Rachael Horwitz

Marketing & Comms Partner at Spark Capital. Previously director of comms at Facebook and Twitter

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON July 20, 2017

Discussion

Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
I am a Partner at Spark Capital focused on marketing and communications. The absolute best part of my job is working with Spark's portfolio companies, particularly our founders, on their marketing and PR challenges and opportunities. I'm in awe of and inspired by how hard founders and their teams work on behalf of their vision. It's so cool to play some small part in that journey. Before Spark, I led communications teams at both Twitter and Facebook. When I'm not working, I'm basically just trying to keep up with my 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter OR I've got my head in a book #IAmACoolPerson. Happy to answer your questions.
Chris Tung@chptung · Co-founder of Threadbase.io
Hi Rachael! Since seed stage startups usually have small teams and budgets, they can rarely allocate an entire person for PR or hire a good agency. What tactics and strategies would you recommend a seed-stage startup use to grow their PR footprint?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@chptung Hi Chris! So there are a couple of things that I've seen folks do that is really effective. First, reporters that I work with really actually like to here from founders rather than PR people honestly, especially folks who have great angel investors and seed stage firms behind them. They really value having a direct channel to founders. Media relations is just that: relations. So start with building those relationships. Ask your investors or friends to introduce you to a few reporters and get together, tell them about what you're building, give them a chance to look at it etc. This is the super early work to do that may not result in coverage right away but does pay off down the line (vs a blind pitch in a reporter's inbox). It's just like how you get connected to a great investor -- via friends of friends in your network, etc. Also, you know, it's hard and it doesn't come naturally to a lot of people but founders who share their experience, what they're learning, what they're thinking about via Medium posts and on Twitter and stuff, just do end up getting attention. Transparency is valued nowadays, people want to be along for the ride and build community that way, so definitely try to embrace those tools. But it can be hard and time consuming which I get.
Chris Tung@chptung · Co-founder of Threadbase.io
@rachaelrad Thanks for such a thoughtful response! Really appreciate it.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hey, Rachel! Now that you've been at Spark Capital for over a year, what's the biggest surprise been in your previous years working in marketing/comms at a BIG company (i.e. Facebook)?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@rrhoover Hi Ryan!! Oh my gosh so many differences. It's really cool to have spent the first ~12 years of my career in-house at companies like Twitter and Facebook and both at the growth stage beyond. When I was in-house it was about managing teams, pretty operational and highly strategic. The inbound for PR at both Twitter and Facebook was incredibly intense. Just constantly managing news cycles and internal launches and announcements. The spotlight was intense and that made the job exciting and cool. Also, at companies like that everyone is really heads-down super focused on the mission and our goals. You are really in the trenches together every day and that's cool in it's own way because I built lifelong friendships and had incredible experiences. These tech companies coming out of the Bay Area over the past 10 years have also just changed the world in these really profound ways so it's crazy to look back at that experience and the decisions we all made and the gravity of those decisions,, etc. On the flip side I actually rarely got out and mixed with other peers at other tech companies. So my role at Spark is great because I have been exposed to the early-stage, startup community that really does feel like a whole universe of people who are connected and working so hard and are so passionate about building the next world-changing companies. In my role at Spark I get to dive in with our portfolio company CEOs and their teams and figure out a plan or a way forward or messaging or media relations or brand stuff, deal with a crisis, etc. It is great applying some of what I learned from those previous trenches to a whole new generation of companies, it's such a privilege and I am so inspired every day.
Hey Rachel - for early teams (Seed & Series A) would love your perspective on the pros-cons of bringing on a dedicated internal Comms/PR expert vs hiring an independent consultant vs a PR/comms firm
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@mazzeo Hey! So you can definitely draw up a pros list and a cons list for each option for early stage companies. I think smart, experienced outside consultants are a good first step in general. Someone who can have a seat at the decision table to bounce strategic messaging/narrative/positioning ideas off of early, someone who can help make some intros to reporters here and there, etc. Agencies on the other hand are hit and miss at this stage: it takes a lot of time and effort to first onboard them and get them living and breathing your company culture and then of course managing an agency is time consuming as well. Also if you've never managed a PR agency, it is actually a steep learning curve that can take time to master so you see real results. The worst part is investing in a new agency and then realizing ~6 months down the road it's not a great fit. Early stage companies don't often have that kind of time or room for error. Bringing in someone in-house early I think has everything to do with your goals and being really crystal clear about priorities. For example, if you're a consumer app and you want to generate organic buzz and awareness without spending $$$ on marketing, you might want a really great mid-level PR person who knows how to execute and can just hustle to build out a comms plan and get to work seeding opportunities and generating coverage and content—it's about volume not high-level strategy, etc. If you're more of a B2B business then obviously in-house comms is going to be a secondary goal to a sales team, etc.
@rachaelrad awesome... thanks!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
What are your top tips for founders when it comes to mapping out their marketing strategy on limited budgets?
Seth Williams@sethbwilliams · Designer, Product Hunt
Hey Rachael, thanks for chatting with us today! At the end of the day, when your head hits the pillow, what are you most thankful for?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@sethbwilliams this is the loveliest question because I feel like being thankful and having gratitude is the most important thing at this stage in my life. I think about this a lot. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant talk about this in their new book about resilience which I highly recommend people read. It's a good way to keep perspective. I'm most thankful for a couple of things: my kids and my husband, they're healthy and happy. My husband and I both have demanding careers and no family near by and my kids are really young, so need us a lot right now. Some days can be really hard and I don't know how we make it all work but we do and I wouldn't have it any other way. I also think a lot about my parents and the sacrifices they made so my brother and I could have amazing opportunities. My mom went to college *after* having my brother and I and graduated when I was about 10 years old. She was the first in her family to graduate. She went on to become a great successful CFO. My dad worked his way up at AT&T in sales to support all of us and her while she was going to school and building her career. It was really important for them that my brother and I get a great education and could go to college. Anyway, it's all because of them and their hard work that I have had the opportunities I've had so I'm super cognizant of that and think about how I can not only provide that for my kids but how can I help and give back to other kids in my community so they can have similar opportunities that I had so they can dream big, etc.
Seth Williams@sethbwilliams · Designer, Product Hunt
@rachaelrad I love this so much, Rachael! Thanks for sharing your heart! Keep up the great work!
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
Kai Gradert@kaigradert · Designer
Hi Rachael, thanks for joining us today. With such a vast portfolio of companies, how do you allocate time and resources to each company?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@kaigradert hey! a lot of my colleagues and I with this type of role at VCs in the valley like to use the analogy "teaching people how to fish" :) So I try to be clear about the best way for our companies to use me and set expectations. I can't really execute on a plan for them etc but I can dive in around high stakes moments that include product launches, funding announcements, strategic planning, crisis PR, hiring, agency searches, executive training, etc. I'm basically like a consultant and help folks get set up with a way forward when they are turning a page or have a big moment they want to stick the landing on. It's really hard sometimes because actually I want to jump in and do so much! But I have to stay sort of declined and not over promise because I can't get stretched too thin or I won't be much use to anyone :)
Rafael Camargo@rcamargo · Developer
Hello, Rachel! I'd like to know if you, at Spark Capital, or some of the companies that you are investing on make use of A/B tests. If yes, which tool, or tools, have you used? Thank you very much for your time!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Rachael thanks for joining us today. What are the most common mistakes early stage startups do when it comes to PR?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@ems_hodge I think the most common mistake is brining on an agency too soon. It's just hard on both sides. Expectations are out of whack more often than not. You don't have a lot of cash as a founder and you're making this bet on this investment and so you are really results oriented and you're like "why aren't I seeing 5 stories a month about my company ughhh wasted money" on the other side the agency is like "yo PR takes time, we need to build a plan, we need to help you build relationships with reporters, you can't expect all this coverage so early, it's about planting seeds that hopefully bloom sooner than later, etc etc" So just be super careful about that in the super early days and you have to make sure PR is an actual priority not just a nice-to-have, etc. The other biggie has to do with like "good problems to have" which is you are successful, you're growing, you've broken through and your company is on its way. If you are not too careful you can come in for a lot of scrutiny by the press. I always tell our companies who are on this kind of trajectory and suddenly a reporter calls in with a sort of negative angle "If you don't tell your story, others will." There can be a vacuum created that others will fill if you don't get out in front of your narrative. I tell our founders "What do you want the world to know about your company and your product? Go take control of your own narrative, don't let others define you in the market."
Marius Chawa@mariuschawa · UX Designer @ Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Hi Rachael, for prelaunch startups, how do you advice them to approach marketing to increase brand awareness?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@mariuschawa Hi! So obviously it greatly depends on what the product is and the audience. One playbook in general that is tried and true and worked back in the old days when I was starting out and is more powerful than ever is just good old "influencer" outreach. I think some of the founders who do this well see a great amount of return. So basically figure out for example who in the tech world is kinda influential on active on Twitter and stuff and work with your early investors on that list too. Get your friends at big companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Airbnb on that list as well. And then a kind of employ a friends and family strategy. Upfront work makes this kind of thing easier—draft an email that you can send to a bunch of people separately telling them they are getting an early look at the product, maybe let them use it before anyone else, ask for feedback, etc. So build a community around you and your vision and what you're building essentially. Also, brining reporters in early (which can be hard b/c they get pitched soooo often but still worth a shot . . . ) is also really effective.
ian ownbey@iano · Bumpers / Captioned
Hey Rachael! A lot of CEO's for small startups also need to double as comms, marketing and PR. Often with no experience. What is a piece of advice or suggestion you would give them to be most effective at the job?
ian ownbey@iano · Bumpers / Captioned
Oops @ems_hodge kind of got to this question already so I am going to do another one! Also curious to hear who in the small to mid-sized company you have been most impressed by from a comms/PR standpoint? Also has getting the different perspective from working with Spark changed any of your previously held ideas about startup PR/Comms?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@ems_hodge @iano oh HAI Ian. Oh man so many of our early-ish companies have done a great job with PR. Andela has a small nimble in-house team that does a great job of finding creative ways to raise awareness and generate coverage. They just hustle. Aura Frames has killed it with the gift guide / consumer comms playbook (I'm impressed by that because it is hard and takes organization and planning because of long lead times for those types of consumer ops). Lola is a great example of a company that has built a brand from the ground up buy creating a community on social platforms/with content so while their PR hits are often great, they aren't totally dependent on earned media because they've created their own audience and actually reach scale with their own content, it's a great playbook folks should check out. Re different perspective: YES. It's just so easy as an outsider to become snarky and cynical about startups and startup culture. And for sure people in Silicon Valley would do well to be more self aware and in on the joke and not self parody as much. HOWEVER, being this up and close to founders and their teams especially at the early stage has like, knocked all the cynicism about this work right out of me. I mean, it is an insane amount of pressure, hard work, etc. You have to be really passionate about a thing you want to exist in the world and a business you want to build to be able to endure the early days of building a product, a team and a business (as you you!!). I just have so much respect for entrepreneurs and the journey because I legitimately don't know that I have it in me.
Chris Gallello@cgallello · Founder @ Purple.pm
Hi Rachael! Thanks for doing this AMA. I'm trying to think about the balance between trying to get top-tier publications to write a story about our product vs smaller, industry-specific publications (for me, this would be smaller design/UX related outlets, podcasts, etc). Do you have any advice on what a new startup should focus on for a V1 launch?
Rachael Horwitz@rachaelrad · Marketing Partner, Spark Capital
@cgallello Hey Chris—I am a huge fan of keeping your powder dry and building up to the big Tier 1 moment. I recommend this so often to a lot of our companies. You don't want to court top tier press until you have a really incredible story to tell and you're ready. Working up to that moment by seeding coverage in the smaller industry-specific outlets and podcasts and blogs gives you that foundational awareness that you can build off of later. Basically, you want the support of your key users and audience and building up that validation via a drumbeat over time -- rather than going for straight up hype at scale. Also, media begets media -- so you may spend a crap load of time trying to get the New York Times or WSJ to profile you or pay attention to you and it just takes forever and is a huge investment of resources. Instead, remember that media begets media. That drumbeat of hits and attention and groundswell of support makes reporters at top tier outlets more inclined to take you seriously and the pitch will be more effective. Finally I will just say that most of the reporters I work with at top tier outlets have been very clear they are more rigorous than ever about early-stage and what kinds of companies they will cover and when. The bar has gotten higher (which is a good thing) so again, may not be worth you time in the early days.
Chris Gallello@cgallello · Founder @ Purple.pm
@rachaelrad That makes sense to me. Good to know about big outlet reporters being more rigorous these days...Thank you very much!
Marlon Parker@lazaruspain · CEO, Painless Solutions ©
Hey, how's it going? My name is Marlon Parker, I'm an aspiring entrepreneur that could really use a little help, if it's not too much trouble. I have on my hands what could quite possibly be the best investment opportunity imaginable, however, I'm not sure where to go with it, as it's imperative that it not be placed in the wrong hands, and also, I must secure adequate funding on my terms for it to be effective, but I just don't know how or where to start. Any suggestions? Thanks. https://about.me/marlonp