David Smooke

@DavidSmooke

How Venture Capitalists Market Their Stories

Foundry’s Brad Feld #Connect17 Interview (8/8)

Play your own game, says Brad Feld… like Matthew Broderick did in the movie War Games.

David Smooke: I don’t want to keep you too long. But one other thing I wanted to ask you about, ’Cause you do a very good job of getting your story out there, and your opinions, and it’s an interesting time for investors to… You’re almost functioning like your own little marketing company. So, I guess I would just ask: how does that help you drive deals, and how do you approach using media to make more money, and be a better Venture Capitalist?

Brad Feld: Yeah, I would be very precise and say, we didn’t set out to do this in any disciplined or strategic way.

David Smooke: Hahaha.

Brad Feld: I personally just enjoy it.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: I enjoy writing, I enjoy talking about these ideas. My partner Jason Mendelson, and I wrote our first book, Venture Deals, because we really wanted to demystify the way a term sheet worked. We just thought that was stupid.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: That VC’s understood this and entrepreneurs didn’t.

David Smooke: Yup.

Brad Feld: There was this huge information asymmetry. In the last five or so years marketing has become very essential to many VC firms.

David Smooke: Yup.

Brad Feld: And individual VCs.

David Smooke: And increasingly seeing them hire a marketing firm that’s marketing them, and then marketing their investments-

Brad Feld: Correct.

David Smooke: So it’s kind of consulting arm.

Brad Feld: Correct. So it’s useful for perspective to know that at Foundry, we’ve spent exactly zero dollars on anything related to marketing since we’ve started Foundry Group in 2007. We’ve never done a press release. We’ve never done any PR activity. We’ve never hired a press firm. We’ve never hired any marketing organization to help us. We write all our own stuff. You know, we suck at design, so we do have people that have designed our logo, and shit like that. And we have a consulting firm that helps us keep our WordPress sites up to date, rather than one of us spending time keeping it up to date, but not from a content perspective-

David Smooke: Yep.

Brad Feld: From an instructive perspective.

David Smooke: You say zero dollars, but you’re puttin’ some serious time-

Brad Feld: In time.

David Smooke: Yeah, writing your story.

Brad Feld: I’m putting time in.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: And I’m happy to put time in because I enjoy doing it.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: If I didn’t enjoy doing it I wouldn’t.

David Smooke: Right.

Brad Feld: That’s our view. I don’t think we came at it from the perspective of how is this going to increase deal flow or get us better investments. But we had a high level intellectual sense that engaging as humans with entrepreneurs and with other people would be long term beneficial. We’ve used the … We codified it now, and this phrase we use at Techstars is called Give First.

David Smooke: Yep.

Brad Feld: Which is the idea of putting energy into a system without defying it up front transactionally. You don’t know what you’re gonna get back, but you’re not doing it for altruistic reasons you expect to get something back, but you don’t know when, from whom, in what consideration-

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: In what currency, what time frame. I think this is how we approach all of this content related activity around entrepreneurship.

David Smooke: It’s a very positive voice.

Brad Feld: Yeah.

David Smooke: It’s great to hear amongst all the other Venture Capitalists, who are like … There is an element of cut throatness, in the Valley that, I think you’re doing a good job of standing…

Brad Feld: Thanks,

David Smooke: Not quite above the crowd but —

Brad Feld: I don’t think it’s above it’s kind of in a parallel universe.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: I’m just not interested in playing that particular game. One of the things that impressed me very young as a thing that I carry around with myself is from the movie War Games.

David Smooke: Okay.

Brad Feld: I don’t know if you ever … Have you ever seen the movie War Games?

David Smooke: I don’t think so.

Brad Feld: It was 1984. Matthew Broderick looks like he’s about 18 years old, and it’s kind of one of the first movies that a computer is really the star of the movie.

David Smooke: Okay.

Brad Feld: It ends up being, [00:18:30] a military simulation, WarGames. And the computer gets outta control, and a nuclear war is about to start. This was during the Cold War, but I was afraid of it. They’re trying to figure out how to stop the computer from starting the nuclear war. Matthew Broderick ultimately-

David Smooke: Very applicable today.

Brad Feld: Right. He ultimately comes up with this simulation, the right simulation which is the … He tells the computer who’s gonna’ win, and the computer runs the simulation, and he comes up with the conclusion that the only way to win is not to play. Not to play the game. And it comes from tic tac toe.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: ’Cause once you start playing tic tac toe, once you know how to play you can never win, you always draw.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: So he played that out, and the movie’s worth watching.

David Smooke: All right.

Brad Feld: I couldn’t do justice to the scene, and it does hold up. It’s a little cheesy for 2017, but it holds up. Anyway-

David Smooke: It’s funny where you find lessons.

Brad Feld: That’s right but that stuck with me, ’cause I was in, probably in college maybe I was a sophomore or freshman. I thought you know what, I don’t need to play the game that everybody else is playing. There’s a whole bunch of games that are uninteresting to me. So I’m gonna go play my game. And I’m gonna play my game the way I want to.

David Smooke: Right.

Brad Feld: Rather than try to win at a game I’m not interested in.

David Smooke: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve definitely, I learned it a bit in growing my own … I want to stick to my strength of like build the contributor network.

Brad Feld: Yup.

David Smooke: It can be very tempting to steer people their way or hire their type of people. It’s definitely a challenge to find your game and play it. Play your game.

Brad Feld: It’s a really instructive path, because I would assert that the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who play their own game, rather than play someone else’s game.

David Smooke: Yeah.

Brad Feld: By going down the path where you’re playing your game, not what 99 other people are doing or 1000 other people are doing, the chance of you creating something extraordinary is much higher.

David Smooke: Cool, thanks for your time man.

Brad Feld: Awesome.

Read The Rest of Foundry’s Brad Feld #Connect17 Interview

  1. Writer / Publisher Relations on Medium
  2. Who’s a Venture Capitalist’s Customer?
  3. The Venture Capitalist’s Writing Process
  4. The Venture Capitalist at His Investment’s First Conference
  5. How Brad Feld Realized He Was a Venture Capitalist
  6. What Venture Capitalists Can Bring to Product Development
  7. The Nearly 30 Year Quest To Solve The Business Address Book Problem
  8. How Venture Capitalists Market Their Stories

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