The Fred Wilsonification Of Venture Investing

For those who follow the tech scene and venture capital, it’s no secret many VC firms are bringing excellent technology journalists in-house. Why is this? Fortune’s Dan Primack contends it’s partly to turn the CEOs in their portfolio into stars and to appeal to founders’ egos, which generated this response from Bilal Zuberi who is a long-time VC. I’m not sure I agree with Dan or Bilal. To me, there is a deeper motivation among the VCs at work, and my logic goes like this:

  1. There is a secular shift in the overall interest in mainstream media and technology startups.
  2. Technology and the Valley in particular comprise of the only economic growth engine in the world right now.
  3. Startup jobs are the new corporate jobs; therefore, startups are the new corporations, the new business.
  4. As a result, technology “blogs” sprouted up everywhere to meet the demand. The demand was and is so high, it turned into big business.
  5. At the same time, VCs have gotten in the business of controlling more PR and marketing as the amount of capital in the ecosystem increases, as technology separates as the only growth sector, and as a way to differentiate among all the competition for deals, partnerships, and talent.

Now, by bringing experienced technology journalists in-house, VCs are institutionalizing what Fred Wilson has been doing for years on AVC. Recently in an interview, Wilson stated (as he has many times) that he’d never write anything on any other site — he wants to post his thoughts out there only on AVCC and control the message. Many other people feel the same way, they just don’t say it as bluntly — see all the new investor blog posts popping up everywhere on LinkedIn’s new blog site, Medium, Svbtle, and so forth. This is actually a great thing – many investors have great insights to share and provides a great way for me to learn about things I don’t have any insights into.

Bringing real professional writers in-house deepens this trend, but in a different way. There are a number of forces at work here. One, VC firms want to evangelize and promote their investments and their own firm-level and personal brands. Traditionally, they were quiet. Recently, they’ve relied on old school PR and newer versions of more social media to obtain the positioning they want. Then, with networks like Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and Medium, among others, individual identity became more important and distribution flowed in different ways. Primary sources are important — people want to hear from the principals in the story, from the individuals who are making investments — not just a third-party’s interpretation of it. Two, there is a divide among those in the technology world who want to get their information from people who have worked in the industry, either at a technology company, startup, or as an investor. They want proof of context to confer authority.

And three, individual investors and the firms themselves want to pull a “Fred Wilson.” This is a verb — to “Fred Wilson” your message, to do it yourself. It means investors craft and create and distribute and own their own message. This mitigates the risk of misinterpretation. This changes the power structure behind the embargo. This challenges the existence of traditional PR firms. In this model, there is no agent — it is all about the principal directly explaining his or her views and actions. This is what Fred figured out way, way before everyone else. That’s what’s happening in venture right now. Technology media is growing its influence. Therefore, the authority in technology media is fragmented and up for grabs, and I suspect it may ultimately be defined by those who are making it — not just reporting on it.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus