FlixMobility Completes New Funding Round Led by TCV and Permira

  • Funding round completed with strategic investments from TCV, Permira and existing investors
  • Financing will fuel expansion of FlixBus network in the United States as well as market-entries in South America and Asia and the rollout of FlixTrain
  • FlixCar ride sharing brand to launch in 2020 to complement existing bus and train networks in EU

New York/Munich (July 18, 2019) – FlixMobility GmbH, the parent company of global mobility platforms FlixBus and FlixTrain, has announced the completion of its Series F funding round co-led by TCV and Permira, two of the largest growth equity firms backing private and public technology companies. Long-time investor HV Holtzbrinck Ventures also participated in the round through a joint co-investment with European Investment Bank, providing local expertise and expert knowledge to scale the business further. The newest FlixMobility investors join existing shareholders including General Atlantic, a leading global growth equity firm, and Silver Lake, a global leader in technology investing, who have helped the company rapidly grow from start-up to global mobility provider.

The equity raised will be used for global expansion as well as the launch of new FlixMobility products. FlixBus is targeting market leadership in the United States and will launch into new global markets in South America and Asia in 2020. For the FlixTrain brand, the investment will help expansions into new EU countries following the liberalization of the European rail market in 2020 in addition to growing the product within the German market where FlixTrain already operates multiple cross-country routes. Furthermore, the investment will be used to launch FlixCar, a ride sharing platform that will complement the existing FlixBus and FlixTrain networks.

“What began in 2013 as a German startup has become a powerful mobility platform that continues to change the way millions of people travel across Europe and the United States,” said Jochen Engert, CEO and founder of FlixMobility. “Through our strategic partnership with TCV and Permira, which have decades of experience and a portfolio of world-leading technology companies, we will accelerate our growth to offer smart and green travel to more people across the world via the FlixBus, FlixTrain and soon FlixCar brands, while strengthening our position in existing markets.”

“We could not be more excited to partner with Jochen, André, Daniel and the entire FlixMobility team,” said John Doran, General Partner at TCV. “We have been following their success for a number of years, and greatly admire what they have been able to achieve over this time. TCV’s strategy is to back companies led by visionary founders and offering superb value propositions to its customers and partners – we believe FlixMobility does exactly that.”

“We are very excited to join the ride with FlixMobility and its founders in the future. They have written an impressive success story and transformed the company into a leading global mobility platform for mid-and-long distance travel. With our proven expertise in the technology sector, we look forward to supporting FlixMobility’s strong management team in the next phase of the growth strategy focusing on further internationalization, acquisitions and the expansion of the train offering”, said Stefan Dziarski, Partner at Permira. “With the investment in FlixMobility, the Permira funds underline their position as one of the largest technology investors in Europe. FlixMobility – with its high growth rates and global footprint – is a perfect fit for the new Permira Growth Opportunities Fund, focusing on larger minority investments in our core areas of expertise.”

Both John Doran, General Partner at TCV, and Stefan Dziarski, Partner at Permira, will join FlixMobility’s Board of Directors.

From German Startup to World-Leading Mobility Player
Revolutionizing European long-distance travel since 2013, FlixMobility is a provider of convenient and affordable intercity travel to millions of passengers, with 45 million people using FlixBus and FlixTrain in 2018 alone, through 350,000 daily connections to over 2,000 destinations. FlixMobility is the undisputed market leader across Europe and expanded to the US in 2018 for service to a total of 29 countries. The company works with more than 300 independent bus and train partners and has created over 10,000 jobs in the industry.

In 2018, FlixTrain was launched, bringing the FlixBus model to the rail industry in Germany. In 2019, the company also applied for rail tracks in Sweden and France in preparation of expanding FlixTrain with the upcoming liberalization of the European railway.

Approximately 1,300 employees work for FlixBus and FlixTrain within 19 offices in 17 countries. By working with employees on the ground within FlixBus markets, the company is able to consistently adapt to both the market and local customer needs.

Options for Every Traveler: The Launch of FlixCar

With FlixBus and FlixTrain, FlixMobility offers an ever-expanding and integrated network, enabling people to plan flexible and customizable journeys. In an effort to bring smart and green mobility to even more people – and to offer even more door-to-door connections – FlixMobility is preparing the launch of FlixCar, a car-pooling service perfectly suited to expand the network offering to even more destinations.

“From the very beginning, we have positioned ourselves not as a bus or transportation company, but rather a mobility provider: we offer smart, affordable and climate friendly travel, whether by bus, train or – soon – ride sharing,” said Engert. “FlixCar is a logical next step in extending our network so that we can enable even more people to experience the world. On average, the occupancy rate for cars is a mere 1.5. Ride sharing is a great way to split fuel costs and lower your impact on the climate.”

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Brittany Posey, FlixBus
brittany.posey@flixbus.com
+49 (0)89 235 135 132

Katja Gagen, TCV
kgagen@tcv.com
+1 (415) 690 6689

About FlixMobility

FlixMobility is a young mobility provider, offering new alternatives for convenient, affordable and environmentally-friendly travel via the FlixBus and FlixTrain brands. Thanks to a unique business model and innovative technology, the startup has quickly established Europe’s largest long-distance bus network and launched the first green long-distance trains in 2018 as well as a pilot project for all-electric buses in Germany and France. Since 2013, FlixMobility has changed the way over 100 million people have traveled throughout Europe and created thousands of new jobs in the mobility industry. In 2018, FlixMobility launched FlixBus USA to bring this new travel alternative to the United States.

From locations throughout Europe and the United States, the FlixTeam handles technology development, network planning, operations control, marketing & sales, quality management and continuous product expansion. The daily scheduled service and green FlixBus fleet is managed by bus partners from regional SMEs, while FlixTrain operates in cooperation with private train companies. Through these partnerships, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and a strong international brand meet the experience and quality of tradition. The unique combination of technology start-up, e-commerce platform and classic transport company has positioned FlixMobility as a leader against major international corporations, permanently changing the European mobility landscape. Further company news and pictures can be found in the newsroom.


About TCV

Founded in 1995, TCV provides capital to growth-stage private and public companies in the technology industry. Since inception, TCV has invested over $11 billion in more than 250 companies and has helped guide CEOs through more than 120 IPOs and strategic acquisitions. TCV has deployed over $1.5 billion in Europe. TCV’s investments include Airbnb, Believe Digital, Dollar Shave Club, EmbanetCompass, ExactTarget, Expedia, Facebook, Fandango, GoDaddy, HomeAway, LinkedIn, Netflix, RELEX Solutions, Rent the Runway, Sitecore, Splunk, Spotify, Sportradar, The Pracuj Group, TourRadar, WorldRemit, and Zillow. TCV is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, with offices in New York and London. For more information about TCV, including a complete list of TCV investments, visit https://www.tcv.com.


Tastytrade interview with Chuck Davis of Prodege | Bootstrapping in America

From starting a football newsletter as a teenager that led to an internship with the NFL, to pioneering e-commerce at The Walt Disney Company and leading Fandango and Shopzilla.com as CEO, Chuck Davis has great stories and valuable lessons to share.

Chuck Davis is the CEO & Chairman of Prodege, an internet and media company that is dedicated to “creating rewarding moments” for its members by rewarding them with more than $700 million in cash and free gift cards since inception.

Prodege is the parent company of consumer rewards platform Swagbucks and InboxDollars and cash-back shopping sites MyPoints and ShopAtHome which has awarded over $700 million to its members.

Hear more about Chuck’s journey on this video interview for tastytrade‘s “Bootstrapping in America” episode, hosted by Tom Sosnoff & Tony Battista.

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Chuck Davis is a Venture Partner at TCV. Prodege and tastytrade are TCV portfolio companies. Fandango was a TCV portfolio company.

The views and opinions expressed in the blog post above are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). 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, 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 document, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.



Reshaping Online Travel and Surpassing AU$100M ARR From Sydney

Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly on innovation. Great entrepreneurs are everywhere, and we have seen a strong software ecosystem emerging from Australia and New Zealand.

We recently profiled Rod Drury’s Xero journey building a global platform out of New Zealand. Meanwhile, another TCV company, SiteMinder, just reached an important milestone of AU$100 million ARR.

SiteMinder has methodically built a global SaaS leader in hospitality out of Sydney, Australia. Coupled with its impressive revenue milestone, SiteMinder has 35,000 hotel customers in 160 countries and is reshaping the hotel distribution value chain and online travel, itself.

TCV’s Dave Yuan caught up with founder Mike Ford to reflect on his journey.

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Dave: Congratulations, Mike! Hard to believe you’ve grown SiteMinder to AU$100 million ARR. That’s an incredible milestone and a great foundation for things to come, but let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about yourself and how you got here.

Mike: I always had an interest in technology and commerce, having majored in both. This led me to consulting, where I worked on large business intelligence projects for the likes of SABMiller, AngloGold Ashanti, and Chase Bank, bridging technology teams with executive management and getting a good grounding in both disciplines. Being passionate about travel, I embarked on a year-long backpacking adventure in 2000 before I arrived in Australia and took on a three-month contract with a health technology startup to fund further travel. In 2006, I founded SiteMinder, and I am still in Sydney 18 years on, so, clearly, my adventures didn’t work out as expected!

Dave: Tell us about the SiteMinder creation story. What was the original insight? When did you know you had an idea good enough to quit your day job?

Mike: I didn’t quit outright and that was key. I consulted for my then-employer, two days a week, in order to fund the early months.

There were two major influences that led me to take the leap.

The first was the health tech startup I was working at. They were digitising paper-based claims sent from hospitals to medical funds for reimbursement, as paper-based claiming involved a long payment and reimbursement cycle. For hospitals, the digitisation of claims meant instant delivery, faster reimbursement, and a clear digital trail. At the core of the engine was a switch that converted data from different hospital systems into formats digestible by different medical fund systems.

The second influence was an investment I’d made in an accommodation business. Through that, I learned how hotel and other accommodation sales were rapidly moving away from traditional channels, such as wholesalers and brick-and-mortar travel agents, to online booking sites as travellers were increasingly turning to the internet to make their reservations. The shift in consumer behaviour drove a proliferation of last-minute booking sites in Australia at the time, such as Wotif.com and lastminute.com.au, which promised huge discounts if you booked close to the date of your stay. The issue for hoteliers was there was no means of centrally managing all of those websites and keeping their room rates and availability continuously up to date on each. So, they often chose to list on only one or two sites and miss out on others because they couldn’t manage them at scale.

I quickly realised that if I could connect hotel systems with different online channels, as I did in the medical funds world, I could synchronise hotel room rates and availability in real time. For hoteliers, the value proposition was they could get more rooms onto more booking sites to grow their reach online. At the same time, they could reduce overbookings and the operational overhead of manually inputting reservations. That value proposition helped us get a strong foothold quickly in the market.

Dave: What was it like to start a company out of Sydney?         

Mike: We were actually very fortunate to be in Sydney. As with banking and payments technologies, Australia was far ahead in terms of technological innovation in online travel. Where other markets weren’t yet embracing dynamic room rates and availability, there were many booking sites in Australia available for hotels to list on. The multitude of sites, combined with the sheer number of hotels out there, especially independent hotels, meant that conditions were ideal for our entry into the market.

Funding was a big challenge as the technology venture market was very underdeveloped relative to what it is today. The government in Australia also had a myopic attitude to how important tech and STEM jobs were to the future of the economy, so tech startups got very little support in terms of R&D benefits, and sadly that hasn’t changed. In spite of these challenges, more than 80% of our revenue now comes from overseas markets. We are a truly global business that has kept its roots deeply in the city of Sydney where it all started.

Dave: You’ve scaled past AU$100 million ARR. Was it all smooth sailing from there, or were there big doubts and moments of near death?

Mike: In the early days, moments of doubts may have been around survival. Later, they were more focused on growth or new market entry, but they’ve never quite ceased, and I suspect it’s no different for any founder.

If ever there was a near-death experience, it would’ve been pre-angel investment, when I was funding the business and paying my co-founder out of my own savings. On top of that, we learned a competitor was launching a month before us, and they had AU$100 million in funds and an existing product. We had AU$180,000 and a beta release. It was nearly a no-go decision, but I’m pretty stubborn and so we took them on, and they soon went bankrupt.

Dave: What were the big decisions along the way?

Mike: Very important decisions included:

  1. Who we were going to take money from and bring on to our board of directors. We turned down early interest from numerous VCs purely on the first meeting dynamic.
  2. Whether we were going to go global or dominate locally, and what the timing would be.
  3. What not to chase. There are so many opportunities, and you can lose focus quickly unless you’re very clear about what you are and are willing to let go of opportunities that may seem attractive but don’t provide long-term benefits.

Additionally, the most crucial decisions involve the people you choose for the journey and the timing of bringing on key talent. The outlook of a founding CEO, certainly in the formative years, can differ substantially from those of a professional CEO. As a founding CEO, you have grown the team and the business from nothing. You have loyal, committed, and talented individuals who have helped you get the business to a particular stage so the company culture is more familial. Yet, through high growth, it’s hard to stay on top of skills and challenges across the business, and you may find yourself in a situation where you either don’t recognise that such deficiencies exist, or you don’t take appropriate measures quickly enough to address them. Over time, you get better at identifying the skills you need for the future, ahead of the curve.

Dave: How has SiteMinder succeeded in a field that has gotten so much competitive attention?

Mike: I think the definition of success is different for everyone. There are many travel tech companies that I would consider successful, even if they may not all have the size and growth trajectory of SiteMinder.

It sounds cliché, but it comes down to the deliberate process of ensuring many ingredients come together in the right way, at the right time, and in the right sequence. We’ve had a focused and smart go-to-market strategy, plus we over-indexed on personalised support for our customers and doubled down on localising our products and service for many different countries. We’ve invested in strong operational centres around the globe to provide true round-the-clock sales and customer service, and we’ve hired smart people. I could go on, but at our core we are product-driven and customer-obsessed. That permeates our culture and is key. Even if your product is average, you can have early success if your sales and marketing are great. In the long run, you can only continue your success if your product is truly market leading.

Dave: As you look forward, what are the big opportunities for hoteliers? How might this translate into benefits for the consumer and traveller?

Mike: Many hoteliers are still stuck in their traditional ways and aren’t open to the possibilities that technology can offer in making a world of difference. This does vary between hotel segments such as independent versus chain, full service versus limited service, regional versus city, and even by country. The vast majority of hoteliers still struggle to navigate the changing online landscape and are overwhelmed by the extent of the choice out there.

It’s for this reason that we’ve created an ecosystem, not just of our own technology, but of all other technology players that can help hoteliers navigate the online world in search of guests. If hoteliers can connect with customers at every touchpoint throughout their buying journey, they can ultimately create greater guest experiences long before those guests set foot in their lobby and long thereafter.

Dave: If SiteMinder fulfills its mission, what role can it play in the changing online travel ecosystem?

Mike: SiteMinder currently connects to 700+ partners within the travel ecosystem, so hoteliers can hook everything they need into their property management system and harness the power of integration, openness, and choice. Essentially, our platform is the most comprehensive and effective way for hoteliers to bring guests to their hotels, without having to think about or manage technology. It gives them more time to spend on the guest experience, which is the part they really enjoy.

If hoteliers can choose any best-of-breed solution to optimise their opportunities in acquiring guests in an increasingly online-driven world, we’re doing our job.

We also play a big role in the value chain in online accommodation, specifically the supply equation, by connecting hotel room rates and availability in real time to points-of-sale such as booking sites. We enable those booking sites to gain traction in core markets, where they otherwise can’t access a supply of rooms to sell.

There have been middlemen aggregators in the past that have rolled up supply for booking sites yet we connect the room supply directly to booking sites or room demand sources, so there is no ticket clipping and dilution of margin between the supplier (the hotel) and the seller (the booking site). In doing so, we have streamlined the supply chain for hotel rooms, rates, and content.

Dave: SiteMinder’s opportunity is also unique as a SaaS company. Vertical SaaS is seeing a renaissance with SaaS companies taking on platform and network characteristics, meaning “SaaS as a Platform”. What does SiteMinder look like as a SaaS business model over time?

Mike: We started out with a distribution platform for hotels. Over time, we recognised the importance of the direct sales channel and expanded our platform to integrate a hotel’s own website, so they could manage both their indirect and direct sales channels.

Over the years we’ve designed our platform to be more proactive and have powered it with business intelligence that steers our customers and makes them aware of opportunities to improve their hotel business. For example, our platform makes hoteliers aware of changes in market conditions or demand, so they can maximise their guest acquisition capabilities in a rapidly evolving online landscape.

The next evolution is really exciting. We recognise that there are many great applications and tools out there for hoteliers, and they can all improve a hotel’s guest acquisition strategy. These may be upselling tools, airport transfer services or activity bookings, revenue management systems or anything in between. We know that one company will never build the best of all these things. Our brand essence has always been one of openness, so we’ve developed a way to seamlessly link a hotel’s property management system to all the different applications. In doing this, our customers will be able to use all the best-of-breed applications available out there in combination with our own platform. If we are successful in this endeavour, we will have the most open and connected platform the hotel industry has seen, with the greatest number of hotel participants (we already have 35,000 today).

Dave: Outside of SiteMinder, what in online travel gets you excited?

Mike: One important shift is the rise of tours and activities moving increasingly to online with dynamic inventory and pricing. Driving this is people’s desire to seek experiences, not just flights and accommodation. We’re seeing increasing demand among consumers to package their accommodation, services and ancillaries, so they can get the best experience out of their accommodation and the local destination.

Somewhat tangential is the rise of personalisation. For a more personalised experience, including destination advice, many travellers still use a brick-and-mortar travel agent to plan their trip. That said, we’re also seeing the growing dominance of online booking sites. Alone, neither of these options is ideal for at least one segment of the leisure travel market, so I think we will increasingly see hybrids where booking sites get better at offering deeper, more human advice and personalised service. This may even include speaking to a local human expert when booking online. We are already starting to see signs of that happening now.

There are also relatively new entrants like Google making a wave in the space with disruptive models that are attractive to hoteliers. I think the race is on for OTAs to create a seamless end-to-end experience for the consumer, including research and advice, flights, hotels, car hire, transfers, in-destination activities and experiences, restaurants and everything in between.

Dave: Thanks so much, Mike, and congratulations again! AU$100 million ARR is an amazing milestone that only a few reach. Savour it!

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The statements, 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 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, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at
https://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


NVCA Member Spotlight: TCV

Tell us about your firm. What makes TCV different?

CEOs and Founders tell us how TCV stands out for them: the depth of our knowledge in their particular industry and technology. When we identify a compelling technology trend, we take the time to thoroughly understand the underlying drivers, business model, and competitive environment. Having a developed perspective means we can have much more meaningful conversations about a company’s business and growth opportunities.


Where did the firm’s name come from?

We were founded in 1995 and were originally named Technology Crossover Ventures. “Crossover” means that we’re equally comfortable making both private and public investments, and that we help companies evolve from private to public ownership. Many CEOs appreciate a firm who can be a capital partner at multiple stages of their company’s evolution. For example, we invested multiple times in Netflix as a private company, and continued to support them as an investor after their IPO. Our original investment in the company was 20 years ago, and we continue to be investors today. Over the past 24 years, we’ve had more than 60 IPOs in our portfolio and we bring that experience to every new investment.  

What defines your portfolio?

We look to partner with companies that have already established a leadership position in their market and are looking to succeed at an even greater scale. This typically means that a company has been growing for several years – with a history of delighting customers, an economic model that is reflective of the value they provide, and an opportunity to scale the business in the future.

How is the firm different today than when you first started?

Today’s technology market is much bigger than it was in 1995, and today TCV is also much bigger than in 1995. During the past 24 years, we’ve invested in hundreds of companies and evaluated thousands more, so our knowledge base, experience, and network has expanded dramatically. Because of that, we’re in a better position today to help companies scale smarter and faster.

Why is TCV a part of NVCA?

We are a collaborative firm, so being part of our own industry association is a natural fit. TCV was a founding member of the NVCA Growth Equity Group (GEG). Through our direct involvement on NVCA committees and task forces, we have witnessed first-hand how the NVCA works as an advocate for entrepreneurs as well as investors.

Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography/region.

We have offices in Menlo Park, NYC, and London. While our geographic focus has generally been focused on companies headquartered in North America and Europe, most of our portfolio companies are – or are seeking to be – global leaders regardless of where “home base” is. Today, executives are building great companies everywhere, not just in the traditional technology hubs like the Bay Area, Boston, or New York. So we’re increasingly focused on finding the best companies regardless of where they are located.

What’s ahead for your firm in 2019?

Looking outward, we see more great technology companies and talented entrepreneurs than ever before. We recently began investing out of TCV X, a $3 billion fund, and are excited about the portfolio we’re assembling for that fund. Looking inward, we’re focused on making TCV an even better platform for the world’s best technology investors. We continue to grow our organization and provide a compelling career path for investors who can partner with the world’s best technology companies and deliver exceptional returns for our Limited Partners.

Describe your firm’s culture in 5 words or less

“Helping others succeed.” Internally, this means each of us are accountable for the success of the entire TCV team, and each of us are expected to actively support our colleagues. Externally, we all have the ability – and responsibility – to bring the capabilities of the entire firm to our portfolio companies and give them the best TCV has to offer.

About TCV

Founded in 1995, TCV provides capital to growth-stage private and public companies in the technology industry. Since inception, TCV has invested over $10 billion in leading technology companies and has helped guide CEOs through more than 115 IPOs and strategic acquisitions. TCV’s investments include Airbnb, AxiomSL, Dollar Shave Club, EmbanetCompass, ExactTarget, Facebook, Fandango, GoDaddy, LinkedIn, Netflix, Rent the Runway, Splunk, Spotify, Varsity Tutors, and Zillow. TCV is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, with offices in New York and London. For more information about TCV, including a complete list of TCV investments, visit www.tcv.com.

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The views and opinions expressed in the post above are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). This 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, 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 document, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.

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Woody Marshall on The Twenty Minute VC!

Check out Harry Stebbing’s latest podcast with TCV General Partner Woody Marshall.

 

 

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The statements, 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 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 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, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Developing Narrative to Compel Action and Drive Results

nar·ra·tive

noun

  1. A spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

 What separates companies that move quickly towards a common goal from those that struggle to find unity? Why is it that some teams can routinely find a second, third, or fourth gear of execution? How do people who start with divergent objectives find common ground? Perhaps most importantly, why are some leaders successfully plug-and-play no matter what technical problem, cultural issue, or market challenge they are tasked with addressing?

In my last post on “Hiring for Leaders”, I talked about how you can both screen for and cultivate leadership qualities as your company scales. These qualities include taking positions, creating environments where multiple perspectives are acknowledged, and being adaptable. In this post I’ll build on that framework to discuss narrative – a critically important concept that is talked about often but still remains confusing for many people in business.

 

Why Is Narrative So Important?

During my time at Facebook and Pinterest, I noticed one element that drove successful outcomes: the connection between people and company objectives. This connection can take different forms: intuitively understanding the why of what people were tasked with, linking personal goals with company goals, creating less friction with other teams, and being resilient in the face of obstacles. The differentiator in all of this was the construction and delivery of a narrative.

Narrative creates the ability to connect people to your company and your company mission and drive collective action. The corollary to this deceptively simple statement is that narrative is not one thing – it’s not just a story. Narrative binds individuals to a living set of company attributes.

The following tenets are core to creating a compelling narrative.

 

Establish Clear Mission and Vision Statements

 You can think about the mission and vision as the why and the how. Both are critical to any organization, large or small, because they become the scaffolding for how teams construct their roadmaps and how leadership talks about them.

At Pinterest, the mission was to help people discover and do the things that they love. As our technology advanced and our customers engaged with it more fully, our vision of how Pinterest could change the world also changed. This taught me that while the vision of a future outcome may not stay the same, the mission – the why – should remain stable. It’s the foundation for how people and teams answer the “Why are we doing this?” questions that naturally arise. Changing the mission can create confusion about priorities.

Make sure every team creates a mission and vision statement for the work that they do. You may call it a scope doc, a PRD, MRD, or something else entirely. But if the mission doesn’t answer why people are working on something, and the vision doesn’t show how that work changes things for customers and the company, it’s difficult for people to understand why and how their work is helping the company achieve its objectives.

 

Develop Long-Term Roadmaps

A roadmap is a narrative about where you’re going and what happens along the way. Push your teams to create three-year roadmaps. Acknowledge that the value in the exercise is not the accuracy with which teams can predict the future, but rather the exercise itself.

Teams with a roadmap for the future end up moving faster because they have already envisioned a journey in the process of creating the roadmap. They’re not disoriented when the real road turns or twists, because they already foresaw and prepared for some of them – and anticipated that there might be a few surprises along the way. That in turn alleviates the level of oversight and explanation that leaders need to provide, because their teams are advancing within a larger, more longitudinal comfort zone.

