I've closed three investments in the first Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund that haven't quite been made public yet, bringing the total to 13 companies. These companies didn't announce their financings right away, and for good reason. They're building up their PR plans to make the financing announcements part of a larger story arc.
Announcing your funding without a larger PR plan is the equivilant to George Costanza saying "I love you" to his date and not getting it returned--"that's a pretty big matzo ball" to leave hanging out there. You'll drive all sorts of attention and it won't really wind up going anywhere if you don't create a context around it and build up structures to handle it.
First off, you need to have a clear sense of your goals. What do you want out of this announcement? Is it to get on the radar of future investors? Is it to get sales contacts or consumer awareness? If your announcement has goals, you need to make sure you do what it takes to support those goals.
For example, if it's to get on the radar for future investors, use the investment announcement to plan a tour of future potential investors. "Hey, we just raised (see link) and have over a year of runway, but we'd love to get a sense of where we need to be to get a next round from you and to start building a relationship." VCs love meetings with interesting people when they don't need to say no.
If you're looking for business development partners, is there a "Partner" section on your website, or a way to capture leads from all the attention? Did you specifically state in the press that you were looking for partners? What type?
Are you looking to hire? Who? What makes a great employee? Does the section about employment on your website just say "e-mail resumes to email@example.com" or does it detail why your team is awesome and why anyone would want to work with them on this particular set of problems?
The biggest mistake I see companies do is fail to build follow up into their PR plans. You launch to the public, announce a funding, and then what? What's the PR going to say two weeks after that, and two weeks after that, and two weeks after that?
PR isn't a one shot deal--it's about constructing a story that will evolve over time. You introduce the characters, you build an audience, unveil the right things to the right people, maintain their interest until you have something to sell, get customers, and leverage customer wins to establish position.
That doesn't always mean public press, nor does it mean telling everything about your product. Sometimes it means establishing founder credibility over time to prospective future investors or to potential employees. Sometimes you don't want to telegraph to the competition what you're doing or how you're doing it, but, at the same time, you want customers to know who you are. That's a small needle to thread--generating interest without suspicion, and it requires a clever storyteller.
One way to do that is to talk about something else that isn't you or your product. Perhaps you have an interesting building management technology. Why not profile the most innovative buildings or the people who are behind modernizing the processes and infrastructure at famous addresses? Make a whitepaper available on the topic of innovative technology in buildings, just to get the leads, without telling everyone what your business is upfront.
I'd say that one of the biggest misunderstandings about the PR process is relationship building with reporters. An introduction to a reporter could result in the best story ever about you--six months from now. You need a long lead time to get someone in the media to care about you, so what are you doing for them in the meantime. Are you doing a wearables company for women? Maybe start curating a newsletter about tech that women love six months ahead of your launch--so that when you're ready with your product, thousands of people, including press, already care about what you care about and you've convinced them you're the authority.
Here are five aspects of PR I feel like most startups need to do more of:
1) Fit all PR into a long term plan. What do we tell about ourselves, to who, over time, and what is the goal--and when will we benefit from that goal. Sometimes, you need a really long lead time, especially for things like future funding.
2) Establish the team as experts on the problem you're solving. Educate the market by being the authority.
3) A smaller list of deeper relationships. Go out to lunch more, spam bloggers less.
4) Highlight your customers. Shine the spotlight on others, and how awesome they are (thanks in a very small part to you.) Get them to be your advocates by being theirs.
5) Give before you get. The more you help a journalist out by being a source for expertise, stories, tips, the more likely they are to cover you in the future.
And please, please, please don't pitch VCs who blog to write about your company as if we were tech journalists.
1. The attention you get from saying something intelligent and thoughtful comes slower and in smaller amounts than the attention you get from being controversial, but it lasts longer, compounding over time.
2. Focus on the topics you care about and that you find interesting, not what everyone else is talking about.
3. Take a position and stand for something, but be open to learning from others.
4. The less words you need to make a point, the better. It's also really hard to stop writing when you're passionate about something.
5. You don't have to talk about your personal life for people to get to know who you are--let your personal style shine through your professional discourse.
