I was talking with one of my favorite entrepreneurs the other day, who was trying to choose a lead for his next financing round. This is a guy who had plenty of options. Facetiously, sort of, he said he was planning on picking the VC who had the most unique visitors to his blog. That, of course, sent a chill down my under-publicized spine. Again, i think he was kidding, but also kind of not. He went on to explain that his biggest single job, and therefore problem, is recruiting, and a VC who can help him tout his company, and add credibility simply through association, is a major asset.
My response: kill me now.
The fact is, relatively few venture capitalists I know went into this business because they were self-promotional. Most of us are geeks who like technology and like hanging out with people who create new things. The overlap between that personality type and the kind of folks who go on reality TV shows is roughly zero. Despite that, a wave has hit our industry; a wave that previously hit the media industry and will go onto spill more broadly into corporate America. The old methods of being successful, which were predicated on hand-crafted, person-to-person networking and leveraging the brand name of your firm, have been supplanted by the need to build your own profile online.
This has been playing out in the media for a few years. As the traditional media brands totter and cast about for a business model, the onus has fallen more on more on the “talent” to forge relationships directly with their audience. It is less the case that George Stephanopoulos works for ABC than that he leverages his position at ABC to build a profile for himself (and garners nearly 2MM followers on Twitter in the process.) The days when a cub reporter could get a job at the New York Times and simply do good work are, sadly, behind us. That cub reporter had better be on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc, building an audience and creating quasi-personal relationship with her followers. When her contract is up, she had better be able to point to the thousands of people who will follow her to her next gig.
This is becoming more and more true in the venture business, starting with those VCs that invest in social media, and moving beyond that sector. This trend has challenged some of the incumbent leaders, many of whom are still on the sidelines as it relates to social media, and created room for new players. Mark Suster is relatively new to the venture business, but has build a profile for himself that is second to few. Having said that, I’ll bet if you quizzed 100 of his Twitter followers, fewer than half could name the firm he works for (GRP, by the way, who have been killing it lately.) This is a disruptive moment for our industry, and the new leaders will be individual VCs, rather than firms.
What’s next? I think corporate America. As with media and venture capital, right now having a well-known social profile is just an opportunity, not a threat. Tony Hsieh at Zappos created equity value for his shareholders by being early and compelling on Twitter, but other CEOs are not yet feeling the pressure to follow. That will change. In 10 years, I believe that consumers will bias towards buying products (and retail investors will bias towards buying stock) from companies whose CEO they “know”, and have an online relationship with. Personal publishing will move from being an opportunity, to a competitive advantage, to an absolute necessity.
As for me, I feel late but I’m running quickly. Twitter is a better fit for me than blogging, as my musings tend toward the short and insubstantial. [I feel certain my partner Bo would interject here that “short and insubstantial” could actually BE my personal brand]. I had a meeting today with an angel investor who I’d known previously only through Twitter, and I felt like we skipped forward at least two meetings worth, based on seeing each other’s faces every day. I love the opportunity to praise and comment on my companies. I continue to believe that there is no substitute for the “old” ways of doing things: doing great deals, being a good guy and getting out and meeting people. But there are new ways, too, and we ignore them at our peril.