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Friday, September 19, 2014

Full text of recent interview with Built In Chicago

A lot of interviews I do are by email.  I prefer it that way actually, but I always think it's helpful for readers to see the full text of the interview.  Most publications tend to have word limits, and my responses tend to be wordy, so a lot ends up on the cutting room floor.  This time I'm posting the full responses to the interview with Built In Chicago that recently wrote this article regarding Blinkfire Analtyics. Here it is. Enjoy.

1. How did you realize that there was a need for Blinkfire in the marketplace?

Working for Google, I worked on the Doubleclick products which enabled large media companies to sell advertising on their properties, and allow large brands to find that inventory.   After leaving Google I started looking at the sports market and noticed two things were happening.  First, sports franchises were becoming digital media companies themselves, producing large amounts of both written and video content to satisfy their existing fans and attract new fans.  Second, by distributing this content through social media, they were dis-intermediating the existing sports media companies in many ways because the fans were now coming directly to the leagues, teams, and players for media content on Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Instagram.    Sponsors and brands want to buy as much reach as possible, but they need to have metrics for this, so as the money follows the eyeballs to these channels, there seemed to be a great opportunity to better track their sponsorships.  At the same time, social media is becoming more and more visual, so we really saw the additional opportunity to provide a better solution than any existing social media analytics solution by tracking the brands people interact with in video and images, in addition to text.

2. What were the most significant challenges you faced on your way to this funding round?

Like any other funding round, it's a matter of finding that lead partner that you want to work with and believes in the founders and the team.   That wasn't the biggest challenge as I worked closely to the Foundry Group partners while we were creating FeedBurner, and I've stayed in contact ever since. Getting that critical mass to all come together at the same time was perhaps the challenging part.   We were actually oversubscribed from the amount we originally wanted to raise, so it was a bit of a challenge to choose the final investors with whom we wanted to work and we thought would accelerate our progress the most.
Additionally, we used AngelList as a platform to fill out the FG Angels syndicate.  In the end, it worked great, but it was a wild ride as you can see the sausage being made in how the investments get backed.   You have to set a limit, so there's a lot of backing investors trying to get a bigger piece, some dropping out, others trying to go around the syndicate fund, and other interesting things that happen in real time while the fund gets filled to your limit. 

3. Now that you have the money, where do you plan to go from here in the next year or so?

Our mission is to be in the middle of every digital transaction that happens between the brands and publishers (teams, leagues, players in our case).   We think we can use computer vision to tie together online and offline campaigns in a way that fills out all 360° of the circle in the way these publishers sell to their sponsors.  So we're going to do that.
But to me, the most critical part of building a startup is building the right team.   It's about finding people who are really passionate about something that's going to drive you on the right vector toward success.   For us, that might be a person who's really passionate about sports, but it also might be an engineer who is super passionate about design, or databases, or pattern matching algorithms.  So I'm aggressively putting together that team.

 4. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the Chicago tech startup sphere?

Chicago is a great place to build a startup.   There's a lot of talent here, and people are generally hard-working.  But I think the way the Chicago startup tech scene gets stronger is by having entrepreneurs spend time out of Chicago as well.  The reality is, your publication and few others notwithstanding, the national tech press doesn't focus as much on Chicago as it does on San Francisco and New York. So you need to get out there and participate on the coasts in events and networking.  I talk to a lot of small companies that think they can sit at their desk here in Chicago and deals will just come to them.  I think for some businesses that's possible, but for others, you need to get out of your comfort zone and talk to customers and partners.  You have to get out there and make something happen.

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