Woody Marshall Of TCV: 5 Things I Need To See Before Making A VC Investment

The first one relates to management. Does the candidate firm have a product-centric team that can continue to build on the differentiation of the product? Primarily sales-driven teams in companies that are going to need to iterate on their product a ton means there may be a disconnect.

Aspart of our series about “5 Things I Need To See Before Making A VC Investment” I had the pleasure of interviewing Woody Marshall.

Woody Marshall is a Partner at growth equity firm TCV. He focuses on investments in the FinTech, internet, online travel, and digital media and entertainment industries. He serves on the boards of directors including Built, GoFundMe, Nerdy, Newsela, Payoneer, Sojern, and Spotify. His other active investments include Airbnb, Hotmart, Netflix, Nubank, and Peloton.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this specific career path?

Iwas a math and economics major. So, when I got out of college, I knew… hardly anything about business! But by happenstance and an introduction from somebody at the school I went to, I got into a corporate finance training program. One of the things I was attracted to, was the idea of growing businesses and that led me to go to graduate school, where I got introduced to a start-up investment firm in technology services and in software.

This was in 1995 when the internet was just being commercialized. I figured this was a great way for me to see companies that that could be interesting to join. I was at this firm for 12 years before one of my very good friends asked me to come over to TCV. I’ve been here for 14 years now.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I really liked The Boys in the Boat for various reasons. It is about the 1936 US Olympics gold medal winning heavyweight rowing crew team. Rowing is perceived as the sport of fancy school regattas, but the crew team for Berlin was from the University of Washington. At that time, the West was still the frontier, and a lot of these kids came from logging towns, farms and little fishing villages so it’s a great account about perseverance, grit, and determination. It’s a wonderful story, and it has a great life lesson that we always face adversity and self-doubt.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I’m a bit of a sports guy and think there are a lot of parallels between sport and business. One quote I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is from Wayne Gretzky: “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” Companies should be bold and try new things. Investors should also think about the positives and upsides of opportunities as opposed to being paralyzed about what can go wrong.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is not just about the person in front hollering about encouragement. A leader understands that they can’t do everything on their own. Good leaders empower people around them to help them be their best by having a healthy sense of empathy. If you create a culture like that then you’ve created the team or the band that everybody wants to join.

Whether you look at Daniel Ek at Spotify, Brian Chesky at Airbnb or John Foley at Peloton, what strikes me as most powerful is the empowerment, the empathy, the conscience they have for their position in the world. They are not pounding their chest, talking about all of their accomplishments.

When you think about what happens when the world gets choppy, people want to follow authentic leaders that they believe in. These businesses have been growing, partly because of the business model, but I believe a lot of it is also about the kind of leaders they are.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

There are certain things I feel passionate about. The environment is one. My wife and I invest in solutions that will have long-term benefits. We’re involved in a number of local environmental organizations focused on building sustainability. We’re trying to invest in solutions where you give money to farmers to do something different, risk sharing with them to have them try new things that over time can be sustainable with all shareholders.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our discussion. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race diversity equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly can you share a few things that need to be done on a broader societal level to expand VC opportunities for women minorities and people of color?

DEI is a big priority for us — inside our firm, within our portfolio, and across our industry. There is still a lot of progress to be had. Recently our portfolio company Rent the Runway went public with a female CEO, CFO and COO — and there just are far too few of these types of stories. We already know that the best performing companies are those that have the most diverse teams and boards. The scariest thing is that without diversity, you don’t know what you are missing. You need to have many points of view at the table. We have to get way more creative about creating access to our industry for women and people of color and, frankly, to retire the accepted cultures and environments that do not support inclusion.

Can you share a story with us about your most successful Angel or VC investment? What was its lesson?

In the investing business, the home runs are from the non-consensus bets that you make. When we invested in Netflix in November 2011, pundits were surprised and perhaps a little dismayed: the company was charging for both DVD delivery as well as streaming, which looked like a massive price increase. In that case, a lot of our success was about having history with great leaders. Netflix’s Reed Hastings has singularity of focus, purity of vision, and he believed that the streaming business was important and that DVDs could be replaced in the long run… As in that case, a lot of times growth in tech is around the uniqueness of a founder, the team and the culture that they’ve been able to build.

We’ve been lucky to have partnered with great founders and great teams, for sure. But it’s also about encapsulating a customer-centric approach to building a unique product, and then figuring out how to scale that globally. What was the initial thing that got the consumer excited? And how do you take something that worked in a focus group of one or two or three and get to 400 million users world-wide?

Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding failure of yours? What was its lesson?

Technology moves so fast: just because you’re king today doesn’t mean you’re king tomorrow. You have to continue to deliver. If you don’t focus on creating and maintaining unique and magical value for everybody involved, your success can be very fleeting. Sometimes, in order to stay on top of what the market wants, you may have to cannibalize or significantly disrupt your existing business. For a lot of CEOs, that can be really hard to do.

When I think about things that didn’t work out, there were some exogenous factors that happened with markets — but a lot of times, there were companies that lost the pace of execution for providing a unique solution and value to their end user.

Can you share a story with us about a problem that one of your portfolio companies encountered and how you helped to correct the problem? We’d love to hear the details and what its lesson was.

As you scale a business into new countries, especially emerging companies with first-time CEOs, you’re going to run into situations that you’ve never encountered before. I think the responsibility is to help someone make a better decision faster, as opposed to solving the problem. But when you run into, say, the challenge of scaling internationally, relevant specific experience is going to be remarkably valuable.

Obviously, some investments have not reached the heights that we had wanted them to. But we learn from experience, and we have developed some pattern recognition over more than two decades to support businesses in playing the long game.

Is there a company that you turned down but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that story?

There are some that we initially didn’t get comfortable with that we eventually got comfortable with. We flailed around a little bit early on with Peloton and Airbnb; eventually, we made the investments which is great, but we certainly could have been earlier.

Super. Here is the main question of this interview. What are your “5 things I need to see before making a VC investment” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

The first one relates to management. Does the candidate firm have a product-centric team that can continue to build on the differentiation of the product? Primarily sales-driven teams in companies that are going to need to iterate on their product a ton means there may be a disconnect.

Secondly, is it an attractive market? I think this is where people get things wrong all the time. This was the concern Peloton kept hearing in its early days: “It’s a bike, it’s expensive, it’s a really small market.” One of the first analysts that wrote an investment report on Netflix thought that they would be lucky to get to 500,000 paying subs. They have over 200 million globally today.

Thirdly, is it already a compelling product or service? We don’t invest before commercial acceptance, so we talk to customers. It’s fundamental to find out what is the value that is being created. Is it durable? How differentiated do you think the business is?

The fourth thing I look for is culture. There must be an in-house culture here that fosters innovation and collaboration and allows for failure on the way to success.

Finally, for me, is the expression “is the race worth running?” Can you create something globally? Our investors are looking for solid returns. There are a lot of businesses that have grown that have never proven they can create any margin — profitless prosperity. Or is there an economic outcome that that could be very attractive?

At TCV, we’re always going to invest in things like product and technology and sales and marketing. But you want to believe that, over time, if you’re successful, there’s a compelling outcome that should drive the returns that your investors are looking for.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe education is one of the things that can drive mobility and collapse some of the inequities in the world. There are remarkable stories about students who were struggling who built a special relationship with someone that took the time to help, and the end result is a story of success. I love those stories.

But it is a personalized experience, and the way you scale that personalization so more learners can benefit is with educational technology. It is a really big idea and opportunity. That’s a daunting task and there are lots of things that stand in the way, but I do think that over the long term tech-enabled personalization and so more societal good, is going to be hard to stop.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business VC funding Sports and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

As a sports fan, I’d have to put Sir Alex Ferguson at the top of the list. I’d love to hear his thoughts on management and leadership, but more importantly his views on what we can do to get Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League!

This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.


Untraditional Narratives: Why Cognite Ventured Outside of the C-Suite to Identify Spokespeople and Stories to Win Global Press Coverage

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

Creating visibility in any market is not an easy task and can be even harder when trying to execute on a global scale. One way the PR team at industrial software firm, Cognite, approaches this is by having a deep bench of non-traditional spokespeople. This enables them to uncover story ideas they might not have spotted only speaking to the C-suite. It also allows them to ascertain the impact, collect materials to illustrate a story, and identify the best spokespeople. Their secret sauce? Attending meetings across all business functions to keep abreast of internal developments that could drive strong coverage.

In today’s episode of Growth Hacks, Katja and Kunal are joined by Michelle Holford, the global head of public relations at Cognite. When Michelle first started at Cognite, she knew that she had to create visibility for her MarComms team to the broader organization. Doing so wasn’t simply to let everyone know there was a new media sheriff in town – Michelle and her team focused instead on building relationships with leaders in the company who would come back to them with story ideas. One of the first things they did was hold meetings to explain to stakeholders how PR worked, what the Cognite brand meant, and how her team positioned the company. “I like to show up where people are and go to the robotics meetings and go to the engineering meetings. People start to raise their hand and say, ‘I might have something to offer,’ says Michelle.

Key Takeaways:

  • How to identify and media train non-traditional spokespeople for creative storytelling. Many organizations rely on the C-suite to sell their narrative in the press. Michelle and her team expanded their aperture, knowing that non-traditional spokespeople can tell stories from a different and complementary perspective. Cognite’s MarComms team is always on the lookout for interesting spokespeople – across the organization. They work with senior executives and junior employees as storytellers. “[We have] individuals that are just starting that are concerned about energy transition and want to talk sustainability. We’re always looking for opportunities to connect Cogniters to best tell the Cognite story,” explains Michelle. 
  • Effective strategies for story mining throughout an organization. Michelle’s top tip for identifying stories is to go where your stakeholders are. If an employee is working head down in robotics or engineering, it’s unlikely that they pick up the phone and let the PR team know what they’re doing. Instead, Michelle and her team go directly to meetings and offsites to ask questions and learn about their remit and the types of problems they’re solving. They do so by putting their reporter hats on in the meeting. Says Michelle, “Ask them questions like you’re the reporter. ‘Tell me more. What does this look like? What’s the impact? Do we have images? Do we have B-roll?’ You have this bank of information that you can think about creatively, to weave together stories to tell year-round.”
  • Cognite’s strategy for running media tours. The first question that Michelle and her team ask when setting up media tours, is “What are you trying to communicate?” This helps them plan how to establish impact and create “a story in a box” ready to go before the media tour happens. As crucial, however, is having pre-existing relationships with journalists already cultivated, to ensure that the media tour gets the right reception. “[When] reaching out to journalists, that should not be the first time they hear from you. Do your homework ahead of time and create relationships with journalists locally and internationally to make sure that they know who your company is and what you’re about, so that when they get an invitation to a media tour, it’s not cold,” says Michelle.
  • The unexpected storytelling benefits of developing Cognite Radio, a news channel with updates for employees. When Cognite first headed into the pandemic, the company decided to create Cognite Radio, an employees-only radio program that helped keep the organization connected around the globe even while all working from home. While the primary goal was to make sure Cogniters didn’t feel isolated during the pandemic, an unexpected benefit was that it helped create visibility across the organization about what was coming down the pike and allowed for more creative storytelling on the part of the PR team. Says Michelle, “It was a way to make sure that we weren’t working in siloes, so that we could innovate in the best way possible…to really create a culture and excitement around what was going to happen next.”
  • Michelle’s must-haves for running a healthy global PR function that is aligned across all forms of earned and owned media. For a team as large as Cognite, managing the relationship between its PR agencies and its in-house team is crucial to make sure that all stakeholders are aligned. But it’s not just a well-heeled PR team that keeps a global PR function operating as it should. Michelle’s strategy of building visibility for the PR team to the greater organization is critical here, because it allows for knowing what the company’s sales and marketing goals are, in order to help drive success through storytelling. “We’re setting the strategy, but we’re making sure we’re connected to the company goals, sales goals, marketing goals, and at the same time, trying to be as creative as possible with our storytelling.”

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Expanding Your Slate of Storytellers: How Cognite Uses Talent Across its Organization to Drive Global Visibility and Media Coverage

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


TCV Welcomes Edie Ashton as Chief Information Officer

Over the past 26 years, we have grown our portfolio companies and our own team to a point where TCV is operating across three offices in the U.S. and Europe. Due to the scale and global reach of our organization, we are excited to expand TCV’s executive talent to take us to the next level.

As such, we are thrilled to announce that Edie Ashton is joining the firm as Chief Information Officer (CIO). Edie was previously at The Carlyle Group, where she spent nine years, most recently serving as segment CIO for Global Private Equity. Adding Edie to our leadership team is a critical piece of our growth trajectory and demonstrates our ongoing commitment to deploy modern technology in support of our data-centric culture.

Edie comes to TCV with deep experience in both financial services and data strategy. As CIO, she will help advance growth by focusing on talent excellence, agility, and innovation in areas such as applied AI and distributed infrastructure—bringing a deeper alignment of IT and TCV’s core business as we pursue seamless global collaboration and acceleration of our investment platform.

Edie started her career at the Capital Group and Jefferies & Company, before enjoying a decade-long run in the telecom industry, implementing data warehouses and analytics platforms at global brands such as Nextel, Sprint, and RCN. At Carlyle, Edie proved herself a versatile business-oriented technologist who introduced the first data governance program and established a diversity and inclusion plan for the IT division.

“Edie is joining TCV at the right time,” says Nathan Sanders, General Partner and Chief Operating Officer at TCV. “We are experiencing significant growth and expansion of our team globally and have seen the benefits of leveraging sophisticated IT technology across our portfolio and TCV. Edie is a proven IT leader and tech visionary, focused on results that advance the whole organization. We are thrilled to welcome her to the TCV family.”


TCV Welcomes Jessica Neal as Venture Partner

We are delighted to share that Jessica Neal has joined TCV as a Venture Partner. Jessica will be working with investment teams on new opportunities, while also assisting our portfolio companies as they scale. A highly experienced operational leader with a track record of building teams and high-performance cultures in growth companies, we believe Jessica is going to make an immediate impact. She was most recently Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, where she spent over 11 years during two tours of duty.

Jessica was a key part of a management team that were pioneers of their industry. She was responsible for building and managing a talent organization that is widely recognized as best in class. Jessica also has relevant experience in other areas of technology. She served as both Chief People Officer for Scopely in the gaming space and as Head of People for Coursera, a disrupter in Online Education. Jessica currently serves on the board of directors of software company JFrog.

Her achievements are many. Jessica has been recognized on the N2Growth and Stanford Graduate School of Business 2020 Leaders25 Top CHRO List. That same year, she was listed in PeopleGoals’ “Top 10 HR leaders to follow.”

Jessica’s differentiated set of experiences working with growth companies, together with her deep operational knowledge, position her well to advise founders and management teams on building their business. We believe she is a Master of Scale.

Please join us in welcoming her to the TCV family.

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This blog post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Little Fires Everywhere: How Redis Uses Product-Focused Storytelling to Build Communities, Drive Growth and Demand, and Create a Groundswell Among Developers

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

When database provider Redis undertook a marketing rebrand, the first order of business was identifying the brand’s core audience. Because developers were influencing sales decisions with greater frequency, Redis knew that it had to speak to what its audience cared about most. Accordingly, the company adopted a product-first marketing narrative. By focusing its marketing on extolling Redis’ product and features, the company was able to build a robust developer community that can both provide feedback and later go on to evangelize the brand. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja are joined by Mike Anand, CMO of Redis. They talk about how Mike devised the company’s marketing strategy, and how it has helped drive both growth and demand at the same time. We also hear from Mike about what B2B leaders can learn from consumer brands when it comes to injecting personalization into their marketing. He explains the benefit of working backwards from the customer’s perspective for product marketing, even when employing a product-led storytelling narrative. Mike shares best practices on mentoring hires and leading marketing teams, and how he approaches recruitment and retention at a time when mission and social responsibility matter to employees more than ever. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • How to run an effective rebrand that resonates with your primary audience. Redis recently went through a marketing rebrand to break perceived silos between its open source project and the larger company. Despite the magnitude of the task, Mike’s primary objective was to keep the messaging simple, and maintain focus on the overall goal. It can be tempting to utilize every tool in the toolkit when trying to build buzz around the new message, yet Mike advises holding back: “You really have to think about who the key stakeholders are that you want to make an impact with. This is where your tone and the simplicity of your message matters.” 
  • Using outside-in messaging to become a product-focused storyteller. Developers have become the new power centers when it comes to decision making at information technology companies. That’s why Redis decided to focus on product-focused storytelling, thinking of the end user — a developer — when crafting its story. Since Redis has a number of products early in their life cycle, a product-focused messaging strategy allows them to continually focus on creating awareness with developers, customers, and partners. “You really have to make the messaging all about product and product focus, with an outside-in driving messaging,” says Mike. 
  • Unlocking the benefits of building growth and demand funnels in tandem. Usually marketing departments will focus on either a growth or a demand funnel at one time. Mike and his team decided to build out Redis’ growth and demand funnels in parallel. The growth funnel is focused entirely on getting the Redis product into users hands, even if that funnel doesn’t always convert to enterprise business. By analyzing product usage of the growth funnel, Redis’ marketing team is able to derive insights that influence their demand funnel, says Mike. “If you marry those two together, then I think you can build a very healthy top of the funnel business.” 
  • Leveraging use cases to build strong relationships with analysts. When it comes to building relationships with analysts and the broader community, Mike rarely opts for making the hard pitch to sell them on Redis’ products. Instead, he fosters connection by asking analysts their perspective on the biggest pain points facing customers. No one has their finger on the consumer’s ideal use cases better than analysts, says Mike. “So the first part of connecting and building that journey with the analyst community is not to sell them on what your products do. It’s actually to help you understand from them better, what do your customers need?”  
  • Why making marketing at Redis more agile and data-driven is a “number one priority.” The modern CMO role is about more than brand-building and demand generation, says Mike. Instead, marketing departments should be technology-forward, becoming more agile and data-driven rather than relying on traditional metrics alone. Identifying those leading indicators using a data-driven methodology allows Mike to track how each campaign is performing, and how to course-correct as needed. It also enables Mike to track specific KPI’s. “One of my favorite metrics is sales velocity and knowing how quickly we can convert leads into closed sales,” explains Mike. 
  • The importance of mission and social responsibility in modern recruitment. With increasing competition, recruiting key talent is far from easy. Mike says that marketing leaders need to expand their aperture past simply who you want on your team. Because mission is so key to employees, it’s important to ask yourself how you can connect to what people want on a broader scale than just the job alone. Some questions that Mike asks himself are “How can you connect what people want to a bigger, broader mission?” and “What role does the marketing organization play in taking social responsibility?” 

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Product-Focused Storytelling: How Redis Rebranded and Revamped its Marketing to Better Connect with the Developer Community

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Empowering the Cloud-First Enterprise: Devo’s Advanced, Cloud-Native Security Analytics Provide a Powerful Defense as the Threat Surface for Business Data Expands Exponentially

‘Cloud-first’ organizations now outnumber on-premise businesses by a ratio of three to one, according to a new report from Devo, a leader in next-generation, cloud-native security information and event management (SIEM), and an exciting addition to our security portfolio, focused on the components of building out a modern security operations center (SOC) that combines endpoint + network + security analytics.

As investors in Rapid7 and Splunk, we’ve gained significant experience in SIEM and we see Devo as the next wave of SIEM for the cloud-native enterprise. We’ve also seen how the threat landscape has evolved on the network side via Vectra, and we backed Webroot, which provides organizations with multi-vector endpoint protection. 

Barriers to cloud adoption were already lower than ever before the pandemic struck—magnifying the benefits of remote/virtual IT infrastructures, software hosting, and data management. The scale of the ensuing enterprise shift to cloud infrastructure and remote hosting has been driving up security complexity and associated volumes of data, so that this now exceeds the capabilities of legacy security toolsets and the capacity of already-overstretched security teams. 

In this context, Devo—with its cloud-native logging and security analytics platform—is having a huge and fast-growing impact. It is saving enterprise security operations teams untold hours of manual analysis as security data volumes soar, by empowering security analysts to cut through the noise and focus on the threats that matter most.

Actionable analytics: the surge in next-generation SIEM

Next-generation SIEM is big business, and in the cloud-first enterprise market Devo is well ahead of this trend. The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is dedicated to producing the most innovative logging and security analytics platform on the market, and its cloud-native solutions strike right at the heart of current enterprise challenges.

“Digital Transformation, and the massive threat surface associated with it, have elevated security analytics to the centerpiece of frontline cyber defenses. Some of the world’s largest businesses choose Devo because we combine unmatched scale, powerful analytics, and the ability to get answers in real time.

The global market potential ahead of us is absolutely massive, and we’re excited at working with TCV’s sector experts to realize that. What really stands out for us is that the TCV team is as enthusiastic and driven as we are. The new funding validates the disruptive force we have become and sends signal to the industry that we will continue to set the pace for innovation and customer value.”

Marc van Zadelhoff, CEO of Devo

Securing the skies by securing the cloud

Devo has already made a name for itself with some of the most security-sensitive organizations in the world, including the U.S. Air Force, which relies on the company as its central security hub for protection, detection, and response for enterprise defense worldwide. 

Speed and scalability are among its many differentiators: Devo supports thousands of concurrent real-time queries, allowing security teams to query petabyte-sized data sets to answer questions quickly, visualize trends, and perform advanced analytics—so they never miss a critical threat.

Providing unparalleled performance, scalability and clarity, the Devo Platform lets security teams ask more questions, visualize more data, and access valuable analytics to defend and monitor their organization. Its data ingestion capabilities are the industry’s most scalable and flexible. The Devo Platform can ingest data from any source, even if it’s unrecognized or the format changes.

Crucially, it is designed to integrate effortlessly with all of the main enterprise IT environments favored by large enterprises—from software giants like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce, to the big cloud platforms (Google Cloud, AWS) and network providers (Cisco, Juniper) to some of the biggest names in IT security, including Sophos, Symantec, and Check Point. This enables a consolidated view of the security landscape and a single point of actionable analytics.

Suffice to say, Devo’s potential market is substantial—and global—and to date we believe the company has only skimmed the surface of the opportunity.

Major new funding will drive global & vertical expansion

Devo has cemented its leadership in the next gen SIEM and IT Ops markets with accelerating growth driven by enterprise demand for modern, cloud-first, SaaS based, AI/ML driven tools. TCV is proud to have led Devo’s $250 million in Series E funding round, and we look forward to working with a world-class team to provide a better, faster, and more economic value proposition for enterprise customers around the world struggling to keep up with security and performance blind spots.

We anticipate that the new funding will fuel strong growth across new regions and market verticals, and significantly increase investment in channel expansion and product innovation. Plans include growth in new verticals and geographies including an expanded presence in the public sector, as well as internationally in the Asia Pacific region. 

Building on the rapid adoption of Devo as the platform of choice for leading resellers and managed security services providers (MSSPs) across the globe, the company is also redoubling its commitment to the channel and integration partners. Devo also expects to invest heavily in technology alliances, content, and people to build out a global security community to usher in a new era for the industry.

Powered by great people

Of course, it’s the people that make a remarkable and investable business, and again this is where Devo shines. The company is made up of some of the world’s brightest minds, all respected experts in their fields yet from diverse backgrounds—giving Devo breadth as well as depth in its market experience. 

CEO Marc van Zadelhoff took the helm as CEO a year ago, marking the start of a momentous year for the company. He has brought to the company some 20 years’ experience working in cybersecurity for organizations globally, most recently as the COO for LogMeIn, and before that as General Manager for IBM Security—a IBM Business Unit he co-founded. Since assuming leadership of Devo, Marc has driven the company to new heights, evidenced by: 

  • Nearly 100% year-over-year revenue growth
  • Over 100% customer growth, including H&R Block, Manulife, FanDuel, Ulta Beauty and AMEX Global Business Travel
  • More than 400 employees across North America, Europe, and APAC
  • Addition of industry-proven leaders including CSO Gunter Ollmann, SVP of Product Ted Julian, CCO Johannes Loeffler and CFO Jennifer Grunebaum
  • Launch of Devo Content Stream, a new high-value content delivery service for Devo customers

The team Marc is building around him is impressive, combining subject matter expertise and commercial depth. 

Devo and its people are the ideal fit for TCV’s investment strategy. Our track record of supporting portfolio companies for the long term as a crossover investor is well established, and our well-documented successes with other high-growth tech businesses at the intersection of cloud, networking, and security (including Cradlepoint, Silver Peak, HashiCorp, Splunk, Vectra, Rapid7, and Venafi, and more recently Aviatrix) provide a strong hint at the ambitions we have for Devo.

We can’t wait to roll up our sleeves and help Devo capitalize on its global potential.

