What We Blog About When We Blog About Blogging

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/her position at ABC to build a profile for his/herself (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.

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About mattcharris

husband, dad, venture capital investor, based in new york.
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9 Responses to What We Blog About When We Blog About Blogging

  1. Mark Solon says:

    Congrats on the new blog Matt. Long overdue!

  2. Matt, great post. One of the most insightful views on people building their brands online (especially vc) that I have seen.

  3. Your article has summarized the importance of blogging; it would make sense if media organizations embraced the Web 2.0 era and pulled crowds and advertising revenue

    Cheers,

    Mazwi

  4. Dan Munro says:

    The entrepreneur you referenced is in good company. Vinod Khosla is often quoted as saying the job at his first company as CEO was really “glorified recruiting.”

  5. Healy Jones says:

    I agree 100% with your post – except that I think you may be down playing the how important individual branding has been in the venture world since it began (ok, well, at least as long as I can remember; I’m not that old.) While it might originally have been through face-to-face networking, the transition to VCs as publishers continues the “big man/key man” thing you see at a lot of venture firms. I would guess that at least half of major venture capital firms are driven by single individuals who make (or at least have veto) on all important decisions/investments, hold the relationships with limited partners, are known by name/reputation by entrepreneurs, and who are the major draw for many potential investments who pitch the firm. A number of limited partners who I know very clearly make the distinction between a firm run by a “big man” and a firm that is more of a platform. Social media may actually make it easier for other partners and VCs to develop a brand outside of that of their firm.

    • mattcharris says:

      i entirely agree, and you make a good (and nuanced) distinction with regard to firm types. having said that, the ultimate “big man”, at least pre social media, was John Doerr … and he wasn’t the key man (or at least the only key man) at KP. he clearly viewed his job as promoting his companies, and promoting his firm, and understood that a venture capitalist’s job involved not just sales (in the hand to hand sense) but also marketing. i do think social media opens up the door for folks who are less preternaturally gregarious to be as impactful to their firm’s profiles as Doerr was for KP.

  6. Dave Lerner says:

    congrats on the new blog… like the name too…
    enjoyed this post and will add that I think Suster has broken-through so quickly mainly because he’s putting out what may be the best content/information in the business… he definitely had the experience/background/talent to max-out on the ‘disruptive moment’ you describe…

    • mattcharris says:

      his positioning (based on the facts) as a go-between with one foot in the VC camp and one in the entrepreneurial camp is/was perfect. having said that, between him and fred wilson, the “education” angle seems pretty well sorted. my own focus is to write stuff that i hope people will find interesting, and in aggregate, will provide some insight into how i think. in a perfect world, that would help to attract the kind of entrepreneurs i want to work with.

  7. Pingback: Thoughts on Content Marketing (Part 1) « Can I Buy A Vowel?

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