Author: Kip Knight

Seven Proven Ways Startup Leaders Can Enhance Their Executive Presence

Original artwork by Katie Rhead

I’ve served as an executive coach for startup executives, and the number one request I get from their boss (typically the founder or lead VC) is to help the coachee improve their executive presence. That’s a challenging request because while we’d all like to have a more substantial executive presence, it’s not always clear what that means in actionable terms.

What Is “Executive Presence”? — Let’s start with how I define executive presence: It’s how people feel and talk about you when you’re not in the room. Are they inspired to follow you? Are they confident you can take them to a better place? While some of us have worked with leaders who have a natural ability to do this, I’ve seen all manner of startup leaders work with an executive coach and improve their executive presence. It starts with a personal commitment to focus on fundamental leadership principles they put into daily practice.

How To Enhance Your Executive Presence — Here are seven proven leadership principles startup leaders can deploy to improve their executive presence (ideally working with a coach or colleague as an accountability partner):

1.) Vision: “I Have A Dream” — All of us have an instinctual desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. One of the outstanding leaders of the 20th century was Martin Luther King, best known for his “I Have A Dream” speech. Leaders such as MLK were gifted in visualizing for their followers the better place they collectively wanted (Read more...)

Is Your Startup “PR Ready”?

Original Artwork by Katie Rhead

I’ve been engaged with Public Relations (PR) since I was a kid (my dad was a PR executive), and my brother went on to start his own PR company. I’ve hired and worked with many PR agencies over the years (including BAM, who works with us at Thomvest Ventures). Given all the money I’ve seen wasted over the years on PR by various businesses (including startups), I’d like to offer some ways to help ensure your investment in this incredible and unique marketing discipline is money well spent.

Reality Check: AirBnB and Tesla Are Exceptions Among Thousands of Brands — We’ve all witnessed the power of positive press for a startup. Examples include the story of Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia who were unable to afford their rent in San Francisco; it eventually led to the creation of AirBnB. Tesla spends nothing on advertising and has been the star of countless stories of being a fearless pioneer in the electric vehicle industry. The best part (from AirBnB and Tesla’s POV) is they got all this positive coverage without hiring a PR firm or reaching out to reporters.

Any founder’s dream is to attract that kind of press coverage without having to invest precious startup funds in traditional marketing. Unfortunately, for 99.9% of startups, you will have to spend money on marketing (including PR) for your startup to get the associated benefits (i.e., awareness, customer leads, fundraising boost, recruiting enhancement, etc.). The critical success factor is to be thoughtful (Read more...)

Why We Are Excited About Netbase Quid’s Acquisition of Rival IQ

Original Artwork by Katie Rhead

At the end of 2021, Netbase Quid (which Thomvest is an investor) acquired Rival IQ, a Seattle-based startup that helps clients analyze social media data efficiently and effectively. Rival IQ delivers analytics and competitive intelligence to help digital marketers make informed decisions, improve results, and better understand competitors.

As a former marketing researcher who now works at Thomvest Ventures, I’ve enjoyed learning about Rival IQ. I recently had the opportunity to talk with some of their clients, such as 3M, Broadway Across America (a traveling Broadway show company), and MotoAmerica (a competitive motorcycle racing business), on how they use and leverage this affordable and easy-to-use listening platform. Based on these conversations, it’s clear that Rival IQ can be a valuable resource for all types of companies.

In managing a business today, business executives have to create and monitor their social media campaigns (as well as their competition). Here are three critical takeaways from conversations with Rival IQ clients on how any company can leverage this innovative listening platform to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to managing and optimizing various social media campaigns:

Monitoring Social Media Campaigns Is A 24/7 Requirement. In today’s fast-moving competitive environment, having a monthly, weekly, or even daily report on how your social media campaigns perform is not enough. Rival IQ offers an easy-to-use interface that makes it easy to get started (including monitoring key competitors), which continuously collects and analyzes data across all the major social media (Read more...)

