December 31, 2020No Comments

West Venture Studio 2020 in Review

As the West Venture Studio team wraps up projects and lays the groundwork for new ones, we’re also pausing to reflect on the giant and tumultuous year that was 2020.

With 2020 coming to a close, we would like to take this opportunity to thank each of you for being a part of our community and for the support you have shown us throughout the year. We are grateful to our team, and the teams of our studio and portfolio companies who have shown exceptional commitment and strength in these ever changing times. 

We wrote in March of this year that the COVID-19 global health crisis has hit us all in a way very few could have imagined, and unfortunately we are still far from the end. In that same newsletter we also noted that, “as leaders, it is of the utmost importance to listen to your employees, customers, consumers and communities, learn from them, and respond with compassion.” As we close the chapter on 2020 and look towards 2021, these words continue to serve as a guiding light and of critical importance. And it is with this perspective that we approach 2021, ready to build. 

On our partners

We were honored to work with more than 30 incredible companies this year––building brands at the forefront of their respective industries from healthcare and fitness, to entertainment, enterprise software, and the future of work. Our venture fund selectively invests in a few of our studio partners. It was an active year with 7 new seed to series B investments in companies including State Space, VergeSense, Solo Funds, Mab & Stoke, LogicInk, and others to be announced soon. 

Some highlights from this year include LogicInk and Contakt World announcing their partnership to develop a COVID-19 Biosensor Sticker (via LogicInk) and Solo Funds being named Startup of the Year (via Established). This fall, Newfront Insurance announced it has raised over $100M to digitize insurance (via Forbes) while Proxy was featured as one of three innovations meeting the demands of the new Covid-19 world (via Inc.). At the beginning of the year, Torch announced its acquisition of peer-to-peer mentorship marketplace, Everwise, and has continued to scale its personalized coaching and development platform (via TechCrunch). A special shout out to Mursion, Impossible Foods, Proxy, and Nebia for being selected to Fast Company’s 2020 World’s Most Innovative List. 

These are just a few of the publicly available moments. What isn’t included here are all of the hard work and accomplishments that don’t always make the news. Those moments are equally as important and we know the effort that goes into making deadlines, hitting OKRs, and accomplishing sprints. 

On West Venture Studio

We are incredibly proud of how our team came together, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. This year we added two new team members––Oliver Slate-Green and Carlton Evans––and had six interns join us throughout the year. 

Oliver joins as our Growth Marketing Strategist to help our portfolio companies and studio partners better define and reach their audiences by facilitating the art-meets-science process of answering: what are our known knowns, unknown knowns, unknown unknowns? Oliver is a person wholly obsessed with growth in its myriad forms and meanings. When not wrestling with existential quagmires, he is fixated on the perspective of the end user. He cut his teeth in the entertainment marketing industry before settling in for a nearly decade-long stretch at Fortune 500 companies, where he created strategies for and executed against go-to-market plans that moved needles (and broke servers!) for brands like Clif Bar, Fresh Step, Clorox, Teance Fine Teas, LUNA, Green Works, Glad, and more. 

Carlton is a veteran producer and former academic with a passion for tackling the complexities required to translate a vision, feeling, and message into a meaningful experience for audiences. As Director of Production, he brings those long-standing interests to West where he leads multifaceted creative projects in the studio. A visionary film festival founder, curator, and entrepreneur, Carlton brings nearly two decades of creative production experience for a range of clients including Cisco, Facebook, Oakland Museum of California, and Mountain Hardwear to West. Carlton has had extensive experience leading diverse teams, producing television and film for over 15 years, with premieres at such prestigious festivals as Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW. Carlton’s eye for innovative expressions led him to found the Disposable Film Festival in 2007, which celebrates innovation in new media filmmaking internationally. He also co-founded PROJECTOR, which brings companies, causes and directors together to create films inspired by revolutionary ideas. Carlton’s work at West brings his engagement with film and documentary full circle, helping new companies translate their stories and giving them life through multimedia.

We refreshed our brand (check out the new and many of our teammates shared their perspectives and expertise on our blog. Our most-read pieces of 2020 include a look at how China will impact the future of marketing, the importance of a good communication strategy, and how changing rates for social media influencers impact strategy

In a recent year in review team meeting, we came together to discuss the many moments of the past year. As a full team, we spent more than 4,600 minutes together. We laughed, cried, played Codewords, learned to cook risotto, guessed obscure song titles, and most importantly we created space to share and listen to one another. 


We will continue to make space to listen and learn from one another and are always here for you and our community.

We’re committed to partnering with exceptional founders to maximize their opportunity. We build for impact and in 2021, we look forward to doing just that.

December 22, 2020No Comments

West Ventures X John Hamm: 5 steps every CEO should consider for 2021

Earlier this month, we were fortunate to have Executive & CEO Coach, and West board advisor, John Hamm, host two sessions for the West community on topics that should be top of mind for CEOs going into 2021. The author of “Unusually Excellent”, John is also a serial technology CEO, venture investor, executive & CEO leadership coach, and board director. 

As we approach the final push of 2020, planning for the future and the opportunities and challenges ahead  is top of mind for every leader. Because we’re working in this new and highly unpredictable environment, we have to be much more intentional about how we lead, how we use language, how we motivate others, and how we stay connected to the culture in our organizations. 

Below are some of the key insights from our discussion. We hope that as you take time to reflect past, present, and future on your journey as a leader, these themes will serve as guideposts for your own reflection. 

