Taking pride in quoting will.i.am and Shakespeare in the same speech, she referenced a comment he made about how in “the olden days” we consumed news on a couch — today we consume it on a galloping horse. Reinforcing this idea at the local level, she spoke about plans to replicate a popular Greatest Person of the Day feature on the Huffington Post by creating the Greatest Person of the week throughout Patch sites in more then 800 cities. We are longing to connect with each other as human beings at the same time there is a greater explosion of everything life, and that’s why AOL is betting on local.

Finally, she spoke about the need to disconnect from our hyperconnected existence and to unplug and recharge. We can start by simply getting enough sleep and cited “overwhelming medical evidence” about how essential it is for our health and our creativity — likely a tough concept for the always-connected ad:tech crowd.

In closing she cited third century Greek philosopher Plotinus and his teaching about knowledge, wisdom and creativity. And knowledge has three degrees: opinion, science and illumination. The Internet has addressed opinion and science, but not illumination. Many of the leaders running our government, media and financial institutions have very high IQs and access to all of the data and information in the world. What they are missing is illumination, which is ultimately about wisdom.

“My crystal ball sees more explosive wonder, combustible energy to more truth, transparency wisdom, enchantment…and much more digital advertising!”

The entire speech is available online here:

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ad:tech New York 2010

imagesWith a conference the size and importance of ad:tech, each attendee is likely to give a different answer when asked “so, how was the show?” From my perspective, ad:tech, along with the industry it serves, is alive and well. Now in its second year at Javits Center, ad:tech New York has never been short of attendees, with around 13,000 pre-registered for the show last week (Nov. 2-4). 

Typically the signal-to-noise ratio at ad:tech is so bad it requires you to speak with 1o people to arrive at a single qualified conversation on the show floor. But I’m pleased to report that the efforts of ad:tech chairwoman Sarah Fay and the DMG management team to pull the show back from the brink of being an affiliate vendor-fest appear to be working. During the couple of hours I walked the floor, in addition to at least three prospective CPA/CPL advertisers, I met representatives of Pepsico and Vonage, both of whom seemed open to new opportunities. Exhibitors echoed this sentiment, which was great to hear since even with a booth, introductions to big brands are unlikely unless prearranged.

While my primary focus was to evangelize ValueClick Media’s recent advancements in data, audience targeting and optimization technology among press, clients and digital opinion leaders, I did a fair amount of listening too, and came away with a few themes worth sharing:

  • The ad:tech conference is healthy and so is online advertising. No recession here, thank-you-very-much and knock on wood.
  • Social commerce is hot, with some mentioning the Gap ‘deal’ by name.
  • Questions abound regarding how, when and where social, mobile, local and search intersect with meaningful traction.
  • Lots of buzz surrounding the Rubicon/FAN and Specific/BBE deals, rumors of AOL buying Dotomi and other video consolidation anticipated.
  • A prevailing attitude of “enough already” when it comes to the over-labeling, shiny-button syndrome that seems to plague our industry. People are ready for consolidation and until then want to simplify the silos in ways that can make it easier for brands to buy from digital media providers.

If you are in agreement with the last point, you should love the video investment banker and savvy online self-promoter Terence Kawaja posted during the conference. Enjoy!

For more information from the conference, the ad:tech blog is always a good read.

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