Tag: Krishna Srinivasan

Written.com Wants to Bring Content and Companies Together

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

The team behind Written.com

The team behind Written.com

As advertising becomes more pervasive (is that even possible?), it’s harder for companies to find ways to make their brands stand out.

One way is to associate the brand with authoritative and objective content that makes the reader more knowledgeable about what the company sells. But getting the content that attracts the right audience is an endeavor fraught with uncertainty.

“It’s really challenging to create something that’s successful, that drives a consistent audience, that ranks really well in Google,” said Josh Kerr, chief executive and one of four co-founders of Written.com, in laying out the problem.

The company proposes to provide a company with subject-appropriate content weighted with a built-in audience and seamlessly place it on the company’s website. The result is an interested audience with a predisposition to buy what the company is selling.

“We can go to a brand and say we can bring you proven engagement and that’s totally different from traditional products that are out there,” said Marc Smookler, the co-founder who heads marketing.



Written finds the content not by commissioning bloggers to write custom-made posts, but by scouring the Web for already-written blog posts that have large and loyal followings.

For bloggers, the arrangement enables them to get paid for work they’ve done – even if it’s old.

“The stuff you wrote a long time ago, it’s still valuable,” said Connor Hood, the founder who heads technology. “As long as it had an audience. That’s the key.”

John Price, CEO of Vast.com, is one of Written’s early customers and he likes what the company delivered.

“It was both in content and in targeting the exact type of content I needed and that Google has already ranked as super high quality,” he said. “You can’t beat it. It is such a powerful value prop they have.”

Price posts the content on the blog on Carstory.com, a Big Data-based mobile app that Vast developed for sales people at automobile dealerships. Sales people use it during face-to-face selling with customers.

“We’re getting all kinds of traffic as a result of the content,” Price said. “And it’s beyond that because it makes it seem that we’re actually an authority on the subject.”

The Written founders, Kerr, Hood, Smookler and Jeremy Bencken, who heads product development, are entrepreneurs who bring complementary expertise to the operation. They each have started, developed and successfully exited previous companies.

They knew each other from working around the Capital Factory and found they had common interests in blogging and marketing and the technology that could bring the two together.

Bencken said he and Kerr talked about how to move content from a blog to a website.

“Then we hit on this idea,” he said. “You could take a piece of existing content, move it over to a site that is interested in having that content, but also all the traffic.”

They tested the concept with their own blogs and it worked, he said. And it’s continued to work as they’ve expanded.

The four founders formally started the company in January 2013. They landed seed round of investment of $1.1 million in October from LiveOak Venture Partners of Austin, Floodgate Fund of Palo Alto, Calif., and Austin-area angel investors.

Telling their story in their Brazos Street office, the founders pick up on each other’s threads, filling in thoughts and deferring to each other for additional comments.

The Written process begins working with the client company to identify the audience the company wants to attract. Written starts with keywords and other factors such as identifying thought leaders the audience follows and whether the blog carries advertisements.

“We take all that intelligence and data and then we kick off a search to go identify articles that fit that criteria and are ranking really well,” Kerr said.

Beyond finding appropriate subject matter, Written makes sure the blog articles will bring an involved audience with them. It looks at a variety of factors such as page views, bounce rate, time spent on the site and more, Bencken said.

“The trick to bring an engaged audience is to start with content that is engaging,” he said. “So that’s what we’re looking for when we’re analyzing how much we can offer a blogger.”

With Written’s software, Google understands that the article, now on the company’s website, was written by the blogger so he maintains his Google Author Rank.

Once it identifies an appropriate blogger and article, Written runs it by the company. If the company likes it, Written takes care of the rest, moving the content to the company website and handling the pricing, the payments and the licensing.

“We deliver to the brand great content that will engage readers, that will drive new audiences to the brand and these people won’t just read that one article, they’ll read, two, three, four articles on your site,” Kerr said. “And that’s what we’re seeing.”

Price said the content Written delivered to Carstory.com brought with it a target audience that wants to take the action of downloading the Carstory app.

“And it’s working,” he said. “It’s generating leads while we’re asleep. It’s just unbelievable.”

Written’s concept seems custom made for the era of content marketing, but the founders and its investors say there is more to it.