Here are some high points John suggested all CEOs consider in thinking about the year ahead:

Adopt the CEO mindset

As a CEO, you must design and build a solid, high-performing company, and a growing, strong business. These are different challenges that require different approaches. You will frequently be called upon to fight fires and react instantaneously to urgent demands, but you should always be guided by a long-term vision and not exclusively those demands. 

Furthermore, it is the sole responsibility of the CEO to lead the team, assure H1 (Horizon 1 - next 2-3 quarters) performance, and create H2 (Horizon 2 - next 2-3 years) strategy– simultaneously. Balancing the job of leading people with the H1 & H2  strategy and holding a focus on execution is no small feat and it’s why not everyone is cut out to be a CEO. To do so, effectively, you must ruthlessly allocate your time, and build the best processes and strategies for your teams. 

Hire world class talent

John emphasized that there is simply no substitute for building a world class team and, that no activity, other than raising capital, is more important for a CEO than managing talent. The worst thing you can do is continue to kick the hiring can down the road and ignore your organization’s need for great talent. For younger companies, you should consider where you are in your financial journey and what it will take from a capitalization standpoint to acquire the talent you need. If you are not capitalized to build a team, then you are not capitalized to build a company. 

Build a values-based, opt-in culture

If you hadn’t prioritized culture before 2020, the sudden shift to fully remote work unearthed each and every crack in the facade. John reminded the group that you can’t start too early and you can’t over-invest. A good culture creates a positive flywheel that works its way into all parts of your organization and hiring process. A culture is like a brand, John shared. “Just like you don’t “assert” your brand, your culture is a reflection of what you have built, not an assertion of what you’d like it to me” 

John believes that hiring for a set of predefined values or principles is crucial to success. Make joining the culture a very specific opt-in point during the hiring process of joining the company. Some companies go as far as having employees review and sign agreements upon joining the company that they will uphold the culture to the best of their abilities. There are a number of resources and companies with great culture to pull from, so there is no reason to reinvent the wheel here, but there is a reason to make it your own.

Evaluate how and when you communicate

When you reach a certain point as CEO, communication with your team normally includes a mix of 1 on 1s, executive and leadership team meetings, and company All Hands. John noted that most leaders overestimate their executive team’s ability to re-communicate important messages with the required context, and manage dialogue and feedback throughout the organization. As CEO, you must fully recognize the power of (and need for) organizational communication and take your place at the head of this proverbial table. 

But setting the schedule is only half the job. Most leaders underestimate the need from their team for contextual direction, perspective, and regular reminders about vision, mission, and purpose. John recommends focusing on communicating the vision and the why. The “what” you do is more straightforward, and the “how” is the job of the team.  

Remember, communication means connecting. You should first seek to understand others and then, to be understood. The best leaders are first and foremost great listeners. 

Context Matters

More than ever, companies need to be more than just companies, but there is a limit as to what other purposes a company should attempt to fulfill -  and as the leader, you have to consider the context of your platform, what is appropriate communication to parties outside your organization, and what obligations you have to your investors, employees, shareholders, and the long term position of the company. The world is pulling CEOs in a number of competing directions towards tricky topics. Some are important, and some highly distracting to the ”normal” challenges of running a company. John reminded the group that as CEO, you must carefully find your footing, your stance, and your voice on a handful of increasingly important (to your teams) external challenges and issues. 

We’ll leave you with a final thought-starter to reflect on how you will lead next year and beyond. 

“Use the power of CEO-ship, not to position your personal ideas ahead of the ideas of your team, but rather, to get the right people into the room, distill the right information, and drive constructively so that everyone comes out with the right plan.”

John’s reading suggestions:

December 21, 2020No Comments

West Ventures X The Last Mile –– Building a Personal Brand

What if you made a mistake in the blink of an eye? Would you forever be frozen at the time of that mistake even if it was only a millisecond? Too often this is the case for those who end up in the criminal justice system. They wish they could go back and erase that second. Their sentence doesn’t end at release. They are challenged to explain what happened for the rest of their life. 

Since 1991, the number of incarcerated people in the U.S. has risen by 50% while violent crime has fallen by roughly 20%. Countless individuals and organizations have been working tirelessly in our country on the issues of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, and the events of 2020 brought these conversations squarely to the national stage. A significant contributor to the cycle of incarceration is the lack of infrastructure and community support for employment, education, and housing opportunities upon release. In fact, nearly 75% of formerly incarcerated people are still unemployed a year after release. According to NAACP, joblessness is the single most important predictor of recidivism.

Earlier this year, West had the opportunity to partner with The Last Mile (TLM), a non-profit launched in 2010 by Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti to tackle the societal impact of incarceration and ultimately break the cycle of recidivism. Founded on the core belief that securing a job is the key to successful reentry, TLM’s mission is to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth for justice-impacted individuals through technology training. The incarceration process is dehumanizing at best and so TLM works to restore dignity within participants, instilling confidence through the TLM community and equipping them with the tools for success. They’re doing so with full-stack coding bootcamps across 23 classrooms and 6 states. TLM is the first organization to launch full-stack coding programs inside U.S. prisons and their work is bringing much-needed attention to this critical issue. 

When the TLM team approached West, they expressed that a major pain point for the program is helping participants cultivate and unlock their personal brand stories. Even after successfully surmounting the challenges of gaining technical depth in coding while incarcerated with no access to the internet, graduating The Last Mile’s program, successfully reintegrating into society, and securing gainful employment, it can still be uncomfortable for The Last Mile Graduates to interact with new coworkers in an office environment. Graduates of the program expressed the need to better craft their personal mission and vision as it related to their new path. Our challenge was to create the tools and frameworks for participants to use in communicating their experiences, personal stories, and ultimately their personal brand to others. 