6. Try to make one point at a time.
7. Nuance is lost on crowds.
8. You can rarely predict what other people will find interesting about what you have to say--and it's never the things you say to try to be interesting.
9. A small group of people will spite you for thinking you have anything to say whatsoever. Listen to what they have to say, check yourself, and then ignore them.
10. Take all the time in the world to go from someone who asks a lot of questions to someone who makes a lot of statements.
I was talking to a female engineer turned product manager last week about her experience as one of the few women at a hackathon. While she didn't experience anything particularly negative, she still didn't feel particularly welcome. When you're one of only a few people who look like you in a place, if the event is a free-for-all, it's tough to break into new groups and connect with strangers. That's when I realized that there's a lot more that goes into making various groups feel included than just inviting them.
Specifically, there are some event organizers that go out of their way to make everyone in a room feel comfortable. At Brooklyn Beta, for example, there was a speaker that I thought really muddled through their presentation. It was awkward at best. I kept checking Twitter to see if I was the only one that felt that way (and maybe I was) but there wasn't even a peep. It blew my mind. I've seen better presentations get ripped to shreds with snark on Twitter, yet there wasn't even a peep.
Because the organizers set the tone early. When they introduced the speakers they paid extra attention to mention when speakers were nervous, or apprehensive, or when they didn't come out to speak that often. The said that DNA of the conference was to be welcoming and supportive and immediately set expectations for what was and wasn't done there. In the face of that, it felt completely inappropriate to comment negatively. (I mean, it should feel that way anyway, but that's not always the case.)
There are other ways of making people feel supported. At the New York Tech Meetup, you're encouraged to speak with the people sitting around you. No matter who you are, if you attend, someone is going to speak with you. What if, at the hackathon this woman had attended, the organizers had just said, "And now is the time for introducing yourself to the person next to you." Even better, what if there was a requirement on your team to bring a stranger onto your team?
Alcohol also plays a big part to making people feel included or excluded. First, and we don't talk about this too often, but not everyone drinks. If it feels like the key participating socially in an event is drinking, you're going to get people who aren't going to feel like it's ok to join in. I don't drink at all, and it never stops me from coming out and going to bars, but I've definitely heard from others that's not an environment they like being in.
Secondarily, people sometimes (often) say ridiculous things when they drink--and it gets them into situations where they feel like the point of being there is to make friends or make dates. Put a bunch of twenty somethings in a bar, liquor them up, and dim the lights, and you don't exactly create the right environment for making one of the five women in the room feel like they're going to get taken seriously
So what if you came up with a serious of rules.
Sometimes, I go to an event and they announce that they follow Chatham House rules on what is sharable:
"When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed."
This way, everyone knows what the deal is.
What if we had a serious of rules where the event could announce beforehand and during that "We're following the Rules of Inclusion". What would they be? How could they change the environment to make everyone feel welcome.
I'd suggest a few things:
- From the beginning, the event will be marketed to in some way to give diverse groups of people the opportunity to participate--which might include sending it out to certain groups ahead of the onslaught of young white dude mailing lists. In my mind, this is different than just counting. It's being a little more thoughtful than first come, first serve, but stopping short of quotas.
- Have attendees agree to a code of conduct around respect of speakers and fellow attendees, and announce what that code is--and extend it to social media participation.
- Clearly identify who the organizers of the event are, and suggest that if anyone feels uncomfortable in any way, or even if they just want help being introduced to people, that they can reach out to those people. Maybe they could be wearing event t-shirts or something.
- Create a networking opportunity that doesn't involve alcohol or is more conscious of the environment. Perhaps picking venues that aren't just bars, but that might have separate sections--tables meant for discussion or something. Maybe the speakers will be sitting in a certain area that is better lit, quieter, etc. People might tend to act up less around speakers--so in a way you'd be creating a kind of safe area without making people feel like it's the "boring area".
What else would an event need to work off the the "Rules of Inclusion"?
I'm announcing two things today.
First, I've finished raising the first Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund--tallying $8.3 million. This is what I set out to do just about two years ago when I first broke out on my own and started raising, so I'm thrilled to say that it has finally happened.
