Grow 2012 Conference Notes

Posted on August 27, 2012
Dave McClure, Jeff Clavier and Geoff Lewis at Grow 2012

Dave McClure, Jeff Clavier and Geoff Lewis at Grow 2012

Here are my notes from the Grow 2012 Conference in Vancouver last week.  It was one of the best conferences I have attended with top calibre presentations and amazing people at the networking events.

Debbie Landa

Great companies can be found outside the valley. But it is hard. Takes luck and sacrifice.  Debbie loves serendipity even if curated through events.  You need to be proactive and hunt. Never give up. Share your ideas with the world and challenge yourself. Think bigger and change the world!

Catalina Briceno from CMF

Launched a research paper today on crowd funding that sounds worth reading.  Check out their webpage for more information,

Sam Zaid – Getaround

A talk on the future of personal mobility and why we are experiencing a new tectonics shift.  His story starts at singularity university.  Car over population where you buy a car and only use it for less than an hour per day. Get around allows you to rent out your car.

Three things made this company possible. First is the sharing economy. Second is ubiquitous connectivity. Third is urbanization. Connected cars create new opportunities.

Adam Chapnick – indiegogo 

Harnessing the crowd and sharing insights from indiegogo. Largest open crowd funding website from anywhere to anyone. Now one of 540 sites who provide crowd funding. Recently raised 15mm series A.

Learning 1 – Make a big business plan and then throw it away.

Constraints on the campaign page separates good from bad companies. Forces you to clearly show why you should get the funding with the benefits etc.  People will fund someone who can execute.

Learning 2 – There are no elves

Traction comes from action. You need to show people that you can deliver. Execution kills. Proof of concept prototypes work really well. Serial campaigns do surprisingly well which is weird given that they are going to the well multiple times. First campaign completion shows people that they bet on a winner and they want to re-invest.

Learning 3 – People don’t fund projects but rather love to fund people

Video campaigns raised 122% more than non-video campaigns. People are engaging with people so be personal. Detailed personal bios and success anecdotes. A willingness to persist beyond reason and being commited is a real showcase.

Learning 4 – The more you update the more you raise

Social proof gives you more sharing which gives you repeat funding. Updates and sharing with investors or funders is critical to success .  Update with any good news frequently. This focuses all of your daily actions to ensure that you had something to report that moved things in the right direction by the next report. Example is 31 updates or more on indiegogo you make 4x the amount of money. They will likely even give you money again!

Learning 5 – Deadlines give life

Forces you to quickly move and show willingness to fail but not doomed to fail.

Learning 6 – Say what you must say before they click away

Matt Mickiewicz – 99 designs 

Examples of companies who have disrupted industries Square, SecondMarket, airbnb, iStockPhoto, Uber,  plentyoffish, etc. Disruption creates backlash. Uber is a great example with civic backlash. Airbnb is getting challenges about taxes and short term rentals. People who are invested in the status quo they will lash out hoping things will change the same.

99 designs has paid out 39 million to designers. 158,000 design contents run to date.  Dozens of designer meetups.

How do you create disruption?  Answer these questions.

  • What services or processes are fundamentally broken?
  • What type of assets have no liquidity and need a market place to connect buyers and sellers?
  • How can you create an offering that is 10x or 100x better than the alternatives?
  • What services could be provided 90% cheaper and provided to a much wider audience?
  • What services are expensive today that could be offered for free or with different mechanics for monetization?

The best people to disrupt an industry are outsiders.

Panel – The Role that Venture Capital Plays in Transforming Business

Jeff Clavier, Managing Partner SoftTech VC

Ethan Kurzweil, Vice President Bessemer VP
Dave McClure, Founding Partner 500 Startups
Mark Silva, SVP Anthem Worldwide

Discussion of Dave’s recent article about the changes in VC. VCs can no longer go to LPs with a single strategy and invest cash for 5 yrs because the world is changing too quickly. So raising large funds to avoid being locked into a single strategy or raising smaller funds.

Large numbers of deals won’t insulate you from risk. Anyone can find 200 companies to invest in. You need good processes and deal flow

Segmenting into pre-traction investing and post-traction investing. For post traction investment you need to be really good at picking winners.