What comes to mind when you hear the word “brand”? Is it the big legacy players like Nike and Coca Cola? Or is it the trendy vibes on your social media feed? Ultimately, a brand is the sum total of your interactions with that company. At West, we also believe that the most innovative (and valuable) companies can only become so when they build end-to-end experiences and therefore, brands, that truly address customers’ unmet needs. Individuals also have personal brands too, whether or not they cultivate them. The way you tell your story, how you carry yourself, the decisions you make, and your outlook in life all matter to your personal brand. And with social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, the lines between personal and professional are blurring more than ever. 

This was a unique opportunity for our team. There are major structural challenges and cultural stigmas working against formerly incarcerated individuals, and we were honored to lend our expertise in storytelling to aid this community in preparation for such a major and deeply personal transition. It was also a moment to apply our values––Truth-Telling, Uncommon, Relentless, Bold, Optimists-–firsthand. We historically haven’t shied away from “controversial” topics, rather, getting excited by the challenge and the possibility of creating something amazing, together. We understood it would take all of our truth-telling, uncommon thinking, relentless effort, bold action, and optimistic outlook to deliver value.

There are countless ways to tell any story, and while we typically focus on brands, we know that these core concepts apply to individual stories, too. So our first step was to design and lead a 3-hour workshop that fit TLM participants’ unique needs with exercises that created a safe space for the students and West team facilitators to connect, share, and co-create in-person at San Quentin. We were striving to create an environment and a framework in which TLM participants could realize and independently articulate their own North Stars. 

The West Team at San Quentin State Prison
The West Team at San Quentin State Prison

As we worked together through this Personal Brand Workshop, we saw the incredible stories of the participants come to life. Participants - who have worked incredibly hard to get through a demanding program with TLM - honored their strength and found new and creative ways to express who they are, where they’ve been, and where they want to go. Our San Quentin visit was also our first experience applying this framework to the individual and based on team feedback we are now working to bring a version of this workshop to our broader community for use on their own time. 

As 2020 comes to a close, we are excited to continue collaborating with TLM and their community. We can’t and won’t forget the numerous discussions we had as individuals and as a team, and our commitment to combat the institutionalized racism that exists in this country. While we began our partnership with TLM before conversations on civic justice reached their apex this year, through this workshop, we saw a meaningful opportunity to continue scaling this model in order to serve more participants of TLM. While COVID-19 halted many operations across the U.S. prison system, The Last Mile has been working tirelessly on new initiatives that will continue bringing value to program participants, and we are excited to continue this partnership and share more in the new year. 

More to come from TLM and the West team!

December 11, 2020No Comments

Founder Essentials: How to price your product

This is the second post in a series on the topics that are top-of-mind for founders and the bite-sized building blocks needed for success.

Last quarter we dove into the fundamentals of building a consumer brand in 2020. With new companies and products slated to launch in the first half of next year, we wanted to address questions commonly asked by our founders when it comes to pricing their products, services, and overall businesses. Our Managing Director, Stacy Tarver Patterson, shared her initial thoughts during her Quora session, so we’re zeroing in on three concepts that can jumpstart any pricing discussion. 

As a venture studio, our work sits at the unique intersection of brand strategy, creative, business strategy and venture capital. We work with founders and teams at key inflection points in their businesses––like launching a new product into the market. We can’t stress enough how important a role pricing plays in the way your business shows up in the market and how your potential customers perceive you. Pricing is not only a modeling question, it’s also a brand question. 

One all too common mistake we see founders make is jumping right into excel––building the models and frameworks before answering the big strategic questions. While pricing models shift with business models (B2B, B2C, etc.), the strategies below are applicable to all models and markets and they will reframe your perspective to address the big strategic questions, first. We hope that these ideas will lay the foundation for a successful pricing strategy and provide tangible exercises to try when considering your pricing model and positioning in the market.  

Price the problem, not the solution

Before you can set a pricing model that makes sense for your business, you need to consider what your product is actually accomplishing for your customers. Most customers care more about what issue they’re solving with your product than they do about the specifics of how it is being solved. How much money, time, or effort does your product save for your ideal customers? How much power, peace of mind, or joy do they gain with your product? Once you have those answers, you can better assess what your solution is worth to those who need it. 

What else is in their basket?  

After identifying the cost of the problem, it’s important to understand the full landscape of solutions and products that consumers currently use to accomplish their goal. For example, if your company is selling a product for runners, you should know how many dollars your ideal customer currently spends on running gear, equipment, and anything else that goes into their training. Even if your product is niche, try to imagine the bucket - and budget - your ideal customer would place your product in. Once you better understand their budget and the overall spending habits of the category, you can consider the “total basket,” or “total wallet,” size. This gives you the key to understanding how much a customer would be willing to pay for your product and what unexpected market share you may be capturing from your category. 

Your price is not the final price

It’s important to look beyond the direct competition in the market. Consider what other factors may impact the final cost to your customer. Sales, promotions, partnerships, giveaways, price negotiations, inventory costs, and customer journey friction can all affect the sticker price. The specific outside factors absolutely will vary from business to business, but thinking ahead and considering how your price may be impacted – and as a result, your margins – by external forces, matters. Moreover, consider what is expected as a result of your branding. If your product exists in a luxury market, what is expected of something at that price? Make sure that when you factor in outside considerations, you don’t forget to include customer expectations.