“Audience development extends to every part of the marketing mix, and that’s our big picture,” Kerr said. “Connecting brands with an interested and engaged audience is our focus, so while the content marketing space may be the most direct way into those discussions, our value proposition really reaches much further than that.”

Krishna Srinivasan, a principal at LiveOak, shares that take.

“This is a platform that consolidates spending a brand would do over search, social media, Internet,” he said. “All of this is discoverable using this platform. So it is a much broader play.”

As for competition, Kerr said Written has seen no other company with a similar offering.

He said Written offers an alternative to the competition of the status quo – companies hiring journalists and bloggers to provide high quality content.

“Frankly, we’d rather let those great journalists and bloggers do what they do best and what their readers and audiences respect them for, and find a way to support them doing it,” he said. “That’s really the value of Written.com to bloggers out there.“

Written’s goal, he said, is to develop a marketplace where writers create successful content on one side and brands that need the writers’ audiences on the other side.

“That’s really how to maximize the value proposition between both so we can make those matches and in some way solve that problem,” he said.

To which writers might say: Write on.

LiveOak Venture Partners Sees Lots of Quality Startup Deals in Austin and Texas

Founder of Silicon Hills News

IMG_2433Right now is the best time to be in the venture capital business in Austin.

In 2000, during the Dot Com boom, an enormous amount of money flowed into companies even though they did not have viable ideas and were also not disciplined with spending money, said Krishna Srinivasan, partner at LiveOak Venture Partners.

“Companies were burning money on products that costs tens of millions of dollars to build and to get any real traction,” he said during a recent interview at the firm’s headquarters in west Austin.

Austin Dot Com darlings included Living.com, a furniture store, Garden.com, garden supplies, and DrKoop.com, a website for medical advice. All of them went belly up.

Fast forward to today’s crop of startups in Austin. They include recently public companies like HomeAway.com, BazaarVoice and RetailMeNot. And dozens of promising startups in the software and technology industry as well as life sciences, energy, e-commerce and consumer goods.

“Maybe it’s the recent lack of capital that has forced entrepreneurs to be extra creative to make progress, or maybe it’s the natural maturation of the local ecosystem, this is clearly the highest quality of entrepreneurial activity we’ve seen in this market since 2000,” Srinivasan said. “We feel the momentum and see the quality. This place absolutely deserves a bunch of capital firms.”

And that’s why Srinivasan, who has worked at Motorola, Sematech and Austin Ventures, teamed up with two former Austin Ventures colleagues, Ben Scott and Venu Shamapant, to form a VC firm targeted at early stage investing into companies in Texas.

LiveOak Venture Partners Raises $100 million fund

LiveOak Venture Partners closed on a $100 million fund this year. However, it wasn’t easy to raise that much money. The partners spent two years on the fundraising trail. Like any other entrepreneur, they watched their expenses as they made progress on raising the fund. As a result, they have much greater empathy for entrepreneurs looking to raise money to fund their companies, Shamapant said.

The secret to their perseverance was having three members in the partnership, someone always had a more positive perspective which kept the others energized and moving forward, he said.

“We looked around at the Texas market and said how can you not have multiple funds to capitalize on this market,” Shamapant said. “That conviction really kept us going. We really believed that with our history of success combined with this market opportunity, we surely would emerge successful.”

“Capital Starved Startup Market”

Austin and Texas, in general, needed more venture capital funds to finance all of the activity going on here, Srinivasan said.

“The Texas market is the most opportunity rich capital starved startup market in the country,” he said.

While Austin Ventures does early stage investing and so do some other firms, a large untapped market opportunity still existed, Shamapant said.

“For example, if you looked at Silicon Valley, the market opportunity there allows several successful firms to exist,” he said. “Similarly, there are going to be multiple successful franchises here and we thought we could clearly build one of those ourselves.”

And the best time to enter a business is when an entrepreneur sees a compelling unmet opportunity, Scott said.

“If you are ever going to get great returns, it’s not when there’s an over-saturation of funds, it’s when there’s a shortage,” Scott said. “And so we felt like we were clearly in that situation. We felt like we were the team to take advantage of it. But we also surely picked one of the worst times in the last two decades to raise a fund.”

Ultimately with strong perseverance, a good story and a great track record, LiveOak Venture Partners did it, he said.

“And I think when you can raise money in tough times that’s an advantage,” he said.

Competition to Invest in Startups

Since LiveOak Venture Partners hung out its shingle last year, it has seen incredible deal flow, Scott said.

IMG_2431Last year, they looked at a few hundred companies and invested in five deals including Veros Systems, Written.com, StepOne Inc., NSS Labs, all in Austin, and CS Disco in Houston. Over the course of this fund, they expect to invest in 15 to 17 companies in Austin, Texas and the greater Southwest.

But they also have strong competition for deals.

Last year, Silverton Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on Austin-based companies, announced the formation of a $75 million early stage follow-on fund. Silverton also struck a partnership with Mike Maples Jr.’s Floodgate to finance startups at Capital Factory. Austin Ventures, the big daddy in VC money in Austin, also invests in early stage deals.

“We’re absolutely in competition for deals,” Shamapant said. “That’s good for the entrepreneur.”

But there are a lot of high quality companies in this market to keep multiple venture firms busy, he said.

The myth still prevails that most companies are built by 20-year-old kids who drop out of college to create the next Facebook. But in reality a large majority of the startups in the Austin and Texas market getting funded are founded by experienced executives and entrepreneurs who have worked in those industries before, Srinivasan said.

But don’t discount the energy and creativity that young entrepreneurs bring to the market, Scott said. They have a “lack of baggage” and can view problems in a new light, he said.

“At the end of the day, what is crucial for success is to satisfy your customers and also figure out a scalable go to market strategy for it,” he said.

And that’s where a firm like LiveOak Venture Partners sees its sweet spot in helping entrepreneurs.

“We are very active with respect to collaborating with our entrepreneurs to help make their companies successful,” Scott said.

LiveOak Partners provides a lot of support in building a startups’ teams, he said. They also help them with strategic decisions, introduce them to key customers, partnerships and other potential investors and in the end help them with exit strategies, he said.

“Our access to talent, our access to strong executives with experience and our own long experience in investing are big assets to companies,” he said.

LiveOak understands the plight of the entrepreneur, said Kiwi Camara, CEO of CS Disco, which closed on $2 million in Series A funds from the firm in January.

The Houston-based startup makes software for lawyers to use to research cases.

“They’ve been great to work with,” Camara said.

Josh Kerr, co-founder of Austin-based Written.com, met Srinivasan at a 3-Day Startup event and then eventually met with the other partners. He and his cofounders were close to doing a deal with another firm, but decided to go with LiveOak Partners instead.

“They went from being a firm we weren’t considering to our top choice,” he said. “They seemed to really have done their homework on us.”

Last November, Written.com received $1 million in seed stage funding from LiveOak, Floodgate in California and several angel investors. The startup connects bloggers with brands interested in licensing their content.

Kerr had never created a company with VC money and he and his partners wanted to develop a good relationship with a VC firm that would also work with them and help them grow from a startup to a big company, he said.

“They’ve been great to work with,” Kerr said. “They are bringing us a ton of value.”

LiveOak finds startups through introductions and online.

“We are eager to meet entrepreneurs,” Shamapant said. “We’re as eager as the entrepreneurs are to meet us.”

It looks to invest in entrepreneurs who have a real problem that they’ve actually experienced themselves and they are trying to solve.

“A lot of people think they’ve got to have a whole business plan. It’s really not that. The first meeting all we’re trying to understand is do you have a problem to solve? Do you have a unique way to solve it that allows you to build a business on it.”

LiveOak Venture Partners investments are not limited to Texas, but that is its focus, Srinivasan said. Last year, LiveOak wrote checks ranging from $250,000 to $4 million, he said.

“We are not likely to put $100,000 into 10 companies and just sit back and see what bubbles to the top,” he said. “If we invest in a company we will spend meaningful time with the team to help them rapidly converge on their next milestones and financing.”

Pitching to VCs and The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Krishna Srinivasan of LiveOak Venture Partners, photo by Susan Lahey

Krishna Srinivasan of LiveOak Venture Partners, photo by Susan Lahey

If you, as an entrepreneur, email a VC firm, it’s a crapshoot whether they’ll even open it, much less read it. If you’ve got some heavy hitter, celebrity entrepreneur or investor making the introduction for you, your chances improve astronomically. So start making friends with the right people. That was one of the key takeaways from a panel of venture capitalists, led by Andrew Romans, general partner at Silicon Valley’s Georgetown Angels and author of the book: The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital: Inside Secrets from Leaders in the Startup Game.
The venture capital roundtable book event was hosted by Romans at the offices of DLA Piper. Panelists included Krishna Srinivasan of LiveOak Venture Partners, Pat Noonan of Austin Ventures, Lou Marchetti of Vista Equity Partners and Eric Garcia of Harvest Growth Capital.
In researching his book, Romans tapped his huge network of VCs, Angels, CEOs, and attorneys and wound up with dozens of contributors. The main point he raised Tuesday night was that entrepreneurs need to seek advisors with clout who can connect them with investors and help them understand what they need to know to make a solid pitch.
Andrew Romans, general partner at Silicon Valley’s Georgetown Angels and author of the book: The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital: Inside Secrets from Leaders in the Startup Game, photo by Susan Lahey

Andrew Romans, general partner at Silicon Valley’s Georgetown Angels and author of the book: The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital: Inside Secrets from Leaders in the Startup Game, photo by Susan Lahey

“The network around your company is your company’s best asset,” Romans said. It’s preferable if an advisor has some skin in the game in terms of cash or equity. But the most important thing is that they love the founders and are willing to open doors. Noonan of Austin Ventures agreed that the best route to getting a meeting was an introduction from someone they know and trust.
The right advisor, VCs added, will ensure that an entrepreneur doesn’t go into a meeting with gaping holes in his or her information.
“You’ve got to make sure you know your numbers,” Romans said. “If someone asks what’s your revenue and you stutter on that one, that’s a no-no. You’ve been there since the beginning you should know…if you don’t know what pre-money valuation is and you’re going to run into trouble it’s the advisor’s job to get you out of the meeting before that happens.”
Srinivasan of LiveOak Partners, though, said his company was happy to be contacted by entrepreneurs without a formal introduction. LiveOak is still new enough that it doesn’t have much of a legacy portfolio. And since theirs is a geographical strategy for Central Texas, they’re not too focused on themes either.
“We’re delighted to receive emails and are trying to be as helpful as possible and as responsive as possible. It feels like part of giving back to the market to raise institutional money…. We’re looking for smart guys who are hard working who want to work with us…. Other people who have these giant maps are looking for something specific—bitcoin meets gaming segments—we’re looking for something with recurring revenues and high growth segments, motherhood and apple pie stuff.”
“It’s hard to do thesis driven investing in a state like Texas,” said Noonan. “You’re at the mercy of the entrepreneurs.” AV, he said, is beginning to invest in oil and gas, since the technology component has become so much more crucial to the industry’s future. Health care and big data are other areas they’re dabbling in.
Garcia of Harvest Growth Capital said that company often helps founders of companies with $20 million to $30 million in revenues who haven’t arrived at an exit point yet and struggle with liquidity.
“The time to liquidity has gotten longer and longer,” he said. “It used to be four-to-five years. Now it’s north of 10 years…. A lot can change in that time; kids go to college, divorce, and taxes…. We can shorten that time to liquidity. We underwrite to two-to-three times money for a two-to-three year window.”
Romans krishna noonan marchetti garcia by Susan Lahey

Andrew Romans, Georgetown Angels, Krishna Srinivasan, LiveOak Venture Partners, Pat Noonan, Austin Ventures, Lou Marchetti, Vista Equity Partners, Eric Garcia, Harvest Growth Capital, photo by Susan Lahey