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any of the data or statements by the author and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This blog post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified above are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


“Being User-Centric Rather Than You-Centric” — How Strava Works With Global Media to Tell Stories That Help Athletes and Drive Growth

Scaling globally is a goal for any growing company, which means that working with press across various markets is an inevitability. But it’s become more challenging than ever to gain the attention of the press, and it often comes with a hefty dose of added scrutiny. How then, can companies begin to tell their brand narrative, much less work with the press in a way that can help foster growth? That’s something that Strava has had to think about on a daily basis, as the world’s top platform for athletes has grown to over 90 countries and more than 76 million users. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja are joined by Andrew Vontz, VP of Communications at TCV company Strava. As a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times, Andrew brings his unique insider perspective on what companies can do to tell a story that journalists today would respond to, and how those stories can be used strategically in order to drive brand perception and fuel growth. Andrew also walks us through his blueprints for educating stakeholders on what to expect from press coverage, and the checklist method he uses when it comes to preparing for potential crises before they occur. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Being user-centric rather than you-centric when working with journalists. While it can be tempting to use press attention as a way to tout your company’s successes, that may not be enough to get your story told. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of a journalist’s readers, says Andrew. “You really have to be user-centric versus you-centric. There are definitely things you would ideally like to get out of press coverage, but you also need to think about, ‘What does that journalist need? What does their readership need? What’s going to help them sell this story internally and get it placed?’ You really have to begin with the end in mind.”
  • Why it’s important to educate stakeholders on how press coverage operates. We’ve all experienced it: internal stakeholders with the best of intentions expecting journalists to always see things the way we would like them to be seen with nary a criticism. That’s why it’s imperative to set realistic expectations with teammates about how a specific story may roll out. It’s also a good opportunity to educate teammates about how press coverage operates in general. “All good stories are really high contrast. They’re high tension. They’re definitely going to contain opposing points of view, and you just need to prepare people for that, educate them, and bring them along so that they know what’s going to show up in a story, why it’s going to show up, and how it may show up,” says Andrew. 
  • Using earned media to drive growth. Given that Strava is the de facto record of the world’s athletic activities, the company produces an annual Year in Sport press report built around the intersection of sport, culture, societal trends and unique data insights about the ways athletes find joy through the activities they love. For Strava, Year in Sport  helps them in “finding ways to align stories that only we can tell with moments in time when there’s a high degree of cultural curiosity around specific topics that can enable really large scale brand awareness.” 

    An additional benefit of Year in Sports is that data is very compelling with readers. Says Andrew, “[It’s] providing reporters with ingredients and stories that enable reporters and editors to be of service to their consumers and provide high utility content that’s motivating and inspirational.” 
  • Preparing for a crisis before it happens. When Strava faced its own PR crisis in 2018, Andrew’s team saw an inbound of thousands of media inquiries in 48 hours. The tendency to want to react immediately is natural, but you must slow down and operate with a high degree of discernment to be most effective. “It’s important that you move at your own pace and that you work with stakeholders across the organization to understand what’s going on before you do anything,” says Andrew. Doing so allowed Strava to turn the opportunity into one where they were able to educate journalists around the world about their privacy controls, resulting in 90% neutral to positive coverage. 

    To prepare in advance, Andrew recommends bringing on outside experts or advisors in advance of a crisis, to start preparing before a situation occurs. “Try to think through anything that might potentially pop up and then try to spell out exactly how you’re going to meet that moment.” 
  • Effective ways to be known as a mission or purpose driven organization. While thought leadership is easy to engage in, at Strava it’s more than showing up to the right panels and conferences. “It starts with the intent to be the world’s best at something,” says Andrew. 

    Because Strava’s mission is to serve athletes, they’ve focused on ways to do that, whether that’s partnerships that make Strava better for its users, or the Strava Metro data they provide to cities to power safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. “What we aspire to is to be a positive force to help create change in the space, so that everyone has equal access to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure — and more broadly, to create greater equity in sport. And that’s an area where we want to be an even bigger thought leader and a bigger force over time.” 

To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Lessons from Strava — Working with Press and Teams to Move the Growth Needle, Foster Inclusion, and Establish a Purpose-Driven Narrative

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


The “White Hot” HR Tech Market, Why Focus Should be the Focus, and the Big Themes in Human Capital Tech Going Forward

In conversation with Josh Bersin

There’s a lot of money floating around the HR tech start-up scene currently, as you will hear if you tune into a recent podcast I joined—the Joshbersin.com podcast from internationally-recognized analyst, educator, and thought leader in the global talent market, Josh Bersin.

The valuation environment and the size of investments in the category has heated up considerably. The workplace is arguably one of the biggest tech markets of them all—we’re talking about two billion people who go to work every day and who need to be engaged, assessed, challenged, nurtured, and developed. That means the potential for systems to support them and the people leaders in the organization, and to help automate processes, as well as glean insights from data.

TCV has a strong track record in the space, having invested in HR tech leaders like LinkedIn, HireVue, and Perceptyx, as well as The Pracuj Group, the largest job board in Poland. Over the last two years with the pandemic and several other sociological flashpoint events occurring, there’s been a lot for employers, employees, and chief people officers/CHROs to handle. Simultaneously, there have been substantial advances in relevant technology and software. I was looking forward to sharing our perspectives on the booming and continuously evolving HR technology sector, and the role and direction of current investment in it.

Key Takeaways

There’s a lot of money and a lot of enthusiasm. There is about $2 trillion of dry powder in private equity and venture and crossover fund coffers out there, so a lot of risk capital is looking for a home. Investment activity in the HR tech sector has exploded, particularly over the last few years, and we don’t see the round sizes shrinking anytime soon. Indeed, as noted in a recent Pitchbook analysis, global HR tech funding has ballooned to $9.2 billion so far this year which is 130% greater than the total for 2020:

Source:  https://pitchbook.com/news/articles/venture-capital-human-resources-tech-valuations, October 21, 2021

That enthusiasm has a definite ebullience factor in terms of what it contributes to valuations and round sizes—seed series, A, B, C, D, pre-IPO, all rounds are higher than they were years ago, and you see companies with significant capital war chests. We expect more acquisitions of smaller companies by larger companies that have raised significant capital as a little bit of economic Darwinism takes place. The firms that have raised massive rounds will clean up and consolidate some of their smaller competitors, in addition to investing in organic growth. 

“Focus is the focus” is a good long-term philosophy. Our discussion moved on to the importance of having the right people in place for each phase of a company’s evolution. Challenges may multiply as a company grows bigger, but there are more resources available to employ a greater calibre of talent. Being clear about the goal is paramount. Human capital technology category leaders find success focusing on their core strengths and extending into adjacencies versus too dramatically expanding their offerings into unrelated avenues. TCV portfolio company HireVue is a great example with its core lineage in pre-hire video interviewing, but added capabilities in interview scheduling, psychometric assessments, coding challenges, and recruiter assistant/candidate engagement SaaS.