Okay, so now what?

To help you get started, we created a quick template that can be used to kickoff any pricing conversation. On the template, you'll see an example on the right side. Use that to guide you throughout the exercise. You can view and download the template here

And remember, pricing needs to be in lock step with your overall marketing! It’s an element of your brand that is critical to nail early on. Most companies only get to introduce themselves once, so ensuring that the price fits your customer’s needs and meets the expectations you set through your brand should be a top consideration. 

For more brand fundamentals, check out Stacy Tarver Patterson’s 3 Essentials for Building Consumer Brands and Jeremy Lind’s guide to building the right Customer Journey.

October 14, 2020No Comments

How to better manage marketing within your organization

Earlier this month, Matt joined Kimberly Whitler for a discussion on how startups should better manage marketing within their organization and the key pitfalls to avoid. This interview originally appeared on Forbes.

Kimberly A. Whitler: In your current role, you’ve come across a number of startup firms. One of the biggest challenges CEOs face is driving growth — or finding new customers and creating more loyal customers. This is especially a challenge for startups. One thing I’ve noticed is that some startups devalue marketing expertise, waiting until a later stage of development to bring in marketing expertise, rather than giving marketing talent a founder/partner position. They then are surprised when they can’t find a market for their product. Have you seen this? What insight can you provide as to why so many startups mismanage marketing?

Matt Hirst: That’s a great point. So much of this is a misunderstanding of what marketing is and can do. First, companies need to focus on their product’s truth and the outcome it provides or the need it serves. At West, we have this saying around ‘Build for Impact’. The impact you have or the purpose you serve is the core tenant of your brand. Marketing is a key driver in crystalizing that message and disseminating it out into the world.

Organizations that hold a heavy product or engineering bias can run into the most trouble. I actually experienced this firsthand during my time at Google. There was a mindset along the lines of “hey, we (engineers) have built this product, can you go market it for us?” The team was essentially asking for someone in marketing to draw up creative assets and drive (or create the need for) adoption. Of course, the marketing team’s reaction at that point should be to take a step back and ask, “What was the insight that drove (you to create) the product?”, “Who is the audience?”, “Why should they care?” The issue, of course, is that all of these questions needed to have been asked much further upstream.

Whitler: It seems that marketing teams are pulled in right at the end because startups prioritize that initial engineering and technical talent needed to build without considering the long-term need for brand-building. Any insight on why this occurs?

Hirst: In the engineer’s defense, they have access to a lot of powerful data, which they use to drive their decision making in real-time. But user data is only one part of a successful product development strategy. The marketer’s role is to help extol the value of consumer insight, helping product teams see around corners and build products that address truly unmet needs. Teams love to build, iterate, and push their updates out into the wild, none of which is bad.

But all of that energy is lost — and conflicts or frustrations with the marketing teams arise — when what they’re building does not meet a true consumer (or technological) need.

This isn’t just true of product development — creating features, use cases, adoption and ongoing engagement. We live in a world where in any given category there are a number of apps, widgets or services, thus ‘Brand’ and brand resonance is critical. And given that brand is synonymous with a product experience, then the brand (its differentiated functional and emotional positioning) needs to be built deep within the product DNA — its not simply a wrapper.

This is a long way of saying that marketing needs to be at the table from day 1. For many organizations, this is a big pill to swallow.

Whitler: What are the other things that marketers need to be aware of in engineering-heavy cultures?

Hirst: Look at how data is collected, used, and emphasized by organizations. For my money there has been an over rotation towards measuring and quantifying in order to justify action and implementation. This in part has led towards the over reliance on sources and mediums that can quantify (i.e. performance marketing). Being able to quantify CAC (customer acquisition cost) on a dollar in perspective versus an impressions/engagement out perspective is very seductive, but it’s not how you build a brand. I often use the example that the best things in life such as friendship and love can’t be quantified (and those emotions underwrite the relationships with our favorite bands), but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. While intellectually most people, marketers especially, understand that to be true, it can be very hard for their organizations to make that leap.

Whitler: What advice do you have for startups? How can they do a better job leveraging marketing to achieve success?

Hirst: Successful companies have been those that allowed CMOs to have seats at the sales, retail, brand / product design, etc. tables, rather than purely acquisition or traditional brand. This requires a certain type of CEO and a significant amount of discipline and trust by the organization in their marketing partners. These are the brands that everyone wants to emulate (Airbnb, Red Bull), but while many copy their output and stylistics, few understand that it is their structure that creates the brand.

The full conversation was first published on Forbes.

September 1, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Founder Essentials: 3 Strategies for creating a consumer startup brand in 2020

This is the first post in a series on the topics that are top-of-mind for founders and the bite-sized building blocks needed for success.

In a recent Quora Session, our Managing Director, Stacy Tarver Patterson, addressed a number of questions on building startup brands and the future of marketing. Today we’re sharing her takeaways on the initial strategies needed to create consumer brands in 2020.

1) Build Community

Get your audience and community profile down to a point that it is so specific and distinctive. Become absolutely obsessed with getting everything right for that well-defined community. On this point, before you do anything, read the short essay ‘1000 true fans’ by Kevin Kelly. Read it weekly, even (call me crazy, but I do).

