The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that millennials are projected to outnumber Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation in America. With the millennial generation making up such a huge portion of American consumers, it is imperative that companies understand how to effectively market products and services to this group. For this generation, social media has become an integral part of their lives. Many companies have taken notice and are using social media to craft their marketing strategies, however, many organizations struggle to understand and determine how to successfully capture the attention of millennial consumers.
One person that companies can learn a lot from is MarQuis Trill, a social media influencer, investor, and entrepreneur who has figured out how to authentically gain and capture the attention of young audiences. MarQuis made his social media debut on Myspace in 2003, at the tender age of 12. In 2017, he was listed as one of the most influential people on the internet. Now, through his social media platforms, MarQuis reaches millions of people every month, with a large percentage of his audience being millennials and Generation Z. After deciphering the formula for success, MarQuis started an agency called Entertainment 258, which is focused on helping businesses, influencers, athletes and artists develop and expand their brands. What are companies getting wrong when it comes to millennial marketing strategies?
How does MarQuis keep his audience engaged? What are some best practices when it comes to millennial marketing on social media? MarQuis sat down with Forbes to discuss these questions and more.
Janice Gassam: Who is MarQuis Trill? How did you develop such a huge following on social media?
MarQuis Trill: It basically developed in college. I went to Prairie View A&M University on a full-ride scholarship. I had a chance to go to other big schools like Baylor, Texas A&M, USC…but I decided to go to an HBCU, just to change the culture…once I started attending the school, I saw the culture of the community. I went from playing basketball to [be] an artist, to [be] a promoter online and it just grew from there. I always had that marketing strategy inside me and my school kind of just brought that out of me.
Gassam: What are some mistakes that companies make when it comes to branding and marketing to millennials?
Trill: I think companies are getting things wrong, first, inside the company itself. They’re hiring people that are not a part of the culture—that’s the first thing. Everything we see on TV is a copy. We’ve seen multiple videos, multiple commercials from our favorite influencers. The people that work in those places are copying exactly what the millennials are doing, instead of coming to us and collaborating with us and actually hiring us and giving us jobs…instead of paying an influencer, how about hiring an influencer? It should start inside.
Second…I call it ‘camouflage marketing.’ And what camouflage marketing is, is when you’re marketing something, but it’s not focused on the actual brand. So that could be merchandise, that could be accessories, that could be sponsorships, that could be a flash of your logo…I think they should focus more on that, and creating cool content…collaborations, collaborations, collaborations. As time goes on, a 13-year-old turns 21…you always have to change…you always have to connect with the millennials and with the new generation.
If you don’t do that, you’re going to be disconnected. Once you become disconnected, it doesn’t matter if you’re a million-dollar company or a billion-dollar company—you’re going to lose revenue dollars…that’s what I feel a lot of companies are missing. You don’t necessarily have to hire someone, like a kid, to be the CMO of your entire company, just a collaboration or maybe you can give them a smaller job where they are just over marketing strategies for Instagram…all you need is five millennials in the office space for Twitter and Instagram and you’re going to have a hundred thousand followers, a million followers and they’re going to run it all for you…they don’t need big budgets because they’re young kids and as time goes on and they start doing more for your company, you’ll be able to pay them anyway.
Gassam: What are some trends you anticipate on social media when it comes to millennial marketing?
Trill: Well…it’s always something new and something fresh…what I try to focus on is fast news and fast content. That’s where you’ll get most of the engagement and most of your following from. That’s how I grew my following originally. I was taking videos from YouTube and putting them on Twitter. I was taking videos from Facebook and putting them on Twitter because different platforms have different videos and different followings. Something that’s been posted on YouTube probably hasn’t been seen by the people on Twitter…Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, they don’t all have the same following.
Different people get on different platforms because they like the functionalities of that platform. Kids that are on TikTok might not necessarily be on Twitter. People that are on Snapchat might not necessarily use Instagram all the time. That’s what people fail to realize. Every single influencer, they may not have every single social media platform. That’s where a lot of people miss out on…Twitter is for news information and text. Instagram is for pictures. Snapchat is for, right there on-the-spot videos. Basically, live videos…TikTok, [for] six seconds dancing. You have to be creative…young kids are on [TikTok] all the way from eight years old all the way up to 21.
Gassam: So, companies need to learn that they can’t post the same social media content on every single platform and expect it to stick?
Trill: Exactly. They also have to use camouflage marketing. Using influencers, creating dope content that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their products. They can flash the product in between the content or at the end or the person that’s inside the content can actually say the product. It can be a one-minute music video and five seconds out of the music video, that artist is pouring cheerios…he’s not necessarily saying ‘I eat cheerios.’ Now the consumer and the person that is watching the content, they’re smarter now…they know what’s fake, they know what’s an ad now…with the rules and everything you even have to put ‘ad’ or ‘promo’. So now, when you put that, your engagement goes down even more…you have to do it in a camouflage sense.
Gassam: Is there a social media platform you would recommend companies use when marketing to millennials?
Trill: It depends on what their product or service is. If you’re selling merch, I would definitely say go with Instagram and YouTube. If you’re already a super known company, I would say go with Twitter because the engagement there reaches faster…you get more retweets, you get more favorites, more impressions. If you’re trying to sell anything, if you’re trying to become a brand yourself, if you’re trying to conquer a market, I would say use YouTube because Google owns YouTube and they create all [the] SEO that’s on the internet…when you search something like ‘how to dance,’ whoever made a video on ‘how to dance’ on YouTube, that’s what’s going to pop up for a search and that’s free marketing, free viewership for the person, influencers or brand that made that video. Now content is becoming the search. That goes for marketing and branding as well.
Gassam: How can companies stand out to millennials on social media?
Trill: They should be more direct with the consumer. The consumer is getting smarter because they’ve seen so much content, so they can tell if something is fake, something is real, something is being promoted and they won’t engage as much to it. If the consumer and the people that are selling products, if they intertwine and they come more direct with people that are in the communities…then that’s when you start getting more product sales and more distribution in your product. I wouldn’t buy anything that I’m not tapped into or that I didn’t see anyone else wearing.
iPhone is hot because everyone has an iPhone, not because it’s the best phone…they keep developing different products. They have apps, they have iTunes, they have podcasts…they’re tapped into every culture…they’re basically competing against themselves…subscription-based is what’s coming next. AR is coming next, virtual reality is coming next. And these are the things that these companies need to focus on…someone will always develop something new; someone will always come up with something that’s greater than the other platforms.
Gassam: Popeyes recently came out with a very successful marketing campaign for their new chicken sandwich. Should companies copy these campaigns in order to be successful? In regard to the millennial consumer, do you think controversy sells?
Trill: I wouldn’t say copy. But they should come up with their own strategy. Once you see something so much, you are making the consumer smarter. Your next marketing campaign is going to have to be harder.
I think controversy is always great…but if you’re deliberately doing things on purpose and expecting a great outcome, nine times out of ten, it might not go your way. But if you have a whole marketing strategy behind it and if you know exactly what you’re doing and where you’re trying to go, then it’s definitely going to work…we don’t have to pay for press.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
To learn more about MarQuis, visit his website or connect with him on Instagram.
I grew up in five different states and across two continents, which was the catalyst to my interest in diversity. My ultimate goal is to help leaders infuse more love into the workplace, creating a culture that is more equitable and productive. Currently, I work as a professor at Sacred Heart University, teaching courses in management. In addition, I am a consultant, helping organizations create a more inclusive environment. I earned a Ph.D. in applied organizational psychology from Hofstra University, and I enjoy conducting research in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, hiring, selection, and leadership.
It’s what was passed on from Buffett’s father to Warren–the principle of having an “Inner Scorecard” rather than an “Outer Scorecard.” Either one can get you to success, but one matters more than the other. Buffett said:
The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard.
Unpacking Buffett’s “inner scorecard” principle
An outer scorecard is what most people have or want, often driven by hubris, greed, or a life lived off-balance. It’s an external measure of success that attempts to answer elusive questions like, “What do people think of me, my success, my image, or my brand?”
The inner scorecard is intrinsic and it defines who you are at the core of your values and beliefs. The focus is on doing the right things and serving people well instead of on what other people think of you. In one simple but hard-to-attain word in business, it’s about being authentic.
The inner scorecard has been the Warren Buffett way and what has worked for the self-made billionaire his entire life. It’s taking the higher road and it’s paid off for Buffett.
Investor and author Guy Spier writes in his book The Education of a Value Investor, “One of Buffett’s defining characteristics is that he so clearly lives by his own inner scorecard. It isn’t just that he does what’s right, but that he does what’s right for him … There’s nothing fake or forced about him. He sees no reason to compromise his standards or violate his beliefs.”
Here are four examples of how living by your own inner scorecard can lead to success, as it has for Buffett.
1. Start with what you teach your kids.
In Alice Schroeder’s The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, she quotes Buffett offering a parenting tip: “In teaching your kids, I think the lesson they’re learning at a very, very early age is what their parents put the emphasis on. If all the emphasis is on what the world’s going to think about you, forgetting about how you really behave, you’ll wind up with an Outer Scorecard. Now my dad: He was a hundred percent Inner Scorecard guy.”
2. Beware of whom you hang out with.
One summer after graduating from Columbia University, Buffett had to fulfill his obligation to the National Guard and attend training camp for a few weeks. That experience taught him one incredible lesson: hang around people who are better than you.
Buffett said in The Snowball, “To fit in, all you had to do was be willing to read comic books. About an hour after I got there, I was reading comic books. Everybody else was reading comic books, why shouldn’t I? My vocabulary shrank to about four words, and you can guess what they were.
“I learned that it pays to hang around with people better than you are because you will float upward a little bit. And if you hang around with people that behave worse than you, pretty soon you’ll start sliding down the pole. It just works that way.”
3. Don’t forget the only two rules of investing you’ll ever need.
Buffett pares down his inner scorecard investment philosophy to two simple sound bites. He says, “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.”
Yes, he’s made billions but he has also personally lost billions–about $23 billion during the financial recession of 2008. What Buffett alludes to here is mindset–having a sensible approach to investing. That means doing your homework, finding sustainable businesses with good reputations, and avoiding being frivolous and gambling away your money. Buffett never invests prepared to lose money, and neither should you.
4. Never waver away from what matters most to you.
Buffett’s success is not so much about what he has done as it is about what he hasn’t done. With all the demands on him every day, Buffett learned a long time ago that the greatest commodity of all is time. He simply mastered the art and practice of setting boundaries for himself.
That’s why this Buffett quote remains a powerful life lesson. The mega-mogul said:
The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.
This advice speaks directly to our inner scorecard. We have to know what to shoot for to simplify our lives. It means saying no over and over again to the unimportant things flying in our direction every day and remaining focused on saying yes to the few things that truly matter.
Billionaire John Gokongwei’s Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc. is considering an exit from the fashion business as it struggles to compete with cheaper, faster chains like Fast Retailing Co.’s Uniqlo. Stock jumps to three-week high.
The Filipino retail giant, whose fashion portfolio includes the Topshop and Dorothy Perkins brands, instead sees better returns from pet, health and beauty products where demand is growing, said Chief Executive Officer Robina Gokongwei-Pe in an interview.
“We are shrinking fashion, for it has become very difficult,” Gokongwei-Pe said. “There are other brands that came in who are more progressive and cheaper. We are already reducing the number of stores and we have to think if we move out altogether.”
The Manila-based company is relooking its business as it faces shrinking operating margins and growing competition in the low-cost space. It’s pivoting into wooing higher-spending consumers by entering into the premium grocery market, as well as expanding foreign franchises in beauty products and pet care, hoping to achieve 15% revenue growth annually for the next five years.
“Pets have become very big,” said Gokongwei-Pe. “Dogs now are very spoiled. Just look at Instagram and Facebook, it’s all about dogs. You should put money where the money is, which is food, drugstores, hardware, and growing businesses like pets and beauty.”
Robinsons Retail’s fashion portfolio has contracted to six brands and 40 stores at end-2018 from nine brands with 60 stores in 2014. Fashion is among the company’s specialty shops, which were cut to 341 in March from 387 at end-2018.
The company in December bought the local franchise for South Korean personal care and beauty products retailer Arcova and Club Clio, adding to 15 stand-alone stores selling Elizabeth Arden, Shiseido and Benefit Cosmetics. It also procured the license for Singapore’s Pet Lovers Centre in October and plans to open a second outlet as early as this year.
“Robinsons Retail is deploying its capital in a way that promises more growth,” said Miguel Ong, analyst at AP Securities Inc. “Fashion isn’t attractive as before with the rise of online platforms and brands like Uniqlo dominating the market.”
Under a five-year plan targeting mid-to-high teen revenue growth, Robinsons Retail will spend between three billion pesos ($59 million) and five billion pesos to add 100 to 150 stores a year, according to Gokongwei-Pe. The retailer has 1,911 stores in various formats, excluding 1,960 outlets of its The Generics Pharmacy.
Revenue contribution from supermarkets will rise to 55% this year from 47% in 2018 after its acquisition of former rival Rustan Supercenters, whose 36 supermarkets cater to affluent shoppers. Robinsons Retail’s own 160 supermarkets cater mainly to mainstream consumers.
The acquisition and other new stores will improve gross profit margin by 10 to 20 basis points this year, said Gokongwei-Pe.
Operating margin, which fell below 5% in 2018, will shrink further due to write-offs related to the Rustan purchase. It will “definitely” improve in 2020, when the integration is completed, she said.
A foreign executive has been hired to manage Mini Stop, which has potential to double its 5% sales contribution in 2018, if the convenience stores are “scientifically” ran.
Robinsons Retail is considering creating its own e-commerce app for its supermarkets to fill the gap left by Honestbee’s closure in the Philippines. It may start from scratch or expand Growsari Inc., a grocery delivery service for mom-and-pop stores.
The closure of Honestbee caused a dip in supermarket sales and will impact this year’s performance as same-store sales growth could have been 4.2% to 4.5% instead of 3%.
Each year for the past five, Forbes has searched the country for the 25 fast-growing, venture-backed startups most likely to reach $1 billion in value. Graduates include: food delivery service DoorDash, home seller Opendoor, luggage brand Away and synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks.
This year, with the help of TrueBridge Capital Partners, we scoured the country again for budding unicorns. TrueBridge analyzed the finances of more than 150 startups, then our reporters dug deeper. That research caught problems at San Francisco-based Cleo, a parenting app with a troubled workplace and a CEO who lied about her age and background. The company was removed from consideration after our investigation, and its CEO resigned in mid-June. (The full story is here.)
FOUNDERS: Michael Gronager (CEO), Jonathan Levin, Jan Moller
EQUITY RAISED: $53 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $8 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Accel, Benchmark
New York-based Chainalysis makes cryptocurrency investigation software that can shine light on how people use bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin and more. Financial institutions use the technology to screen customers and comply with regulations designed to prevent money laundering, while government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation can identify illicit transactions and investigate alleged criminals. Before teaming up to found Chainalysis, CEO Michael Gronager, 49, cofounded cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, while CTO Jan Moller, 47, built the Mycelium cryptocurrency wallet.
FOUNDERS: Arshan Dabirsiaghi, Jeff Williams; CEO: Alan Naumann
EQUITY RAISED: $122 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $25 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Acero Capital, Battery Ventures, General Catalyst, Warburg Pincus
In 2010, software security analyst Jeff Williams, 52, started dedicating resources at his consultancy, Aspect, to developing a program that would automate software security analysis. In 2014, he and former Aspect analyst Arshan Dabirsiaghi, 36, founded Los Altos, California-based Contrast Security to monitor the code within running apps and directly notify developers of potential vulnerabilities. “The work that previously had to go through security experts now goes directly to developers,” says Dabirsiaghi, now the company’s chief scientist. In 2016, the company brought in an outside chief executive, Alan Naumann, formerly CEO of online fraud detection startup 41st Parameter, to expand the business.
FOUNDERS: Lior Div (CEO), Yossi Naar, Yonatan Striem-Amit
EQUITY RAISED: $189 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $50 million
LEAD INVESTORS: CRV, Lockheed Martin, Softbank, Spark Capital
Cofounders Lior Div, Yossi Naar, and Yonatan Striem-Amit met during their service in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite intelligence unit, Unit 8200, fertile ground for many high-tech startups. While working on cybersecurity in the military, they came up with the idea for Cybereason, a cloud-based cybersecurity platform specializing in continuous monitoring and response to advanced cybersecurity threats. The company launched in 2012, and relocated from Israel to Boston the next year. “You provide value by helping a big organization not to be in the news as someone that gets hacked,” says Div, 41.
FOUNDERS: Paras Chitrakar, Jason Wilk (CEO), John Wolanin
EQUITY RAISED: $13 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $19 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Mark Cuban, Section 32
As a college student at Loyola Marymount University, Jason Wilk, now 34, blew through his budget, collecting overdraft fees. Wilk, an avid “Redditor,” saw that overdraft fees are a common complaint among users. So in 2016, he founded Dave, short for David, who beat Goliath, which Wilk sees as the big banks. The app tracks expenses and warns when a user’s account is in danger of being overdrawn. It hit a nerve: Dave was Apple’s “app of the day” in April 2017, and has been downloaded nearly 10 million times in two years. “Entrepreneurs can keep their ear to the ground for the next idea,” Wilk says. “Any idea that can be Reddit tested is a good place to start.”
FOUNDERS: Blake Murray (CEO), Alex Bean
EQUITY RAISED: $257 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $8 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Insight Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Pelion Venture Partners
Expense tracking service Divvy is taking on Concur and Expensify by offering its budgeting, fraud detection, and spend management tools for free. Instead of charging per user, Lehi, Utah-based Divvy gives businesses custom Mastercards and takes a cut of merchants’ fees to the bank when people make purchases. Founders (and high school buddies) Alex Bean and Blake Murray, both 35, have won over more than 3,000 corporate customers so far, including WordPress, Evernote and Qualtrics.
FOUNDERS: Luis von Ahn (CEO), Severin Hacker
EQUITY RAISED: $108 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $36 million
LEAD INVESTORS: CapitalG, Kleiner Perkins, Union Square Ventures
The world’s most popular digital language-learning tool, seven-year-old Duolingo has 28 million monthly active users. Most use the free version of its gamified courses. Revenue, largely from subscription fees from ad-free Duolingo Plus, is expected to double this year. CEO Luis von Ahn, 39, is a 2006 winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant and a former Carnegie Mellon computer science professor. Before founding Pittsburgh-based Duolingo, he sold two inventions to Google, including reCAPTCHA, the software that spits out the squiggly lines you type to alert a website that you are not a bot. An immigrant from Guatemala City who says learning English transformed his life, he’s driven to offer free language education to the masses. For our feature on Duolingo, click here.
FOUNDERS: Marcelo Cortes, Daniele Perito, Max Rhodes (CEO)
EQUITY RAISED: $116 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $100 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Forerunner Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Y Combinator
In a bid to help mom-and-pop stores survive in the age of Amazon, Faire wants to take the risk and hassle out of wholesale purchasing. The San Francisco-based company helps retailers discover and buy new products online, and will accept free returns from them within 60 days for items that don’t sell. Today, it offers 5,000 brands to 35,000 stores. CEO Max Rhodes, a 32-year-old former Square employee, came up with the idea after he started working with a New Zealand-based umbrella brand and spent thousands of dollars to sit at a tradeshow booth to convince U.S. store owners to stock the high-end umbrellas.
FOUNDERS: Dylan Field (CEO), Evan Wallace
EQUITY RAISED: $83 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $3 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Greylock, Index Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia
Figma wants to move design online, casting aside the old model of software downloads and siloed creation in favor of a browser-based tool where designers can work and collaborate together. Founders Evan Wallace, 29, and Dylan Field, 27, met at Brown University—Wallace graduated, Field dropped out with a Thiel Fellowship—and launched the San Francisco-based company in 2012. Five years later, Figma started charging professionals to use its product. (Individuals are still free.) Today, professionals pay $12 per editor per month and businesses $45 per editor month to use Figma. More than 5,000 teams, at companies like Microsoft, Volvo, Uber and Square, are users. “Design is like this viral infectant because once your competitor is well-designed, you have to be well-designed, otherwise you’ll be disrupted,” says Field.
FOUNDERS: Arun Chandrasekaran, Matt Elenjickal (CEO)
EQUITY RAISED: $101 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $16 million
LEAD INVESTORS: August Capital, Bain Capital Ventures, Hyde Park Venture Partners
Matt Elenjickal, 37, a logistics geek with an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, founded FourKites in 2014 to help companies know where their deliveries are, when they’ll arrive and what’s going on along the way. Its predictive supply-chain management software is now used by more than 260 of the world’s top shippers — and upwards of 500,000 loads per day — including Best Buy, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé and Smithfield Foods. “If you are a shipper, once the truck leaves your facility you have no idea what is happening,” Elenjickal says. “That is how supply chains are run even now without a solution like FourKites. You cannot compete against Amazon.”
FOUNDERS: Mathilde Collin (CEO), Laurent Perrin
EQUITY RAISED: $79 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $16 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Sequoia, Uncork Capital
Mathilde Collin, an alumna of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, got the idea for Front while at her first job after graduate school. “I saw how much time was wasted with people sorting through their emails,” she says. So in 2013, she launched the San Francisco-based startup to help companies become more productive with a shared email inbox that incorporates Facebook, Twitter and SMS, and encourages team collaboration. Today, Front has 5,000 customers including Shopify, MailChimp and Stripe.
FOUNDERS: Sung Ho Choi, David Gandler (CEO), Alberto Horihuela
EQUITY RAISED: $145 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $74 million
LEAD INVESTORS: 21st Century Fox, Northzone, Sky
David Gandler, 44, a longtime network sales exec, launched FuboTV in 2015 to tap into pent-up demand in the United States for overseas soccer leagues. FuboTV offered live streams of soccer channels such as GolTV and Benfica TV to start, then expanded programming through deals with beIN Sports and Univision. Today, New York-based FuboTV is generally a cheaper alternative to cable (starting at $54.99 a month) that offers more than 90 channels.
FOUNDERS: Chris Clark, Stuart Landesberg (CEO), Jordan Savage
EQUITY RAISED: $213 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $104 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Bullpen Capital, General Atlantic, Lone Pine Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Norwest Venture Partners, Serious Change
Ask Grove Collaborative CEO Stuart Landesberg, 34, who his typical customer is, and he’ll give you a specific answer: “A 29-year-old mother of two working as a substitute teacher in Lawrence, Kansas.” Even in the age of Amazon, Grove has carved out a $104 million niche in e-commerce by selling natural products, from laundry detergent to sponges, in easy-to-order shipments. Around 60% of its revenue comes from products not sold on Amazon, says Landesberg. But he wants to do more than sell Seventh Generation or Method soaps online. In 2016, Grove started to manufacture its own all-natural products that now make up nearly 50% of its sales. The key? Designing products that are easier to ship. Its glass cleaner, for example, is highly-concentrated and smaller than a tube of toothpaste.
FOUNDERS: Augusto Marietti (CEO), Marco Palladino
EQUITY RAISED: $71 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $5 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Andreessen Horowitz, CRV, Index Ventures, New Enterprise Associates
Kong acts as a gatekeeper to companies’ APIs (code developers use to build apps) and monitors how often they’re used. Augusto Marietti, 31, and Marco Palladino, 30, launched the company out of a garage in Milan, where they both attended university, and were constantly flying back and forth to Silicon Valley to fundraise. “At this stage, we barely had enough money to eat,” Marietti says. “We definitely lost a few pounds when we were first starting up.” Now based in San Francisco, Kong has successfully penetrated the enterprise market with 130 customers that include SoulCycle, Yahoo Japan and WeWork.
FOUNDERS: Jack Altman (CEO), Eric Koslow
EQUITY RAISED: $27 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $7 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Shasta Ventures, Thrive Capital
Lattice founders Jack Altman, 30, and Eric Koslow, 28, learned first-hand the impact of work culture while working at startup Teespring, which sells custom t-shirts. In 2015, they decided to do something about it, starting Lattice. The San Francisco-based company’s human resources software uses surveys to shift the focus of performance management from employee evaluation to career development. Today, Lattice works with 1,300 customers, including Coinbase, Instacart, Slack and WeWork. “Employees are looking for more meaning from work than ever before, and have more visibility into and access to other jobs than ever before,” Altman says. Lattice helps their employers step up.
FOUNDERS: Elton Chung, Lidia Yan (CEO)
EQUITY RAISED: $125 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $46 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Brookfield Ventures, China Energy Group, Sequoia
Cofounded by husband and wife team Elton Chung and Lidia Yan in 2015, Los Angeles-based Next Trucking is moving freight brokerage online. While other startups like Convoy and Uber Freight move cargo from point A to point B, Next Trucking focuses on drayage, or the “first-mile” of transferring goods from port to warehouse. “Drayage is a lot more complicated because it involves terminals and ports,” says Yan, 38. As a result, Next Trucking has doubled revenue every year since 2016, reaching $46 million in 2018. Yan forecasts revenue will hit $120 million this year, helped by large contracts with retailers Dollar General, Rite Aid and Steve Madden. For our feature on Next Trucking, click here.
FOUNDERS: Jack Conte (CEO), Sam Yam
EQUITY RAISED: $166 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $35 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Freestyle Capital, Glade Brook Capital Partners, Index Ventures, Thrive Capital
Musician turned entrepreneur, Jack Conte, 35, wants to break the “starving artist” archetype by helping creators earn a regular income. “Deciding to be an artist shouldn’t have to be a difficult conversation,” says Conte. “It should feel like a viable career choice.” Using Patreon, artists offer exclusive experiences in return for contributions from their subscribers or “patrons.” HBO’s Issa Rae, Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton and comedian Heather McDonald are some of the creators currently using Patreon and by 2019, the company expects to pay out more than $1 billion to its users.
FOUNDERS: Denis Mars (CEO), Simon Ratner
EQUITY RAISED: $14 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $1 million
LEAD INVESTOR: Kleiner Perkins
The Proxy app is like having a set of keys on your smartphone: Your profile’s signal gives you access to any building where you’re registered, eliminating the need for traditional ID cards and keys. It’s a straightforward idea, but Australian-expat founders Denis Mars, 42, and Simon Ratner, 39, are confident that they’ve just scratched the surface of its potential. So far, San Francisco-based Proxy has proven popular with commercial real estate clients like WeWork. Mars and Ratner now hope to expand their technology (which includes the app, management platform and signal-reading hardware) to identity verification for ride-sharing and event check-in.
FOUNDERS: Ofer Bengal (CEO), Yiftach Shoolman
EQUITY RAISED: $147 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $50 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Bain Capital Ventures, Francisco Partners, Goldman Sachs, Viola Ventures
Israeli tech veterans Ofer Bengal and Yiftach Shoolman set up a fast-database service, in 2011, to help businesses looking to speed up responses on their apps. Redis Labs relies on what’s known as NoSQL, an alternative form of compiling data that is faster than traditional models. That lightening-fast processing speed has helped it sign on FedEx, Mastercard and other corporate behemoths. To scale up quickly, the Mountain View, California-based company offered a free, open-source version to hook developers. In 2013, it rolled out a paid version with costs starting at $5 per month per gigabyte. “You can’t do without open source if you want rapid adoption,” says Bengal.
FOUNDERS: Shivaas Gulati, Josh Hug, Matt Oppenheimer (CEO)
EQUITY RAISED: $312 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $80 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Bezos Expeditions, DFJ Venture Capital (now Threshold Ventures), Generation Investment Management, Naspers’ PayU, QED Investors, Stripes Group
Remitly is taking on Western Union with lower fees — estimated 1.5% on average vs. the money-transfer giant’s 5%. Matt Oppenheimer, who had worked for Barclays in Kenya, and his cofounders launched the business in 2011 to help people in developed nations like the U.S. and Australia send money cheaply to relatives in developing countries like Mexico and the Philippines. Today, Remitly serves 60 countries and processes $6 billion a year in money transfers, about 1% of the nearly $700 billion remittance market. Already one of the largest fintech firms targeting immigrants, the Seattle startup’s long-term goal is to branch out into other financial services, potentially including credit cards, personal loans and auto loans.
FOUNDERS: Xuan Yong (CEO), Mike Witte
EQUITY RAISED: $94 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $21 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Bedrock Capital, Founders Fund, Quantum Energy Partners
There are nearly 1,000 rigs drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. Each well requires the input of dozens of service companies and workers — everything from high-horsepower compressors for fracking, to miles of steel pipe, and millions of gallons of water and truckloads of sand. Cofounder Xuan Yong, formerly of Citadel and D.E. Shaw, believes RigUp can improve on the good ol’ boy network by more efficiently connecting the “hyperfragmented” market of roughnecks, engineers and business owners with the big oil companies that call the shots. RigUp pre-vets workers and vendors, and creams an estimated 4% off every contract made via its online platform. Yong isn’t worried about machines invading the oilpatch. “Even with A.I. there will be demand growth for labor,” he says. “Field tickets are still signed on paper and stamped.” For now.
FOUNDERS: Stephen Hawthornthwaite, Roth Martin (interim CEO)
EQUITY RAISED: $42 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $140 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Goldman Sachs, Lightspeed Venture Partners
Founders Roth Martin, a former art gallery owner, and Stephen Hawthornthwaite (aka “Hawthy”), a former investment banker, launched the footwear brand after listening to their wives complain about the lack of stylish, comfortable shoes. Rothy’s 3D-knitted round-toe and point-toe flats, made from recycled plastic water bottles, have gained cult status. In just three years, it expanded rapidly with direct-to-consumer sales online, reaching revenue of $140 million last year. For our feature on Rothy’s, click here.
FOUNDERS: Phillip Liu, Karthik Rau (CEO)
EQUITY RAISED: $179 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $25 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Andreessen Horowitz, CRV, General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management
SignalFx monitors cloud infrastructure in real time for companies like Yelp, Shutterfly and HubSpot. In 2013, Karthik Rau, 41, who previously worked at tech startups LoudCloud and VMware, founded the company with ex-Facebook software architect Phillip Liu, 51. While competitors collect and query data in batches every two to three minutes, SignalFx evaluates and alerts users to anomalies in two to five seconds. “The difference between getting reliable alerts within seconds and getting them in minutes is the difference of seamlessly dealing with an issue,” says Rau. “Or having all of your users on Twitter complaining.”
FOUNDERS: Paul Dabrowski (CEO), Michael Dabrowski
EQUITY RAISED: $157 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $20 million
LEAD INVESTORS: Founders Fund, 8VC
Gene-editing tool Crispr has unleashed a gold rush for new products made possible by cheaply and easily editing DNA. Synthego is cashing in by selling the genomic equivalent of pickaxes, shovels, maps and other tools. Its ready-made and custom kits allow researchers in academia and the private sector to rapidly develop gene-edited products, including new medical treatments. Its founders, brothers Paul and Michael Dabrowski, 34 and 38, previously worked at SpaceX as engineers and drew on that experience to bring a new way of thinking to biotech.
FOUNDERS: Umar Afridi (CEO), Sid Viswanathan
EQUITY RAISED: $13 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $48 million
LEAD INVESTOR: Initialized Capital
If you buy birth control from Nurx or hair-loss products from Hims, behind-the-scenes pharmacy Truepill will actually fill and deliver your prescription. The three-year-old startup’s founders Umar Afridi, 37, a former retail pharmacist, and Sid Viswanathan, 35, who previously worked at Johnson & Johnson and LinkedIn, see a growing market in bringing technology and efficiency to pharmacy. Although Truepill started with direct-to-consumer brands, it’s now making a bigger play to bring on corporate customers with pricey, specialty medications.
FOUNDERS: Benjamin Bercovitz, Filip Kaliszan (CEO), James Ren, Hans Robertson
EQUITY RAISED: $59 million
ESTIMATED 2018 REVENUE: $20 million
LEAD INVESTORS: First Round, Meritech, Next47, Sequoia
While many startups have tackled the “smart home” with varying degrees of success, Verkada has exploded in shy of two years on the market by offering big businesses, municipalities and schools a cloud-based system that combines hardware and software to detect movement and easily store and share surveillance streams. In 2019, the company founded by three Stanford graduates and the former cofounder of Meraki (a cloud startup since acquired by Cisco) signed on the city of Memphis — a nearly 1,000-camera contract — Juul Labs and Newtown Public School District, the district of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy.
Additional reporting by Susan Adams, Elisabeth Brier, Dawn Chmielewski, Lauren Debter, Michael del Castillo, Jillian D’Onfro, Christopher Helman, Jeff Kauflin, Alex Knapp, Alex Konrad, Christian Kreznar and Monica Melton
Cover Photographs by Tim Pannell for Forbes | Illustrations by David Wilson
Ray Reddy has raised millions of dollars in startup funds, sold a company to Google and is taking on the local business gauntlet in an innovative new way. Yet, he chose to exit Google and Silicon Valley to launch his latest venture.
In his exclusive interview on the DealMakers Podcast, Ray Reddy shared the pros and cons of the valley and his fundraising strategies.
The Art of Business
Always curious, Ray wondered if business was like math and science. He attended the University of Waterloo to study computer science, then a Masters of Business and Entrepreneurship and Technology.
He says he learned some good foundational principles, how to approach complicated problems, and how to learn quickly. Yet, when entering the business world he found that very little of what he learned had any practical knowledge of applicability. He says “it’s much more about common sense and experience than it is about definitive approaches and how to solve some of these problems.”
After school he went straight into corporate strategy at BlackBerry, doing M&A and venture investments. Yet, he has always not only had a lifelong craving for learning, but a passion for building something and building something that he found had a purpose.
What Google Gets about M&A
The mobile phone was starting to consume other portable electronics. It quickly began to absorb portable navigation, portable GPS, handheld units, and portable media players. Yet, no one seemed to be addressing it. Ray Reddy decided to go solve it himself and built a team of people to go after it.
That startup became PushLife.
Prior to the iPhone, they focused on building an experience that made it very easy for people to move content back and forth between their phone and their computers, specifically music. It took normal phones, and it gave them an iPod-like experience on Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia. PushLife ended up licensing software to major carriers.
It was so successful it was acquired by Google. After the acquisition, he was at Google for four years. First in the Canadian Google office in Waterloo. Then out in Mountain View at Google‘s headquarters.
He ended up running the mobile commerce team for one of their products. Then towards the end, Ray was actually part of the launch team for Google Shopping Express, which was their same-day delivery effort in retail.
The difference with companies like Google, according to Ray, is that they do hundreds of acquisitions a year. They really turn it into a mass production factory. It’s very organized. There are no games. They are very straight-up. From Ray‘s perspective, it doesn’t feel like anyone is trying to overly optimize a negotiation. It makes a lot of sense because the transaction is the beginning of the relationship.
Ray‘s opinion is that Google‘s M&A process is designed in a way to get a group of people that are energized and that deliver a lot of value over the upcoming years. Contrast that with some other acquisition approaches and the result is quite different.
Eventually, Ray found a big new problem to solve. He ultimately concluded that structurally, a big company wasn’t set up to solve this problem, even with all the resources a company like Google has.
Toronto vs. The Valley
Ray moved his founding team to Toronto. Not that the Valley isn’t a really interesting place. He says “On one hand, it is the capital of technology worldwide, but I think there’s also some really weird dynamics there.” The biggest one being that you’ve got a very high concentration of very wealthy people, and they’re all early adopters.
He points to the collapse of the entire on-demand space, everything from on-demand valets to cleaning services several years ago, and a massive false-positive from the Valley.
Because when you have places like Palo Alto where average household incomes are north of $2 million, you can fool yourself into thinking that there are enough people who will pay a big premium for convenience.
As Ray states, “the types of investors living in the Valley are not at all sensitive to paying a $10 delivery fee for having a $10 item brought to them.“ That doesn’t seem weird to them. When you look across average neighborhoods and cities in North America, that’s not necessarily true. You lose sight of that in the Valley. You lose sight of the average person.
Ray says “So, if you’re trying to build a mass market consumer product, you just have to be very careful of false-positives that can come from something working in the Valley“
Then the team went and looked at the reality of building talent there, and hiring, and cost, and a lot of those other things. They decided to move to Toronto instead.
Ray’s latest startup is Ritual which is a social ordering app that taps into networks of co-workers and colleagues for fast and easy pick-up and pay at a wide variety of local restaurants and coffee shops.
He has already raised $120 million in capital. Greylock led the Series A out of the Valley. Insight did the Series B out of New York. Georgian Partners led the C round out of Toronto.
Rather than waiting until funds are imminently needed to close a round, he says “I think about it differently which is you should always be talking to investors. Always having an ongoing conversation with investors.”
He’s always talking to the next stage of investors and trying to build that relationship. Fundraising comes down to trust, and do they trust your judgment? Do they trust that you can do what you say you’re going to do?
For Ritual, it’s never been about the investor that gives the highest valuation. It has been about who do you want to work with and who do you want to build this company with and spend time with.
He’s had a relationship with each one of those investors for about 9 to 12 months before the round. When it came time for fundraising, it was a no-brainer each time.
Today Ritual has a team of about 300 people globally.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
The process of selling your company to Google
Benefits of launching in cities outside of Silicon Valley
Ways to build relationships with investors
Success factors behind marketplaces
Retention as the critical factor for ultimate success in business
Alejandro Cremades is a serial entrepreneur and author of best-seller The Art of Startup Fundraising, a book that offers a step-by-step guide to today‘s way of raising money for entrepreneurs.
Mark Zuckerberg has had plenty of difficult days in the past year, but this past week was a good one for him. The Facebook CEO’s net worth jumped $5.5 billion in the week through Thursday April 25, mostly due to investor glee about the $2.4 billion in first quarter profit that the social media firm reported on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old is worth $71.3 billion, $20 billion more than at the beginning of 2019. He is now the 5th richest person in the world, up from No. 8 in March when Forbes published the annual world’s billionaires list. The positive quarterly earnings report overshadowed news that Facebook is setting aside as much as $5 billion to pay a fine to the Federal Trade Commission over privacy issues.
Zuckerberg’s gain was by far the biggest of the week, but he is in good company. The fortunes of Zuckerberg and four other tech billionaires, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, rose by a collective $13 billion in seven days.
A day after Facebook released its first-quarter earnings report, Amazon announced a quarterly profit of $3.6 billion, an all-time record for the e-commerce giant. Amazon’s share price rose 2.2% in the week through Thursday, causing Bezos’ net worth to surge by $3.2 billion. The 55-year-old CEO, who owns a 16% stake in Amazon, is now worth $157.8 billion.
Bezos announced earlier this month that he will transfer approximately 4% of the company’s stock to his wife, MacKenzie, as part of their divorce settlement, which is expected to be completed around early July. Jeff Bezos would still be the world’s richest person while MacKenzie will become the third-richest woman.
