Elisa Schreiber is the latest senior marketer to join the ranks of the venture capital world. In her case, she comes into Silicon Valley’s venture capital sphere as a somewhat outsider, having been a rising star within marketing in digital entertainment in Los Angeles.
Before joining Greylock Partners in January 2014, she spent three years at streaming video giant Hulu amid its ultra growth spurt from 2010 through 2013. During much of that time, she reported directly to CEO Jason Kilar, then interim CEO Andy Forssell when Kilar stepped down in 2013. Amid her stint, Hulu (owned by Comcast, Disney and News Corp) was said to have mulled options like a billion-dollar IPO and was courted to sell for lucrative amounts, as well as going through its management shakeup.
Then in mid-2013, while five months pregnant, venture capital firm Greylock Partners came knocking. The firm had been looking for a senior marketer for 2.5 years and had called in SparkPR and the Pramana Collective for cover during this interim. Even so, when Schreiber told them the earliest she could start was January 2014 — Greylock’s talent partner Jeff Markowitz didn’t flinch.
“They had been looking for a while,” Schreiber recalls. “And if you have an open rec for a while, it becomes more and more clear what you're looking for.”
Schreiber joined Greylock as VP of marketing in January 2014. She leads the function at one of the oldest venture capital firms in the country with portfolio companies that include AirBnB, LinkedIn, Tumblr, ZipCar, Evite, Groupon, and Pandora — with investors like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and early Facebook investor David Sze.
In2: You oversee marketing and communications — what does that entail at Greylock?
Elisa Schreiber: A big part of my job is to work closely in an advisory role with our portfolio companies, especially around significant milestones — funding announcements, executive hires, product launches, crisis management and team transitions. I help define strategy and find additional resources.
The other side is marketing for the firm. This is a very high-touch business, so we invest a lot in events and there are lots of people on our investor and operations teams who can provide thoughtful, industry-specific insights that are worthy of sharing. I work with them on our owned content, videos and blogs.
In2: I’m curious how Greylock is using its owned channels.
ES: We’re planning to build more on this moving forward. But Greylock has a long history of blogging and our partners will blog about why we made an investment. We’re going to start thinking about using video because it’s an interesting way to connect a story and maybe it’s my bias coming from Hulu, but I think there’s a lot of value in high-quality video content. I’m in the process of figuring out what that means.
In2: What kind of advice do you give Greylock’s portfolio companies?
ES: I’m a fan of telling a story using your own words. At Hulu, we didn’t do press releases, we would usually [provide news] on blogs and it would come from the head of the business unit that that it applied to. Communications was more about being human and talking to people like humans and not being so clinical. That’s the world we’re living in now. There’s credibility in being authentic.
And if you can do that in a way that’s useful to the industry at large and isn’t just creating noise, fellow entrepreneurs appreciate that and it’s an effective way to communicate your story.
In2: What’s the balance in advising the portfolio companies and doing marketing for Greylock?
ES: Everything we do is in service of the companies we support and have invested in. I wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t in service of the companies we work with. We always ask, will this help our entrepreneurs do what they’re trying to achieve? Even when we think about our investors participating in PR, we always look at whether it would contribute to helping [our portfolio companies] with their business goals.
In2: But you also want to make sure you’re getting invited into the most sought-after deals?
ES: Venture capital is a furiously competitive space, that’s no secret. What’s ultimately going to win the future deals is entrepreneurs knowing they are signing up to work with a VC that supports its companies.
In2: Why do you think the VC community has taken to bringing in marketers at the highest ranks in the last few years?
ES: I can’t speak to other firms, but I can speak for Greylock. We’re made of former company operators, former entrepreneurs who have scaled companies. They’re builders. They bring a unique perspective to the entrepreneurs they work with — they can say, we’ve been in your shoes. Thinking about that and applying to the marketing, I have deep operational experience for tech marketing. I bring that empathy — that others bring on the entrepreneurial side — to marketing.
In2: How big is your team?
ES: I’ve added one marketing coordinator and I have an event planner who reports into me. A PR resource that I’m chewing on is whether to keep resources in-house or go with an agency. But my team is small by design, my philosophy is I’d rather have a small, lean efficient team who is able to help our portfolio companies build their own teams quickly. I’m not looking to build an agency in-house.In2: Tell me about the startup PR environment. Are CEOs more savvy and taking a more active role in marketing?
ES: I would say that most of the CEOs that I’ve worked with, or are working with now, have always had a strong respect and value for PR. And they realize, if done well, it can be one of the most leveraged parts of the marketing mix. I’m seeing a lot of head of comms report directly to the CEO rather than through marketing. So, heads of comms are getting a seat at the executive table. I think it’s because the comms function has evolved and is so core to a company narrative and expressing that to the world at large. Having said that, I’ve also seen it work where comms reports into marketing.
In2: Do you think there’s a view amongst startups that PR should focus mostly on publicity?ES: I’ve always had the advantage of working with companies who value more than that. I’ve been really impressed with the the long-view that most of the CEOs I’ve known have taken. It’s really about getting in a few quality hits and the cadence of those. They also tend to see the value of strategic communications, the value of quality over quantity.
In2: Do you think it’s been helpful to come to Silicon Valley as an outsider?ES: I don’t know I’d call it an advantage or disadvantage — it’s different. Hulu was a tech company – we had the culture you’d expect from a high-growth tech company. But being an LA person coming to Silicon Valley, I had to spend a lot of time getting to know people, getting to know agencies to make really informed recommendations to our portfolio companies. To the credit of Silicon Valley, everyone has been so open and generous with their time.
In2: What do you look for in agency partners?
ES: I think what I look for, and what our companies looks for, is people who are as committed to growing the business as the internal team and who have strong vertical expertise. If it’s a security startup, they should really understanding the security space, or storage or whichever sector it is.I also find it helpful when I meet with agencies to talk about the areas where they are strong and where they are not. I want agencies to say when they’re not a fit for certain things. Agencies have a hard time answering that because they feel like they’re walking away from business. But I’d rather have agencies that crush it in the areas that they are good, rather than waste everyone’s time trying to do everything. Honesty is the best way to move the relationship forward.