Women from the Blockchain

The decentralized nature of cryptocurrency and blockchain more broadly has the potential to upend traditional power structures and empower disenfranchised and otherwise marginalized groups.

 

Unfortunately, many of the same structural problems that plague traditional finance are already emerging in cryptocurrency, like the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few men.

 

While Coinbase reports more than 13 million cryptocurrency accounts, 94 percent of the wealth is held by men, and 95 percent is held by a mere 4 percent of investors.

 

Join VSC + YPOSF for an intersectional dialogue about how blockchain-based businesses can empower women.

Secure Tickets Here.

 

The panel discussion will be led by:

Lindsey Maule, CEO and Managing Partner of Luna Capital
Tammy Camp, Founder/ CEO of Stronghold
Lindsay Lin, Counsel & Program Manager at Lightyear.io
Brynly Llyr, General Counsel at Ripple
Maggie Philbin, Associate Director at VSC and event moderator

 

 

5:30-6:00 – Sign up, Appetizers/Beverages and Networking

 

6:00-7:00 – Discussion + Q&A

 

7:00-8:00 – More Networking

**While this event is being led by women, all are welcome to attend.

 

About the Organizers:

VSC is a strategic public relations firm based in San Francisco, flipping the script on how tech companies define their voice and tell stories. Our clients are pioneers in technologies across AI, blockchain, VR, hardware, mobile, adtech, enterprise, edtech, and e-commerce, plus innovative thinkers in venture capital and consumer products.

 

YPOSF is the leading Bay Area organization for young professionals to connect with one another and meet other young leaders in the Bay Area. We facilitate opportunities for our members to both connect and contribute to the community through monthly happy hours, professional growth events and regular community service events. Since 2010, our membership has grown to over 5000 strong and our networking events regularly attract more than 150 people.

Learn more at: youngprofessionalsofsanfrancisco.com

The Future of Cryptocurrency and Blockchain: Q&A With Protocol Ventures’ Rick Marini

The possibilities surrounding cryptocurrency have become an irresistible attraction for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. In an age where it can seem like everything has been done, it’s a fertile field to sow new ideas and innovation. The excitement of planting the seeds for the next generation of technology and growing new investments drew serial entrepreneur Rick Marini into the world of cryptocurrency.

 

Marini started his career in finance and investment banking, but his time at Harvard Business School earning an MBA changed his perspective. Soon after graduating, he and classmate James Currier started tickle.com, which became the largest personality testing site in the world. The company survived the 2K dot-com bust and was acquired by Monster Worldwide. This ingrained the taste for entrepreneurship in Marini, who went on to found companies like BranchOut and Talk.co and brought them to successful exits.

 

With cryptocurrencies and related technologies poised to shake up Silicon Valley, Marini started Protocol Ventures, the first “fund of funds” focused on crypto assets.

 

With over 1,300 cryptoassets in a rapidly growing market, there’s no doubt that it’s going to be big. To learn why Marini got involved and to get a feel for what the 2018 cryptocurrency market holds, we interviewed Marini as part of VSC’s Freestyle Series. Here’s the best of what we talked about—you can also watch the full interview here.

 

Vijay Chattha: What got you so interested in the cryptocurrency industry that you started this fund?

 

Rick Marini: About four years ago, I was exposed to crypto for the first time. I was having dinner with Naval Ravikant from MetaStable and Tim Chang, a partner at Mayfield, and they were talking about this new crypto thing. I found all the applications of blockchain technology that could disrupt countless industries to be fascinating, as was the trading and tokenization. At that point, Naval was starting MetaStable and I wanted to back him, so I became an investor there. Some of us also did a separate fund called Binary Financial, which has also done very well. That’s where I started, but crypto didn’t become my full-time focus until I launched Protocol Ventures six months ago.

 

VC: What is Protocol Ventures, and what does it do?

 

RM: Protocol Ventures is the first “fund of funds” in crypto. There are about 200 crypto asset funds out there, so we take money in from investors and invest that into the funds. We do this to allow an investor to get diversified while bringing better access and prices. Of the 200 funds, we’ll invest in what I believe will be the top 10.

 

The funds that we invest in are only focused on what I say are “the coins,” not the company. The coin side is made up of highly liquid ICOs and especially the tokens—think Bitcoin or Ethereum. Right now crypto trades range from $50 to $60 billion a day.

 

VC: So why start Protocol Ventures?

 

RM: I initially invested in MetaStable and then Neural Capital. They were new funds that did 60x return last year when the S&P did 20%. I realized that they and larger family offices wanted exposure to this asset class, but might not have the knowledge of the space or relationships with crypto hedge fund managers. From there, the decision to start Protocol seemed like an intuitive next step.

 

VC: How are the funds performing since you’ve been getting involved in them?

 

RM: We launched in October 2017 as a new fund, and in the first month of our full deployment into the market, we were up over 40%. This past month, of the funds that have reported so far, one is up 58% and the other is up 85% for the month—they almost doubled the entire fund in a month.

