Visibility builder

As the marketing pointperson for the Palo Alto- and Dallas-based Sevin Rosen Funds, Jennifer Michalski has the dual mandates of building the venture firm's brand and supporting its portfolio companies' marketing efforts. PEM recently spoke with Michalski about her responsibilities and the evolution of the marketing function at VC firms in recent years.

What is your focus as Sevin Rosen's director of marketing?
The priority has been working to extend the Sevin Rosen brand. There are so many VC firms now, that you need to think from the entrepreneurs' perspective. Aside from a few names, how do entrepreneurs navigate their way around the VC industry? VC firms do differ a great deal and there is certainly value beyond equity, especially when it comes to the operational expertise of the venture capitalist. My goal is to increase Sevin Rosen's visibility and value within that context.

Who do you work with from day to day?
There are two partners [at Sevin Rosen] who – in their previous lives – were marketers, so they manage my work. I try to see things through their eyes from both the marketing and investment perspectives. I also sit in on the partners meetings, and I couldn't stress enough the importance of this. It gives me tremendous insight – if I'm intended to parlay the firm's values, brand, and position, then the better understanding I have, the better I am able to articulate it to entrepreneurs, journalists and other venture capitalists.

What are some differences between marketing the Sevin Rosen brand and that of the firm's portfolio companies?
The reason I got into VC in the first place was to work with portfolio companies as they are defining their PR and marketing strategy to help them assess what resources they need and how best to put a strategic communications plan in place. VC is the perfect spot – the portfolio company has a business objective and has funding – now it's about executing. A sharp shove in the right direction saves so much time for these young companies. For example, you can help them identify what the press are covering, the messaging of their competition, who are the critical analysts and journalists covering their space, and how to best incorporate these influencers into the company's communications strategy.

In your experience, how have you seen the marketing function at venture firms evolve?
I started working with August Capital about five years ago as part of a group of four consultants. At that time, if you said you did marketing for VC firm, it was relatively rare. Some VC firms had some support for their portfolio companies, but not so much for themselves. There was a mentality within VC firms that, ?if we build it, they will come, and we don't need to do marketing because our investments will speak for themselves.? In the last two years, [marketing efforts] have exploded. VC continues to be a growing industry, and there are a lot of firms, so getting the word out about how they vary is a priority. I think establishing marketing best practices across the VC industry is good for all – it helps entrepreneurs understand the value of venture capital and to differentiate between firms.

What do you see as the main challenge for the marketing director at a VC firm?
Overall, building consistency across the partnership about the value of marketing can be challenging, and I think I've been fortunate that Sevin Rosen had a solid understanding of the benefits of marketing and what it should do – prior to my arrival.

How do you measure – and plan for – marketing success?
That's something where we want to hold ourselves to the same professional standards that we see with portfolio companies: return on investment. Obviously contribution to the quality of deal flow is the marketing person's charter, but finding a direct correlation between speaking engagements, public relations efforts, website development – and ?did that effort land a new deal in the firm?? is a very tough connection to make. The way I go about it is, I sit down with each partner on a bimonthly or quarterly basis, and I do a deep dive to understand the trends they are seeing in the market and what industry developments intrigue them. I also examine with them what's going on in the portfolio to track companies that are rising stars and identify ways to leverage Sevin Rosen's resources to aide our portfolio companies. Then I build my goals around that.