Brand People for Startup Boards: A Q&A with NY Investor Michael Duda

2/22/12Follow @xconomy

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deal; he was vested in each phase of the initiative presentation. Steve was unafraid to be working late at night. It was clear that he was an inquisitive, sensationally curious, creative person at heart—and shown a lot of strong instincts about the ad agency world. We told him to come do an internship at the agency [Deutsch], and other than getting his own office for privacy, he was treated almost like any other intern. He was briefed on real life projects. He was so into it and contributed. There is no doubt in my mind that his drive to win will lead to having more impact off the basketball court than on it.

We officially all got talking about this idea [for Consigliere] back in May 2009. We’re a bunch of expats, bonded together by the same belief of what the Consigliere is about, but we bring different superpowers to the equation.

X: What has the move from the advertising world been like?
MD: The VC role has been a natural blast. People kind of look at us like they get what we do. We focus on the consumer. The ‘ecosystem’ as the kids call it has been absolutely wonderful. Coming from the agency where it’s the backstabbing, winner-take-all kind of model, it’s fun to be in a syndicate. It’s a tremendous amount of fun.

It’s pretty interesting how there seems to be battles [between different startup communities]. It’s just capitalism. We’re seeing it happen in Pittsburgh, Syracuse—places that have great college towns and talent, there’s some really cool stuff emerging. It’s so much bigger than Boston and New York and San Francisco.

X: What catches your eye as investments?
MD: We want to fund business and brand propositions that are for my mom who grew up in upstate New York. Rockmelt fascinated me. That’s cool to VC geeks, but the average Joe doesn’t want or expect that out of a search engine. And at the end of the day, it’s the people that we believe in. We have to trust the people first and foremost. Even if it’s a great idea, if we don’t believe in the team, we wont do it.

We look at people and ideas that are disruptive, and give a better consumer experience or behavior, like Birchbox, which gives a curated experience. We don’t look at them as a tech business—they’re in the beauty business. Technology is an enabler to anything these days. Apple is not a technology company, it’s a design company. It’s a better experience company. Of course, technology is the major platform they sell, but they do such an amazing job in factoring in design for people to get a better experience.

As much as we like to brag about the science of things, it’s much more of an art.

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