Two interesting dynamics have emerged in recent years, roundtable participants said. The quality of companies and ideas has gotten steadily stronger; and the amount needed to startup a company has gotten steadily smaller. In Austin, the number of big exits is growing, but still small. So VCs are being careful where they put their money, but there are few hard and fast rules about who will walk away with funding.
“We have funded companies pre-revenue, pre-product where they found the right market fit, some of our companies have revenue,” said Noonan. “It’s hard to pin down the exact magical formula. Every investor will target a different thing: ‘We invest in markets; we invest in people.’ You can make a mediocre idea truly exceptional with the best execution. All the time we get questions like ‘I’ve got an app, how many downloads do I need and how many active users? If you’re not growing 10 percent week over week, you’re doing something wrong. You need some kind of stickiness or growth. If on the enterprise side, you need customers to validate you.”
One approach Romans took, as an entrepreneur was to have a team sign an employment contract contingent on getting a specific investment. That way, he could present a sterling team to investors without anyone having to quit his job until the money was available.
Srinivasan said, from LiveOak’s perspective, companies needed to be able to articulate, “what is the next hill they want to take? What is the next inflection point for this company?”
In the end, Noonan said, “a lot of it comes down to gut feel.”

VCs and Founders Give Advice on Funding a Startup

Founder of Silicon Hills News

BWJolG9CMAA9hCnFunded companies, which are performing well, get nice offices and free lunches for their employees, said Mike Dodd, partner with Austin Ventures.
Mass Relevance is one of its portfolio companies performing quite well. And on Wednesday, the company hosted a panel discussion about successfully raising capital for a startup company as part of Austin Startup Week.
The two-year-old company has grown from four employees to more than 120 employees and raised $5.5 million in a Series A round of funding and it already has millions in revenue from customers like NBC, MTV Networks and CNN. Its partners include Facebook and Twitter. Mass Relevance, formerly known as TweetRiver, aggregates social media content for its customers.
Claire England, executive director of RISE Austin, moderated the discussion, which paired two successful startup Co-founders with their lead investors. Eric Falcao, founder and Chief Technology Officer of Mass Relevance joined Dodd of Austin Ventures and Josh Kerr, Co-founder and CEO of Written teamed with Krishna Srinivasan, general partner at Live Oak Venture Partners.
Mass Relevance got early traction by landing a six-figure deal with MTV, said Falcao. And then the Co-founders brought on Sam Decker, formerly of BazaarVoice, as its CEO. He had connections with Austin Ventures. Mass Relevance got seed funding easily and raised its first round without a lot of trouble, Falcao said. Mass Relevance also went to California and received funding from Mike Maples Jr.’s Floodgate Partners, an early investor in Twitter.
Kerr bootstrapped his first two companies, but he wanted to build a really big company with Written, which markets bloggers’ content to brands, so he saw the need to get funding from the start. He was able to get a seed round from Live Oak Venture Partners.
“I wanted the structure that comes from raising money and the acceleration that comes with it,” Kerr said.

Signs of a successful startup

Next, England asked the venture capital investors to talk about the signs they look for when evaluating a startup investment, the warning signs of bad investments and top signs of good investments.
“This is such a people business,” said Srinivasan with Live Oak Partners. “I think that is the most important factor. We’re looking for people who have an insight from what they have done before.”
Live Oak Partners also looks for people they can work with and collaborate, Srinivasan said. The ones that don’t work out are entrepreneurs who are not collaborative and those that don’t want to be great partners, he said.
“It’s obviously team, team, team,” Dodd said.
BWJozAFCYAEAKeaBut Mass Relevance had a really great product and they were solving a problem of aggregating real-time Tweets for companies early on, Dodd said.
“What we try to do is look around the corner at the early markets,” Dodd said.
Austin Ventures saw Mass Relevance as being one of the big players in social media for television, Dodd said.

The importance of relationships

Next, England asked how often the companies and funders met and interacted with each other.
Falcao said he sees Dodd once every quarter, but that Dodd met with other executives, like Decker, on a more regular basis.
Dodd said he talked to Decker about once or twice a week. He joked he visited the Mass Relevance office often because they have free lunch for employees. His firm also helped in hiring some of the senior executives and helped to recruit people.
“We can get six head of sales literally almost over night,” he said.
Kerr said Srinivasan gives his seed stage company sage advice.
A good investor helps in team building and scaling the company much more aggressively, Srinivasan said.
England also asked if there was a downside in partnering with investors. The question was met with laughter and then a bit of awkward silence before Falcao answered.
“When things are going well, things are going well,” said Falcao. “VCs are good. They come with checks and advice and more checks. When things work, they work. So far, we haven’t gone through hardship. So it’s tough to point to anything.”
The downside is companies start to rely on them, Kerr said.
“They are bringing this really great value to the business. It’s not just money,” Kerr said. “It’s your buddy. It’s much, much more than that. But you’re not the only company they are invested in and you’re not getting 100 percent of their time. So the only downside is you might want more and not get it.”