The net worth of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s former CEO, rose $1.7 billion in the week through Thursday as the software giant’s share price increased by 4.7%. Microsoft smashed earnings estimates with a quarterly revenue of $30.6 billion, boosted by its commercial cloud business, which has grown 41% year-over-year. Ballmer, Microsoft’s largest individual shareholder, is now worth $48.3 billion. Cofounder and former CEO Bill Gates only owns just over 1% of shares, having sold or given away most of his stake in Microsoft, but the stock uptick did bump his net worth by $600 million.
Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies, is now worth $40 billion after gaining $1.4 billion in a week due to a 6.6% stock uptick. Last December, the computer maker returned to the public market six years after Dell took the company private. Dell Technologies’ market capitalization was $46.7 billion as of end of day Thursday, up from its $34 billion listing. Dell’s net worth has nearly doubled over the past 12 months.
Larry Page, the cofounder of Google and CEO of its parent company Alphabet, got $1.1 billion richer, with an estimated fortune of $57.6 billion. Shares of Alphabet, which will report its first-quarter earnings after the closing bell on Monday, have increased 2.2% since last Thursday. It has been a busy week for Alphabet’s “Other Bets.” Wing, which became an independent Alphabet business last summer, recently got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deliver goods by drone. Wing plans to start drone deliveries in Blacksburg, Virginia, later this year. Loon, which uses high-altitude balloons to provide internet access to remote areas, raised $125 million from a SoftBank subsidiary on Thursday.
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(Update 10.16 a.m., ET) – France’s leading billionaires and companies have rallied to pledge $670 million (€600 million) to restore Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral following a devastating fire on Monday evening.
Francois-Henri Pinault, chairman of Kering (the parent company of Gucci), and his billionaire father, Francois Pinault, announced on Tuesday they would donate $113 million (€100 million) via their family investment company, Artemis. The Arnault family, owners of luxury goods group LVMH, also pledged $226 million (€200 million) after French President Emmanuel Macron called for donations to rebuild the French national icon.
“The Arnault family and the LVMH Group, in solidarity with this national tragedy, are committed to assist with the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, symbol of France, its heritage and its unity,” the family said in a statement.
“This tragedy is striking all the French people, and beyond that, all those attached to spiritual values,” Francois-Henri Pinault said in a statement. “Faced with this tragedy, everyone wishes to give life back to this jewel of our heritage as soon as possible.”
French charity Fondation du Patrimoine has launched an international appeal to raise funds for the UNESCO World Heritage site that was partially destroyed in Monday’s fire. Patrick Pouyanné, chief executive of Total, tweeted the French oil giant would contribute $113 million (€100 million) to the fund.
Billionaire Henry Kravis, cofounder of private equity group KKR, and his wife, Marie-Josée Kravis, also announced on Tuesday that they planned to donate $10 million towards the rebuilding.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo thanked firefighters for their work saving the cathedral’s famous bell towers and announced plans for a “major international conference of donors” to raise funds for the rebuilding work. Hidalgo also said Paris already had $90 million (€80 million fund) for the restoration of the city’s churches
Capital Today founding partner Kathy Xu laughs when she talks about her career-making early investment in Chinese e-commerce company JD.com, which began with a late-night meeting with founder Richard Qiangdong in 2006:
“We met at 10 p.m. and we talked until 2 a.m.!” she tells Forbes. “I gave him five times the amount of money that he asked for — I was so worried that otherwise he’d meet with other investors.”
Capital Today managed to become the startup’s sole Series A investor and Xu’s check — $18 million USD — paid off royally as JD swelled into an ecommerce giant, with Xu working closely with Qiangdong along the way, advising him on key hires and company branding. Two years after JD went public in 2015, her firm cashed out returns of $2.9 billion.
A couple years and a handful of new deals later, Xu is making her bold debut on the Forbes 2019 Midas List, ranking in the top 10 venture capitalists in the world in her first year of inclusion (her work has previously been highlighted on Forbes China’s list of top 25 women venture capitalists in China).
This year’s list features 21 investors who are either of Chinese nationality or work for a firm based in China, the largest number ever on the list and a tribute to the growing power of China’s startup and venture capital ecosystems.
Xu says that Capital Today, which manages approximately $2.5 billion, focuses all its energy on companies based in and serving China and has zero interest in looking outside the country.
“It’s a big enough market, the economy is doing well, the entrepreneurship is great, and we’re starting to see real innovation booming for the first time,” she says. “It’s a lucrative market to focus on.”
Xu says that her team disciplines itself to only five or six deals a year in business-to-consumer companies and spends a lot of time with founders that it invests in.
“There’s more and more money here now, so building a connection with the entrepreneur and spending a lot of time with them is more important than ever,” she says, citing proximity as an advantage over out-of-country investors who only make occasional business trips.
Beyond JD.com, other Capital Today portfolio highlights include Chinese gaming company NetEase, discount e-commerce site Meituan-Dianping, classified listings site Ganji.com (which merged with 58.com in 2015), Yifeng Pharmacy, which went public in 2015, and hot snack company Three Squirrels Snack Food.
Other Chinese investors who made this year’s Midas list are Sequoia China partner Neil Shen, who topped the rankings for the second year running, Qiming Venture Partners’ managing partner J.P. Gan, No. 5, and Hans Tung from GGV Capital, No. 7.
Anyone can survive the short-term fear of a roller coaster. Not everyone can endure the stress of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship isn’t like a ride or a game, where there is a finite ending to the experience. The stress and fear of entrepreneurship is pervasive, persistent, and cumulative over time. Chronic stress negatively impacts both our physical and mental well-being, and it severely hampers our decision-making abilities……