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.

Venturing Into New Frontiers: Wareness Expands Into Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Robotics and Computer Vision

Just a little over three years ago, we set up the Wareness.io shop. It was then – and remains today – a unique, new breed of marketing consultancy meets seed investment fund, dedicated to helping entrepreneurs in hardware and connected devices get the counsel and support they need to go to market.

 

Over the course of those three years, we have had the pleasure of working with clients across a breadth of industries, including automotive tech (Navdy), education (Osmo), fintech (Coin), retail (b8ta), even food and beverage tech (Teforia). So far, we’ve invested in 14 companies, our campaigns have helped generate over $120 million in direct-to-consumer revenue, and our portfolio companies have achieved $200 million of follow-on funding.

 

Now we’re ready to expand into new frontiers – opening our doors to companies specializing in AI/automation and computer vision. These are exciting, dynamic new industries, and we’re excited to partner with the next generation of innovators making magic. We’ve already started to help brands build momentum, like API.ai (acquired by Google), Moov and Zume Pizza in AI/automation, and Nanit and Osmo in computer vision.

 

We’re actively investing in seed and Series A rounds ranging from $25,000 to $50,000. The capital is being allocated from the previously announced $6 million fund, with additional capital available from Wareness’ network of angel and institutional investment partners. Some co-investments to-date include Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, BBG Ventures, Bloomberg Beta, Brooklyn Bridge, Comcast Ventures, Eniac Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Female Founders Fund, Flextronics, Forerunner Ventures, Formation 8, FirstMark, First Round Capital, K9 Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Promus Capital, Qualcomm Ventures, RedPoint Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Sherpa Capital, Sierra Ventures, SV Angel, Spark Capital, SoftTech VC, Social Capital, SignalFire, Translink Capital, RRE Ventures, TriplePoint Capital, and Upfront Ventures. We have also worked with incubators and accelerators such as Y Combinator, Funders Club, Ludlow Ventures, NFX, Expa, Lemnos Labs, Techstars and Highway 1.

 

From our CEO Vijay: “Communications, consulting and investments are core to how our venture partners guide their companies, so it made sense for us to co-invest, as the partner responsible for their media and consumer brand perception. Bottom line: we put our money where our mouth is.”

 

We’re looking to partner with innovative companies in AI, automation, computer vision and hardware. Reach out if you’d like to work with us!

And check out more information here from our story in TechCrunch: https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/18/wareness-expands/

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.

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

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: