Blockchain in the Physical World

We’re building two brands using blockchain-based technology that are reimagining communication and entertainment.

We introduced the world to Blok.Party, the first blockchain-based gaming console, enabling players to combine physical and digital play. The budding company has already generated millions in revenue and has received coverage in over 20+ key media outlets.

goTenna, introduced the first bitcoin wallet that works without the internet.

goTenna was doing decentralization before it was trendy and continues to lead the thinking on consumer security and financial privacy – which is especially important at a time when these values are coming under increasing political pressure.

ICOs can be dangerous. Here’s what needs to change.

Healthcare is the New App

The personalization of healthcare will be the app of the 2020s.  Advances in data science, machine learning and smartphone adoption will bring groundbreaking access, precision, and treatment to billions around the world. This is why we’re thrilled to introduce Mammoth Biosciences, an incredible healthcare company that has the potential to change disease detection via CRISPR.

Mammoth is the first company to commercialize this technology and is backed by leading VCs including 8VC, AME Cloud, NFX, and Mayfield.

Socks that Save Legs

The elderly deserve magical technology as much as everyone else. This is why we embraced the opportunity to help healthcare startup Siren.

VSC developed the messaging, positioning, and media relations for the company’s patented Neurofabric™, the first textile with microsensors embedded directly into the fabric, which helps people with diabetes continuously monitor for foot injuries prevalent among that population.

Health tech is going through a brand renaissance as consumers expect everything in their lives to work and feel as beautiful as Apple or Google products, and we were excited to bring this to life through Siren.

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.

The Story of Osmo: Crowdfunding America’s New Play Movement

Osmo is a company we launched in 2014. It’s an award-winning game system changing how kids interact with their iPad by opening it up to hands-on play.

 

We worked with Osmo to position them as the leader of a new play movement, one that bridges the physical and online worlds for the ultimate hands-on education experience, and to help drive sales of the product.

 

Our analysis of the market revealed that parents were already up to their ears in children’s apps – and challenged to find the best in a sea of hundreds of thousands in the App Store. Once they found the right app, the fear of increasing screen time posed another concern. On top of that, very few physical education toys existed outside of LEGOs, and marketing such products involved million dollar budgets to compete with established education apps and franchises like Rovio Angry Birds.

How We Did It

 

Brand & Messaging Development

 

Not just another education tech tool: we positioned Osmo, which stands for “awesome+mobile,” as the start of a “new play movement,” a technologically-advanced system that unleashes the boundaries of the screen.

 

Osmo turns the physical space in front of an iPad into an input for a digital screen. The relationship between the software and hardware had never been introduced to the market before, so it was critical that we find balance between the amplifying the technical advancements and the cool factor.

To this end, we created the concept of ‘Reflective AI’ – technology that puts the physical world back into digital play. Parents understood the value of children literally using their hands to draw things on paper in front of the iPad – boosting fine motor skills, creativity, the sharing of pencils and paper.

 

We made sure to keep our messaging focused on play vs. “edtech,” and extol the benefits of the system Osmo had created to ease the anxiety of parents worried about mindless screentime zombifying their kids.

Platform Launch Strategy

In a world of broken promises between pre-sales companies and consumers, it was critical that we launch out of stealth once the company was certain they could ship units to families within three months. Osmo guaranteed product readiness.

And unlike other companies that chose to launch on crowdfunding sites, we recommended against this strategy to ensure we were elevating the brand and product beyond just another startup. We suggested Osmo go direct to consumers and build a website and video that felt more on-brand with where they eventually wanted to be, which was lining the shelves of Apple.

The Results

Osmo became one of the top selling products in its category. Since our engagement, the company has grown 2X year over year, launched in 20,000 schools and secured retail distribution with Best Buy, Amazon and Apple stores worldwide.

