In every single venture investment I’m involved with here at NextView Ventures, I learn a lot from the Founders of their company. But in the particular case of our portfolio company TapCommerce, which yesterday announced its acquisition by Twitter a mere two years after the company’s founding (more details), there have been some key lessons which I’ll meaningfully take away from my experience in working with Brian Long, Samir Mirza, and Andrew Jones. First and most importantly, a huge congratulations goes to the three of them, as well as the entire TapCommerce team, in creating something truly special with a meaningful, asymmetric outcome is such a short amount of time.
So I thought that on the day after the announcement, it would be useful to share these lessons which they taught me that I believe have broader applicability to other startups:
- Find a team who really gels together. Of course you want the founding team to get along. That’s a given. But what bonds Brian, Samir, and Andrew is pretty awesome. Classmates at NYU B-school, these guys started with a friendship which served as the foundation for a strong working relationship and truly equal partnership in all ways. This inclusiveness and orientation toward collaboration carried into the whole company. I specifically recall one of the first post-board meeting dinners, when nearly the whole company at the time decided to join investors for barbeque and beers… we spanned the restaurant’s whole long picnic table with everyone eating together. This closeness of the entire team allowed for the company to rapidly react (see next point) in fast moving ad-tech space, empowering them to hone on product-market fit and begin scaling much more quickly than I’d ever seen before.
- Listen to the market while being “authentic.” The company’s first pre-product website promoted a broad sweeping vision to “make it easier for people to shop on mobile phones and tablets” through a “suite of products help[ing] etailers at every step in the mobile shopping funnel.” We at NextView invested behind the strong team going after this big idea, and that was certainly a big idea. Subsequently, through learning first-hand via their own experimental shopping app called TapSave -and- attending to conferences to specifically speak to potential customers about painpoints, they focused in on an initial offering which was true to their ad-tech backgrounds. Within a matter of months, a retention marketing service, namely mobile retargeting, was launched.
- Prioritize the right customers. Over the past year and half with a product in the market, the customer demand has been insane. Along the with the sales team headed by Tim Geisenheimer, the TapCommerce Founders had foresight to implement a formal program to deliberately prioritize the customers who had the potential to be the biggest down the road, instead of the natural tendency to prioritize those who were the squeakiest or showed up with largest insertion order today. It’s easy to say that you’ll prioritize strategic revenue, but it’s much much tougher to do in practice, especially at a startup. I’ve been amazed at the discipline the TapCommerce team has instilled in prioritizing high-value clients, and even in a matter of months that strategy had just begun to pay off with notable customers like eBay, Zulily, Groupon, and Expedia among others. If there’s one thing which I saw which the team did both differently and exceptional well, it was cultivate the relationships which mattered most.
Given the raw ingredients mentioned above, it’s not surprising that the company went from pre-revenue to a substantial revenue run-rate in a matter of 18 months. Of course, the kudos go to the Founders and entire TapCommerce team, plus our syndicate coinvestors Bain Capital Ventures, RRE, ENIAC, and Metamorphic. As for what’s next, it’s clear to me that the TapCommerce team integrated into Twitter is a wholly natural fit. With Twitter continuing to push into mobile and programmatic ad buying, adding the increasingly valuable retargeting business line to their offering is a natural extension of their monetization strategy trajectory. Twitter’s advertising blog posted that “together with the TapCommerce team, Twitter will be able to offer mobile app marketers more robust capabilities for app re-engagement, tools and managed service solutions for real-time programmatic buying, and better measurement capabilities.”
Last June I blogged that “our investment in TapCommerce is the Real Deal.” That certainly turned out to be the case… as I learned a lot working with the real deal team of Brian, Samir, and Andrew.