My simple approach to doing this only requires some light Internet stalking. Find the 10 people who are the best representatives of the consumer you want your brand to serve. Not just 10 people who fit your demographic, but the 10 people you would nominate to be the *spokespeople* for this community. What’s their personality and behavior on key digital platforms? (Keep detailed notes!) Take a look at everything they’ve posted. What are the common buckets of themes and occasions? What is their fashion/lifestyle attitude? How do they express themselves, at what times, and how do they talk about their style? Who are they following? (Make a list in a spreadsheet.) Whose posts do they like, share, comment on? Do they have haters or enemies online? Follow these 10 people, comment on their posts, encourage them, engage them in conversation, make them feel loved and appreciated, and then share your values and vision/what you are building with them.

Repeat this process everyday until you can no longer handle it, and if you’ve laid the groundwork well enough, it should be relatively easy to handoff this process.

2) Embrace who you are NOT for

Always be sharpening what it is you stand for as a brand.

This should be relatively easy (and fun) to do if you’ve built a strong community (see above). One (fun) tool we employ for sharpening brand platforms at West is a hypothetical drinking game. Explain what your brand is about in one sentence. Then pretend you’ve had a drink, and do this again. Now how would you explain it after two drinks… then three drinks? Write each of these down and repeat them out loud. It’s usually the “three drinks” statement that sounds best and lives on.

You'll also have to be so convinced in this direction that it won't bother you when people don't get it. Some people will even hate it –– that's when you know you have a strong POV that is worthy of people's love and attention.

3) Strive for a benchmark-setting end-to-end experience

Shopping is an emotive experience, especially in the world of fashion. Even convenience shopping and Amazon fall into this category for me, because frustration is an emotion and it sits on the other side of failing to provide convenience.

Understand what emotion(s) you are optimizing for when you are building your commerce front end. What mindset are your customers coming in with and what do you want them to leave with? If you can remember back to a foot traffic and B&M shopping time, the experience of shopping had evolved so much.

It is still surprising to me that when it comes to e-commerce, white background gridwalls still largely prevail, with only a handful of really successful experiences starting to change that. This is getting quite tactical, but experiment with things like video on your product detail pages and collection pages (or better yet, a unique format you can own) to evoke the right type of emotion you want shoppers to feel when they are shopping your brand.

Remember that there are 5 senses. Outside of your own platform, fully map out everywhere your community can and will come into contact with your brand. Then complete the same exercise of identifying which emotion you are optimizing for at each touchpoint, and make sure you are addressing each one adequately. My colleague Jeremy Lind at West has a great template available for this exercise here.

For more takeaways on marketing and startups, follow Stacy on LinkedIn.

August 4, 2020No Comments

Helping West Companies Find the Right Talent

West’s Arthur Gallanter on our talent practice and approach to building teams. This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

My colleague, Matt Hirst, recently spoke with Forbes and Kimberly Whitler––former CMO and current Associate Professor of Business at the UVA’s Darden School of Business––about marketing talent and the pitfalls startups should avoid when hiring their first senior marketing leaders. It’s a great read for marketing professionals and CEOs looking to hire world class marketers. As the former Global Head of Brand Experience at Google and Head of Culture Marketing at Red Bull, Matt has a wealth of knowledge on the range of disciplines that marketers bring to the table (brand, product, growth) and how founders should correctly hire for the immediate and long-term needs of their business. 

I wanted to pause here and take this opportunity to talk more broadly about West’s recruiting practice and our approach to building teams. 

For those who don’t know, West is a venture studio. We are a team of brand and market experts that have investor discipline and an investment fund. We work with companies in our studio first––focussing on only the most critical components of building an impactful brand and creating true defensibility––and then selectively invest in them through our venture fund to double down on that growth.

A little over a year ago, founders from our studio & portfolio companies started asking us to help them recruit for key marketing and sales roles. The request for help came naturally. As brand builders, we want to ensure that our studio partners have the team in place to continue executing on their vision and the growth plans we created together. As investors, we have aligned interests in finding the right talent that will help drive growth for our companies. 

Though this was a new practice to West, we found that our unique venture studio model provided us with advantages and an ideal partnership with founders. It also yielded a better candidate experience. During our studio engagements we are core members of the team, and thus are able to generate excitement for the positions and better articulate the opportunities to potential future hires. We gain a deep understanding of a company’s culture and can effectively share this insight with high potential candidates.

Today, West offers contingency recruiting services for our clients and investment portfolio companies. Our recruitment services focus primarily on hiring for executive talent, as well as key roles in Marketing, Operations, Finance, and Sales. During that process, we also counsel founders on recruiting and talent processes, best practices, commission, equity, titles, and more. We help our founders build and reinforce their employee brand to enable them to create a flywheel for recruiting beyond our engagement. 

Personally, it has been an incredible experience leading this new practice at West. I describe myself on LinkedIn as a conversationalist because I enjoy how connecting with people can lead to new beginnings. I feel privileged that I am able to work with founders on finding the right talent for their teams and how I get to spend every day meeting incredible people who are looking for the next step in their career.

I encourage you to take a moment to read Matt’s thoughts specifically on marketing talent here

If you’re looking for a new opportunity, don’t hesitate to reach out directly at or send me a note on LinkedIn.

July 7, 2020No Comments

4 Startup CEOs on Vision

West Portfolio CEOs on Playing Offense and Defense

Visionary and bold founders build for the future. The potential to shift the collective experience with a vision for a fairer, better, or faster future is what we love most about this industry. To achieve this vision, companies require leaders who can simultaneously play defense and offense, and COVID-19 has increased that necessity tenfold. In the past six months, leaders have been asked to manage cash and cut expenses while looking for new market opportunities in a world that is still spinning. In sports, most players excel at one or the other; early stage and startup CEOs must play both, at once.

With travel restricted for the foreseeable future, West recently converted our planned day-long June LP Summit into monthly zoom panels, offering our LPs a chance to hear directly from our portfolio companies on a specific topic. For our first session, we gathered portfolio startup CEOs TJ Farnsworth, CEO of Inception/Prelude Fertility, Jean Brownhill, CEO and co-founder of Sweeten, Denis Mars, CEO and co-founder of Proxy, and Lily Kanter, CEO and Founder of Boon Supply, to discuss how each are leading through unexpected challenges and embracing the changing landscape. Below are some of the key insights that these leaders shared about executing a robust response to the unexpected opportunities and challenges this year.

Trust Your Vision And Stick To It

Sweeten founder and CEO, Jean Brownhill, has always been adamant in her vision that the future of construction would be digital-first. In 2019, she doubled down on the company’s digital experiences. From payments to video conferencing in the app, the improved UX is now paying off exponentially. The average homeowner is 35 years old, expects seamless digital experiences in all aspects of their life, and Jean knew that home renovation was no exception. Even when faced with resistance from general contractors who were initially hesitant about the shift to digital, she prepared her company for this future vision. 

“We’ve seen 3-to-5 years of tech innovation happen over night as far as the adaptive challenge of getting our general contractors to really embrace technology. Every ounce of resistance is now gone.” – Jean Brownhill, Sweeten 

Lily Kanter’s Boon Supply experienced a similar acceptance of our fully digital world when schools closed. Founded to elevate fundraising and give organizers choice over the products sold and the charitable causes they championed, Lily believed in a future where school fundraising wasn’t constrained to paper forms and bake offs. The fundraising business is a massive industry that has been largely untouched by technology as individual school reps  accounted for most of the business. 

“We were holding on to the old legacy world. At this time we have an opportunity to leap frog and accelerate. So, I’m leaning a lot more on the vision that I have had and my gut on where to go. The old has slipped out from under us and we’re taking advantage of this opportunity to embrace what is truly new.” – Lily Kanter, Boon Supply

Find Opportunity by Leading the Response

Prelude Fertility, the fastest-growing network of fertility clinics in the United States, was required to close all in-person activities following guidelines to suspend fertility treatment for patients, putting a hold on the fertility journeys of thousands of hopeful families. As the largest network of fertility clinics across the country, this was not only detrimental to Prelude’s business, but also to the lives of so many of their patients. 

So TJ Farnsworth founded and led an industry-wide coalition to reinstate the urgency and essential nature of these services. Together with other fertility clinics, experts, and thought leaders, he formed a new professional society to negotiate with and educate policy and government officials. His leadership reversed the policy and allowed clinics to re-open earlier than expected. TJ’s experience highlights the importance of going on the offensive to really make change happen. 

Proxy––the provider of digital identities for the physical world––was in the midst of rapid expansion with corporate real estate providers. Companies like Doordash, Dropbox and Accenture all enable their employees, visitors and tenants to use their Proxy signals for frictionless smartphone-based access throughout the workplace. As offices closed, so did immediate opportunities for growth. However, founders Denis Mars and Simon Ratner have always stuck to their vision for a frictionless world and this larger opportunity is the reason West invested earlier this year. From our house and car keys to driver’s licenses, building doors, and gym fobs, Proxy is building a frictionless, personalized future, and is at the forefront of helping companies safely re-open with touchless experiences for employees. 

Unlock Growth With A Strong Offense

This first half of 2020 was a stark reminder that sometimes the best plans must be scrapped and revisited. A vertical strategy shifts horizontal, a primary growth channel closes, a key account vanishes. By playing offense and defense, sticking to their founding visions, and leading when others sat back, these startup CEOs accepted the obstacles ahead and found alternate routes to keep marching forward. 

July 1, 2020No Comments

Welcome, Carlton

We are thrilled to welcome Carlton Evans as Director of Production to the West team. 

A visionary film festival founder, curator, and entrepreneur, Carlton brings nearly two decades of creative production experience for a range of clients including Cisco, Facebook, Oakland Museum of California, and Mountain Hardwear to our studio. As we continue expanding our creative capabilities in pursuit of building impactful brands, Carlton’s extensive experience leading multi-faceted teams in producing films, animations, websites, and other creative and marketing assets is already impacting our studio work. In his short time at West, he has already jumped in on a range of projects from website development to video reel productions with studio and portfolio companies. Tackling the complexities required to translate a vision, feeling, and message into a digestible experience for the viewer is where he shines.  

 “What particularly excites me about the opportunity at West is bringing my passion for film and animation to our creative capabilities. I’m thrilled to be providing assets to our clients that can help move audiences to action, potentially making all the difference for their businesses.”

An independent producer, Carlton’s documentary and narrative productions have screened at notable festivals worldwide including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, Palm Springs, and Rotterdam. He holds a PhD in Art History and Film Theory from Stanford University and co-founded the Disposable Film Festival in 2007, which celebrates innovation in new media filmmaking internationally. At West, we are brand builders to our core. Defining and communicating a brand’s purpose is critical to our work, and Carlton’s collective talents will further amplify the stories we seek to tell.  

“I’m also very inspired by the venture studio model, which I believe makes so much sense, and establishes a deep alignment that can’t exist in traditional creative agencies. That alignment isn’t solely between agency and client, which of course is fundamental, but within West itself. It reduces tensions that can exist between strategy and creative in other contexts and creates a true partnership between our team and the companies in our studio.”

When not in the studio, Carlton lives in Berkeley with his wife Emi, and three-year-old daughter Karina. A voracious record collector, he’s enjoyed watching his daughter’s music tastes evolve and recently switched up his electric guitar for an acoustic, which is much better suited for picking out and playing Karina’s favorites. You can find Carlton over on IG @Carltone.

June 10, 2020No Comments

Welcome, VergeSense: Building a brand for the new era of workplace design

We are pleased to announce our investment in VergeSense.

Our world is flooded with data and insights. From bits, bytes to gigabytes and more, we take stock and we study. But for the ubiquity of buildings, we have never collected the data and analyzed their usage patterns.

Zero-ing in on the workplace, remote workers, distributed teams, and flexible multi-tenant office space are just a sampling of the numerous ways our office dynamics have transformed over the last two decades. Open layouts, team placements, conference rooms, and even napping pods are all decisions that have historically been based on accumulated wisdom and rough guesses, but rarely on hard data. COVID-19 brought in another layer of complexity and rapid change. We know that our offices will never disappear, but the way we interact with and use our office will evolve. With so much transformation, little has been done to determine the efficacy or impact of these changes. 

Starting with building and workplace design, VergeSense combines deep-learning sensors with space-intelligence software to help existing corporate real estate owners better understand their current space, as well as the new era of designers and space providers build purposeful spaces that work for our changing world. The team has already established a beachhead in the corporate real estate market and partnered with dozens of Fortune 1000 customers all over the world to unearth opportunities to make smarter use of their space. With easy-to-install and best-in-class sensors that meet the needs of a range of companies and environments, VergeSense delivers superior functionality and is igniting a new era of data and insights. 

The challenge was to develop a brand that could match VergeSense’s technical leadership, and speak to large enterprises while magnifying the company’s fresh, innovative approach to understanding physical spaces. Working with the team on two phases of their brand development, West partnered with VergeSense to unlock their market opportunity by   establishing a brand foundation and executing the design of assets that reflect this new positioning. With new visual and verbal designs, we made space for VergeSense to take hold of their market opportunity and lead their industry. Investing in the company was a natural progression of our partnership and captures the efficacy of our venture studio model. 

“Even before COVID-19, we saw how powerful VergeSense's technology could be in helping us experience and envision buildings and spaces in entirely new ways. With so many companies also now trying to figure out how to use and design office spaces in order to comply with new health precautions, and more generally as what we demand from our offices and office spaces changes, we are excited about the opportunity ahead and our partnership thus far.” 

-Matt Hirst, West 


“When building a company, it’s not always enough to have a great product. Equally as important is how you communicate that product to the market. We were looking for a partner that could help us think holistically about how we position ourselves, both visually and verbally, and how we show up in the market. West helped us do just that.

We were impressed by the West team and their ability to think both creatively and strategically and have a solid grasp of our business challenge. When the opportunity arose to bring West on as investors, it was a natural fit.”

-Dan Ryan, VergeSense

Companies thrive when the people within them thrive. In a world where we are deeply affected by our surroundings, and spend a large majority of our day working, we are blind when it comes to measuring and understanding efficacy and impact. Without these insights, how do we decide what shapes and defines our work environment? In using technology to make the built environment a happier, healthier, and more productive place, VergeSense is helping us design and build with purpose.

June 3, 2020No Comments

A Message From Our Team

We at West are deeply saddened by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. It is without a doubt and yet another example of the institutionalized racism that continues to plague America and we stand with all of those who feel saddened, angered, and seek change.

The challenge facing this country will only be solved when we, as a society, take a long term, deliberate and systematic effort to eradicate racism in all of its forms. In adding our own voice to the current dialogue, we seek to create space for conversation and to take action that ignites change. It would be against our brand values - Truth-telling, Uncommon, Relentless, Brave, Optimists - to simply watch from the sidelines.

As a Venture Studio, we are literally in the business of designing and funding the future. Minute by minute, day by day, we make decisions that guide and shape the sort of future that we all want to live in. As such, we have always believed that diversity of people, and therefore their voices and perspectives, are a better perspective.  We have always governed our own business with that in mind.

We are intentionally building our own team to be as diverse and representative as possible. Our portfolio includes a number of women and minority founded businesses. But these are table-stakes. This is only the start.

Instead, we pledge to do more, to always ask what more can be done, today and long after the emotion from the current state of events has subsided for some. And so as founders, partners and leaders of your own communities, we ask that you join us in building an intentionally diverse future.

  • We need to acknowledge and be aware of our biases. We need to be deliberate in bringing diversity and underrepresented races into our business.
  • We need to be aware of the limitations of our own networks in hiring and actively seek employees, partners and vendors outside of them.
  • We need to continually educate ourselves on the topic of systemic racism, oppression and unconscious bias, and create safe working environments where we are comfortable having uncomfortable conversions.
  • We need to make diversity a business-critical KPI and be unswerving in socializing and reaching that goal.

In respecting and acknowledging the deep injustice of the murder of George Floyd and the countless other lives that have been lost as a result of institutionalized racism, we want to use this moment to urge our networks, partners and friends to use their power, standing and voices to be sustained, and intentional agents for a more diverse, fair and representative future.

