I try to be fully invested in everything I do. When I am with my wife and kids, they are the only thing in my world. When I’ve got my Unacast CRO hat on, I’m all about driving commercial efforts and growing the size of our business. And when I’m eyeballing potential investments, or coaching companies I’ve put skin into via C2 Ventures, my focus is on finding and opening doors of opportunity.
This state of wearing many hats is pretty familiar to most entrepreneurs. That’s just who we are. That said, I don’t think there’s any value in trying to be the master of all things, so I restrict my professional interests to what I know: adtech, martech, consumers and data.
Reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future, I’d like to share what I believe will be growing trends in these sectors in 2017. I offer this perspective wearing my investor’s hat specifically, and freshly aglow from some terrific exits in 2016. First, my investment thesis:
When it comes to understanding consumer identity, there’s Facebook and there’s everybody else.
Companies that gain access to user identity through log-in simply have a stronger story when it comes to securing ad revenue and building audiences. That makes the house that Zuckerberg built the undisputed frontrunner in terms of ability to monetize and scale and help brands do the same. In the ‘everybody else’ category, companies that build native experiences standout to me. How come?
It all comes down to bridging the gap between consumer devices and the mad men (and women) of Madison Avenue. Cross-device solutions help to increase the odds of reaching consumers wherever and whenever they happen to be. Combined with the ability to deliver creative calls to action delivered in data-defined moments of engagement, you have the stuff of advertiser’s dreams.
My previous startup, appssavvy, approached this particular opportunity from a mobile apps perspective, but there are many other sources of identity signals out there that can be tapped. One example is at Unacast, where we are building The Real World Graph ™ -- a unique POV on how consumers are contextually connected to physical locations and each other and, as a result, a whole new way of understanding identity.
It’s this type of innovative approach to deepening a brand’s ability to understand and engage consumers that I look for in all my investments. In my mind, the really good ones shake up the status quo and figure out a way to work with it at the same time. At the end of the day, if you can’t understand and cater to consumer identity at scale the way these segments and companies strive to, I don’t think you’ll have much adoption, drive revenue, or get to an exit. With that said, here’s where I am putting my time, money and attention in 2017.
The segment: Data companies
The opportunity: Data companies allow app developers and publishers to monetize first party data that would otherwise just sit idle. Done right, it is a wholly transparent experience for consumers.
How I’m investing: Via C2 Ventures, I was an early investor in Arbor.io, which was recently acquired by LiveRamp. Through that experience, I saw firsthand the value of creating net-new revenue for publishers. One of my current investments, Narrative, is building a marketplace that allows buyers to bid on cross-device signal data through a single source. This is a game changer for marketers struggling with fragmented supply. This entire segment will continue to heat-up in ‘17.
The segment: Computer Vision techs
The opportunity: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will soon just be reality. It’s a large and complex space: everything from camera hardware to image stabilization, content aware ads, and beyond.
How I’m investing: In the past, there was no way to predict the apps universe and the global ad business around it that would explode as it has. In the future, it’s a certainty that AR/VR will be the consumer’s medium of choice. But AR/VR and even regular video will never, and should never, rely on standard ad placements that are simply misaligned with and jarring to user experience. One of C2 Ventures newest investments, Uru, which aims to solve the problem with content-aware placement of ads into video. is garnering a lot of attention in the Computer Vision space.
The segment: Offline data companies
The opportunity: Bridging offline and online signals means creating a 360-degree view of identity. This is a wildly attractive value proposition to any consumer brand.
How I’m investing: Lots of companies are aggressively working towards bridging offline to online, specifically by using precise and accurate location data (read as: proximity). Obviously, I am biased here. My full-time role is leading all commercial and revenue efforts at Unacast, the #1 global platform for connecting proximity solution providers to marketing platforms. So take it with a grain of salt, but I believe in 2017 we’ll see both continued investment in this growing space and a rising tide of consolidation and M&A that will ultimately provide visibility to eventual winners and losers.
The segment: Attribution techs
The opportunity: Today, marketers are swamped with millions of data points revealing behaviors and predicting intent. It’s a big, deep sea of opportunity. The challenge is not to drown in the data.
How I’m investing: One featured player in the C2 Ventures portfolio is Yeti Data. They solve the ‘big, hairy problems’ faced by enterprise data marketers with proprietary algorithms and advanced metadata management techniques. That’s a complex way of saying that Yeti does what every good attribution tech should: they make working with a tsunami of of data much, much easier.
The segment: App SaaS platforms
The opportunity: Happy users are the holy grail to developers. Simply put, there can be no risks when it comes to user experience. App SaaS platforms ensure that’s the case by putting a new breed of tools into developer’s hands.
How I’m investing: mParticle, which I am invested in as a Limited Partner through Bowery Capital, is killing it. Why? They solve a pain point for app developers by simplifying workflow and making it easy to integrate with multiple vendors. Another company from the C2V portfolio playing in this sandbox is Embrace.io, who alert developers if something goes wrong out in the wild world of payments, UI and UX.
The segment: Consumer techs
The opportunity: Consumer-facing techs generate revenue by helping regular people do things they want to do. Sounds easy but it’s not. The key to success is finding market at scale and standing-out from the crowd.
How I’m investing: Through C2 Ventures, I’m invested in Zenrez , which helps fitness studios sell-off last minute deals, and Fresco News, a leading force in the rise of citizen journalism that taps crowdsourced photos and video to help news organizations augment coverage. These companies are both excellent examples of creative technologies that connect global consumer demands with a whole new form of supply.
The segment: Blockchain techs
The opportunity: It’s not just Bitcoin that’s doing well -- the top seven crypto currencies in the world all grew in value in 2016, both in terms of exchange value, and each company's market capitalization.
How I’m investing: C2 Ventures entered the blockchain space in 2016 with our investment in MonetaGo, which is well-positioned as a supplier of blockchain solutions for financial institutions and central banks. Now active in 40 countries, MonetaGo’s great value prop is that it extends the market opportunity of blockchain beyond the U.S. dollar, Chinese Yuan and the Euro.
These are a few of the ideas behind my investment strategy for 2017. I’d very much like to hear yours, too. Please share them here or perhaps look me up at CES 2017 in Las Vegas this week.