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Why Twitter Is an Important Weapon for Startup CEOs

I admit it, I am a Twitter junkie.

As a venture capitalist, the breaking news, opinions and insights I get from Twitter are invaluable.  But there are only a few thousand VCs in the world (cue joke about that being a few thousand too many), so what are the other 200 million people doing?

They’re engaging in the dialogue.  What dialogue, you ask?  Dialogue on topics that are meaningful to them. And therein lies the opportunity for startup CEOs.  Being engaged in the dialogue around your company, your industry, your competition, your people – is really, really important.  Especially as you scale.

Below are four reasons why I think Twitter is an absolutely critical weapon in the arsenal of today’s great startup CEOs.

To provide a few anecdotes, I tapped into the wisdom of three very successful Silicon Valley execs: Brian Grey, CEO of Bleacher Report;  Narinder Singh, Co-Founder of Appirio; and Tom Bedecarre, CEO of well-known media agency AQKA. Brian and Narinder are running really successful companies with hundreds of employees, and Tom is both a frequent user of Twitter and the CEO of a firm that provides advice to major brands on how to leverage social media.

1) Recognition.  Trust me, a short tweet saying “Engineering team is rocking it today with our new release!!!” means a hell of a lot more than the old, tired 500 word email with too many bullet points.  Twitter is meant for short, broad messages.  If you make a typo, it’s ok!  As Narinder points out, “Connecting to talent is more important than ever.  It’s incredibly competitive out there.  With Twitter, I can stay connected in a scalable and personal way with both current and future employees in a way I just can’t with any other medium.”

2) Personality.  People want to work for companies that have a personality, that have a soul.  This often starts with the CEO.  The best CEOs I know who tweet don’t just tweet about their companies.  They tweet about interesting articles they’ve read.  Or funny stuff their kids did.  Or goofups by their competition.  Or their favorite sports teams.  The bottom line – they’re letting the people in their company and in their ecosystem know they have a personality, that they care about certain topics, and that they’re active.  If you want an example, check out Marc Benioff’s Twitter feed.  He’s active, and oh by the way he’s also running a $20B market cap company.  If he has time to tweet, you have time.

3) Influence.  Twitter is a free medium to engage with more than 100 million active users.  You can’t abuse it (don’t just keep tweeting links to press releases) or people will tune you out.  Done well, however, you can be an influencer – in your company, in your industry, etc.  Brian says it well: “I use Twitter to listen.  See what the conversation is, the sentiment with respect to our brand.”  By listening, you’ll find opportunities to add to the conversation or even influence the conversation – whether it’s that one employee who needs to know you care or the 100’s of customers who rely on your service every day.  They’re tweeting, and they’ll know when you’re listening.

4) Engagement.  It’s about being part of the conversation – whether it be among employees, your industry, your investors, the media, etc.  “It’s free, it’s widely used, and it enables you to tap into the zeitgeist of your industry on a real-time basis,” says Tom.  For more on this subject, read Gary Vaynerchuk’s terrific book The Thank You Economy.  I can’t do it justice here, but Gary describes how everyone – from global brands to the local dentist – are using Twitter and social media to engage and getting MASSIVE benefits from it.

CEOs must be good at a lot of things to succeed.  Communication has traditionally been considered one of them.  With Twitter and social media at large, I’d argue that communication is more important than ever.  If you’re a startup CEO and you’re not using Twitter, GET STARTED NOW.

It takes time to earn the benefits, but they’ll be there over time.  #promise!

(No, GGV is not an investor in Twitter.  Kinda wish we were, though…)

Job Creation

I had three board meetings this week – for BlueKai, Buddy Media and Appirio.  Arguably three of the fastest growing companies in the US (all are growing at 100% or more per year), with terrific CEOs and company cultures.

A funny thing occurred to me as I looked back on my notes from these meetings: THIS IS WHERE JOB CREATION IS HAPPENING!

These three companies have added approximately 1,000 jobs in the last three years.   Yes, they’ve raised about $100M to do so, but it’s a solid bet that they’ll probably add another 1,000 jobs over the next 3-5 years as well (the combined revenue of the companies is close to $200M, and all have plans to continue hiring aggressively).  And – I can assure you these are high paying jobs with great benefits.

I don’t want to make a political statement here, but I think it’s safe to say the various programs the US government has put in place over the last 5 years to stimulate job creation haven’t worked.  They certainly haven’t created 1,000 jobs for every $100M spent.

I guess this is my subtle way of encouraging us to focus on what matters as a country – new business and job creation (see my interview a few months ago with Kym McNicholas from Forbes on the same subject).  Private sector job creation needs to be the #1 focus for us as a nation.  Period.  And we should be taking a page from the Silicon Valley playbook.

I had a chance to have lunch with Steve Case a few months ago at the Techonomy Conference in Tucson.  I was really impressed by Steve and what he is trying to do with StartupAmerica.  My guess is his biggest challenge is getting our notoriously slow moving elected officials in Washington, DC to work together and a) support causes like StartupAmerica and b) pass legislation that is helpful to small business (hint: short-term tax breaks and public business-bashing do not help).

To our elected officials: Please take time every day to ask yourself “Am I working on something today that encourages new business and job creation?”  At the very least, you should be asking “Are we creating 1,000 jobs for every $100M we invest?”

To our citizens: Start a company!  There is plenty of funding available, with historical industry shifts taking place across many industries.  If you need encouragement, read Buddy Media CEO Mike Lazerow’s article in Inc Magazine “Start a Company!”

(And yes, I realize I am simplifying the argument here, but no one likes long blog posts or political rants)

Building a Great Culture at Appirio, 2012 Edition

Had a blast with the team from Appirio this week in Napa – all 350 of them!  So much fun to see a company growing by leaps and bounds, and no surprise the company has been named one of the best places to work in the Bay Area for several years running.  Just for fun I pasted in both this year’s picture and last year’s (and couldn’t help but include the founder bobbleheads…).  Same location, twice the number of people!  And yes, Appirio is hiring…

Appirio 2012

Appirio 2011

Appirio: Strategic Investment from Salesforce, 5 Years of Growth, 1M People to the Cloud

I am a rabid fan of Appirio.  Let me put that out there as a disclaimer.  It is the kind of company every VC wants to find and invest in.  A huge market opportunity (cloud computing), terrific management team and employee base (grown from 0 to more than 400 in 5 years) and phenomenal execution (amazing customer base and financial growth).

Today, Appirio announced a strategic investment from Salesforce.com, the “big dog” in the cloud computing space.  The investment will go towards additional expansion in Europe and Asia, as well as continued growth in Appirio’s US operation.

The team put up a great blog post about why disruption has been such a key part of their strategy and success – it’s worth reading.

A few other recent Appirio news items of note:

ZDNET recently put up a great interview with Appirio CEO Chris Barbin.

MSNBC recently highlighted Appirio’s hiring momentum and creative recruiting strategies.

Congratulations to the team on 5 years of phenomenal success (looking forward to 5 more!).

My Love For Appirio – Caught on Video

If you’ve spent time around me in the last year, you know I am wildly enthusiastic about what Appirio is doing in the cloud space.  It is an awesome team doing incredible things in a trillion $ industry.

It’s an even better place to work.  The company is also on a massive hiring spree – hiring more than 40 people per quarter at current pace.  Co-founder Narinder Singh (@singhns) tweeted about a series of videos the company made to help in the recruiting effort, which you can view here.

Hopefully my enthusiasm for Appirio comes across loud and clear!

Appirio Acquires Infowelders – Welcome to the Team!

Congrats to both the Appirio and Infowelders teams on what looks to be a terrific combination, announced today.  Infowelders brings a terrific team, more than 250 customers, and a really strong presence in the MidWest to Appirio.  We couldn’t be more excited to have you guys on board!

Cloud Computing: The Outlook is Bright, According to Top CEOs

We hosted our quarterly CEO dinner at Marche restaurant in Menlo Park on Wednesday night.  The topic this quarter was Cloud Computing (intentionally broad), and as usual we ended up with an amazing group of executives from some of the country’s best cloud computing companies.  We had a lively conversation and more than a few barbs thrown.  The highlights:

– Our guest speakers were Tom Fisher, CIO of Successfactors (GGV portfolio co.), and Brian Lillie, CIO of Equinix.  Thank you both for participating.  My favorite quotes from each:

Tom: “We pay an exorbitant amount in annual fees to incumbent vendors for licenses, etc. and would love nothing more than to see a lot of those dollars flow to new players.”

Brian: “We have a cloud-first policy.  For any new strategy, concept, etc., we look to use cloud-based apps and technology as a default.”

– Our Associate Adam Altman organized an iPad survey (using PollDaddy) at the dinner.  A few highlights from that survey:

+ 90% of attendees said they believe their customers are going to spend A LOT more on cloud technology in 2011 than in 2010, “I’m seeing aggressive spending trends.”  Consistent with what we are seeing in our portfolio, as well as the market at large.

+ 53% of attendees have raised >$15M in venture capital.  Not surprising, given the enterprise focus of most cloud companies.

+ 60% of attendees feel hiring is harder than usual and/or a major challenge right now.  As I’ve written in other posts, this is a major challenge in Silicon Valley right now.

+ Only 16% of attendees worry about competition from large incumbent vendors.  68% worry most about competition from emerging companies and startups.

+ 58% of attendees feel cloud startup valuations are “high, but justified given the potential.”  We certainly agree, and it’s why we’re constantly putting new money to work in this space.  Additionally, 74% said they believe valuations will be richer in 6 months than they are now.  We’re all for it…

It takes guts and a lot of optimism to run a high growth company in a competitive space like cloud computing, so our survey results are not surprising.  I do have to agree, however, with John Dillon, CEO of EngineYard, who said to the group “I’ve been around the block for a few cycles.  This one is going to be even bigger than anyone in this room believes.”

Thanks to all who attended.  We’ll do it again soon.

 

Appirio Crowdsources the Cloud with CloudSpokes

Psyched to see Appirio launch CloudSpokes today.  Sort of like TopCoder but solely focused on the public cloud, and Appirio is putting up $1M to get the ball rolling.  Sample press coverage on ZDNET and PCWorld.

Appirio CIO Blog: What CIOs Want

Good post yesterday from Ryan Nichols on the Appirio CIO blog entitled “What CIOs Want (and why startups don’t give it to them).” Some really good points / lessons learned for early stage companies selling into the CIO.  Not sure I think of Mel Gibson (photo at end of post) when I think of happy CIOs, but hey – Ryan was focused on the content, not the look 🙂

Building a Great Culture @ Appirio

I spoke this week at Appirio’s Annual Meeting – 200 people from around the world came to Napa for 5 great days of hard work and a little fun.  Spend time with these guys and it’s no wonder they were named one of the top 10 places to work in the Bay Area in 2010!  And yes, Appirio is hiring

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