I’m typing this from the lawn of Alan Patricof’s “Greycroft” home in East Hampton – my first time in the Hamptons. Greycroft is Alan’s venture capital firm that recently raised its second fund ($130 million) with offices in both New York and LA. We learned this weekend that it was named after his East Hampton home.
We’re here for Greycroft’s CEO Summit – a gathering of the CEO’s of their portfolio companies with guest speakers covering topics including how to build your team, PR, customer development, etc.
My favorite two quotes of the weekend were:
- “Never trade your cat for somebody else’s dog” (referring to selling your company for stock to another privately held company – quote was from Alan). I’m going to save that for a future blog post
- “Nail it before you scale it” – I missed who said this but I love this quote. It is the key to “customer development” that Steve Blank talks about. Get your product/market fit working before you ramp up your costs (or raise too much money).
Let me start by saying two things:
- Events like this are invaluable to startups because the significant value comes from building the network across portfolio companies and the discussion one can have with your peer group. I’ve been to similar events with First Round Capital and True Ventures. Entrepreneurs always walk away with new relationships, knowledge, deal discussions and enthusiasm. Example: great discussions about recruiting tips, similar problems with Amazon AWS, ad agencies stretching payments, etc.
- Alan was a gracious host and a “detail merchant” whose focus on the quality really showed. And it’s his mantra for successful entrepreneurs, “you need to be extremely focused on the details.” I agree. Alan was “over the top” helpful and engaged in making sure we were all talking / meeting each other and having a great time [he literally walks people around and makes sure they’re meeting other people]. He was self-deprecating in promoting his team (Dan, Dana, Drew, Ian, Marissa, Mary, Mike) as the real valuable assets in Greycroft. And for a guy who could teach us all about entrepreneurship [if you don’t know him read this and you’ll be impressed] he was ever the student. He listened intently through every presentation, asked questions and did a great summary of what he felt he had learned over the two days.
My action item – I will soon announce the GRP Partners CEO Summit. The Greycroft event was a 10 out of 10 so I’ve diligently taken notes.
So thank you, Greycroft, and especially Drew Lipsher for planning / running the event (and for the tips for improving my son’s baseball swing . Also awesome to get to spend time with Ian Sigalow “comparing notes” (VC speak )
We obviously heard what Greycroft’s portfolio companies did and what their vision for the future was. I really enjoyed learning more about Buddy Media and meeting Michael Lazerow. It amazed me just what a force Facebook has become for brands who invest in building a major presence in FB and spend significant money driving traffic and engaging audiences there.
With all the external presenters, the ones I enjoyed the most were Dan Senor who wrote the book Startup Nation (an examination of the Israeli technology scene). I also really Brooke Hammerling from Brew PR who gave tips on how to effectively manage public relations – and she should know having been Larry Ellison’s personal publicist and representing people like Zynga when they were a tiny company. Key take aways: the CEO has got to be committed to leading PR personally or it won’t be successful. And market your brand, not your personality.
I also got the chance to hear from and meet the founder of About.com – Scott Kurnit – who gave a lively talk that challenged much startup conventional wisdom. Mostly he advocated being a strong leader and making decisions. He said that ineffectual leaders seek consensus or want direction or approval from the board. He says this is a mistake. I enjoyed Scott’s irreverent perspective very much because it matched a lot of my personal style (even for the few issues from which we didn’t agree – mostly around board structure)
But there was one that stood out above the rest as the one that “brought the house down.” It was Steve Blank – creator of the “customer development” process, founder of E.piphany (a high profile CRM company in the late 90’s that IPO’d in 1999), instructor at both Stanford and Berkeley and author of a well read blog.
Key take away: GET OUT OF YOUR OFFICE! And go see customers. And it can’t be delegated. The CEO needs to do this him/herself. You need to hear directly what their issues are. And you need to close the sales yourself so that your future head of sales can never bullsh** you.
If you haven’t bought the book “4 Steps to Epiphany” (and if you’re involved in a technology startup) do yourself a favor and buy a copy now. If you can get 30 CEO’s sitting on the edge of their seats and 8 VC partners to not use their Blackberry’s for 90 minutes you’re really achieved something.
It was so impressive that during Steve’s actual presentation a well respected VC, Chris Fralic at First Round Capital sent out a Tweet announcing that he had bought the book in real time. What he said to me privately afterward (and I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting this) is, “man, I always knew that Eric Ries was up to something big with his Customer Development talks but I had no idea that there was Yoda behind the scenes.” I felt the same way. Like we were listening to the wise, understated sage.
The deck is below and I’m attaching a link to video that has a very similar presentation (he spent more time in our session on “customer development” than apparently he does in this video). But if you haven’t seen Steve speak I highly, highly recommend watching. You can get the best of what we saw at Greycroft without having to be part of the portfolio! Magic.