We don’t have all of the answers and we know that the type of change we are talking about will take substantial effort and commitment––much more than anything we have previously done–– but that is how we, at West, will live our pillars to their fullest extent and how we are committed to building for impact.


May 20, 20201 Comment

Communication During COVID: Why Your Communications Strategy Is Not A Nice To Have

I recently had the chance to “sit down”, in the Covid world, with Bob Sommer, a West board member.  Bob is a leading advisor on government relations and public affairs. He advises now at Awsom Associates after having built and sold a national public relations firm and then serving in government and as a senior executive of an NHL franchise. Bob also teaches graduate level public affairs and media relations courses at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Bob understands the importance of government and public relations and how the best ideas can quickly go awry without the right communications strategy. What began as a conversation more focused on PR and communications, transformed into a much broader discussion about the impacts of COVID-19 on business strategy and core communications practices. A lot of good advice was packed into our conversation. Bob is an incredible advisor to West and we’re grateful to be able to share some of his insights below.

Before you dive in, be warned, this isn’t a “how to” on PR basics and you won’t finish this read having learned the fundamentals of pitching your most recent funding news. Rather, it’s a strong reminder that,  for growing startups, communications and public relations shouldn’t be an isolated (often outsourced) business unit, or a one-off effort. They are essential components of how your brand shows up in the world, and how others perceive your mission, vision, and impact. A strong communications strategy requires integrating the team at the heart of your business and setting a tone of voice consistent with your brand.

So! Without further ado, here are the key takeaways from our conversation.

Throw out the old playbook.

From now on -- whatever industry your business is in -- you’re going to need some level of governance sign off, approval, or endorsement. Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall, COVID-19 has revealed the sweeping power of government. To ignore this in your planning or choose to proceed at all costs and “ask for forgiveness” after-the-fact is no longer going to fly. 

“Moving fast and begging forgiveness after is no longer a viable strategy for high-growth, venture backed businesses. Government is inserting itself more in our space than it has in many of our lifetimes and so startups must make government their partners. Part of the journey for any young company now has to include a rest stop at your federal and state – and perhaps local governments to make sure the right people know what you’re doing and what you’re building. As a founder or CEO, you have to be confident about whether or not that you're going to get crushed by a government ruling just as you are getting started.”

Speak up to stand out.

Rightfully so, companies big and small are often afraid of saying the wrong thing walking a fine line of political correctness. But not saying anything at all or chiming in with the current wave of similar messages is equally as damning. 

“Leaders need to take stock of what they’re saying across different mediums from web to any aspect of their Customer Journey. Do away with ‘in these difficult times’ and the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, and focus on what is most relevant for your business and your audience. Companies are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they fall back on, ‘we'll get through this together’. The first three or four messages like that out of the box we’re OK, but now everyone has the same message and consumers aren’t buying it. Right now, you can't tell the difference between Verizon, Ford, Facebook and Amazon. It's all the same.

...However, most younger startups have a unique vantage point. They can push the envelope on messaging and they have a more direct, human relationship with their customers. To be able to talk about what you will try to do for your customer when we get to the other side, that's smart stuff. Risky, yes. And it could be wrong, but you’re at least sending a message. Push a little bit to talk about where the journey is going as opposed to where the journey currently is. The present is safe, but it’s also boring and monotonous.”

 Speak like a human (!)

Companies need to prioritize their human, authentic voice. That doesn’t mean it’s the CEO pontificating or incorporating emojis into every company tweet. Being human is about speaking directly to your customers and constituents in a way that’s consistent with your brand values and pillars. It’s opening up and being transparent versus defaulting to corporate speak or jargon. Look at your Customer Journey and pinpoint the moments where information isn’t as clear as it should be. Does your FAQ sound like it was written by a robot? Is information on your site easy to find and navigate?

“Not only do most startups have a better 1-1 connection with their customer(s), but they have a bevy of smart people working for them! Cultivate those diverse voices and showcase them. Ask your team, “Who's got what to say about where we might be on the journey a couple months from now?” If somebody wants to speculate about that, I think that's pretty cool, and it differentiates you from the rest of the pack.”

Bonus Round

Play offense. There’s opportunity to be found and had. Especially in a crisis, you need to lean into what inspired you to in the first place with a focus on how you can win. This takes a strong fortitude, but it is what ultimately separates the winners from the losers.

“The ones who can understand and really truly digest the changes occurring, either on a business level or on a personal level, will see opportunity and go after it. Instead of burying your head in the sand and constantly playing defense, try to move with the times and see where it takes you. Maybe all of your original plans were perfect, but dwelling on that is time wasted as competitors explore the opportunities ahead.”

Ultimately, your communications strategy is integral to your business strategy. It cannot be an afterthought, nice to have, or side initiative. It needs the interest and engagement of the CEO and leadership team. Most importantly, you shouldn’t wait for inbound interest or until you are in crisis mode to start sketching out your communications strategy. If you wait, you will miss opportunities when time is of the essence. When communication is done right, it will become a core document for your business, setting the tone and strategy across sales, marketing, customer support and more.

That tone should also be a reflection of your brand pillars. At West, we are Truth Tellers, Uncommon, Relentless, Brave, Optimists (TURBO) and these pillars anchor every aspect of our business. As a leader, you consistently make rapid decisions to prepare your company for an uncertain future. Staying grounded and consistent in how you communicate your company’s vision, execute on your mission, and engage external stakeholders is critical.

- By Eva Pullano, Communications Director at West