 

Over a 32-month period, Osmo earned 700 features in target media and received national coverage highlighting Osmo at the forefront of a new play movement:

 

Osmo launched with three “experiences” (Tangram, Words and Newton), reaching its pre-sales goal of $50K in just 6.5 hours and raised over $2M during the course of its first campaign. Our efforts alone generated more than 200 stories, including prominent placements in publications like Bloomberg, Fast Company, NBC, Yahoo! Tech, TechCrunch, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

 

One of our most successful launches was Osmo Monster, a “visual bot” that leveraged Osmo’s mixed reality experience to bring physical drawings to life. We leveraged the technical expertise of Osmo’s team, who previously worked at Google and Disney, to capitalize on the excitement around bots but grounded it with language that conjured Pixar and Disney.

Coverage highlights include:

 

When we launched Osmo Coding, our focus on the originality of the platform and the product design team (the youngest ever to design a product in the Apple store), top tier media paid attention.

Since launch, and over the last two years of working together, we built a brand that kids love and parents trust. Through a series of product initiatives, we’ve helped Osmo demonstrate their strategic growth and product messaging, putting innovation in the context of important tech trends but with a human, creative touch. Our concept of play was embraced by not only media, but also families and classrooms to enhance creative thinking, social interaction skills and more.

Making news, not faking news

These are uncertain times, but we’re intent on doing what we always do – help entrepreneurs break out and tell their stories.

With that in mind, we’ve chosen a few principles to guide us.

  • In business as in life, diversity is a competitive advantage.
  • Immigration fuels innovation.
  • Despite our social feeds, it’s a historically good time to be alive.

Regardless of global trends, we’re grateful to our companies and recognize their work including eight exits in the past year.

WE JUST HIRED SEAN SPICER

Ok that’s fake news…but we did hire two execs that actually know what they’re doing.

We boosted our team with the addition of marketing and communication pros Archie Chattha and Julia Konstantinovsky.

Check out the PR Week story here.

RANKED TOP PLACES TO WORK

According to CareerCast, PR was rated as the 6th most stressful job. Yes, it may all look like fun and games, but Silicon Valley is a competitive place and the stakes are high.

This is why we take culture seriously and we’re proud that PRNews recognized us as one of the top places to work in our industry.

WARENESS

In 2013, we debuted Wareness, a marketing studio and seed investment fund devoted to helping entrepreneurs in hardware and connected devices. We’re proud to report that we have successfully launched 18 companies, including Navdy, Moov, goTenna, Osmo and Teforia – with a combined $120M in sales.
Now our doors are open to companies specializing in AI, robotics and computer vision.  Read more about it in TechCrunch.

We are already building brands in these focus areas – with clients like H2O.ai (open source machine learning), Nanit (computer vision & AI-enabled baby monitor), Zume Pizza (automating pie creation, shown above), and API.ai (speech AI interface, acquired by Google). And we’re making strides in the New Year, as three of our clients have made it to the CB Insights AI100 list.

GIVING BACK

We continue to dedicate ourselves to important organizations and causes that serve our community, locally and internationally.

Here’s a list of organizations we supported last year:

FREESTYLE

Interesting people who sat down with us:

MORE AWESOMENESS

Osmo was recognized as one of the most innovative toys for early school-aged kids

On demand massage app Soothe was featured as one of Ellen’s coveted Mother’s Day Giveaways

Leading fashion marketplace Poshmark expanded into men’s and kid’s categories

b8ta’s expansion spurred the question: Can Technology Save Brick and Mortar?

Lego-drone Flybrix was cited as one of the 14 Coolest Toys for the Holiday Season

Candy-bar-size goTenna turns phones into walkie-talkies and is featured as a must-have in any modern explorer’s survival kit

Legacy Republic named one of the “5 Modern Ways to Save Your Mementos

Spotify-backed Soundtrack Your Brand brings music to McDonalds in global partnership

Nanit was featured as a nursery must-have, and named by Business Insider as one of the top 27 startups of 2016

Nearpod’s education software, used in 10,000 US schools, launched virtual reality lessons

E-commerce fraud protector Signifyd was named to the Forbes Fintech50 for 2016

Mobile payments tech company Ezetap was named as one of the top 50 Disruptors of 2016

Case Study: MightyTV was one of the biggest app launches of 2016

Flywheel wins Best Travel and Hospitality PR Campaign of the Year.