Our experience tends to be that the best companies do a few things extremely well, and there is merit to “focus” being the focus. On the path from eight figures in revenue to nine figures in revenue, what a company says “no” to can be as important as what it says “yes” to. Part of our job as investors is to help entrepreneurs with some of those lessons learned and pattern recognition from other companies’ evolutions.

The HR software ecosystem is growing. Looking ahead to the “hot spaces” in the HR tech sector, I highlighted the expanding role of Chief HR Officers (CHROs). Over the last two years (and pre-pandemic), the CHRO role has become far more strategic and operational versus perhaps more historically administrative, and compliance oriented in nature. This is creating significant new opportunities for technology. For instance, growing transience in the employee base has a bearing on the role of pre-hire technology. Upskilling and reskilling is surging in importance, as the workplace changes, and employers take stock of the key skills required for their organizations as well as employees taking stock of how they want their careers to progress.

Employee experience (EX) is another area of significant emphasis particularly given some of the changes that the last two years have brought. Josh and I concur about the huge potential around EX, noting we can expect all sorts of tools, platforms and systems coming onto the market with vendors like TCV portfolio company Perceptyx leading the way. I was struck by his observation that the new companies are more AI-enabled, more skills based, and better able to accommodate the emerging creator economy. This is based on the concept of a creator platform for HR, where employees build content for each other, and HR and managers build content for employees. As Josh says, “I believe there’s a ‘TikTok of HR’ space out there.”

Josh predicts a rising generation of vendors that are going to be platform and data vendors that are equally savvy about the external job market or skills or industry data, and their systems are going to be faster and better than less data-rich HR software tools. 

Josh and I agreed that the HR software ecosystem is growing, becoming more robust, and that the runway is very long given the size of the total talent market and the opportunities and challenges of the present and future. What a great conversation with a genuine HR tech guru—I really enjoyed it!

To learn more, tune into HR Technology: The Investor’s Perspective. Conversation w/Nari Ansari

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Lessons from Strava: Working with Press and Teams to Move the Growth Needle, Foster Inclusion, and Establish a Purpose-Driven Narrative

Every communications professional has seen it: a tweet from a journalist bemoaning the raft of irrelevant pitches they receive on a daily basis. How can companies cut through the noise to place stories that reflect well upon the business, and move the needle when it comes to brand perception and growth? That’s something Strava has navigated while building a purpose-driven narrative for over 90 million athletes across almost 200 countries.

In the latest episode of Growth Hacks, Katja and Kunal speak with Andrew Vontz, VP of Communications at TCV company Strava. Andrew also hosts his own podcast – Choose The Hard Way, where he talks with leaders in sports, tech, business, the military and more about peak performance and how to overcome obstacles to do great things. Andrew started his career as a journalist before moving into marketing and communications. He shares his insider perspective into what it takes to place a story that reporters are motivated to tell, and how to prepare internal stakeholders on what that story might look like when it runs. He also talks about how organizations can use earned media to drive growth, and how to conduct crisis communications prep before disaster strikes. Andrew also walks us through Strava’s playbook on establishing its purpose-driven narrative both internally and externally and what it takes to engage a global community. 

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • Being user-centric rather than you-centric when working with journalists
  • Why it’s important to educate stakeholders on how press coverage operates
  • Using earned media to drive growth
  • Preparing for a crisis before it happens
  • Effective ways to be known as a mission or purpose driven organization

To hear more on this, settle in and press play.

Please find the transcript below, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Katja Gagen: Hello everyone, we are excited to have Andrew Vontz today on the podcast. Andrew went from being a journalist for the LA times, Rolling Stone, and others, to joining Strava’s executive team and leading communications.

And for all fitness aficionados listening, Strava is a social platform for athletes and the largest sports community in the world, with over 95 million athletes in 195 countries on the platform. We are excited to hear from Andrew about how communications can help drive business success and how he keeps this incredible community engaged.

Welcome to Growth Hacks, Andrew.

Andrew Vontz: Hey, thanks, Katja. It’s great to be here with you and Kunal.

Kunal Mehta: Well, I know you’re going to bring the heat today, Andrew. I just want to know where does this podcast find you today?

Andrew Vontz: It finds me in rural Maine where the leaves are falling, and there are pumpkins everywhere. We actually have a pumpkin that we grew from throwing a pumpkin into the compost pile last year, it grew into like a three foot in diameter pumpkin, lo and behold.

Kunal Mehta: That’s amazing.

Katja Gagen: That’s awesome. And Andrew, you have a pretty unique background that spans art to journalism, and now heading up comms at Strava. How did you end up where you are?

Andrew Vontz: I think I ended up where I am because I’ve always been a very curious person and I’ve always loved storytelling. And the red thread of my career has really been people, places, and things at the limits of human experience. Whether that was the work that I did as a freelance journalist for over a decade, the work that I did as the head of content at TRX, which is a human performance company that worked to democratize world-class human performance for everyone, or now at Strava. And over time, I eventually joined the executive team and I’m now the Vice President of Communications.

And outside of that, I also have my own podcast, it’s called “Choose the Hard Way”, and it’s about the obstacles people overcome to do great things. So that red thread is still running throughout my career.

Kunal Mehta: Fantastic. Well, Andrew, I know Strava is Swedish for strive, which epitomizes attitude and ambition. How do you bring that to life with the communication strategy at Strava?

Andrew Vontz: Yeah, Kunal. It’s really about always thinking bigger, always in all ways. So that’s, however well things are going, how can we think about what’s the next step? What’s the much bigger version of that? What’s the version of that that makes us feel a little bit anxious, a little bit uncomfortable because it seems so audacious? So that’s really what strive is about in the communications domain.

Kunal Mehta: Andrew, you’ve been a journalist for over a decade. What should companies know about the way journalists think about stories?

Andrew Vontz: When you’re working with media, it can provide the most valuable form of third-party validation that you can get. It’s like going to a party and having your best friend tell you how awesome something is versus you talking about yourself.

What you want to keep in mind when you’re working with press is: yeah, you would love to have other people telling your story on your behalf and singing your praises, but you really have to be user-centric versus you-centric. There are definitely things that you would ideally like to get out of press coverage, but you also need to think about what does that journalist need? What does their readership need? What does that outlet need? What’s going to help them sell this story internally and get it placed? And you really have to begin with the end in mind.