 

If a VC firm can do 3x over a 10-year period, they’re a top-tier firm. These guys are getting 50 to 80 percent returns in a month. It may not be sustainable, but that’s the reason for our approach to diversification.

 

VC: Now that we’re able to trade 24/7, is it time to automate a hedge fund manager?

 

RM: Not yet. The information advantages that these hedge fund managers have is better than almost anyone else. When you have information advantages, you are going to blow away any kind of return that a robo-advisor could do.

 

VC: When you hear these kinds of numbers, how are VC’s and these 10-year funds feeling right now? How is it impacting the entrepreneur scene in San Francisco?

 

RM: On the VC side, they’re trying to understand blockchain technology, how to win on both the token side and the equity side so they don’t get left on the sidelines. They’re obviously very interested, but many don’t have the ability to invest in funds or tokens because of Limited Partner Agreements (LPAs) that dictate what they can and can’t invest in.

 

On the entrepreneur side, many are asking themselves, “Maybe I should just trade and do this.” Or, “Should our companies enter the blockchain area? Should I do an ICO, or traditional fundraising?”

 

VC: In terms of startup ICOs, it feels like I hear founders mention raising an ICO almost as often as saying they want to raise a venture round.

 

RM: I think 97% of ICOs are garbage. The problem with ICOs is that mom and pop now are putting in $100,000 because their neighbor made a bunch of money. The FOMO builds when people are expecting a big return.

 

Think about it this way: if you have a hundred entrepreneurs in a room, every one of them thinks they should raise venture money. The reality is, maybe 3% should—the other 97% never should be funded. My problem is, the 97% that are being funded right now by mom and pop are going to end badly. This is why we need regulation.

 

A lot of entrepreneurs want an ICO because you can raise massive amounts without getting diluted. By contrast, when you raise venture capital, you’re getting 25-35% diluted in a single round. Also, all you need for an ICO is a whitepaper that says, “This is what I want to build. I didn’t build it yet. Can you give me money?” It’s like a glorified Kickstarter.

 

There are special cases: two and a half years ago, Ethereum raised $18 million in its ICO, and today it’s worth $100 billion. That, to me, is like investing in a Google or Facebook—something that comes along once every five years. It’s exceedingly rare, but it also plays a vital role in the ecosystem.

 

VC: Banks are now getting behind certain types of crypto. Will the market go to where this money goes? Or will that money go to where people are investing today?

 

RM: It’s both. Right now, there are about 1,300 crypto assets. I would argue that only the top 100 matter. That number will expand to what matters, and the top hundred will also shift on which are the most important. Bitcoin and Ethereum aren’t going anywhere, and the top 10 are going to be there for a while.

 

This is very much like the internet in 1994-95. You’ve got some big names that are no longer around, and you have some like Amazon that became one of the biggest companies out there. It’s still very early days, just to be clear. That said, just because you do an ICO, or just because you start to use blockchain technology, does not mean you’re going to win. You’ve got to have everything lined up as if you were out there raising a series-A round.

 

VC: There’s a lot of people discussing the potential for blockchain and cryptocurrency in developing markets where inflation is rampant. What do you think about that?

 

RM: A lot of the use cases that I see crypto being really important and valuable for don’t necessarily affect a lot of us in the U.S. In areas of hyperinflation or extreme political unrest where they don’t even believe in their currency anymore, crypto is a really interesting alternative.

 

When Bitcoin was trading at about $7,000 here, it was trading at $10,000 in Zimbabwe. That’s because they were trying to take their money, whatever it was worth, and move it into crypto as a store of value. Bitcoin is not very stable, but it’s more stable than the currency in hyperinflated markets.

 

VC: Many governments must feel threatened by the number of cross-border transactions happening and its potentially nefarious uses, not to mention that they don’t get a cut. How do you predict governments will react to crypto’s rise?

 

RM: Governments want to control their own currency. Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency is not owned by any government, by any company, by any person; no government can control it.

 

Now that crypto’s viability is no longer in question, I think most governments are figuring out how to adapt. This includes regulation and taxation. The U.S. government just came out with clarification on tax: every transaction with crypto is going to be taxed. I believe we need more regulation. It will hurt in the short term, but I believe it will eventually add a zero to the market cap.

 

VC: Why do you believe there’s a need for regulation?

 

RM: There’s a lot of big money—pension funds, endowments, institutional money—that is sitting on the sidelines, waiting for clarification. They don’t want to put the Harvard Endowment or the Stanford Endowment at risk if they don’t have enough answers. Right now, they don’t have enough answers around regulation. I believe there’s a lot of money that will come into the crypto market once we have clarity on that.

 

VC: Do you think governments will issue their own sort of cryptocurrency in the future, or favor more of an oversight role for cryptocurrency transactions?

 

RM: One of the things that I’ve heard is that a government could either have a gate that says “everything that goes in, you’re going to have to buy our crypto in order to be able to go in, and buy our crypto to go out,” or just operate from the tax side.