Since no one actually reads any full article, we are rewarding the first five people who email here. You are entitled to a complimentary bottle of VSC Liquid Courage Wine.

VSC Swipes Right for the Biggest Startup App Launch of 2016 for MightyTV

We live in a platinum age of television: never before have there been so many high-quality TV shows to choose from. With abundance, however, comes the paradox of choice, and today’s viewers are more overwhelmed and frustrated than ever. The process of discovery is an especially huge problem for a new generation of cord cutters and cord nevers who have no way to get quality recommendations and find something good across all their favorite streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Hulu, and iTunes. “Netflix and chill” has increasingly become “Netflix, Hulu, HBO overkill.”

 

Everyone understands the problem but no one has fundamentally solved it. In the past few years, there have been hundreds of attempts at video discovery from recommendation and video services, creating a crowded market of more than 20 apps in the category, with little to no differentiation between products.

 

Oversaturation of video discovery apps has created fatigue for journalists who cover the space, resulting in scant media coverage and low awareness among consumers, with recent video discovery app launches averaging roughly 2.3 original earned media placements per launch.

 

In order to rise above a sea of mediocre discovery apps, MightyTV partnered with VSC to launch the company and achieve two strategic goals: 1) differentiate from competitors, and 2) draw media awareness to help drive downloads and user engagement.

 

Strategy

VSC determined that any new product in the space needed to stand out from anything that came before it.

 

With this in mind, VSC immediately embarked on an audit of the industry, where we recognized that competitive apps weren’t great at solving for individual discovery, and those that focused around discovery weren’t good at solving for social.

 

VSC therefore recommended a launch strategy that MightyTV should wait until it had some aspects of social figured out that we could showcase to press, which would allow us to carefully craft product messaging that addressed two notable market deficiencies.

 

With sights set on a mid-April launch date, VSC conducted an aggressive national outreach campaign to pre-brief media to demonstrate why the app is truly a must-have for anyone who loves watching TV and movies.

Tactics

1. Brand Association – We advised the team to capitalize on heightened media attention and the popularity of social and dating app, Tinder, where MightyTV uses a similar swipe interface to hook you up with videos you’ll love, fast.

 

2. Product Messaging – Focus messaging around a new type of AI app for video that delivers hyper-personalized and intelligent recommendations based on you and your friends’ tastes so you’ll never have to waste time again trying to find something good to watch.

 

3. Pedigree – Leverage founder’s background as a technologist and entrepreneur who sold his last startup to Google for $400M and is now launching a startup that aims to put an end to your search for what to binge watch next.

 

4. Media Relations – Set up ‘sneak peek’ in-person product demos in SF and NY where key members of the press had a chance to try out the product first-hand to see how the service is approaching discovery in a way that has never been attempted before.

Execution

We overachieved all coverage goals, with 50+ pieces of coverage worldwide in top-tier outlets.

 

Here are a few of the major placements:

 

Wired: MightyTV Is Like Tinder, Only It Sets You Up With Movies: A new app called MightyTV (iOS-only for now, Android soon) aims to solve this problem using a unique concoction of Tinder-style swiping, machine learning, and a collaborative personalization mechanism that can not only find something for you to watch right now, but can account for the tastes of everyone on the couch and find something you’ll all love. The app is out today, it’s super slick, and it might have a chance to do what so many have tried and failed to pull off.

 

MightyTV is the invention of a team led by Brian Adams, an entrepreneur who spent much of his career working in ads. He sold his company, AdMeld, to Google in 2011, and then spent the next few years working on Google’s money-printing Doubleclick ad system. In February of 2015, he quit his job and started poking around things like local search before landing on video.