Ethan believes it is crazy to overlook international investment right now. Going to see more and more of it. But you need to understand the local signs and signals to stay out of trouble.

Clavier likes international investment but staying inside markets they understand right now. But their portfolio companies invest internationally.

McClure says invest in what you know so if you want to invest international then get to know it well. Focus for them continues to be Brazil, Mexico and India. Silicon Valley investors have an advantage internationally because of their close proximity to top platforms like Google, Facebook etc especially when relative to local investors.  They can leverage their connections to help portfolio companies located outside of the USA.

You have to invest in resources on the ground to understand the culture, language, etc. Clavier mentions to removal of some issues that now makes it easier for them to invest in Canada .

McClure continuing to talk about the value of Angellist.  They have actually built an internal tool that captures data from angellist, LinkedIn etc to help create a full dashboard. More focused on competing with business schools than other VCs. Pointing at business schools as a huge area that hasn’t been disrupted.

Senia Rapisarda – BDC

Retrospective on Canadian VC. Venture capital is complex topic in a complex world. Biggest concern – complete lack of corporate investment in venture capital. This is very severe in Canada and problematic because they can be good customers and good investors.

Over $1B in exits last year with new breed of companies who are changing VC. Claims there are similarities between moneyball and Canadian companies.  Lots of orgs who are doing things differently including Velocity with limited resources.

Senia Rapasarda Slide

David Cancel – Hubspot

Providing lessons learned over the past 16 years and various startups. Market timing has been an issue for his companies especially being too early. Started learning that the market demand for the idea was as important as the idea itself.

Key take away – finding fit is really hard. Building is the hardest part because you can waste so much time and money. But you don’t need a product to get product market fit. Hubspot didn’t really have a product for the first several years because they have amazing marketing and sales execution.

Julia Hartz – eventbrite

People make the company great. It is easy to understand and hard to get right but worth the effort. In the middle of a talent war right now. Eventbrite has recruited 100 people in the last year because of their focus on culture. Attrition rate is 5% compared to regional average of 17%.

Needed to triple company size to 100 from 30 based on funding from Sequoia. The culture tenets and brand tenets are uniquely linked. Enable and empower the team to create their own culture to ensure it was sustainable. Everyone should feel ownership for the culture to ensure they will protect it. Favorite element was that anyone in the company could share their skills to teach others through Brightcamps. Allow people to bring their passions from outside the office into the office. Biking, rock climbing, etc. Annual talent show that unites the team.

Big question – have they focused on happiness at the expense of performance?

So they added a new layer to their culture  with a lightweight toolset to manage goals for teams. No one is forced to do something a specific way but rather to execute on common goals. Forcing function to ensure that the company has crystal clear goals. Malcolm Gladwell comment about companies exceeding 150 people causes lost efficiency and intimacy.

Build trust, confidence and ownership in your team.

Brian Wong – kiip and Mikkel Svane – zendesk

Discussion going from outsider to insider in Silicon Valley.

Mikkel moved the company from Copenhagen to improve chances of raising money and the need for a startup culture. Started out pitching VCs in the USA and that ultimately caused them to move over because they were spending so much time. At the early stage the founder dynamics are so critical to ensure you can trust each other for a long period of time.

For immigration you need to find an amazing lawyer since they hold the destiny of you and your company in their hands. Find someone you trust.

Marc Ruxin – Tastemakerx

The web still needs a taste graph. Build a business that you are personally passionate about. Taste matters in an increasingly connected world where everything everywhere looks the same. Make your own taste because it defines who you are. Taste is always evolving and never stops. It also applies to everything. Tons of people care about the same things that you do. Now we have a graph to connect like mindedness but we still need better filters.

Jeremy Toeman – Dijit Media

How mobility is creating opportunity in the TV industry. The world is extremely mobile and 38% of households have a DVR.  The current trend is towards extreme personalization where we are the one outlier.

In TV today you need to not only get on the air but also engage the audience and keep them.

Unbelievable rate of change in tv industry. But people don’t change. TV is not work. TV is about escape and not just about entertainment.  TV is also not dead yet. TV advertising was up last year.

Two things you need to know:

  • Old rich white guys are in control. You cannot get around this.
  • It is big.  500B per year.  Big!