I think in addition to that, it’s really important to educate your teammates from across the organization and to really set realistic expectations about how press coverage might roll out.

All great stories are really high contrast. They’re high tension. They’re definitely going to contain opposing points of view, and you just need to prepare people for that, educate them, and bring them along so that they know what’s going to show up in a story, why it’s going to show up, and how it might show up.

Katja Gagen: That’s awesome advice because we sometimes hear from our companies that they think of PR as paid marketing copy, and they just have to pick up the phone and speak to a reporter and out comes a piece that highlights everything you want to say about your company. We know that this is far from the truth.

How can press coverage or media coverage support growth in the business? Can you share some examples?

Andrew Vontz: For sure, Katja. I’ll give you an example that’s worked really well for us. We do an annual Year In Sport press report. And what it really does is aligns our proprietary data insights because Strava really is de facto the record of the world’s athletic activities.

It’s contained everything from people winning medals, to Tour de France stages to, hey, what are the trends that have happened during the pandemic as walking and hiking really took off and more people than ever before were riding bikes. Finding ways to align stories that only we can tell with moments in time when there’s a high degree of cultural curiosity around specific topics that can enable really large-scale brand awareness.

Going back to providing reporters with ingredients and stories that are useful for them to sell stories internally and also to service their readership. I think that’s just like a really great example of one way you can do it.

Kunal Mehta: Fantastic. Andrew, as I think about Strava, they’re adding 2 million athletes a month during the pandemic, and they’re still growing incredibly fast. I just read an article that says something like 20% of employees will continue to work remotely. How have you overcome the challenges of managing your team working remotely during this hyper-growth period?

Andrew Vontz: I think one of the advantages that we have is prior to the pandemic, and really, since our inception, Strava has been a highly global company. We have athletes in 195 countries, and we have teammates on the ground in seven key geographies around the world, seven different countries on four different continents.

It’s given us the opportunity to really grow and come together as a team and really working on making sure we’re calling all the voices on the team in, that we’re being as inclusive as possible in this remote work environment. And really thinking about what are the systems and processes that do foster that sense of inclusion, that make people able to provide their highest level of contribution? And really thinking through what are the channels that they need to do that?

Because the reality is just adding more meetings is just going to add up to a lot more meetings. You have a finite amount of time that you can get together, so it’s getting people into the right spaces at the right moment.

When you’re in those contexts, invite everybody into the conversation. Going back to what does strive mean within a context of our comms team? Part of what it means is always pushing ourselves to think bigger, to think about how can we do everything better?

Even if things are going really well, what does it look like beyond the horizon to do way, way, way better than we might imagine is possible at the moment? No one has a monopoly on great ideas, and you want everybody to feel included. I try to talk about decisions I’ve made or things that we’ve tried in the org that haven’t gone well, because I also have to model risk taking and that failure is okay, because I certainly am not making perfect decisions all the time.

Katja Gagen: I like, Andrew, how you’re creating an environment that’s both inclusive, but also pushing the team to try new things, even when everything is going well.

Shifting gears for a moment, every organization goes through a phase where there are challenges. What does it take to successfully manage those and how have you done that?

Andrew Vontz: Well, the best advice I can give is you want to plan for rainy days, because honestly, if you have any level of success, at some point you were definitely going to have a storm in your future. And before one happens, you want to be prepared. If you do find yourself managing a crisis, you want to try to find a way to turn that challenge into an opportunity.

Let me tell you about something that happened at Strava back in 2018. We have something called the heat map. It’s really a treasured community resource that our athletes use to discover new places to ride, to run, and really just to enjoy the sports they love. It only contains aggregate de-identified data and athletes can opt out of sharing their information into the heat map at any time.

Back in 2018, someone on Twitter said they had found secret military bases on the heat map. And this took off in the news and we ended up having 2000 media inquiries in about 48 hours. I would just say, first of all, when a crisis happens, you have to say calm. It’s important that you move at your own pace and that you work with stakeholders across the organization to understand what’s going on before you do anything.

That’s what we did. We take the privacy of our athletes very seriously. And we really used this incident as an opportunity to build more trust with our athletes and with our community and to educate the world about our simple privacy controls and settings.

At that moment in time, the story ended up on national broadcast and every major newspaper in the U S and around the world online. We managed the crisis to a resolution where the coverage was 90% positive or neutral.

Here’s what you can do if you want to get ready. I definitely recommend getting a steer from advisers or outside experts who can help you think through the full range of crises you might face, and to start preparing for them. A book I recommend is The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.

It covers how professionals in high stress, high consequence environments, like medical doctors performing surgery, or how pilots flying commercial airlines use checklists for everything that they do. Use these checklists to boil down complex operations, to really the simplest, clearest set of decisions possible, trying to make everything binary and really make communication across the team as frictionless, simple, direct as possible.

Try to think through anything that might potentially pop up and then try to spell out exactly how you’re going to meet that moment. And if you do that, you’ll be as prepared as you possibly can be when your rainy day comes.

Katja Gagen: That’s super helpful. We talked a little bit earlier about Strava meaning to strive. A lot of companies today want to be known for a specific mission or purpose. What are the most effective ways you have made that happen at Strava?

Andrew Vontz: I think when it comes to thought leadership, some people think about thought leadership as, hey, we just need to like stick our leaders on the right stages at the right conferences. And then miraculously, we’re going to be known as the world’s leading authority on X.

Thought leadership starts with the intent to be the world’s best at something, and that’s a very worthy endeavor. Equally, you need to be really honest about where are you at today? Where do you want to be in the future? How credible are you on this topic? And what commitment do you have to action? And I’ll just give you an example.

At Strava, we serve athletes. And we say that what’s awesome for athletes is awesome for our business and in turn, that can be awesome for the world at large. We say that athlete awesome equals business awesome.

We are the platform at the center of connected fitness. We have over 400 partners whose apps, hardware, experiences, connect into Strava where they can be extended, and people can enjoy them. And we’re a place where every effort counts. We have something called Strava Metro. And Metro takes aggregate de-identified data, and we provide a really easy to use tool to vetted municipalities and urban planners, so that they can create better and safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in cities so that people can get around under their own power as safely and effectively as possible in cities. Because really humans are the original autonomous vehicle, and they are the future of cities.