How To Present to a Board: Five Key Principles

Original artwork by Katie Rhead

Just before I was getting ready to present a key proposal at a major board of directors meeting, a colleague who was the CFO (now a CEO) reminded me, “there is no such thing as a good board meeting — just one where nobody gets fired.”

That’s not far from the truth. I’ve seen too many self-inflicted career wounds in front of a board. I’ve seen executives go into board meetings full of confidence and come out crushed. I’ve witnessed senior leaders do such a lousy job presenting to a board that it damaged or destroyed their careers.

That’s a real shame since it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five fundamental principles I’ve learned from the numerous times I’ve presented to boards (as well as watching others) to keep in mind when it’s your time to craft and deliver your own board presentation:

  • Be Prepared: Just like a boxer spends one hour of training for every minute in the ring, put in the time to get ready. Your presentation needs a compelling storyline, key messages and solid evidence. Try to anticipate all the questions a board member might ask. Then practice enough to make sure you can present it flawlessly if someone wakes you up at 3 a.m.
  • KISS the Board: KISS as in “keep it simple, stupid.” I’ve witnessed too many board presentations in which you’d think the presenter got paid by the word. Follow Guy Kawasaki’s 10–20–30 Rule of PowerPoint. A presentation should (Read more...)

How To Leverage The Three E’s To Become A Better Marketing Leader

Original artwork by Katie Rhead

These are challenging times in the business world for business leaders, and CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) are no exception. According to the latest Gartner CMO Spend Survey, the percentage of revenue allocated to marketing has fallen from 11.0% in 2020 to just 6.4% in 2021, the lowest proportion in the history of the survey.

More Than Spending Cuts — It gets worse. According to survey of 150 CEOs of the largest companies in the U.S. conducted by the marketing agency, Boathouse, 86% of CEOs believed their CMOs have the power to influence key decisions in the C-suite, but less than a third of the CEOs trust their CMOs to grow the business. Over half the CEOs thought their CMOs speak their own language rather than the language of business. Even more alarming, almost 40% believed their CMOs have the wrong skill set to effectively deal with a changing business environment.

It’s no wonder, then, that tenure of CMOs is the lowest it has been since 2009. According to Greg Welch at Spencer Stuart, the average tenure for a CMO has dropped to just over 3 years (compared to 6 ½ years for the average CEO). The revolving door to the marketing suite is spinning faster than ever which means the outlook for marketing leaders to play a leading role in building the business is under duress.

Collateral Damage — When a company fires a CMO, the damage inflected goes well beyond hurting the marketing leader. It hurts the entire company. (Read more...)

What Humpty Dumpty Can Teach CEOs About Creating a Thriving Company Culture

An Interview with Greg Creed, former CEO of YUM Brands

Greg Creed

Note: This is a continuing series of interviews initiated by Thomvest Ventures with various founders, CEOs and Board members affiliated with their portfolio companies.

Greg Creed is former CEO of YUM Brands and a current Board member for Netbase Quid, one of Thomvest Ventures’ portfolio companies. He delivered impressive financial results during his four years as CEO of Taco Bell and five years as CEO of YUM Brands. He credits a lot of YUM’s success to the company culture they were able to leverage. Greg shares his thoughts on how other company CEOs can do the same with their business.

Does a company’s culture really matter?

Yes, it matters! Deep inside me, I know to the day I die, culture is paramount.

In business school, we were taught the strategy, structure and culture model, in that order. That meant you were first supposed to define your business strategy, then work out the organizational structure to implement the strategy, and then (and only then) work on the culture. My belief is those are the right three ingredients — but in the wrong order.

The correct order should be culture, then strategy, then org structure. That’s because I don’t know how you write a winning business strategy if you don’t base it on the context of your culture. Culture comes first because culture fuels results. It’s that simple.

At YUM Brands, did you build on the culture already there or did you have to (Read more...)

Thomvest Ventures by the Numbers

Here’s a summary of the market sectors we focus on, the companies we invest in, and the business and financial success of our amazing portfolio companies.

To learn more about Thomvest Ventures and our portfolio companies, visit us at

Thomvest Ventures by the Numbers was originally published in Thomvest Ventures on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.