 

TechCrunch: MightyTV uses a Tinder-style interface to offer personal tips on what to watch next: To determine that taste, MightyTV presents users with a stack of movie recommendations that you can go through quickly, Tinder-style, saying whether you like, love or dislike each one — or if you just want to add it to your watch list. Over time, the recommendations should get smarter, based on what the app learns about your taste and about the taste of similar users.

 

Even better, if you’re watching with someone else, MightyTV can recommend programming that sits at the overlap between your taste and that of your friend/spouse/family member/whomever.

 

Mashable: Tinder-esque app Mighty TV wants to find your perfect streaming match: Now there’s a way to swipe right on what to stream. MightyTV — a new app launched by an ex-Google employee on Wednesday —  is a personalized video discovery app that gives consumers the ability to “swipe away the frustration of what to watch next.”

 

Using algorithms, the app helps users match with new content to stream based on their personal taste, as well as their friends’ tastes.

Evaluation

The launch of MightyTV was an instant success and one of the biggest startup app launches in 2016 based on media coverage and total audience reach.

 

After the press launch, MightyTV was twice featured in Apple’s app store, in the ‘Best News Apps Section’ on April 22, as well as ‘Apps That We Love’ in the Entertainment section on May 6th.

 

The launch was a global success appearing in 50+ publications and resulting in downloads in 60+ countries and the active users averaging 290 swipes per session.

Within the first two days of launch, MightyTV reached 290.9K accounts on Twitter and made 373.7K impressions.

 

The total reach of the earned media campaign within the first month including written, video, and broadcast coverage was 573M people.

 

Coverage included a wide range of business, entertainment / tech, and consumer / lifestyle press like Fox TV-New York, NY1, the front page of Wired.com, App of the week for GeekWire, E! Online, WSJ, Yahoo, MSN, Seventeen, Self, Mashable, TechCrunch, Engadget, TechHive / PCWorld, Lifehacker, NY Post / Decider, Daily Mail, Slate, Thrillist, Refinery29, Motherboard, Brit & Co, Consumer Affairs and a host of other influential media outlets and blogs.

15 Years and 800 Steps Down the Street – Two Friends Join Forces Again

I had the pleasure of working with Archie and Julia starting in 2001at Metreon, a futuristic entertainment center located in SF’s developing SOMA district. It was the first showcase destination for emerging tech, hot gadgets, and digital entertainment experiences in a brand new, non-traditional physical retail location.

 

2001 was a crazy time and San Francisco was a startup wasteland, having shed thousands of jobs as the web 1.0 bubble burst in a big way. Sony’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It offered a jolt to the city and set to create a technical hub in the South of Market district, which was primarily warehouses and nightclubs.

 

Archie and Julia were all part of the team that put Metreon on the map and San Francisco back in effect from an innovation and entertainment perspective.  The movement dipped into various segments from tech hackathons (now commonplace), video game launches, major movie premieres, and Billboard Top 10 music performers.  Working together with VSC (Metreon’s PR agency of record), the team also created a Mann’s Chinese Theatre tribute for Gaming, known as the Walk of Game, to honor gaming icons such as Nolan Bushnell,  Pong,  and Super Mario, among others.

Fifteen years and 200+ clients later, VSC is still in SOMA just a few blocks from Metreon. SOMA is a changed place. It is now the Sunset Boulevard of startups. Hundreds exist here and the neighborhood is one of the most bustling and thriving business districts in the world.

 

So it feels full circle to welcome these two back. Since our time working together, they’ve amassed a depth of experience that any agency would kill for. Now, they’re bringing it back home to VSC.