I'm not going to do too much of a victory lap, though, because it bugs me a little when startups do it, and I'm a startup, too. Fundraising is not the goal, it's the means to an end.
One of the reasons why I'm announcing at all is because I realized that it had been a while since I said anything about the progress of the fund--and if you're an industry person, you might have started wondering. Was the fund enough to keep me going? How many more investments could I do? How where things going? These are things that other VCs think about, but founders who come to pitch don't think about too much.
That's also why I'm finally launching a real website at brooklynbridge.vc. When you blog, tweet, Instagram, etc., as a VC, sometimes your own website becomes an afterthought. It's important, though, to summerize what you're all about and the deals you've done so people get a sense of what to send you and how you've done. This site was my holiday project and I had a little fun with it.
So there ya go. Thanks to everyone who supported me along the way, especially to the awesome team at First Round who gave me the opportunity to build a track record, to learn how to be a board member, how to leverage the help you provide portfolio companies, and figure out how much I wanted to avoid long weekly partner meetings. :)
With the multi-billion dollar acquisition of Nest, people are talking a lot these days about the connected home. It came up at the Canary board meeting the other day. Canary is the world's most easy to install home security device, connecting to its homeowners via the cloud.
As the lead investor in the company's seed round, you'd think I'd be really bullish about the connected home, especially after their record Indiegogo pre-sale netted them almost $2 million in purchases.
In fact, I think the term is kind of weird.
I don't know about you, but my home has been connected for quite a while now--to the internet. More and more of the things in it are connected to the internet as well--but calling it a "connected home" is kind of a misnomer. There's this idea of a centralized system interfacing with all the items in my apartment and a hub of some sort where I "manage" them, but if you look at the way technology has trended, it's not clear to me that makes sense at all.
Almost ten years ago, I bought a Netgear MP101 to take songs from my home computer and stream them to other locations in my house. I bought a couple of these to wire my place for music. Recently, I threw them out after years of neglect.
I've been getting effectively that same service because there's a web connected device in every room, and I stream. Between my phone, my iPad and my Chromecast enabled TV, I'm pretty covered when it comes to having music everywhere. There's no need for the devices to talk to each other across my house, because they're all connected to the web, and to the services that I stream from.
In fact, my phone has become a sort of universal remote for everything. When I walk into my house and want to watch or listen to something, I turn on my TV and then navigate through my options on the phone, sending them to the TV via Chromecast.
I don't need a centralized server in my house. That's what the web is. As long as something connects to wifi, I can get an app for it to do what I need. The trend isn't connecting within the home--it's a trend of physical devices being made better because they're connected to the cloud.
One way to think about it is to imagine whether or not this device needs a better screen. Screens help me navigate through choices and visualize data. There are some things, like my refrigerator, that don't really need those things unless they can tell me what's inside. I don't need or want a screen for my fridge if it has anything to do with being cold or making ice. That seems to add unnecessary complication on top of a function that fridges have been performing quite well for decades.
Start telling me what I have in there, which would help me shop, and now you're talking screens, choices, and data that might be useful--in a fridge app, not transmitting to a central place.
That's why it's not surprising that music and TV were some of the first things in the home to get internet connected. Anything whose output is digital is going to have a lot more range of choice and needs for display than nobs and dials could ever get you.
Still, they don't need centralization. My entertainment experience isn't centralizing along the lines of my home server--it's aligning along catalogs like Netflix that are available across any device.
If you're building cloud connected products, I'd assume the user doesn't have anything connected to anything else, nor do they want to, and let a series of standalone apps make your product better. Netflix phone and tablet apps work just fine for someone who doesn't have a "connected" media center at home.
To me, this echoes the social network trend where everyone swore that you'd need something central to manage all your social profiles. We got services like Friendfeed to be our "connected home" in a social world, but they didn't take. People were perfectly content having different social products for different activities--sharing photos, running, connecting professionally, sending secret messages to each other, and voice calls--and we didn't need or want a "hub" for them.
If anything "hubs" run counter to everything we've seen from the development of the internet, which moves us away from hubs, not towards them. We don't use the Yahoo! home page as our first screen on the web anymore and so it's not clear to me that Nest is today's Yahoo! home in the home.