I received an email today from ExecSense Webinars advertising a course on "How to Create a Personal Brand as a Venture Capitalist." That's right, for $250, I can learn "specific ways to use speaking engagements, published articles and social media web sites as a way to establish [myself] as a thought leader." Who knew it was so easy?
VCs don't often talk about brand. Brand is a dirty word in the venture business. Yet just today I had two different conversations about VC marketing. The first conversation was with Jennifer Jones. Jennifer has been working with VCs on marketing for two decades now. And she's really good at it. I suspect that in a VC marketing death match, Jennifer would pretty handily crush ExecSense Webinars. She wouldn't talk about generic speaking engagements and social media websites. She would talk about finding "your people" (my phrase) and how to reach them in genuine, engaging and unique ways. She would know that anything you can learn in a VC marketing webinar is insufficiently differentiated to have a real impact. She would know that Venture Capital is a people business and VC marketing is about connecting with people, not giving some soulless speech at an industry event.
The second conversation I had was at lunch with a couple of friends in the VC business. We were chatting about early stage investors and got to talking about Josh Kopelman. I made the assertion that Josh was the best marketer in all of venture capital, to which one of my lunch companions replied "he's a marketing savant." Trust me, it was pure admiration. If you want to appreciate what "people marketing" is all about, ask a few entrepreneurs what they think of Josh Kopelman and First Round Capital. Josh understands how to connect with "his people" and make a splash. Remember, this is the very same guy who convinced a little town in Oregon to change its name to "Half.com" and to feel good about it.
If you want to see what successful VC marketing looks like, take a few minutes and watch the First Round Capital holiday videos. You'll see a group of entrepreneurs who like their investors so much that they are willing to do embarrassing things on their behalf (including dancing and singing). In a three minute video, you see the slew of great companies that First Round has backed, as well as the powerful relationship that the First Round team has with their entrepreneurs.
None of this is to suggest that you VCs out there should go make a dance video with your portfolio companies. Nor will I be convincing a small town in the Pacific Northwest to change its name to "August Capital, Oregon" any time soon. But it is worth thinking about how we as VCs are perceived by the entrepreneurial community and how we might better connect with those folks. The Venture business is a people business and VC marketing is all about the people. So there is no more powerful way to build a brand than to garner a well-earned reputation as a supportive, thoughtful, helpful participant in the company-building ecosystem. No number of clever videos or slogans, or even speeches on the rubber chicken circuit, can replace the power of entrepreneurs singing your praises. So forget the webinar and focus on what matters -- bringing real value to the people around you. That's what Venture Capital brand building is all about.