 

Archie joins us as Partner and Vice President of Networks, and helps us introduce a new kind of integrated service into our mix. She’ll focus on helping our clients make strategic business connections, leveraging her network to connect them with Silicon Valley influencers and entrepreneurs. In addition to her two decades of marketing and brand development experience, Archie also offers VSC her unique perspective as a startup angel investor and real estate developer. Plus the insight she will be able to give our partners about branding, franchises, licensing and retail distribution channels is unparalleled.  Archie is also an active philanthropist, works with several amazing organizations and is a founding member of Eden, Utah-based entrepreneurial community, Summit Powder Mountain.

 

Julia is our new Director of Client Strategy. After Metreon, she joined Atomic PR, an agency that specialized early in infusing data and analytics into PR strategy. There she worked with some genre-defining tech brands in both consumer and enterprise – and saw the practice of PR shift and change through the advent of social media, infographics and data, the explosion of smartphone and app use, all across economic upswings and downturns. Advancing from account management into a role as vice president shaped both her client and business management skills, and then a move to an operations position as Atomic was absorbed by global PR firm Grayling, strengthened her experience in marketing, training & development, budgeting and team utilization. We are excited to have her bring that experience to VSC where she’ll assist account with planning, mentorship and guide marketing strategy.

 

We’re really looking forward to this next chapter opening. Speaking of which – our door’s always open, so come by next time you find yourself in SOMA.

 

Read the full press release here: http://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=206311

Meet b8ta: The software-powered retailer changing the game for consumers and makers alike

When a group of Nest alums knocks on your door looking to launch a futuristic retail concept – you open it.

Through our sister brand Wareness.io, VSC has worked with a range of retail technology startups, consumer hardware and IoT companies. When we met with b8ta last fall, we knew they were on to something big – so much so we invested in them.

 

b8ta’s timing was impeccable – brick-and-mortar retail was taking a big hit, as seen with Macy’s and Walmart closing stores all across the US. Meanwhile, connected devices and the internet of things (IoT) were exploding from an online sales perspective. It was clear the physical retail industry was broken for new hardware brands making awesome products.

 

Why?

 

Ecommerce lacks a simple trait: the ability to experience products. We all know what it’s like to hear about a cool, new tech product, but are hesitant to buy because we have no way of seeing it and trying it out beforehand.

 

This is what b8ta’s core business was built upon – trying to fix these issues for both consumers and makers within the retail landscape.

 

After studying the competitive media landscape for big and small retailers, we created a comprehensive, strategic media plan to launch b8ta.

 

Our goal was to drive foot traffic to the store, as well as create awareness within the investment community, through a combination of local and national press. To so, we leveraged the store’s one-of-kind software-powered approach, sleek design and founders’ pedigrees to showcase distinction against huge corporate competitors like Apple and Best Buy. We also invited local media to the store to experience b8ta firsthand and made a national splash two days before the store opened to the public to build anticipation and capitalize on the holiday shopping rush.

 

b8ta officially launched last December, and since then has transformed the way consumers interact with products, resulting in millions of product engagements since opening its doors. It has become a prerequisite for all hardware companies and makers wanting to get into retail, and has featured customer favorites like Pepper The Humanoid Robot, Lily Drone Camera, Osmo, Teforia, goTenna, Tile and more.

 

Fast forward to today, b8ta has scaled its business and recently announced $19.5M in financing led by TriplePoint Capital, and joined by Khosla Ventures, Fifth Wall Ventures, Eniac Ventures, Graphene Ventures, and top national mall owner and operator Macerich. With the new financing, b8ta further developed its software platform and is gearing up for national expansion.

We couldn’t be more proud of b8ta pioneering a new retail model, and look forward to working with them as they open stores nationwide.

 

To learn more about b8ta, visit b8ta.com or its flagship store at 516 Bryant Street, Palo Alto, and stay tuned for the upcoming opening of its Los Angeles store in Santa Monica Place and Seattle store in University Village.

 

“[b8ta is] a unique approach to retail, one that’s pushing uphill against e-commerce trends and big-box incumbents itching to cash in on emerging tech”

re/code

 

“You won’t have to travel to the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas or be invited to a startup demo day any more to see some of the latest ideas being hatched by independent tech hardware developers.”

