Web Innovators Guru: An Interview with Venrock’s David Beisel
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an e-mail marketing company about 10 years ago now which was called Sombasa Media. We had unique technology which enabled us to generate dynamic individual personalized e-mail newsletters based on preferences that people gave during the registration process. We had a series of these consumer-facing newsletters. One was a bargains newsletter called Bargain Dog. And we had relationships with 150 online merchants featuring products they wanted to feature in what was essentially a personalized e-mail. We ended up raising $1.1 million from CommonAngels, in 1999. In 2000 we were acquired by About.com, just after their IPO but before they were acquired by Primedia. We basically became a group within Primedia, handling anything and everything to do with e-mail and newsletters, including all of the About.com guides, who had e-mail newsletters. I was there through the Primedia acquisition, but I left before About.com was acquired from Primedia by the New York Times.
X: Do you feel like that was a good Web education for you?
DB: Definitely. We started out in the proverbial room with no windows and four people—over on Congress Street downtown. It was a long thin room where if the person on the end wanted to get up and go to the bathroom everybody else had to scoot their chairs in so he could get by. To go from that room, to raising money from CommonAngels and having 25 or 30 people, and then be acquired by a public company with a couple of hundred people, and then join Primedia with a couple of thousand—going through all those stages and see the whole spectrum was quite an experience. Through that, I consider myself a Web guy.
Then I took a little time off and ended up going to business school at Stanford, and moved back here afterward. Two of the angel investors in Sombasa, Steve Smith and Rich Levandov, were at Masthead and I ended up joining them in 2004. And then I joined Venrock last year, at the end of April.
X: So you started the Web Innovators Group while you were still at Masthead?
X: So here at Venrock, you’re looking at digital media broadly conceived, including both the Web and mobile platforms. Can you tell me about some of the companies you’re invested in?
DB: One that you’ve mentioned in Xconomy is our investment in Second Rotation, a Waltham company that allows people to trade in their electronic gadgets. The thing that gets me excited about it is it’s at the interesting convergence of a number of trends. Consumers going green is the basic trend. But then you have the proliferation of these digital consumer electronic devices, between cell phones and laptops and game consoles, and you have people upgrading more and more frequently. And then you have the fact that other outlets like eBay are geared for power sellers, not for individuals. It’s a hassle to sell products there. I consider myself a web savvy guy and I’ve never sold anything on eBay.
With Second Rotation, you get rid of price uncertainty right away; we have a proprietary algorithm that determines what price we want to offer you and we’re going to tell you right away. We also get ride of time uncertainty. There is no auction. As soon as you send in a product, we will send a check to you. We also get rid of fraud uncertainty; on eBay you don’t know who’s going to end up buying and if they’re going to pay or not.
X: What’s another company you can talk about?
DB: A West Coast company called BlogHer. It’s a women’s blogging destination site. We’ve got a few dozen editorial women bloggers who blog on BlogHer.com. Then we have a conference series that is expanding into several conferences and meetups around the country. Then we have an advertising network as well, with 1,500 women bloggers who are blogging about everything from parenting to politics. And we provide both monetization for these bloggers and services which help them generate additional traffic and we exchange traffic throughout our publishing syndicate.
With BlogHer we had a destination site which had a couple hundred thousand uniques a month. But once we opened it up from 30 or 40 bloggers to 1,500 bloggers, and we were generating 8 million uniques on a monthly basis, that’s when you have that critical mass and that’s when advertisers … Next Page »