What we aspire to, is to be a positive force to help create change in the space so that everyone has equal access to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and more broadly to create greater equity in sport. And that’s an area where we want to be an even bigger thought leader and a bigger force over time.

We know where we are at today. And we know the gap that we want to close, and we have to be really honest about where we’re at and what we want to do.

Kunal Mehta: I love that approach towards DEI, and I’m sure we could spend the entire podcast talking about that.

We typically end with some rapid-fire questions. I just wanted to start with, we have a wide range of listeners, Andrew, and many of them are younger as well. Perhaps you can tell us something you wish your younger self knew.

Andrew Vontz: I’d say, my podcast is called “Choose the Hard Way” for a reason, because for better or worse, that’s something I’ve done many times in my life. And it’s really about the idea that you are what you overcome. I think that’s what I’d tell my younger self that it’s about the power of marginal gains.

Every obstacle you might run into in your life is really an opportunity to move towards your next success. And all of the knowledge that you’ve accrued, that’s just insight that you can take into whatever you do next.

It goes back to this agile development mentality, that comes from software engineering and business development, but you can really apply it to anything. Keep what works, throw away what doesn’t and test new hypotheses and keep growing.

Kunal Mehta: Awesome. Keep growing for sure. I also want to ask you, what’s a convention that you wish did not hold true today?

Andrew Vontz: Something I’ve been thinking about a lot because of a guest I had on my podcast recently, his name’s Hector Guadalupe and he’s the founder of an organization called A Second U Foundation.

He works with formerly incarcerated individuals. And provides training and education for them to start their own fitness businesses. And it’s really foregrounded for me, the importance of second chances. I think that that’s something that I would like to see transformed in society.

Katja Gagen: That’s wonderful, thanks Andrew. One other question is who do you follow on social media?

Andrew Vontz: One of my favorite people to follow on social media is Rahsaan Bahati. He’s a multi-time national champion and one of my favorite cyclists of all time. I lived in LA for over 15 years, and he used to be out on a lot of group rides that I was on. I always looked up to him, his accomplishments as an athlete.

Rahsaan has something called the Bahati Foundation. Its mission is to support inner city youth and underserved communities through cycling outreach. I think the work that he’s doing to bridge the equity and access gap in cycling is incredibly powerful.

Katja Gagen: That’s awesome, and if I were to summarize our conversation – hard work and rapid learning are the ultimate Growth Hacks. One more question, how do you energize and instill rapid learning at Strava?

Andrew Vontz: I think one of the ways that I try to do that is by modeling vulnerability. And trying to float big, risky ideas and trying to push myself beyond what feels safe. Because when I’m starting to feel anxious about something that we’re trying to do, because it feels overly ambitious, anxiety metabolized a different way is excitement. And that’s when I know I’m in the right territory because we’re about to break through. And that’s really what I want the team to get to experience, because I want everybody to have that feeling of autonomy, of growth, of really operating at the edge of their ability, because I know that that’s where we can do our very best work.

Katja Gagen: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much, Andrew, for sharing your insights with us from being a journalist to an athlete, and also the head of communications. Thanks for being on the show today.

Andrew Vontz: Yeah, thanks so much. It’s great to be here.

***

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview and blog post are not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this interview and blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Making Community Building More Than a Catchphrase to Unlock Growth – Jonathan Mildenhall Shares Lessons from Airbnb and More for Companies of All Sizes

Growth Hacks – Moving the Metric

Brands like Airbnb and Peloton that have been able to build a loyal community around their products, may seem to have cultivated that community size through an alchemical mix of marketing spend, timing, and luck. But it doesn’t have to be so opaque — especially not for businesses that make community building an essential part of their blueprint to growth, even from the early days. 

In this episode of Growth Hacks, Kunal and Katja talk to Jonathan Mildenhall, former CMO of Airbnb and founder and Chairman of strategic branding firm, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, about ways to articulate the narrative of a modern brand – with community building as a key element. Jonathan walks us through a four-pillar process for creating strategic blueprints to build brand narrative, and tips for B2B brands to elicit the sort of emotional resonance that B2C brands have found with customers. 

Key Takeaways:

  • The four pillars of a modern 21st century brand that’s built to scale. Community isn’t just something that comes once a brand has been built. In fact, having a vocal, loyal community is one of the four core pillars of building a modern-day company. In addition to community building, the other three pillars for twenty-first century brands are being purpose driven, making sure your technology is well-designed and human, and focusing on storytelling.
  • How to perform a deep analysis on your own company and create a strategic blueprint to activate on each pillar. One of the first things Jonathan and his team at TwentyFirstCenturyBrand do when building out a new brand is to sit down with the founders and leaders of the company to do what they call a deep extraction. The purpose is to get a better understanding of the brand’s potential size and aspirations. “I don’t just mean in total numbers and size of revenue, but in terms of its cultural impact. We like to say we’re revealing the soul and purpose of the company back to the founding team,” Jonathan says.
  • Specific strategies on building a community that can meaningfully drive growth and brand perception. When Jonathan was the CMO of Airbnb, they had to get creative about how to use their marketing spend, which was a fraction of their competitors’ budgets. Jonathan’s team decided to activate Airbnb’s community of hosts to tell stories, by providing them photographers to take photos of their rentals and turn that into marketing collateral. Those community stories helped drive Airbnb’s initial brand narrative and turned those same hosts into vocal advocates for Airbnb with cities and potential users. Per Jonathan, “if you get community right, you can reduce acquisition costs, content creation costs, and you can drive referrals, word of mouth, and the brand narrative in ways that are unprecedented for marketers.” 
  • Why strategic community building has to come from the C-suite. Community building is an ongoing process and a two-way conversation; not just when a brand needs the community to telegraph its approval. It’s why Jonathan believes that community engagement should come from company leadership, who can maintain that dialog with followers of the brand and the wider community: “The chief executive’s voice and presence needs to be heard.”
  • Lessons B2B marketers can take from B2C campaigns when it comes to eliciting an emotional connection. Whether you’re a B2B company or a B2C company, Jonathan urges marketing teams to think about more than selling a product, and instead focus on the human being receiving the message, and whether that message moves them emotionally. His advice for B2B marketers? “I would love it if B2B businesses made a greater effort to move audiences emotionally and treat them as human beings, as opposed to somebody on the other side of a business transaction,” says Jonathan.


To learn more, tune into Growth Hacks: Elevating Community Building to Drive Meaningful Growth

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