Both Sides of the Table


I’m pretty on record as saying I don’t think many private-to-private tech mergers make sense. They are often done from a position of weakness. Something in both companies isn’t working, which is why they come together.

I often don’t believe in the therm M&A because in my experience mostly A works.

But of course there are always exceptions. And even when I remain skeptical sometimes opportunities present themselves that prove one should never be absolutist.

As many people know I funded a company called Moonfrye almost 2 years ago led by two amazing women – Kara Nortman & Soleil Moon Frye. Our goal from the outset was to build a great eCommerce experience that could compete with Michels on one side (for DIY / crafting) and Party City on the other (throwing events / parties / celebrations).

The thesis was simple. Mom’s struggle to plan events and activities for their kids. Most products out there suck so mom gets stuck with angst of wanting to have decorations, activities and chatzkies for other kids to take home. What should be an enjoyable experience turns into a time-suck obligation and angst-ridden day of self questioning.

Our product name is P.S. XO and we launched our eCommerce experience through this website as “party in a box” as well as individual sku’s that are super high quality and well executed. We built great eCommerce tools from scratch, spent a great deal of efforts deeply integrating with Pinterest and build great corporate relationships with Target and the like.

We also built two very high-quality mobile apps that we were experimenting with in terms of building better customer acquisition toools.

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Yesterday I wrote a post about The Silent Benefits of PR in which I pointed out that most young companies I encounter don’t fully grasp the benefits of PR because they are less measurable than product milestones or customer acquisition analyses (like CAC/LTV).

In that article I talked about how PR drives: recruiting, employee retention, biz dev deals, funding and even M&A and that often “attribution” to your PR activities is unknown. It’s like “direct” traffic to your website that seems to magically appear.

But of course it’s hard to advise people that they should¬†do PR without a guide to how to do it on the cheap or how to do it at all.

When to start PR?

I’m generally not a believer in too much PR until you have a product built or at least well designed. This is somewhat changing in the world of crowd funding where people actually raise money so that they can build products but at a minimum your product design ought to be complete and ready to execute.

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The Silent Benefits of PR


Posted on Oct 25, 2014 | 0 comments

I’ve been having this PR discussion with three separate portfolio companies at once so I thought I’d just publish my thoughts more broadly.

I have written many times about PR so if you want a deep dive on the “how” of PR you may enjoy reading some of these posts.

PR is an insanely valuable activity in early-stage companies. Very few investors understand this and even fewer startups. When you’re an early-stage business every dollar matters and because many startup teams these days are very product & technology centric they often miscalculate the importance of PR. I believe¬†PR is often not tangibly measurable and for quant-oriented people this is hard to accept.

The benefits of PR are exactly that: Immeasurable. They are silent. They don’t show up in a calculation that says I spent $7,000 and I got X-thousands inches of press. It doesn’t work that way.

Why PR?

1. Recruiting – One of the hardest tasks of any startups is recruiting world-class talent.

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We are often asked how companies get funded, why VCs make the decisions we make and what we’re looking for in entrepreneurs. I think this is a Seriously great example of how this process works for at least one VC – Upfront Ventures. But I’m guessing the narrative is similar elsewhere.

I first met Andrew Stalbow, the founder & CEO of Seriously in August of 2013. He hit me from two very trusted sources. On August 23rd, 2013 I had an email intro from my good friend and trusted source Jeff Berman who only sends me stuff when it is somebody he respects (ie a strong filter vs. those who send casual intros). On August 26th I had an equally effusive intro from Ynon Kreiz, also a friend, trusted source and also the CEO of portfolio company Maker Studios. So this was definitely an introduction I was going to take.

We met on August 28th, 2013 and I know this because literally the next day

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Much has been written about when it is time to hire a “professional CEO” to run a startup company and of course that has long been a norm in Silicon Valley when founders find that their inexperience may be a limiting factor in company growth (know as the Peter Principle).

Much less has been said about when the technical CEO is the best person to run the company.

Yet if you look at some very successful market changes in the last few years it does point to technical prowess in the number 1 seat. Case in point is the return of Larry Page to the role as CEO of Google. I don’t think that Google would have become the success story we all know without the leadership of Eric Schmidt through the years he led the company.

So why did Larry need to return?

It seemed that Google was being out innovated by another Silicon Valley technical leader, Mark Zuckerberg. Somehow in a world of rapid change Mark had been able to right his ship much faster than the highly bureaucratic organizations that places like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft had become.

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