You need to understand how the money flows. Get a very good understanding of how the money flows because it is the lifeblood of TV. Understand the deals that are being made. What do they mean? What about lock outs?  Critical to understand rights too.

Fail case study – HBO doesn’t go direct. They made 4B last year. No customer support, etc.

You can also fail by paddling upstream. Fail by thinking they are just dinosaurs. Fail by misunderstanding consumers. For example, smart TVs are not an escape! Cord cutting is not an escape.  TVs are not phones.

Important trends include binge viewing, YouTube channels, turf wars (e.g. no AMC on Dish Network), TV Everywhere, the iPad is a TV set, Apple TV is coming, TV is social but how.  Social TV does not equal live tweeting.

You will win by picking the right part of the money flow and disrupt it.

Eric Koger – ModCloth

Online only retailer which is vintage inspired. Second fastest growing company in US.

Customers want to be inspired when they shop. Converging trends: Mobile, social, and gamification.

How do you capture their attention? How do you convert new customers? How do you reduce impact of copycats? The answer is to be community centric.  Community evangelism gets them noticed, creates loyalty, has exclusive merchandise.

Curation is an important element of the value provided (similar comments to Mark earlier about Tastemakers). Remember that everything placed on the website is content including supporting material. Leverage user generated photos too. Community voting, community designers, and community contests. Showcase employees in their creative which resonates really well with the community.

Very cool story about starting the company. Used crowd sourcing on the samples to pick which designs are going to be the hits. Created their own scoring system to take all of the data to determine which products are the best choice. Using data driven decision making combined with crowd sourcing but also needed tools to analyze qualitative feedback that can and should influence decisions too (like comments).

Data will play a bigger role in the fashion industry in the future. Content will play a larger role than labels in the future. We are going to see continued fragmentation of the market because consumer tastes are very fragmented. Online markets can be really meaningful compared to local markets.

West Stringfellow – PayPal

Innovating to get shit done.

PayPal wanted to shift from being the best way to pay online to being the best everywhere. Innovation is a long term investment and hyper growth is an anomaly. Fear kills innovation. Never outsource your innovation.

From search to personalization

Mark Johnson – CEO Zite

Louis Gump – CNN

Mark Silva – Anthem Worldwide

Talking about the Zite acquisition. Approached for acquisition right after launch while trying to raise a series A. Most important thing was passion about the product so wanted the acquisition to ensure the product would excel inside CNN. Need to ask more than just the financial questions as part of the acquisition.

CNN also uniquely structured the acquisition. Listing off the things they cared about the most. Role for the CEO. Set it up as a highly autonomous group with Mark as the remaining CEO. Mark doesn’t even report to Louis. They have a quarterly meeting to report on what they have done and what they will do. Funny note that since the person who leads CNN is the President of the company Mark is the only CEO at CNN. Amazing insight into how CNN was able to avoid its big company issues in trying to change that aspect.

Don’t rely on promises – paper it.

The Future of the Cloud

Dan Levin – COO

How do you understand the stages that businesses go through and kick ass in each of those stages? Going to talk about the “teenage” stage.

How do you separate yourself from the pack in a crowded market?

One theory – if you build an amazing product then users will come. Examples – Google. But it doesn’t happen very often. Building a great product isn’t usually enough.

TiVo vs replaytv is a good example. Need a killer product at least comparable to competitors.

Business model is a critical distinction. Box uses freemium. But the biggest thing was they created the perception they had momentum and were the market leader. They then made that perception a reality.

Press loves a David vs goliath story. So, they said they were like SharePoint indicating they were in the same league even if not true. Made t-shirts that bashed SharePoint. Created Microsoft sharepoo campaign which took off. Continued to pick fights with Microsoft including billboards.

Next they leveraged their strengths. Their unfair weapon is Aaron Levie as a fantastic speaker. They put him everywhere. Built an aura they were ahead of everyone else in their space. They threw their own conference and got enough high quality speakers to convince people it was a happening event. Leveraged business development relationships to get the speakers and to hold the conference at HP.

Then just crushed their enemies. Headlines say the same things now but it is true now. Not just perception.

The secret is that it never ends. You always have to be pushing!


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