 

The reality is that the crypto market doesn’t need a U.S.-backed crypto unless there’s a utility reason for that. I think it would probably do pretty well because people would feel some comfort level that it’s the U.S. government backing it, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think they’re going to focus on if this is a security or a commodity. Right now, crypto is classified under what’s called the CFPC, which means it’s a commodity. The governments just have to give more clarity and more regulation.

 

VC: What do you think the chances are of the government actually taking regulatory action in its current anti-regulatory environment?

 

RM: We have some clarification on taxation that in 2018, all crypto transactions are going to be taxed as if you’re selling your stock. I have friends who are on an SEC-type of commission where they’re trying to understand what people in the industry do. I love that they’re taking a more measured approach, and didn’t just jump into regulation before they fully understood the market.

 

At some point this year, they are going to have to come out with solid clarification on if crypto is a security or a commodity. The weird thing about cryptocurrencies is that it’s actually both. This is why it’s taken so long to determine because there are aspects that are both, so the agencies are left figuring out who is going to regulate this.

 

VC: What do you think about China’s crackdown on crypto?

 

RM: China was the number one crypto country in terms of trading six months ago, but they wanted to clamp down on currency outflows, so they regulated it to abruptly stop all trading. They went from $4 trillion of reserves down to $3 trillion over a two-year period.

 

The day that China had come out with news around banning ICOs, Bitcoin went from $4,000 to $3,000. That was September 15, 2017. Today, Bitcoin’s at $16,000 or so. That demand just got sucked up by Japan, Korea, and the U.S.

 

VC: If you had a thousand dollars, a hundred thousand dollars, or a million dollars, where would you place your bets right now?

 

RM: Investing in crypto on Coinbase is the easy way to start. It has a $5,000 limit on day one, so you’re going to be kind of limited from the get-go, which is probably a good thing for most people.

 

Coinbase only has four currencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin. I’m not giving investment advice, but I think it’s hard to bet against Bitcoin and Ethereum, and I say that because they have two different use cases: a store of value and smart contracts. If you believe that I’m correct and that a lot of capital is going to enter the market and it’s going to go through those two, it’s hard to bet against them.

 

There are more investment opportunities coming, too. The Winklevoss twins have been trying to get their ETF approval for a couple of years now, like buying a stock that’s the equivalent of an index of cryptocurrencies. I think that would be a good way for people to dip their toe in the water and have liquidity as well.

 

VC: What do you and your fund managers think is going to happen with crypto in 2018?

 

RM: Right now, all the fund managers we’re invested in are long, meaning everyone believes 2018 is gonna be another big year. It won’t be 2017, where the entire market grew 40x in one year, but I can give you three reasons why I think 2018 will good.

 

One is the retail investors coming in. Over Thanksgiving weekend 2017, over 300,000 new accounts were started at Coinbase. Everyone is trying to get money into crypto. I opened up a Coinbase account for my father-in-law over Thanksgiving. He’s a 72-year-old with a Ph.D. in chemistry. He’s not a techy kind of guy. Now, mom and pop are coming in.

 

Number two, Wall Street infrastructure is coming into play. Both CME and CDLE launched Bitcoin derivatives for trading in December. Then NASDAQ and others are going to be launching in Q1 and beyond.

 

Number three is that Wall Street money really hasn’t come into crypto yet. Even [JPMorgan CEO] Jamie Dimon has changed his tune on Bitcoin, though he always said he’s a believer in blockchain technology. As Wall Street money comes in on a limited supply in a fairly small market cap— $750 billion today—I believe 2018 will another big year, and so do the hedge fund managers we invested in.

 

As for actually using cryptocurrency to make purchases, I don’t think you’re going to be buying a cup of coffee with crypto in the next year or two. And when you can, it’s probably not going to be with Bitcoin, which is more of a store of value. It could with some other currencies, like Bitcoin Cash, or Litecoin, or some others that are trying to be highly scalable.

 

Any final thoughts on the future of cryptocurrency?

 

I think everybody wants crypto to be fully functional. To bring back the internet example, we’re in the dial-up days. You could look at that and be like, “This is stupid.” But we’ll probably get to high-speed DSL in three or four years, so I would say to be patient because there’s so much potential and it’s going to be awesome!

Introducing Nanit

We loved the concept of Nanit as soon as we heard it – the first video baby monitor to use artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to track a baby’s sleep patterns and behavior, to help the whole family sleep better? Yes please.

Our launch goal was to establish Nanit as a new parent’s best friend: a camera with sophisticated analytics that could send smart baby sleep data straight to their iPhone, sleek enough for the most couture nurseries – and not a “wearable.”

At the time, Nanit was a brand new company launching a baby monitor in a crowded parenting tech and wearables space. Plus, the industry had recently come under scrutiny for security breaches with WiFi-connected monitors and safety hazards associated with babies wearing a device. Many of these baby monitor companies also rooted their go-to-market messaging around parents’ insecurities and fears, which raised skepticism among adopters.

Our Launch Strategy

Our initial research revealed the immense need for improved sleep for both parents and babies. We learned that on average, parents lose 44 days of sleep during the first year of their baby’s life and nearly 3 in 10 babies is reported to have problems sleeping at night. Quality sleep is important for everyone, but especially for infants in the critical first two years of growth and development.

Sleep: After understanding the impact that lack of sleep could have on health and quality of family life, we built our campaign around two pillars: better sleep for babies and parents, and how computer vision could measure behavior without the need of an attached wearable.

We characterized Nanit as the most advanced baby monitor ever created, and the only solution that focuses on sleep instead of monitoring vital signs. We played up Nanit’s sophisticated sleep tracking technology that summarizes the baby’s night and sends a recap straight to parents’ phones. Additionally, we highlighted its use across “parenting teams,” as the ideal way for parent to share sleep information with grandparents, babysitters and other caregivers.

Technology: We emphasized Nanit’s pioneering use of artificial intelligence and computer vision technology (the same tech used in driverless cars) to measure and differentiate between behaviors (i.e., is my baby sleeping or lying motionless with eyes closed but awake?).  

Safety & Security: We leveraged the press and consumer backlash against wearable baby monitors, as parents were skeptical of putting unproven electronic devices on essentially new humans. Nanit was the first baby-safe camera – one that doesn’t touch the child and is designed to prevent injury – plus features the highest level of security encryptions and an un-hackable video feed.

Going beyond tech press: Beyond technology and business coverage, reaching parenting and women’s press was key. Through specific targeting efforts, our team mapped the social reach of the top mommy/parenting bloggers, tailoring our efforts to the most impactful influencers. Throughout, we highlighted Nanit’s elements of social collaboration with other caregivers and helping the whole family sleep better.

The Results

Nanit quickly became known as a leading smart baby monitor, surpassing its sales goals at launch (selling out of their first two batches of units within one month post-launch). The company received inbound interest and then struck distribution deals by several top retailers, including Amazon and Target, as well as key baby registry sites, including Babylist. As a PR firm, we even received an Honorable Mention in the Brand Messaging and Positioning category from PR Daily for our work on Nanit’s launch.

Post-launch, we helped Nanit maintain a healthy flow of orders and momentum through the holidays via gift guide features and top broadcast placements on the Hallmark Channel and the TODAY Show. In particular, the TODAY Show segment we secured (screenshot below) drove the biggest week of sales for Nanit since the day of launch:

Importantly, we took Nanit from just-launched startup to winner of gold-standard industry accolades, including being recognized for their artificial intelligence capabilities by CBInsight’s AI 100 and named by Business Insider as one of the 27 best startups that launched in 2016.

Accolades came in from our target press:

Business

Technology

Parenting press

  • BusyMommyMedia: “Nanit is more than a baby monitor. Saying Nanit is just a baby monitor is like saying sleeping is just something you do to pass the time. Nanit does it all. It doesn’t just detect motion. It classifies behavior. Think of it like a high tech sleep tracker for your baby.”

Reviews Program

Our press program successfully garnered more than 212 pieces of coverage in the nine months since the company launched, with a total estimated reach of 592 million. Nanit started shipping devices to its customers in December 2016.

Introducing Founder Scaling

We’ve helped over 250 companies scale their message to the world.

Now we are helping our founders scale themselves.

VSC is announcing a new partnership with Dane Holewinski, a former founder turned executive coach who works with startup CEOs to navigate the intense pressure, complexity, and opportunity of building a rapidly growing company.

What our clients can expect:

  • Startup CEO 360 – independent assessment of your strengths and areas for development across 16 Startup CEO Competencies
  • Mini projects that will deliver a clear development plan for elevating your skills in a few short weeks
  • Clarity, focus and confidence for your executive team
  • An initial complimentary coaching consultation – request at stacy@vscconsulting.com

Prior to coaching, Dane spent over a decade building companies in Silicon Valley including VSC partner Greystripe which sold to Conversant in 2015.

What Dane’s clients are saying…

I turned to Dane after hearing glowing recommendations from a number of entrepreneurs I trust. They were spot on. As a former venture-backed startup founder himself, Dane helped guide me through the noise and isolate the signal so I could execute from a place of clarity, confidence and strength. Not only am I a better CEO for working with Dane, I am a better human – more balanced, happy and clear than ever before. I recommend Dane to any CEO looking to gain a competitive edge.

– Dale Fox, Co-Founder & CEO, Tribogenics

Dane helped me shift mindsets from ‘building great products’ to ‘building a great company’ by uncovering and unlocking patterns that were keeping me from reaching my full potential as a leader and person. Our work together allowed me to find the space to be more strategic, build a powerful exec team, delegate and build the foundation for a world-class company all while being less stressed, healthier and happier.

– Co-Founder & CEO, Jonathan Matus, Zendrive

Intrigued? Request a complimentary coaching consultation at stacy@vscconsulting.com.