SV Business Journal

 

“An Apple Store-esque experience for connected gadgets? Yes please!”

Cult of Android

 

“When people come into the store, they’re able to immediately touch and interact with the products on display.”

TechCrunch

 

“b8ta…is a new startup trying out a different approach to retail.”

Forbes

 

“The new retail shop is unlike those around it and will offer unique items: It will sell the Internet of Things.”

LA Times

 

”b8ta…puts cutting-edge gadgets on its shelves within days of their release and provides sellers with instant feedback.”

MIT Technology Review

Flywheel dominates taxi-hailing app competition

VSC was selected to help reinvigorate Flywheel, a three-year old mobile taxi-hailing app platform bringing on-demand technology to the millions of taxis already on the streets of the world. Our goal was to become the definitive taxi-hailing application among competitors such as Taxi Magic, Way2Ride and Arro.

 

Flywheel Communications Strategy

Create a three horse race to stomp cockroaches.

 

Our strategy was to externally battle two horses, Uber and Lyft, while internally aiming to own mindshare specifically against other taxi-software companies (cockroaches) in order to win the massive business of 100m taxi rides a month compared to the 20m that Uber does.

 

Our analysis of relevant social media chatter showed that most of the negative sentiment around Uber focused on the perception of their company behavior, surge pricing, security, and regulations. We then focused on these areas.

 

Perception: We leveraged the anti-Uber sentiment, to position Flywheel as the “non a-hole” version of Uber. Uber was experiencing a round of negative publicity around their executive suggesting digging up dirt on journalists, launching an ad campaign in France implying that customers would be paired with “hot girl” drivers, and showing off their “God-view” functionality at an Uber event, breaching customer privacy.

 

Surge: In contrast to Uber, Flywheel never charges surge pricing, which consumers and media have been quick to criticize. For this reason, we were relentless about our “no surge pricing” and “surge free” messaging with the goal of consumers associating us as the fair, just alternative.

 

Security: Because Flywheel works with the existing taxi industry, each of their drivers comply to a high level of screening, while Uber drivers might be “slightly more checked out than the general population.” Several counts of rape, sexual assault, assault, kidnapping, DUI and even death have been filed against Uber drivers as well as cases of convicted felons passing their screening process.

 

Regulation: Uber has repeatedly faced issues with regulation because they launch service in cities prior to securing approval including San Francisco, New York, San Antonio, Vegas, Portland, etc. Flywheel, on the other hand, receives approval ahead of time.

 

Branding: In addition to leveraging Uber’s bad reputation, we attained something no other taxi-hailing app has. We partnered with San Francisco’s oldest taxi company, DeSoto Cab, painting visual representation of Flywheel across the city. DeSoto Cab, decided to ditch their name and brand entirely and rebrand themselves after Flywheel, covering all their SF cabs with the Flywheel logo.

 

Results

Flywheel has become the Taxi OS. Since our engagement, the company has grown 20% month over month as well as seen 300X downloads within 60 days of commencement.

 

We owned 70% of media coverage vs. our taxi-app competitors including 1,100+ pieces of original coverage, syndications and mentions over a 13-month period. We received national coverage highlighting Flywheel against Uber in several different lights, addressing each of our focus areas.

 

Perception: We highlighted the anti-Uber sentiment with the Flywheel CEO calling Uber an a-hole, which was published by TIME and several other top tier media outlets, generating 60+ articles and syndications on the topic. This round of coverage set the tone for 100s of other articles and mentions pouring in throughout the year. TIME Magazine: Taxi App CEO: Uber Is an ‘A–Hole’, “‘[Rakesh Mathur, Flywheel CEO]: I think the last couple of days have been pretty shocking, right? Where you’re not just being told, “Hey, I know how to violate your privacy. I do that all the time. But I’m even worse than the [National Security Agency]. I’m going to take that information and do bad things to you.” I think a–hole is probably a mild word.’”

