The Dumb Things We Say in the Startup World

I recently co-authored an article, “The Dumb Things We Say in the Startup World” with Mark Menell, a former partner at Rustic Canyon and the past COO & CFO of ShopRunner. Having worked together on several ventures, Mark and I have more than our fair share of scars and failures alongside of a few wins. We wanted to share a few important lessons we’ve learned and some of the really dumb things we’ve heard, or even said, throughout the years.


Here are just a few of the dumb things we called out in this piece:

“If you are not sleeping under your desk regularly, you are not committed to this.” 

You are putting everything on the line. All you ask in return from employees is absolute dedication. You can’t beat people into commitment. If your idea is so great, inspire them to be as dedicated as you are. If you can inspire people to be passionate, you can let go of rigid rules and authoritarian mandates because everyone will give all they have for the sake of the dream. Marissa Mayer is wrong — a dedicated, passionate team will do absolutely whatever it takes, whether they are in the office, on the road or occasionally making it home to see their kids for dinner.

“We can’t give up that much ownership! What will we ever use that extra $2MM for?” 

It sounds thoughtful, conservative, responsible and careful. It’s usually just misguided. In terms of dilution, it’s good to maintain as much control as possible, but don’t let your ship go under in lieu of accepting the right financing deal during the crucial proving period.

“I don’t get this relationship stuff, I am just all about putting my head down and getting stuff done.” 

That might work in a transaction-based world, but never in the VC world. If you don’t have long-term relationships, you will not be able to influence broad ecosystems to your point of view. Consider Marc Benioff at as an example of how important this skill is for winning in the valley. Without relationships, you will also not have the best information about what is really happening — such as when the largest acquisition in the history of your space goes down. In addition, without relationships you will not be able to remove friction. Buying companies involves weeks of paperwork and diligence, and can be great experiences because of trusted relationships. Relationships matter in the startup world. Treat them like the 50-year investment they are.

To see what other dumb things we’ve heard…or possibly said, read the full article on PandoDaily.

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Take Two! The Find&Save Experience Just Got More Personal & Social

This week we unveiled our new Find&Save® local discovery shopping platform at the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) mediaXchange Conference in Orlando. This represents the culmination of many months of GSD or Get Sh*t Done. The Wanderful Media team consistently delivers with a sooner is better than better attitude and I couldn’t be more proud…or excited of what we built.

539727_273220636146574_655896730_nWe’ve taken our previous “Find n Save” product and revamped the design from the bottom up – adding new features and tools to enhance the shopper experience. Local shoppers now have at their fingertips the ability to:

  • Discover sales, all in one place – Find&Save is a comprehensive collection of great local sales.
  • Collect sale items of interest – Easily create lists of sale items to be saved, sent to friends, or shared with the Find&Save community.
  • Never miss a sale – Get timely alerts and reminders about expiring sales
  • Share, follow, and participate – Share sale items and lists across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and email. Also follow favorite retailers, shopping categories and user-created lists, as well as tastemakers within the shopping community.

Ben Smith - NAA (2013)Our official press release went out on Monday. If you’d like to read a bit more about our announcement, visit our website for the full press release. Also, more great press has been circulating this week. Here’s what is being said about our new Find&Save:

No more dirty fingers for consumers, who can throw away print circulars and browse sales on their tablets, phones or desktops thanks to Find&Save. The relaunched product, previously a collection of digital circulars, has been redesigned as an online community replete with social-media type tools. – ClickZ

Wanderful Media has reinvented Find&Save through social/local/mobile, or SoLoMo, technologies and today debuts a new mobile site and web site, and soon will launch iPhone and iPad apps. – Internet Retailer

While creating shopping lists and following lists sounds a lot like what you can do on Pinterest, the difference is that Wanderful’s Find&Save service is for the frugal shopper, which cuts across many demographics. Everyone wants to save money. – VatorNews

Indeed, with the right user experience there’s enormous potential for Find&Save – especially if social is done well and the company can get the PC-app integration right. – Screenwerk

I appreciate the industry for providing us with the opportunity to work on this problem – it’s exciting. We’re honored that you trust us to help reinvent this part of the business. Start browsing the newly re-imagined Find&Save in your area; I am certain you will find a product or two that is worth sharing with friends or adding to a list.

Go here: For more Wanderful videos from NAA mediaXchange 2013

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Wheels up! Wanderful Media is headed to Orlando

logoI am looking forward to speaking with Dave Thomsen (EVP of Product & Design) at the NAA mediaXchange this Monday, April 15 in Orlando. Our session, “The Reinvention of Local Discovery Shopping,” will be our formal introduction of the completely reimagined Find&Save.

We feel honored to be introduced by Jack Williams, president of Digital Ventures at Gannett Co. Inc., and chairman of the board for Wanderful Media.  The presentation will also include a Q&A session moderated by Grant Moise, Vice President of Digital for the Dallas Morning Star. 

Our multiple press and analyst pre-briefs are paying off as we are seeing some great coverage start to appear today. Here’s a look at what the press has been saying so far:

Basically, the revamp makes the experience more personal and social. In addition to browsing deals and products, users can now save them in lists and set up alerts for expiring sales. They can also share products and lists on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and email, as well as follow users, retailers, and product categories. – TechCrunch

The sites of the 12 owner companies access 100 million unique visitors a month, Wanderful claims. So that is a good pond in which to fish and a reasonable gamble on finding one of those sustaining new revenue streams newspaper organizations so critically need. – Poynter

One of the key features is the ability to make lists. This was originally not going to be part of the product, but Wanderful designers found that consumers wanted to be able to save deals in one place and send them to a smartphone for viewing. –  Street Fight

“Our goal, ultimately is to help connect retailers with shoppers and get them into the stores,” Dave Thomsen, executive vice president of design for Wanderful Media. – Upstart Business Journal

Other coverage includes Independent Retailer, FierceMobileContent and Newspapers & Technology.

Find&Save - All PlatformsMoving forward, Wanderful Media plans to roll out mobile apps smartphones and tablets. This will enable us to use geolocation data to send push notifications, and to leverage for a more personalized experience for shoppers. We plan to make special enhancements to the tablet experience, where we are betting many shoppers will increasingly use to browse and discover sales in their area. In addition, Wanderful Media plan to expand from national retailers, to include local merchants. We aim to make Find&Save a sales and promotion platform for any retailer.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the Wanderful Media team and what we assembled in a short period of time. All our hardwork has paid off and our mission to reinvent local discovery shopping is just getting started. Be sure to check out the all-new Find&Save – it is now more engaging, fun and social for our users.

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Why Brick & Mortar Retailers Will Live Forever

I contributed this article in SiliconANGLE to address discussions that have been circulating around the future of traditional retail. In a recent Pando Daily interview, Marc Andreessen predicted the death of traditional retail, and is quoted as saying, “Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice.”

storefront-1I agree that traditional retail is changing, but I don’t believe it will completely disappear. I also feel ecommerce will be more of a supplement to the traditional shopping experience, but not a replacement. There is no argument that brick and mortar retailers have been affected by ecommerce, but many are adjusting their playbook with new technology-based strategies.

Take a look at Apple Retail Stores, a perfect example that brick and mortar retail is here to stay. A true key to the Apple Store’s success includes the use of mobile technology, the in-store layout and the friendly customer service representatives. Retailers are seeing enormous potential in marrying the physical-store experience with a growing dependence on mobile technologies.

apple-store-on-5th-fifth-ave-apple-nyc-november-4-2011-nov-2011-bi-dngWhile online shopping and e-commerce are increasingly popular, physical stores have an appeal to most consumers. Online technology is making discovery shopping more fun and social, but it cannot replace the real life experience of trying products out, shopping with friends and the immediate access to purchases.

Read full article: Why Bricks-And-Mortars Will Live Forever | SiliconANGLE

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Six Ways to Show Appreciation to Your Employees

In the spirit of National Employee Appreciation Day, I’d like to share this article about some of the ways I show appreciation to employees. Over my years of managing people and teams, I’ve learned that when you show people appreciation, you get back the same in return. Simple acts of kindness will boost employee moral and create positive energy in the workplace – which improves productivity, employee retention and ultimately better products and happy customers.

290320_10150380830827265_289686517_oOn Fortune’s list of the 100 best companies to work for in 2013, Google has claimed the #1 spot over the last four years and is the undisputed king of employee perks. For managers who do not have the budget of an Internet giant, there are many ways to show employees they are valuable. For starters, trust your employees, reward your team and empower them to GSD or Get Sh*t Done.

263997_10150322705472265_7964752_nIn my opinion nothing builds mutual respect more than granting employees autonomy built on a solid foundation of trust. Reward your team and regularly host company events, like the Shotguns & Chardonnay event I have hosted the last 4 years. I’m a firm believer in professional development and try every day to learn new things to improve our team at Wanderful Media.

What are you doing to show your employees you appreciate them?

Read full article: Six Ways to Show Love to Your Employees | Business 2 Community

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Love the Ones You’re With. Why Startup Success Depends on Relationships | SiliconANGLE

Ben and Doug at DisneyI recently wrote this post with Doug Kilponen, COO at Wanderful Media. Having worked together on two different startups over the course of several years, it has become clear to us that loyalty is the secret ingredient for success. The media tends to credit startups with being built by a few key people, but the reality is your business, and your future, depends much more on whom you take along for the ride and how you share the adventure together.

In the early startup days, it’s you and your team against the world, fired up by passion and chasing a shared idea. That faith in each other moves you from one line of code to the next, one venture pitch to another. As your startup begins to mature, the strengths of your team are vigorously tested. Success can lead people to the difficult choice of staying with the same team or possibly a more amicable separation, with the possibility of working together in the future.

DSC_1547For example, look at what’s happened to alumni from Odeo who went on to found Twitter, or Topix who are now finding great success with Blekko. Our team at Wanderful includes talented people we worked with at MerchantCircle and CodeGear. The teams that have formed, reformed, gone onto different opportunities but continued throughout to nurture the loyalty and friendships that were built in the early days are thriving.

When starting a company, choosing the right team is the one decision that will truly impact your success and your future career. You won’t succeed unless you choose to work with people who have integrity, a sense of shared purpose and a desire to create something meaningful. Once you find great people, be good to them!

Read the full article: Love the Ones You’re With. Why Startup Success Depends on Relationships | SiliconANGLE

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Pinterest – Pinning Down Its Value For Retail | MediaPost

This is a great piece I wrote with Ron Adams, VP of National Sales at Wanderful Media. The Wanderful team is focused on connecting local retailers with consumers, and we see a huge opportunity for retailers to capitalize on areas that Pinterest and other social networks are missing – ability to track local sales, allow you to create shopping lists or interact with your friends about shopping in a meaningful way.

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 11.59.30 AMPinterest has quickly built a large audience, but can it deliver real value for retailers? There has been some early success with brands on Pinterest, but more from a branding approach. While there’s value in brand awareness, retailers are more interested in the influence that drives consumers into stores, a value directly proportionate to sales and revenues. Pinterest’s focus is on “discovery” and not shopping.

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 12.05.42 PMPinterest can spark imagination, inspiration, word of mouth and potentially purchases, but it’s not a shopping marketplace. Their goal has been to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.” The social network promotes the experience of discovering and sharing ideas, but it was not built with the consumer-retail relationship in mind. Nor was it designed to guide customers throughout the shopping journey – discovery, decision and execution.

via MediaPost: Pinterest – Pinning Down Its Value For Retail

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Retail is not dying… just transforming.

By Seema Sud and Ben T. Smith, IV

VHS was going to be the cinema killer in the late ‘70s; and yet, 30 “DVR, Blue ray and big screen TV” years later, cinema is more popular than ever and the box office keeps growing, helped by multiplexes, 3D movies and well … buttered popcorn.

When radio was considered just about dead outside the car, Pandora, Sirius and Spotify brought it back with a bang. More social, more personal and available from more sources.

2012 was the year full of predictions about retail industry. Everyone has been talking about how showrooming will impact retail and the rise of ecommerce. Mobile is disrupting the traditional retail sales funnel in a big way. What has been referred to by some as retailers’ worst nightmare, smartphones are bringing the power of the Internet right into brick-and-mortar stores, arming consumers with the pricing power that was once reserved for the confines of their home or work online shopping experience.

In a recent interview with Pando Daily, Marc Andreessen predicted the death of traditional retail:

“Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice. We’re still pre-death of retail… 

“…Retail chains are a fundamentally implausible economic structure if there’s a viable alternative. You combine the fixed cost of real estate with inventory, and it puts every retailer in a highly leveraged position. Few can survive a decline of 20 to 30 percent in revenues. It just doesn’t make any sense for all this stuff to sit on shelves. There is fundamentally a better model.

“…I’d bet on the pure plays in ecommerce. Software eats retail.”

Let’s put things in perspective here….

What this means is that a 4.5 trillion industry that grew by 28% in the past decade will die in the next 10 years to be replaced by ecommerce – and the current share of which is not even 10%?  (Per BI Intelligence estimates.)

busy mall

Granted that ecommerce is growing at a really fast rate but this doesn’t seem to add up…

We, the digital world, talk about amount of time users are spending on various ecommerce or other online shopping related sites all the time. Compare that with total time spent in Fry’s Electronics, Macy’s or Wal-Mart, the number may just astound you!

We agree retail industry is undergoing a major change. The competition from ecommerce is real. The reduction in margins is considerable.

When a strong competition emerges from a new medium, one of the two outcomes can happen. The incumbent can either come out stronger than ever as examples above or die the Blockbuster death. The retail industry has to rise to the challenge provided by its online competitors. Some new models of inventory management have to emerge.

Here are some changes that are happening in the retail as we speak:

  • Focus on Personalization – Just as their online competitors, retailers are connecting with their users more and more for personalized offers and deals. Safeway’s just for u is a great example.
  • Pre-shopping experience – Many online service providers are emerging to facilitate the process of discovery in early stages of purchase funnel such as online catalogues and circulars, comparison-shopping and purchasing wish lists.
  • In-Store Experience – A lot is happening on improving the in-store buying experience with mobile POS solutions, acceptance of digital payments/coupons and in store only promotions.
  • More and more stores are supporting ‘bricks and clicks’ – order online to pick up from the store.

And let’s not forget the role the friendly salesman…the ‘buttered popcorn’ of retail. The role of an intelligent, friendly human cannot be undermined. It can make purchasing from a chore to a fun social experience. Something, that is close to impossible for online counterparts to match.

Retail is going through a transformation in which ultimately the consumer will benefit. More fun, better service and, I guess, good prices.

Two key points Ben made in a previous blog post are truer than ever:

  • Shopping is supposed to be fun and all about discovery not price comparison and search.
  • Mobile changes everything, and a tablet on your couch is an even bigger deal.

Anyone who has been to an Apple store at this past holiday season, would not ever think or believe retail is anywhere close to death. The hubbub of lively shopping malls, the food courts, hanging out with friends, window shopping and sometimes just loitering, are all signs of healthy life.

Online retailers are doing everything they can to bring that fun and discovery into shopping on desktops, tablets and mobile phones. They will have a bigger share of the pie of the retail market.

So…  The brick-and-mortars will survive and the fancy malls will remain. And shoppers will continue going to the malls for Black Friday midnight shopping parties – probably more than ever.

[Image courtesy of Flickr user ceratosaurrr]

Seema Sud is the Mobile Products Lead at Wanderful Media, a startup focused on reinventing online discovery shopping with a social experience. You can follow Seema on Twitter @seemasud.

Ben T. Smith, IV is CEO of Wanderful Media. He is also a Venture Partner at Accelerator Ventures and co-founder of and You can follow Ben on Twitter @bentsmithfour.

Posted in FindnSave, Silicon Valley, Startups, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Wanderful Media raises $5 million in new funding round

Wanderful - logo (Small)It’s been an incredible year for the retail and e-commerce industries, especially when it comes to discovery shopping. For Wanderful Media, 2012 will be defined as a year of building, and the theme for this year will be delivering. We’ve been moving quickly since the company launch and are well on our way to hitting many important goals in Q1.

Raise-MoneyWanderful Media came out running in 2013, and are in an advantageous position, with strong retail and newspaper partnerships, as well as being backed by some of the most powerful media brands in the world. We recently announced raising an additional $5 million from our current investors. This new capital brings to bear $27 million in cumulative funding to help Wanderful Media make discovery shopping engaging, fun and social for consumers, wherever they are and however they shop – tablet, mobile or web.

Read more here: Online circular provider Wanderful Media raises $5 million via Internet Retailer.

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2012: A Year of Building

If you think about it, every year takes on a character, or theme, of its own depending upon goals we’ve set, decisions we’ve made and unplanned events that take place along the way.  2011 was driven by a few great endings, my son leaving high school and getting into Arizona State Computer Science, selling MerchantCircle in a successful exit. As I look back on 2012, this past year was all about building.

54050cadf862fd00250f6a7067005e48First of all, no year-end review of mine would be complete without a discussion of my college football exploits. After selling MerchantCircle to Reply! in 2011, I saw about 12 games in 2011, ending with an Alabama National Championship and seeing Stanford barely lose the Fiesta Bowl.  While my 2012 game attendance decreased a bit, I managed to see some phenomenal games. The year started with going to watch Alabama beat Michigan in the new Cowboys stadium in Texas; included being there to see my son’s new college, ASU beat Navy in a bowl game in San Francisco; and ended with going to see Stanford win its first Rose Bowl since ’72 and of course seeing Alabama beat Notre Dame in the National Championship.  I’m now looking forward to another Alabama National Championship in Pasadena with them playing Stanford in 2013 for the National Championship.


On the subject of building…In early 2012, I started working with Accelerator Ventures founded by my partner Alex Lloyd to invest in and coach early-stage technology companies. In April, I came on board as Wanderful Media’s CEO to change the local discovery shopping landscape. It’s been rewarding and exciting to see both new ventures take off and we’ve made a lot of progress on both fronts. There’s nothing better than the act of creation and the satisfaction of seeing something come to life.

With Accelerator Ventures, Alex and I worked with numerous start-ups – companies like QuickPay, Influitive, Roqbot, and Well – that are largely consumer-facing and/or eCommerce businesses, helping them move to the next level.

198525_183824811752824_1786699678_nWanderful Media officially launched on September 25th and we celebrated with 150+ guests and partners at our 4th Annual Shotguns & Chardonnay Event. Don’t worry if you missed it. A 5th Shotguns & Chardonnay Event is definitely on the calendar for 2013!

Since then, we’ve been moving quickly, working toward a Spring 2013 product launch. We acquired iCircular from the AP in October, which helped us to broaden our products for mobile devices and tablets. And since November, a functional prototype of our new web-based product, which we’ve been previewing with key partners, has been available.

Wanderful - logo (Small)We’ve built a solid team at both the executive and staff levels with Doug Kilponen, COO; Steve Trefethen, CTO; Dave Thomsen, EVP of Product & Design and Grace Chan, VP Product Management at the lead. Wanderful has also gotten some great press as the industry watches what we’re up to. And, we’re literally building as well.  New office space in Chico, CA is under renovation, complementing our Los Gatos, CA headquarters.  Our move-in date is February.

1722.1-325-BROADWAY-RENDERING-SMOOTH-night-shot-850x325I already know what 2013’s theme will be – Delivering.  We’re gearing up for the launch of Wanderful Media’s web, tablet and mobile products in April. There’s a lot that we need to do between now and then, but we’re well on our way and couldn’t be more excited.

Thanks to all of our employees, partners and friends for making 2012 a great year. Can’t wait for 2013 – It’s going to be a good year !  It is all about fishing not catching, so I looking forward to enjoying the year with all of you.

Posted in Investments, Personal, Silicon Valley, Startups, Wanderful Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,