Startup Storytelling with Y-Combinator Partner Kat Mañalac | VSC Freestyle

We invited Kat Mañalac from Y-Combinator to our office to share her thoughts on startup storytelling, media outreach, Silicon Valley culture and more.

Kat is a Partner and the Director of Outreach at Y Combinator. Her focus is on finding great entrepreneurs for the Y Combinator program, and has developed programs like YC Hacks and helped take YC’s Startup School global.

Follow our YouTube Channel Here: VSC Freestyle

A PR Crisis is a Rite of Passage. Here’s How to Deal With It.

We’re used to living with natural disasters in the Bay Area – and as PR people here, we see our share of PR disasters. Everywhere you look, companies are scrambling to attend to the latest employee misstep, leaked memo, tone deaf Tweet or corporate policy gone Uber wrong.

 

Over the last 15 years, we’ve guided my clients through every imaginable kind of crisis – from Senate inquiries and sexual harassment claims, to defective products, management shuffles and layoffs, leaked acquisition talks, broken product embargoes and even government bans.

 

Every successful business encounters a crisis (or several). If you’re faced with one, you’ll want experts and multiple confidantes to provide guidance through every step. The key to winning in a crisis revolves around a few key steps: preparation, speed of response, empathy towards those impacted by the crisis, transparency and business corrections.

But there’s one thing to make absolutely clear: PR Crisis equals Business Crisis. Whether small or explosive, they’re often simplified by the outside world as ‘PR problems,’ but that’s bullshit. They are business problems that need to be solved with business changes not PR responses.

 

An incredible PR team can definitely help you navigate a crisis, but that doesn’t solve the underlying issue. If the business, company culture or technology don’t evolve or create a more transparent environment, then you’re in for a long road.

So what happens when you do find yourself in one of those crisis scenarios. First, assess the damage….what threat level are you operating at?:

 

Level 1 – A few customer complaints have come through via email and/or social.

 

  • Action: Deal with the issue as quickly as possible. Either remedy the problem, refund the customer, or explain that you’re working on the issue…and then work on it!

    Show contrition. Fix the problem quickly.

Level 2 – The media has started asking questions about a particular problem.

 

  • Action: Assess the situation. Figure out how you will communicate what you are doing to fix the issue or clarify the situation.

    Don’t ignore the press. Ignoring means you have something to hide.

Level 3 – Media is now publishing stories about the issue.

  • Action: Analyze the press coverage. Check into the facts and understand if the problem is real. Deal with the problem – and then deal with the media.

    If the problem is fixed or being fixed, immediately contact the journalist or outlet and explain the situation and what is being done to fix it. If more than two days go by and the journalist or their boss (the editors) don’t respond, leave a comment in the comment section of the article.

Inform your stakeholders and employees. Let them know what’s going on before they tell you.  And tell them what your plan is to solve it.

Level 4– Viral spread of your crisis.

  • Action: Issue an official statement – one from the company to the press, and then a personal one that is distributed across relevant channels.Note that if you are a consumer product, and the crisis is a back-end business issue such as an employee lawsuit, there is no need to inform end consumers via social media. However you should issue a statement to all media covering the situation.

Level 5 – Extreme external pressure from investors, government inquiries and calls for regime change

 

  • Action: Interestingly enough, in the highest pressure situations, there is almost a sense of calm that comes over a good crisis expert. Almost an excitement of knowing what’s about to happen and predict it as it unfolds.It’s a time when I hear the lyrics of Sound of Silence overtake me with the word ‘Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gFnCwVqbWs 

A good Level 5 requires a few things:

  • Daily communication with your Board of Directors and PR counsel
  • Having a positive and welcoming disposition with government bodies or authorities (if they’re involved)The good news: depending on the severity of the issue, after the initial PR splash, governments often move slow. Authorities may make a lot of noise when they investigate an issue, but like a bad health diagnosis – they’ll freak out initially, but then get used to the new reality.
  • External monitoring of velocity of movements like #DeleteUber

Your final step, when the storm has passed, is to learn from your experience and do a post-crisis evaluation. Ask yourself what the company learned from this? What processes could have been put in place to avert or minimize it? How can the company fix its problems to avoid such a crisis in the future. If you expect ongoing crisis as a result of just the business you are in, you must accept the new reality and prepare your stakeholders for this as your business continues to grow.

Some additional resources when faced with a crisis:

 

Your first steps are the most critical

Regardless of the crisis, there are some universal steps to take. Media intelligence company Meltwater includes some of these best practices in their 10 Steps to Managing a PR Crisis:

 

  • Assemble & brief your Crisis Team: these are the execs, PR and social media leads, and customer-facing employees who will be on the front lines. Give them the status along with timelines and next steps on how/if/when they should communicate externally.
  • Get the full story: don’t react until you know those details. Ask a ton of questions. Determine how your response will impact your overall business.
  • Listen and watch: monitor social channels, your online community and the news media. What’s the noise level? You’ll be able to gauge how significant the crisis is by the size of the conversation.
  • Decide on your channels: depending on the situation and messaging you’ve created, figure out which medium(s) will be your best bet for delivery – company blog, social, press release distributed over a newswire, via a select reporter or a group of them, etc.

Your social gameplan

 

Thinking through your social media communication plan specifically is critical. Social monitoring company Hootsuite recommends to:

 

“Outline the exact steps everyone should take on social media—from top executives to the most junior employees. Include a list of who should be contacted at each stage of a potential crisis, and provide guidelines for how all employees are expected to communicate on social media.”

 

And they advise to act fast:

 

“Not using the real-time nature of social media to your advantage is where many companies stumble in a crisis. Social media offers a public forum to immediately acknowledge the situation while you work on fine tuning more in-depth communication… A simple message from a company acknowledging the issue and letting people know that more information is coming soon can help contain the negative sentiment around an issue and prevent it from spiraling out of control.”

 

Another bright light here: social media movements lose steam. They’ll trend for a day and two and then most likely, people will be on to the next crisis. Why? People have short attention spans.

 

This is why two of the most important groups to cater to are your Board and your team. Most companies and leaders understand issues will occur and are more interested in your response and your open line of communication.

 

According to Fortune: “Don’t forget about your employees. In a crisis, it’s common to focus on brand and trying to make sure that not too much external damage is done. But that crisis also has a huge impact on your own people—many of whom have had their faith shaken in their company’s values and are afraid for their own livelihoods.”

 

Meanwhile, be careful what you email your teams. Those memos are often leaked. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want to see published in Techcrunch.

SHHHHHHH!!!!!! Just don’t call it EdTech.

With $43 billion at stake for educational hardware and software, there’s a technology war going on in the classroom.

 

Key players like Google, Microsoft and Apple are paving the way for entrants, some of which we represent, to give teachers and students access to innovative classroom tech.

 

Over the last five years, we’ve grown our practice to specialize in giving upstarts their own unfair awareness advantage needed to close district contracts, grow teacher communities and engage millions of students with hands-on learning and immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences.

 

Specific within education technologies, we have built category leaders within their respective communities like Osmo, Nearpod, and ClassDojo, as well as building brands in family entertainment and educational gaming with Flybrix, Pixelberry and PlayKids.

Osmo is the award-winning leader of a new play movement, one that bridges the physical and digital worlds for the ultimate hands-on learn and play experience. Engaged prior to the company’s launch in 2014 and still engaged today, our agency designed a long-term media strategy to reach parents, families and educators. Starting at zero, Osmo is now in hundreds of thousands of households, is sold in more than 248 Apple stores around the globe, and is used in more than 20,000 schools worldwide. View our work with Osmo here.

We helped Nearpod, makers of an interactive classroom lesson planning platform, create a VR strategy and orchestrated the launch of Nearpod VR, the first of its kind virtual reality program for K-12 classrooms. The company has become the leading edtech platform that lets teachers find, create and distribute digital learning experiences, and is now used in 1 out of 10 US schools. Read more about our work with Nearpod here.

We launched ClassDojo, the educational tool to build positive behavior with her students in the U.S., to wide acclaim, helping it receive coverage across both tech (TechCrunch, The Next Web), education (Education Week, Classroom Aid) and consumer (Fast Company, Forbes, Bostinno) publications. We worked on long lead features, and saw placements in Marketplace (which was published online and broadcasted to 10M listeners), KQED, Charlotte Observer and CBS News.

 

Through our efforts and outreach, ClassDojo received several awards of recognition including a print placement in Forbes 30 Under 30 and inclusion in their “100 Most Promising Companies,” and Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies”.

 

Partnering with Flybrix, we promptly set out to build a bold narrative and go-to market communications strategy that differentiated them from other drone companies – all in advance of a highly-competitive holiday season. We focused on the unique “crash-friendly” nature of the drone that welcomed kids to “embrace the crash”, teaching them critical tinkering skills through trial and error. Flybrix became the first-ever crash-friendly, re-buildable drone made of LEGO® bricks that let kids (14+) build, fly, crash and rebuild their creations – all while honing STEM skills. Fybrix is now used in over 300 U.S. school as the go-to project-based learning drone. More about our work with Flybrix here.

Working with Pixelberry, we launched their mobile game High School Story which helps adolescents
and young-adults deal with the stresses of teenage life. The game received unprecedented coverage for a genre of its kind in some of America’s premier publications (Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Herald), VentureBeat, Fast Company), and others and led to thousands of teens using the game to click through to cyberbullying and suicide support services within the app.

 

Through our relationship with Y-Combinator and Social Capital, we launched CodeNow, a company focused on teaching programming basics to high schoolers – particularly girls, ethnic minorities, and other underrepresented groups. The launch made headlines in Fast Company, TechCrunch, and InfoWorld and the organization expanded their programs into additional markets to include even more students in New York, Washington D.C. and the Bay Area.

 

The classroom is getting flipped. Education is changing as we know it.

 

Just don’t call it edtech….that’s too boring a term for what’s happening here.