What happens when things are not going well? England asked.

imgres-10“I have plenty that are not doing well,” Dodd said. “They don’t have offices like this. They don’t have free lunches. We focus on burn.”
Austin Ventures works to make sure they are focused on maximizing profit and minimizing losses and working to get market share in their industries, Dodd said. The relationship between the investor and the entrepreneur doesn’t change, he said. In a few cases, though, it has, he said.
“I still believe in what they are doing, it’s just taking longer than expected,” Dodd said.
Venture capitalists like to chase trends but it’s good to keep focused on the main business and not get distracted by whacky ideas and the latest trends, Falcao said.
“You need to ask yourself are we just chasing something new?” Falcao said. “You shouldn’t always do exactly what your customers want you to do. There’s something about staying on a mission and staying focused rather than chasing X.”
When a firm makes an investment and things don’t go as planned, the investors work to salvage the value and help hold the ship together to find an acquirer or to get some modest outcome, Srinivasan said.
“Those things take a lot of hard work,” he said.

Making the pitch to investors

BWPJv2yCIAAwxMGEngland then asked the entrepreneurs how they marketed themselves to potential investors.
Kerr said when he pitched his company to Live Oak, Srinivasan sent him three really challenging questions in an e-mail message. He had time to think about the answers, but he couldn’t come up with the answers.
“Ultimately I ended up going back to him and saying these questions are too hard,” Kerr said.
At an early stage, the investment in the company is more about the people than the idea, and it’s better to be honest and admit when you don’t know something, Kerr said.
“If you don’t know the answer, you don’t know the answer,” he said.
Srinivasan said that he liked the honesty that Kerr displayed. He was able to evaluate the risk of investing in them and to gauge how much it would take to get the company to the next level, he said.
Startups should know how to answer basic questions from investors about customer acquisition costs and know how to scale, Falcao said.
“If you haven’t thought about that, you’re not thinking about how hard it is to scale a SMB (Small to Medium-Sized Business) company,” Falcao said.
How much money should startups ask for and how much time should they spend doing it?
The size of a check should be reflective of the stage of the company and issues it is facing, Srinivasan said.
“Just getting out of the gate, you’re going to raise a little bit of money,” Dodd said.
Typically, seed stage companies raise money from angel investors ranging from $350,000 to $1.2 million, Dodd said. A Series A round receives between $2.5 million and $7 million and a Series B round can get up to $20 million, he said.
Kerr said he spends 90 percent of his time raising money. His other partners focus on running the business.

The startup ecosystem in Austin

250px-AustinSkylineLouNeffPoint-2010-03-29-bEngland asked if Austin had a strong enough funding ecosystem to support startups.
Both Kerr and Falcao raised money from California from Floodgate Investments.
“More firms. We need more firms here,” Dodd said.
The ecosystem needs more sophisticated seed stage investors, he said. He said he wished there were three or four more firms like Live Oak to increase competition for funding, he said.
Raising second and third round funding is easy if a company is doing well, he said. But it’s harder to get people in the valley to invest in early stage companies, he said.
Austin needs more firms focused on early stage, Dodd said. More investment firms are good for Austin, he said.
“A rising tide floats all boats,” he said. “The more money that is in town, the better everyone will do.”
In the 30 years he has been in the market, this is the most vibrant and most exciting time, Srinivasan said. The quality of the ideas is really good, he said.
“Clearly this place can have more early stage companies,” he said.
The overall maturing of Austin’s startup ecosystem has contributed to Austin’s vibrant startup community, Srinivasan said. People who have been through the process a few times and transplants from California now populate it, he said.
“It’s a genealogy effect,” Dodd said. Successful companies spin out successful startups, he said.
Austin Ventures has funded three or four startups by people who left BazaarVoice, a company Austin Ventures backed that went public, Dodd said.

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