 

Surge: On New Year’s Eve 2014-15, we launched a PR stunt entitled, #SurgeFreeNYE, which ended up being Flywheel’s single most successful day of business. Flywheel’s campaign offered $10 flat-rate rides in San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, and Sacramento, which stood in stark contrast to most services implementing surge pricing for the holiday, which ran up bills as high as $1,000 in years previous. This stunt generated 50+ articles and syndications between 12/20/14 – 1/5/15, and resulted in reviving the conversation again this past New Year’s Eve.

 

Security: The conversation about security and background checks carried out by the taxi industry vs Uber strengthened the argument for Flywheel in nearly every article since the beginning of our campaign with sound bytes like this, “Last year, Uber came under fire more than once for having let drivers with criminal records slip through its screenings, and questions arose about whether the company should do Live Scan fingerprinting and background checks, as the taxi industry does.” Venture Beat.

 

Regulation: Flywheel is the first taxi-hailing app to secure approval on the state level in California and was recently approved for a pilot program in New York by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. They released TaxiOS, streamlining existing cab infrastructure with cloud-based technology, giving them an edge with competition like Verifone’s Way2Ride in New York. Now, in addition to the taxi-hailing technology, customers have options. They can hail a taxi through the Flywheel app, pay with the app once they hail a taxi on the street, or pay via the new cloud-based technology within the cab itself. The TaxiOS launch and infiltration to the NYC taxi marketplace generated 100+ articles and syndications between 10/22/15 – 12/27/15.

 

Branding: DeSoto Cab rebranding as Flywheel created an edge that only Flywheel has: a taxi-hailing app with a branded fleet of vehicles. This rebranding generated 400+ articles and syndications between 2/18/15 – 2/20/15. These aren’t the only taxis that work with Flywheel, but it effectively makes a unique statement in San Francisco. “A San Francisco taxi company is kicking its 82-year-old brand to the curb and renaming itself after a smartphone app in the latest sign of how mobile technology is changing the way people get a ride,” Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News.

 

Evaluation

Despite Flywheel’s funding of $30m compared to Uber’s $8.1bn, or roughly 1/300th the amount of investment, Flywheel has crushed its actual taxi competitors and is often mentioned in the broader transportation conversation with Uber and Lyft. Thanks to this campaign, Flywheel has won many more taxi partnership deals in major markets such as Portland and Los Angeles and is going on to begin trials with the New York Transportation Association, expanding into the nation’s premier taxi market.

 

Read more about Flywheel here

SteelBrick Acquisition by Salesforce

SteelBrick is a provider of Quote-to-Cash applications to help sales professionals close deals faster. The company partnered with VSC to raise its visibility to drive new customers and maximize awareness heading into venture capital raising periods. While the sales tools sector market size is large at $31B, many of these companies live in the shadow of the 800 lb gorilla of Salesforce itself. Companies on the platform are mostly all relatively unknown and the media and blogger audience rarely covers companies beyond Salesforce itself.

 

The goal was to elevate the SteelBrick brand in a crowded sea of hundreds of enterprise apps and differentiate from industry leader, Apttus, which is a larger company with more capital, and a 9-year head start.

 

SteelBrick Communications Strategy

The main focus of the campaign was to position SteelBrick as a smarter, faster and fresher company than its main competitor, Apttus – a true David vs. Goliath story.

 

Tactics

We focused on five areas:

1. Rework messaging into ‘plain talk’ so the average business writer could understand it.

2. Position Steelbrick as the secret weapon of unicorns that grow fast because they close deals quickly.

3. Differentiate from rival, Apttus.

4. Tell executive management stories of aspiration via feature pieces and thought leadership blogging.

5. Separate from the pack of thousands of vendors at annual Dreamforce conference.

Execution

Plain-talk

We initiated campaigns around SteelBrick ushering in the consumerization of selling, making it easy for anyone to close deals while on the go. We articulated the pain of sales teams in getting deals done due to various iterations of procurement, invoices and product selection.