VSC Helps Nearpod Bring Virtual Reality Education Experiences to America’s Schools

Hundreds of startups are vying to reinvent education, competing with tech titans such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft in order to win the $12 billion K-12 U.S. education market.

 

Nearpod enables K-12 teachers to create, find and distribute lesson plans to students on any digital device. The company launched in 2012, and after many years of operating in stealth mode, selected VSC in late 2015 to build awareness in schools and within the greater technology landscape.

 

At a time when the market boasted several other online education and digital learning companies, our goal was to differentiate Nearpod from the competition and drive sales.

Our Strategy

VSC advised Nearpod on a fairly common, but substantial challenge where the media’s conversation around mobile technology in schools was far ahead of on-the-ground school adoption. Despite interesting work being done by Nearpod in the classroom, VSC determined the edtech company should not try to focus on mobile apps, which media considered old-hat, but instead direct the conversation along a new axis.

In our due diligence, we discovered experimental work being pursued in virtual reality, which had largely remained hidden from the public. Given recent developments with high-profile companies in VR such as Oculus Rift, VSC identified an opportunity to not only capitalize on the heightened attention paid to virtual reality, but also push the edtech conversation in a new direction. As such, VSC advised Nearpod to lead with this experimental VR work and scale it in such a way to help the company gain media interest and create a new entry point for its broader mobile application offerings.

 

To ensure Nearpod’s VR education story was more substance than fantasy, VSC relaunched the VR product and advised the company to develop VR education grants, gifting more than $100,000 worth of content, headsets, training and other resources to 50 schools. We also developed messaging around the power of virtual reality to energize education RIGHT NOW with powerful software and low-cost hardware.

 

Nearpod sourced low-cost VR viewers in order to emphasize the accessibility of the product to any school, as compared to other cost-prohibitive solutions such as Oculus Rift. With the VR education grants and the low-cost VR viewers, VSC helped Nearpod put the “reality” in virtual reality in classrooms across the U.S.

The Results

 

VSC understood that the imaginative and visionary nature of Nearpod’s VR-in-the-classroom narrative would require a top-tier feature story that could fully capture the different ways the company is innovating.  As such, VSC secured a Wall Street Journal feature story about VR in classrooms, with Nearpod as the featured company.

From the Wall Street Journal:

“Nearpod Inc., a startup that makes education software used in 10,000 schools across the U.S., is launching virtual-reality lessons on Thursday. Here’s their pitch: instead of requiring schools to invest heavily in headsets and other hardware, Nearpod’s approach relies on students using their own devices or district-supplied electronics.

 

Students already use tablets and netbooks in the classroom, to share text, record and watch videos, and conduct research. Virtual reality – the technology that lets people experience immersive, 360-degree images – would take technology in the classroom to the next level.

 

Virtual-reality proponents argue students engage more with a lesson when it is interactive, such as virtual “field trips” to far places.”

While the WSJ feature would set the vision and tone for the rest of the campaign, VSC planned for immediate follow-on coverage that could demonstrate how other schools can join the VR education revolution.

We secured a feature in Fortune, using two school districts as case studies for how schools could replicate or adopt VR programming in their own classrooms.

 

Additionally, VSC secured regional print and broadcast features on the teachers who received Nearpod grants, reaching new audiences of teachers and students. Sample features include: The Sun in San Bernardino, Bay Area News 9 in Orlando, Florida, Fox 32 in Chicago and News Press in Cape Coral, Florida. Beyond showcasing how teachers were using the technology, we strategically selected and worked with notable education influencers like Teachers with Apps and Instructional Tech Talk to review the Nearpod VR classroom experience.

In the first six months of our engagement, the earned media campaign reached 36 million people, including decision makers in local schools, technology partners and venture capitalists.

 

Since our partnership kicked off in late 2015, Nearpod has expanded to 1 in 10 US schools, and raised $30M from key investors Insight Venture Partners, Reach Capital, Storm Ventures, Marc Benioff and more. Beyond that, Nearpod successfully reached more than 6 million students through its virtual reality program and separated from other edtech startups through its innovative products, controversial opinions on education technology and regional press.

Congratulations to MightyTV on Their Future with Spotify

We had the pleasure of working with Brian, Alison and their talented team on one of the biggest app launches of 2016.

 

According to a Forbes story on the deal, “The company had received a fair amount of media attention for a project so new.”

 

Read about our work here.

 

Artificial intelligence is a hot space and MightyTV represents the second acquisition in this sector from within our network in the past year.

 

VSC Delivers as Zume Bakes Pizza on the Way

Zume Pizza uses technology to make and deliver pizza from 100% locally sourced ingredients. Co-created by restaurant developer Julia Collins and serial entrepreneur Alex Garden, Zume Pizza is on a quest to make healthier pizza more accessible.

 

Zume engaged VSC to establish the company as a legitimate competitor and healthier alternative to Big Pizza conglomerates by delivering fresh, healthy affordable food in an entirely new way. Additional goals included driving pizza orders and investor awareness.

Our challenge was twofold: breaking into a crowded market with Big Pizza who have a multi-decade advantage and spend billions on broadcast, digital and print advertising, while also educating Americans on the harmful effects their favorite fast food was having on their long-term health.

 

How We Did It

 

Making secret sauce not-so-secret: After conducting market analysis of the Big Four contenders – Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s, Dominos and Pizza Hut – it became clear corporate pizza is pumping their pies with preservatives and artificial ingredients in order to preserve shelf life at the expense of Americans’ health.

 

Our strategy was to set Zume apart from chemical-laden competitors in Big Pizza with the launch of the world’s first Food Delivery Vehicle that bakes pizza en route. It served as our news-driven moment to tell their bigger story.

 

 

The campaign focused on Zume’s key differentiators: commitment to fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, focus on employee wellness and benefits, all made possible by their technology-driven approach to baking and delivering the very best pies.

Food first, tech second: We sought to elevate Zume’s mission of delivering healthier pizza options at a fair price by re-defining the concept of “fresh out of the oven.”

 

While other pizza chains introduced square heat bags that aimed to keep already cooked pizza from getting cold, Zume introduced a GAME CHANGER: the ability to start and finish cooking a pizza in the vehicle, as it arrives to customers’ home using GPS and Uber-like mobile logistics. We coined the term “BOTW” or “Baked on the Way.”

 

Given the technology was unprecedented, we had to educate reporters on the concept of dwell time, or the period of time a pizza is spent outside the oven while en route for delivery. Reducing dwell time enables Zume to make pizza at half the fat and 40 percent fewer calories, without chemicals or preservatives typically used to prolong shelf life.

 

Happy employees make happy meals: In the broader pizza industry, employee health and safety is a serious issue – with pizza delivery one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Part of the strategy was to expose the safety shortcomings of traditional pizza parlors, while showcasing Zume’s innovative use of technology to create a safer work environment.

Show-telling: Instead of telling reporters about Zume, we invited them in to taste the difference. VSC understood that Zume’s mission-driven business were best seen firsthand as opposed to described over the phone or via a startup tech video. That’s why we planned a series of in-person briefings at Zume headquarters to educate food, tech, and business press by showing them the synergistic collaboration between robots and employees, the use of fresh ingredients and superior cooking process. The media witnessed our innovation first-hand and tasted the pizza themselves.

 

 

Results

The relatively small startup is now the hottest innovation in the pizza industry. Through our PR efforts, one single initiative generated more earned media attention from global press (100+ articles across online, print and broadcast) than any one of the Big Pizza chains for any product launch over Q3-Q4 of 2016.

 

The launch reached 500 million people. Among that audience was the CEO of Domino’s, who was forced to respond to Zume in a Reuters article by downplaying if “people want their food out of a machine.”

 

That’s right. The CEO of Domino’s Pizza was compelled to respond to a tiny Silicon Valley startup.

 

The press embraced Zume’s pizza-making robots and mission to improve the way food is sourced, cooked, and delivered, with national media coverage in outlets like NPR and the New York Times, food media like Eater and Vice’s Munchies, and a variety of other top publications. And in February 2017, Zume was named #1 on CNBC’s Upstart 25 List, honoring the fastest growing startups of the year.

 

For example, when Domino’s launched the ability to order via Apple Watch, they only generated five noteworthy stories. Or when Pizza Hut resorted to ‘stunty’ menu offerings like the pizza topped with gold and grilled cheese crust, they earned just seven placements.

 

After the launch, Zume experienced record week-over week order volume which not only spiked for the campaign but led to overall higher order volume ongoing. The campaign generated curiosity, interest, demand and repeat customers. A supreme publicity pie, if you will.

 

Here’s what the press had to say:

 

“Meats and produce are sourced locally, like cheese from Cypress Grove and tomatoes from Scott Park Farms, and prepared on site. And, as if one needed more convincing to ditch the chains, Collins says that each slice averages 178 calories, versus 320 calories per slice at Domino’s.” — Eater SF on Zume’s superior ingredients and food first, technology second model

 

“Startups like Zume provide an important modern example of how automation can impact employment in ways that aren’t immediately apparent, or necessarily negative.” — Quartz on Zume’s robots and job creation

 

“The company is committed to using robots for repetitive, mundane tasks to eventually move kitchen staff into the front office, and shift focus to what Zume Pizza considers its marquee innovation, a truck with more than 50 ovens that cooks pizzas while they’re out for delivery using special software.” CBS News on Zume’s commitment to worker safety

 

We also connected reporters with Zume pizza employees directly so that they could tell their story about the company’s commitment to their livelihoods. For example, Christopher Rognstad, Zume Pizza’s kitchen supervisor, spoke with Marisa Kendall, a reporter with the San Jose Mercury News and said: “I think there will always be a place for humans here,” to “We jokingly talk about the robots as if they’re our family and our co-workers,” Rognstad said. “So when they make mistakes we joke and say, ‘Bruno messed up.’”

 

The company received hundreds of inbound inquiries from investors, potential partners and prospective employees.