In creating the roadmap, aim to resolve it to a vision statement. This should be a 1+1=3 exercise where individual functions intersect and combine to create an even more powerful outcome. The company vision should be a leading indicator of what teams should strive to accomplish.

A good way of thinking about this at the team level or even division level is to break out into thematic areas and assign varying levels of confidence in the work. Those confidence levels will decrease the further you get out into the future.

Even if the technology you envision doesn’t exist, writing down the roadmap is a helpful exercise to plotting out an initial path.

 

Measure Everything

Everything is measurable, but not everything can be measured in the same way. Create space for teams to define their metrics so that their output can be measured in ways that are meaningful. These metrics naturally generate narratives about how to meet or exceed them. They become a source of ongoing conversation within teams and between teams: Do we have the right metrics for meeting company objectives? Should we adjust them for technology or customer behavior? Do our metrics mesh with our mission and vision?

When these conversations take place, people feel naturally connected to the company and its goals. This process is so powerful that it’s essential to make sure that all the team-level metrics ladder up to company-level objectives. You don’t want people embracing their metrics (and their roadmap) and then arriving someplace the company did not want them to go.

You also need to ensure that team roadmaps do not collide and create conflict. If they do, reflect on each team independently and try to assess how it moves the company forward towards its top-level goals. If one team comes out on top, talk to the other team in the conflict about how they could adjust their roadmap and still achieve their goals and the company’s goals.

Know that there will always be trade-offs to make, and that your job as a leader is to create the narrative that keeps teams informed, aligned, and excited.

 

Create Cross-Functional Narrative Forums

Often as companies grow quickly, the first thing to go out the window is inter-team communication on strategy and goals. This can lead to misalignments, political posturing regarding resources, and management attrition. A great way to prevent this is to create regular forums for your leadership team to sit together and explain to one another what they are doing and why. You’re not asking them to justify their existence or run their numbers. You’re asking them to tell everyone else a narrative about their mission, vision and roadmap, and how the journey is progressing.

Smart leaders will bring a narrative that is tightly aligned with what they hear from their teams. It also gives the narrative “legs” for traveling across the entire enterprise – something that is otherwise rare.

Getting team-level narratives elevated to the leadership level, across functions, accomplishes a number of positive outcomes. First, it creates empathy among and within the leadership team about other team members’ goals, challenges and objectives. During resourcing conflicts, you want leadership team members to be able to advocate just as empathically for another team as they would for their own.

Second, it forces understanding. Anytime you have to tell a good story, you have to understand that story far better than the people you are delivering it to. The requirement to share your team’s story with other leaders forces you to master that narrative. Detailed work has to be distilled down to essentials. Technical complexity has to become clarity. Acronyms disappear, replaced by meaningful, memorable terms. Just the process of preparing a narrative about your team can help you spot work that is not truly aligned with company objectives.

Third, delivering cross-function narratives establishes trust at the inter-team level. Putting leaders in a position to explain to their teams why other teams are doing what they are, or why a trade-off decision went against them, establishes an authentic authority.

Story Time

The most successful teams have leaders that can weave a story using the foundations described above and connect it at various altitudes throughout the company. Driving board alignment around a strategic shift isn’t that different than getting your ops teams to the same place. It’s about creating shared understanding that drives people’s internal connection to the company’s goals.

Metrics, technologies and quantitative goals are important for any business to succeed. But without a narrative that makes people own them, they’re just components of a machine without a soul.

###

 

Jonathan Shottan is an Executive-in-Residence at TCV.

The views and opinions expressed in the blog post above are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). 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, 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 document, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Peloton Announces $550M In Series F Funding Led By TCV

NEW YORKAug. 3, 2018 — Peloton, the global fitness technology company, today announced a $550 million Series F financing round; capital that will enable it to continue to innovate aggressively and to expand into more international markets. The round is led by TCV, one of the world’s largest technology growth equity firms. Nearly all of Peloton’s existing institutional investors, including Tiger Global, True Ventures, Wellington Management, Fidelity (FMRCo), NBCUniversal, Kleiner Perkins and Balyasny participated in this round, joined by new investors, including Felix Capital, Winslow Capital and other mutual fund partners.

Jay Hoag, Founding General Partner of TCV, who also serves on the board of Netflix, Electronic Arts, Zillow, and other prominent technology companies, will join the Peloton Board of Directors. He joins TCV Venture Partner Erik Blachford, who has been on Peloton’s board since 2015.

“We are truly honored to partner with TCV and with Jay Hoag personally,” said John Foley, founder and CEO of Peloton. “TCV’s reputation, experience, and involvement in businesses like Netflix, Spotify and Facebook will be invaluable as we build Peloton into one of the most unique and influential global consumer product and media companies of our day.”

“We look for companies that offer their consumers a great value proposition, have engaged and delighted customers, and are led by visionary CEOs who have built a world-class management team,” said TCV’s Founding General Partner Jay Hoag. “We found all of these characteristics in Peloton and look forward to working with John and the entire team on their journey to revolutionize the home fitness category.”

The $550M Series F round brings the total equity raised by Peloton to nearly $1B since its inception, and positions Peloton to take full advantage of the growing global trend of instructor-led fitness classes moving into the home.

Since its last round of funding, Peloton has seen rapid growth across several key areas and is preparing to launch several new initiatives, including the following:

  • Global Expansion: This fall, the Peloton Bike will launch in the UK and Canada, marking the brand’s first new markets outside the US.
  • Retail Presence: Peloton plans to open at least 20 new retail showrooms in the US, UK and Canada by early 2019, bringing its total number of locations to more than 60 worldwide.
  • Peloton Tread: The company will launch its highly-anticipated second product, the Peloton Tread, this fall. Hundreds of running, walking, bootcamp and strength classes have already been produced in Peloton’s Tread Studio, which opened in New York’s West Village in May 2018.
  • Peloton Digital: Peloton recently introduced a new digital membership that offers over 10,000 live and on-demand, instructor-led classes across several fitness categories, such as cycling, running, walking, bootcamp, strength, stretching and yoga, for under $20/month.
  • Real Estate Footprint: Peloton announced plans to open a 25,000+ square foot campus in Plano, TX, which will serve as its member support hub, and Peloton Studios, a 35,000+ square foot, state-of-the-art flagship studio complex at Brookfield’s Manhattan West development in New York City. This new fitness facility will house Peloton’s broadcast and production operations and multiple studios from which thousands of group fitness classes will be hosted and live streamed for the Peloton Bike, Peloton Tread and Peloton Digital.

J.P. Morgan served as the sole placement agent to Peloton on the transaction.

The financing will be used for general corporate purposes, including providing liquidity to certain existing shareholders, and is scheduled to close in the third calendar quarter, subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals.

About Peloton

Founded in 2012, Peloton is reinventing fitness by bringing live and on-demand boutique-style studio classes to the convenience and comfort of your own home. Our immersive fitness content, taught by Peloton’s roster of elite instructors, features real-time motivation and curated playlists of your favorite artists. The Peloton experience can be accessed through the Peloton Bike, the Peloton Tread, or Peloton Digital, an iOS app that offers an all-access pass to a full slate of fitness offerings, anytime, anywhere. Peloton is changing the way people get fit through a comprehensive and socially connected experience that makes every workout both efficient and addictive. The company has a growing number of retail showrooms across the US and, starting this fall, will launch in the UK and Canada. For more information, visit www.onepeloton.com.

About TCV

Founded in 1995, TCV provides capital to growth-stage private and public companies in the technology industry. Since inception, TCV has invested over $10 billion in leading technology companies and has helped guide CEOs through more than 115 IPOs and strategic acquisitions. Investments include Airbnb, Altiris, AxiomSL, Believe Digital, Dollar Shave Club, EtQ, ExactTarget, Expedia, Facebook, Fandango, GoDaddy, HomeAway, LinkedIn, Netflix, Rent the Runway, Sitecore, Splunk, Spotify, TourRadar, Varsity Tutors, and Zillow. TCV is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, with offices in New York and London. For more information about TCV, including a complete list of TCV investments, visit www.tcv.com.

Media Contacts: 

Jessica Kleiman, (646) 829-1633, jkleiman@onepeloton.com 

Katja Gagen, (415) 690-6689, kgagen@tcv.com

SOURCE Peloton

Related Links

http://www.onepeloton.com


TourRadar, #1 Online Travel Agency for Multi-Day Tours, Announces US$50M Series C Funding Round Led by TCV

VIENNA & TORONTO & BRISBANE, Australia — TourRadar, the largest OTA in the multi-day touring market, announced today a US$50m Series C, marking the largest tech funding in Austria in 2018. The round is led by TCV with existing investors Cherry Ventures, Endeit Capital, Hoxton Ventures and Speedinvest. TCV is one of the largest providers of capital to growth-stage private and public companies in the technology industry backing industry-leading companies including companies including Airbnb, Expedia, HomeAway, Netflix, SiteMinder, Spotify, and Zillow.

In connection with the funding, Erik Blachford, a venture partner at TCV and previously President and CEO of IAC Travel, has joined TourRadar’s supervisory board.

TourRadar intends to use the funding to expand its team globally and will invest in the technology platform to provide a personalized user experience for customers in new and existing source markets.

TourRadar markets multi-day tour and river cruising experiences from over 600 operators globally serving well-known and hundreds of specialty operators that otherwise rely on local agents. TourRadar supports operator partners through instant bookability, tour review functionality and campaigns including World Touring Day.

Founded in 2010, TourRadar has grown rapidly by providing consumers with easy access to the fast-growing multi-day tour category, with a total addressable market value estimated at $55 billion. Travelers of all ages are increasingly seeking authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences when they travel, and TourRadar offers more than 25,000 tours in 200 countries on its platform.

TourRadar was founded by brothers Travis and Shawn Pittman, both native Australians. Travis, an engineer, is TourRadar’s Vienna-based CEO. Shawn, the company’s CFO, came from a successful career in investing. Both are avid travelers with many countries on their travel résumés, and a vision of connecting people to life-enriching travel experiences through multi-day touring.

“The experience and knowledge in the online travel sector that Erik Blachford and TCV bring to the table is exactly what we were looking for as we embark on this exciting next chapter at TourRadar,” said Travis Pittman, CEO and co-founder at TourRadar. “This stage will well and truly bring our vision to life and we’re excited to do this with their guidance.”

“Multi-day tours are the last frontier in online travel,” said Erik Blachford, a venture partner at TCV and former CEO at Expedia. “TourRadar has staked a claim, and I am looking forward to helping Travis and the team realize their vision.”

“We are thrilled to partner with Travis and the TourRadar team,” said John Doran, general partner at TCV. “We have been continually impressed with their unrivalled passion for travel and their vision to inspire the global travel community with the most convenient way to access the broadest choice of authentic multi-day tours across the world. We are delighted that Erik Blachford will join the board and look forward to supporting the entire team as they continue to build their business.”

For further information head to www.tourradar.com/press or contact:

About TourRadar

Based in Vienna (Austria) with service centers in Brisbane and Toronto, TourRadar is the world’s largest online travel agency for multi-day tours. For more information visit https://www.tourradar.com. In 2017, TourRadar was named one of the top three startups in Austria by Trend Magazine. TourRadar is looking for talent to join their team: https://www.tourradar.com/careers.

About TCV

Founded in 1995, TCV provides capital to growth-stage private and public companies in the technology industry. Since inception, TCV has invested over $10 billion in leading technology companies and has helped guide CEOs through more than 115 IPOs and strategic acquisitions. TCV’s investments include Airbnb, Altiris, AxiomSL, Dollar Shave Club, EmbanetCompass, EtQ, ExactTarget, Expedia, Facebook, Fandango, GoDaddy, HomeAway, LinkedIn, Netflix, OSIsoft, Rent the Runway, Sitecore, Splunk, Spotify, Varsity Tutors, and Zillow. TCV is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, with offices in New York and London. For more information about TCV, including a complete list of TCV investments, visit https://www.tcv.com/.

Contacts

TourRadar
Katie Stanwyck, +1-416-660-4659
katie@tourradar.com
or
TCV
Katja Gagen, +1 415-690-6689
kgagen@tcv.com


Hiring for Leaders: Your Company Won’t Scale if the Leaders Can’t

By Jonathan Shottan

Companies that scale quickly share many of the same problems. Institutional knowledge becomes fragmented or lost as people leave. Decision-making authority changes or becomes opaque. New cultural norms are developed. Personality conflicts arise as the old guard and new guard merge. Collaboration becomes even more essential, because almost everyone is involved in creating new functions and establishing new processes.

But if the conditions during scaling are similar, the results vary widely. Some companies thrive through it, while others struggle. I’ve seen both in my career, working at Pinterest, Facebook, and other startups, and cultural differences don’t explain it. Leadership does. There is universality to the qualities exhibited by the best leaders at successful companies. If you’re hiring or promoting from within during a period of high growth, these are the qualities that you can and should identify. Leaders with these qualities naturally maintain momentum, exceed their objectives, develop and attract top talent, and amplify the best aspects of your culture. They are best suited to thrive on constant change and they are instrumental in driving success for the organization. Colloquially, they are the 10Xers.

From my own personal experiences leading teams through scale at Pinterest, Facebook, and other startups, I’ve identified a set of three attributes to consider when vetting leaders during the hiring or promotion process:

  1. Leaders That Scale Take A Position…

What is it: Leaders who can scale companies successfully know how to take a position. I know it sounds simple, but not everyone can do it – especially during times of pressure. A position is an informed stance amid a swirl of uncertainty, which galvanizes others to understand it, respond to it, and imagine how it would work. As such, it speeds the organization toward decisions and action.

Why is it Important: A position is not an opinion, because everyone has plenty of those. A position is also not a point of view because again, everyone has a perspective from which they view the world. A position is a singular proposal for addressing a particular issue. In taking a position, you may actually diverge from your own opinion or perspective, in order to take a position that’s more provocative and therefore more productive. Taking a position creates urgency and gets the conversation moving toward an agreement on next steps.

This is critical because as organizations grow, people can get stuck in paralysis by analysis. They’re not sure of their status yet. They may be afraid of making the wrong decision, or making the right decision, but in the wrong way for the culture they find themselves in.

Leaders who take a position dissolve all this. Though it may sound like a paradox, taking a strong position at the outset of a meeting is a unifying force, not a divider. Everyone else now shares the same task: testing the position, modifying it, figuring out whether and how it would work. It’s easy to focus because a hodgepodge of opinions and questions has been replaced by a proposed solution. Even if the stance is only a straw man, it sparks a productive conversation. And if the position becomes a North Star that everyone can navigate by, you’ve just taken a great leap forward.

How to Hire or Promote for it: First of all, you want candidates with a wide range of knowledge and interests, not superficially, but down to details. These people tend to be polymaths. They are familiar with a wide range of fields, technologies, cultures, and customers, and they can see the big picture intuitively. They can also explain it from multiple angles. They love to share their data or historical knowledge if it will enlighten or empower others. Typically, they can formulate their position as they walk into a room, because that’s how their minds work: synthesizing many factors into one proposition and pitching that proposition at the right level for others to understand and react to.

During the interview pick a big hairy sector, such as transportation or education, and ask the candidate “How do you think this sector will change in 10 years? In 50 years?” Ask about the candidate’s hobbies, pick the one you’re most familiar with, and ask the candidate to talk about it at length; you’re looking for what it says about them, their passion, and their personality. What was the last book they read? What is the next book they want to read? Do they play a musical instrument or a sport? Ask them to analyze the strategy of the organization they’re working for now, both pro and con, to see how many different perspectives they incorporate into their analysis.

  1. Leaders Don’t Get Stuck On A Position…

What is it: The second trait for leaders who scale is effortlessly moving off their own positions when the time is right. They do this because they understand that the position is a means to an end. If you’re familiar with the expression “strong opinions weakly held,” you understand this trait already. In many ways, it’s the flip side of the first trait. Strong opinions weakly held means that leaders readily evolve their positions in the face of new information or through an ability to read a room. They understand that a stronger position is forming – and this was the reason for taking a position in the first place.

Why is it Important: Why does this matter for scaling an organization? Because you need everyone to share their ideas, even if they’re shy. Being inclusive of thought accomplishes this. It also draws out sharper analysis from bolder or more informed members, because they trust that they’re not going to hit a wall if they voice partial or even complete disagreement with a leader’s opinion. Getting to a new, better, shared position makes everyone feel connected to the outcome. Now it’s time for action.

How to Hire or Promote for it: Testing for the ability to gracefully move off a position can be fun for you and the candidate. Before the interview, pose a real-world business problem within an area where you have lots of data but there are many ways to solve the problem. For example, if you’re at a ride-sharing company you could ask “How would you build a driver loyalty program?” Once the candidate states a position in the interview, begin to challenge it constructively, as if you were colleagues in a meeting. Probe for the thinking behind it. Share new data and see how they change their position. You’re not just looking to see if they’re open to revisiting their conclusions. You also want to see if they can continue to effectively articulate their position in the face of resistance — without getting stuck on it.

  1. Leaders Embrace the Outcome…and Adapt Appropriately

What is it: Unless you’re the CEO you don’t get to make the final decision most of the time. That’s when leaders need to have a third critical trait: they embrace the outcome of the conversation that just concluded. If the board decides to cut marketing hiring by 50%, the leader of the marketing department could respond in a variety of ways. The one you want is understanding and expressing the consequences of that decision to the department, in a constructive way.

Why is it Important: Psychologically, this leader has an innate ability to assume best intent. If a management decision goes against such individuals, or their organizations, they don’t take it personally. Quite the opposite, they default to a position that the people above them or around them share a vision for success and that the decision was necessary. Today is not forever, and marketing will be hiring again in the future. The focus now is making the current strategy succeed, rapidly. A good leader will take a positive, proactive position on how to do that.

This natural aptitude is an invisible bulwark against confusion and fatigue during times of rapid change and growth. Why? Because leaders with this trait are consistent in message, countenance, and style. When the environment is constantly changing, people look to their leaders. If the leaders are showing up as constructively positive in good times and bad, their teams will adapt a similar penchant for consistency and there will be fewer productivity troughs.

How to Hire or Promote for it: There are two approaches that can help you identify candidates who will naturally embrace an outcome, turn it positive, and lead their team to success with it. The first approach is to ask the individual to describe a time they disagreed with a boss or peer, and how they responded. You’re not looking for surface answers like “Of course I had to go along” or “I won.” You’re looking for the ways the candidate turned the adversity into opportunity – graciously.

The second approach is to actually put the candidate through adversity as part of the hiring process. If you gave them a homework assignment before the interview, change the terms before they can present their work. Substitute in an interviewer they didn’t expect to talk with. Pick something on their resume that could potentially be a deal-breaker and ask them to reframe it into a deal-maker instead. Again, you’re not looking for pat answers. You’re looking for the natural inclination to embrace what’s happening and turn it positive.

 

The Most Important Deliverable You Have

In my own career I came to realize that vetting for and then fostering leadership attributes on my teams was more important than any other deliverable I had. I am also aware that this knowledge can get crowded out when your company is on pace to grow 10X in two years, because you’ve got so many high-priority problems to solve. Fight the tendency. Sure, you don’t want to be distracted. But you still have to get leaders in place who can scale. Making this a priority benefited my teams tremendously. Individuals with the traits described above were resilient culture carriers who instilled confidence, trust, and good-will in the organizations they were involved with. They were best suited to manage constant change and rapid growth, and most responsible for the ultimate success of the organization.

###

Jonathan Shottan is an Executive-in-Residence at TCV.

The views and opinions expressed in the blog post above are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). 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, 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 document, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.

 


The Rise of Augmented Marketing: Q&A with Michelle Peluso

Michelle Peluso has spent the past two decades helping to forge a new relationship between people and technology. She started her first company, Site59, with a group of friends in 1999 and later sold it to Travelocity, where she served as CEO during the “roaming gnome” era. Peluso became an Executive Advisor to TCV before joining Citibank as Global Consumer Chief Marketing and Internet Officer responsible for the digital experience of the bank’s 100 million global customers. Peluso then took the helm at fashion pioneer Gilt, which she later sold to Hudson’s Bay Company. She became IBM’s first Chief Marketing Officer in 2016 — a move that highlights the transformation of marketing into a core corporate capability.

Still an Executive Advisor to TCV, Peluso remains committed to discovering how marketing can redefine relationships with customers, a transformation that requires curiosity, agility, innovation, persistence, and resilience. In this exclusive interview, Peluso discusses:

  • How the CMO’s role has changed in the last decade
  • Four trends that continue to revolutionize marketing
  • How the rise of ‘augmented marketing’ will challenge CMOs as never before

TCV: It’s widely acknowledged that there has never been a more challenging time to be a CMO. How have you seen the role change since you founded Site59 in 1999?

Peluso: It’s no wonder the average CMO tenure is only 2–3 years and has seen a drop over the past two decades. It’s a hard and incredibly dynamic role, as marketing has shifted from a thoughtful, functional discipline around creatively amplifying the company message to a much more dynamic, real-time, analytical  —  and creative  —  driver of client experience, revenue, and company performance. Expectations have never been higher for marketers, and the new seat they have at the table is an amazing opportunity for the best of them to grow and lead.

TCV: It’s easy to say all these changes have been driven by the rise of the internet. But there are several distinct trends that are reshaping marketing…

Peluso: Clearly four major shifts have shaped, and are shaping, how we can connect with customers, how we can analyze our effectiveness and drive results, and how we need to lead our respective organizations. First was the era of digital. For me, this was the beginning of the internet, making transactions and content interactive, convenient, and more personal. Then, we entered the era of social, which has been all about engagement and authenticity. Social toppled the notion of hierarchy and forced brands to think differently. Third, we have seen the era of mobile, which began with mastering the art of a smaller screen but evolved into much more as the focus has been about location and real-time and always-on engagement. These three eras have dramatically reshaped every industry while elevating the role of the individual, with far-reaching consequences.

TCV: That’s three…

Peluso: Right. We are now on the cusp of the era of cognitive learning, or as we call it at IBM: Augmented Intelligence (AI). We’re building fast and smart systems that understand vast amounts of unstructured information, such as natural language and imagery, recognize data patterns to create recommendations, continuously learn from these recommendations and many other sources of data, such as books, medical records, and conversations with humans and finally, interact with humans in a natural way. AI lets us better understand and engage with our customers; it enables us to make more precise bids on advertising and improve ROI across every dollar spent, and it will fundamentally shift the paradigm of how consumers interact with websites. Arguably, we are already starting to see this with new AI home devices and natural language interaction.

TCV: This new vision will require an entirely new way of doing things, which is a significant change for any company, much less for a massive organization like IBM. How does a CMO drive these kinds of changes within such an established framework?

Peluso: The cognitive change is no different than any other large-scale change management program. To be a cognitive company, you need to be clear about your mission  —  what challenges do you want to solve? What decisions do you most want to improve? You need to have the assets, which are all about your data sets but, even more, your team, marketers, developers, and data scientists. And, of course, you need the right tools. Companies new to AI should identify a handful of specific problems they want to address and apply AI tools to solving those problems. Then, repeat the process to address new challenges. This way, a corporation will see meaningful and measurable results as they evolve into a cognitive company. Patience is required. Companies must learn how to use AI, and these systems also require learning, so “training” the system is critical. It’s a classic crawl, walk, run.

TCV: How does this new approach to marketing change the way you look for and hire the right talent for ‘augmented marketing’?

The traditional marketing waterfall process  —  develop a creative idea, send it to advertising, media, and a CRM team, and then analyze results  —  can no longer keep up with the pace of the market today. I take a lot of inspiration from the Agile movement, which fundamentally reinvented the technology development process. At IBM, we’re applying Agile to our marketing function, and that means creating small empowered teams with the right skills, clear accountability, sprints, and a constant focus on prioritization. When you adopt Agile, you can see how different marketing becomes, and the emphasis it puts on hiring Agile teams that have a strong mix of creative, process, digital, and data science skills.

TCV: What role will marketers have in identifying and developing new technologies for the augmented marketing era? Or will that function remain within the realm of the IT department?

Peluso: AI is about man (or woman) AND machine. Users of all sorts, not just developers or CIOs, can use AI in small and big ways to help them solve the most difficult problems. That’s the promise, and we’re starting to see this at organizations all over the world. Marketers will play a critical role in how AI is developed and applied. One of the many things I learned while working with the TCV team and their companies is that it’s fundamentally important to be insatiably curious about technology because the most successful marketers are as analytically rigorous as they are creative.

***

The views and opinions expressed in this Q&A are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of TCV or its personnel. Executive Advisors are typically independent consultants who are not employees of TCV but have a strategic relationship with TCV and/or provide valuable advice or services to TCV and/or its portfolio companies. For additional important information regarding this post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” under the Terms of Use section of TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.