 

The Secret Weapon of Unicorns

Secondly we made the story about ‘meet the company that powers Unicorns,’ and highlighted fast-growth privately held companies that generated real revenue and grew quickly because Steelbrick was the ‘secret weapon for sales.’ Steelbrick powered leading unicorns such as Cloudera and Nutanix.

 

Differentiate from Apttus

The battle of mindshare between Apttus and Steelbrick became muddled in February 2015 when Salesforce Ventures funded both companies’ Series B Funding Rounds. While potentially problematic optically (at this point, Apttus had raised $41M vs SteelBrick’s $18M), we diffused the financing differential by underscoring that while Apttus was focused on large enterprises, Salesforce was equally interested in SteelBrick’s target SMB market, where demand was just as high and implementation times were substantially quicker.

 

As such, we were able to boast SteelBrick’s impressive 300% revenue growth in the first half of 2015. We generated 30 pieces of target media coverage on SteelBrick’s growth funding story, successfully differentiating our narrative from Apttus.

 

Executive management thought leadership

Personal stories for its experienced management team resonated with the media, including a major feature in Forbes and Business Insider. As stated in Business Insider, “What do you do when you see your first startup sell for over $400 million to a company like Oracle? Come back and run another startup in the same space. That’s what Godard Abel is doing with his startup Steelbrick, a company that offers quote-to-cash technology that makes it easier for salespeople to put together complex quotes and billings for potential customers.”

 

The formula of “experience + prior success” resulted in the placement of 4 thought leadership pieces in top trade publications on a variety of instructive themes, including, “What to Consider Before Developing on a Third-Party Platform” and “What McDonald’s Can Teach Us About Selling.”

 

Focusing on SteelBrick’s speed and cost benefits were clear differentiators for the business media, as Godard boasted in Fortune, “Our customers are able to go live in a month, without expensive services engagements.”

 

VSC secured awards for SteelBrick for Inc. 5000 and The Top 10 SaaS Startups in Chicago Tech, gaining additional awareness as someone to watch in the industry.

 

Standing out and up at Dreamforce

Both Apttus and SteelBrick were Titanium sponsors at Dreamforce. To take advantage of the event, VSC conceived and structured a partnership with award-winning nonprofit, Girls Who Code and developed a social media campaign to get Dreamforce attendees to scan their badges at SteelBrick’s booth.

 

For each scan, SteelBrick would donate $1 to the organization. The Girls Who Code social media campaign was a smash hit: tweets reached 50,000 people, SteelBrick quadrupled its badge scans from the prior year, and Girls Who Code received $20,000 to further develop its programs.

 

Results

In one year, the collaboration with SteelBrick and VSC helped establish a solid separation from Apttus. Apttus owned CPQ the year before our engagement, and all of the sudden we stole 30-40% of total mindshare up from zero and Steelbrick has now passed Apttus in coverage for 2016. That rapid market awareness helped the company grow and become an instant player. SteelBrick generated a 360% increase in media coverage with nearly 40 placements, 30% in Tier-1 publications.

 

Acquisition

On December 23, 2015, SteelBrick announced its acquisition by Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) for $360M, the 3rd largest acquisition for the CRM giant.

 

Even this news left a sour taste in the mouth of rival Apttus, which expressed its surprise at the deal in a recent TechCrunch article: Apttus CEO Kirk Krappe Chats Candidly About 2016 Exit. In the article, Apttus CEO Kirk Krappe said of Steelbrick’s acquisition, in a somewhat surprising tone, “there’s no reason they can’t buy us too.”

 

The article goes on to quote Brent Leary, managing partner at CRM Essentials, LLC who has been covering the CRM business for many years. “I think Apttus felt they had a ‘special’ status in the Salesforce ecosystem, and the SteelBrick acquisition signals that maybe it wasn’t as special as it once thought,” he said.

Find out more about SteelBrick here

Examples of results: