Sean Percival

Sean Percival

Partner, 500 Startups focused on the Nordics and accelerator programs

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 07, 2015

Discussion

Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
Hey there! I’m Sean Percival, Partner at 500 Startups the most active seed investor in Silicon Valley. Prior to that I was founder of several startups and the Vice President of Online Marketing at Myspace. I have about a dozen years of online marketing experience so I’m very passionate about helping early stage startups grow their businesses. Right now I’m mostly focused on the Nordic region so always happy to talk about the opportunities (and challenges) there.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Percival! Welcome. If you were the CEO of Myspace today, what would you do?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@rrhoover What we should have done during the turn around. Go in 100% on music and drop everything else. That's what Myspace was really known for and we had a really unique deal for music licensing. We had already lost the social graph and weren't known for content although we keep trying to invest in those areas. Ultimately they did try to go this route in a later turn around effort but at that point it was too late. Lesson learned: Do one thing great, not many things so-so.
Mark Jeffrey
Mark Jeffrey@markjeffrey · Author
Why did you go the VC route rather than start another company?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@markjeffrey Good question! I didn't want to become a VC! I don't really like VCs to be honest. However the opportunity with 500 was unique and as you probably know we are not your typical VC fund. In my mind I was saying "Yeaaaa, let's do this for a year then join another startup or launch a new one". Now it's coming on 2 years and I'm going to ride this out. I miss building my own company but I get to work with so many early stage founders it's almost like I'm still building. I also don't miss the stress of being a founder as that was something I really struggled with on my last company.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@percival @markjeffrey expand on what's different!
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@eriktorenberg @markjeffrey Sooooo much less stress. It's was actually less stressful to help 30 companies in our accelerator program vs doing 1 startup as a founder. Being a VC is about a million times easier so I have mad respect for you crazy dreamers and makers out there.
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
@percival @markjeffrey I mean, being a founder is like have a baby.
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
What was the most difficult challenge when you was the Vice President of Online Marketing at MySpace?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@unmalnick The general corporate BS and legal policies that really impact innovation speed. So pretty much everything was a friction point. I did however learn all about how to manage budgets, the value of executive buy-in and how to hide things from your legal department for as long as possible.
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
@percival hahahahaha Roger!
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Sean! Welcome. What's the biggest thing you've changed your mind about in the past 6 months?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@eriktorenberg I'm starting to think about things on a much longer time table. I think in tech it's too easy to get tunnel vision and only see the near future ahead of you. Now I want to think years out and further. Probably has to do with getting older as well.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What do you think 500 does tactically and strategically that makes companies love for it so strong?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@eriktorenberg I think it has a lot to do with most of the staff being former founders and operators. And not just at one point in their careers, many of us were building our own startups in the last year or so. So the wounds are fresh and we know what it takes to build a company in today's market. That may give us a bit more empathy than other VCs. Strategically we're not as a calculated or organized as it probably appears on the outside. It's a bit of chaos theory going on but we make our mistakes or success quickly and then move on the next logical step after. In the case of success we double down on the company, the person or approach.
Scotty Percival
Scotty Percival@scottypercival · CrowdFlower
What companies are you most excited about to be coming out of the Nordic region right now?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@scottypercival Oh snaps my own bro is on here asking me questions!!??!?! :) I like Kahoot who is edtech, Brisk.io as a B2B sales tool, Pacemaker for music, Klarna for Fintech
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
@percival @scottypercival Do you know Platzi :D ?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@unmalnick @scottypercival I don't know that one actually!
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
@percival We are a edtech company from LatAm, teaching programming, marketing and design online!
Russ Frushtick
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@percival Any surprises about the Nordic region and its companies?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@russfrushtick Yes, there's a huge amount of amazing talent and companies that are unknown on a global level. Most folks know about Spotify of course but there's many other companies who are at a comparable scale and size (or getting there). One thing to know about the Nordics is the people there are very shy and humble. So they're not blaring the horn about their success as much as they do in Silicon Valley. Although you could probably argue we do it a little too much in the valley :)
@percival @russfrushtick hahaha true statement "you could probably argue we do it a little too much in the valley :)"
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
@percival @russfrushtick Do you think that a startup needs to be in Silicon Valley to be a unicorn ?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@unmalnick @russfrushtick Nope and I wouldn't put too much focus on optimizing for billion dollar valuation. It's much cooler to be profitable or be doing $100M plus in revenue.
Vinay Mimani
Vinay Mimani@wiredmau5 · Founder : trbble
@percival Hi Sean, what are you views about the Music streaming industry? Now that catalogue is just a commodity, what do you see as the biggest differentiator amongst streaming sites to get more users? Thanks
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@wiredmau5 After leaving Myspace I was ready to never look back towards that industry. Although I'm warming up again after spending more time in the Nordics. There digital streaming penetration is at like 80% so it's easier to fund and grow a music startup there. In Silicon Valley it's basically unfundable at this point. In terms of differentiator I think you're in trouble if your product is too similar to a small feature of a larger music service. Playlisting for example. What's actually more important is finding some unit economics that make sense long term. One interesting play I saw was a music service with a consumer app they use to prove the tech/value prop and then sell that same service as white label option to big telcos. They have the pretty consumer front end to show off and nice revenue coming in on the back end b2b product.
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What are some of your favorite hobbies lately?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@jacqvon This last year I have taken piano lessons, learned a new language and recently I'm getting into astrophotography (taking photos through a telescope). I tend to hop around from one to another though. I think I'm sometimes a jack of all trades and master of none in that regard.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Why the Nordics Sean, why?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@eriktorenberg Everyone asks that! I think mostly because they think why would you want to go anyone besides Silicon Valley. And the truth is I like it here in the valley but I also hate it. The environment is at such a frantic pace, valuations are out of whack and it's at such a scale that it's hard to make a big impact. I'm much more interested in being at the ground floor and helping to build things up from there. That applies to both companies and startup ecosystems. Personal reasons why: It's a amazing region with rich culture, high quality of life, extensive capital and almost no religion (I'm an atheist). I'm also part Norwegian so it has been really nice to reconnect with my own heritage there. Business reasons why: The Nordics will surpass London in 2-3 years in terms of funding. They are in the top 10 in terms of GDP per capita. Stockholm is already at scale and a top startup ecosystem. Oslo, Copenhagen and Helsinki also have tremendous momentum and unique strengths as they emerge. Valuations are fair and founders incredibly humble to work with (so the complete opposite of Silicon Valley). 10% of global $1B+ exits are already coming from the Nordics so the market is liquid for investors.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@percival @eriktorenberg how and when did you know you needed to go?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@eriktorenberg I guess it's a lot like falling in love. It just felt meant to be the more time I spent on it. On a business level I could see the gaps in early stage capital and mentorship. Two things 500 does really well. So it just felt like a natural fit and very complimentary.
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
What is your first advice to all startups that starts into 500 Startups?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@unmalnick I wrote the following "rules to live by" for companies that came into our accelerator: 1. Grow your business everyday 2. Get to know each other 3. Find some serendipity 4. Challenge yourself and others 5. Have fucking fun
Andrew Ettinger
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
I asked @davemcclure this same question (SEE: http://www.producthunt.com/live/...) - Which lesser-known startup/product to have gone through 500 do you wish everyone knew about?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@andrewmettinger Mayvenn, Toutapp, Intercom.io
Andrew Graunke
Andrew Graunke@8ndw · Principal, No Capital LLC
As someone who's seen all sides of the table, how do you imagine 'value-add' from venture capital firms changing in the next 10 years?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@8ndw Hard to say but as time goes on founders are getting more self sustainable. Everything from simple funding structures like convertible notes to a wealth of information online. It's also getting really competitive for VCs as there is way too many funds swirling around. So I would say VCs will need to difference by having a clear focus and of course be there for you when things go bad. And they most certainly go bad at some point.
Dan Shaw
Dan Shaw@dshaw · Always bet on Node.js! ✨
@percival What is the main thing you're looking for to decide when it's time to go found your next company?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@dshaw I wanted to get back on my feet both financially and emotionally after the last rollercoaster. Although I'm settling in for a longer commitment to VC life with some entrepreneur adventures on the side. I think I can make a bigger impact helping early stage companies/founders vs starting my own at this point.
Melissa Joy Kong
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Hi Sean! Online marketing is sometimes challenging for early stage companies looking to build an audience from scratch with a small (or no) budget and marginal preexisting brand awareness. Given your experience, I've got two questions for you: (1) If you were at an early stage B2C company, what are some of the first online marketing tactic you'd implement? (2) Is there a particular ethos with which you'd test, iterate, and scale marketing efforts to build an active user base? Thanks in advance for your insight!!
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@melissajoykong Great questions! 1) At this stage all that matters is building audience, collecting leads (emails) and starting to test how to best convert folks into users/revenue. I typically try a bunch of things to get started like content marketing, contests, building light mobile apps that collect emails, buying out related websites I can use to funnel traffic/SEO value from. I know that if I can build up a decent audience of a few thousand I have enough to get started and test against. 2) Marketing is like a concert. It may be out of tune sometimes but when everything is humming together it creates the melody and things work. So I would be thinking about how do have a complete orchestra of user acquisition, retention, remarketing and reactivation all working together. For example there's no reason to send a bunch of traffic to your site if you're not able to bring them back or educate the user on why they should convert.
Gunnar Skeid
Gunnar Skeid@guns · Co-founder Grup.ly
@percival Hello. In what direction do you see Social Media moving and what should a Social Media startup in the Nordic emphasis today to get funded? Thanks!
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@gskeid I'm not sure I would go for something that directly competes with Facebook. The winner of the social graph has long been established and is not likely to change anytime soon. However businesses still need ways to engage and growth their social presence so any service that is B2B with good unit economics has a chance. I would also look for weaknesses in other major social players to leverage. For example LinkedIn is bad at mobile. Instagram is losing it's focus on the real photographers and going celeb/topical content. Twitter is failing to service verticals well like sports and TV.
Juan Pablo Rojas
Juan Pablo Rojas@unmalnick · Data Analysis
What was your reaction and your "action items" when MySpace starts going down as a social network?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@unmalnick Panic! Try everything! Throw the kitchen sink at the users! In other words it was not really well thought out. It was really tough to both fix the site (which had massive technical debt) while creating a modern experience for users. So we sorta failed at both.
Christian Thurston
Christian Thurston@ct_oz · Co-founder
@percival What's your current thoughts and feelings on BitCoin given your history as an advocate within that space?
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@ct_oz If you look at the Gartner Hype Cycle we are currently in the "plateau of productivity". So things are a bit boring but progress is being made. I would say most direct to consumer plays don't have much of chance now since adoption has slowed/declined. However banks are finally coming around to the technology so there are likely many viable businesses to be built supporting them with new blockchain tech.
poornima
poornima@poornima · Founder
@percival e-cigs... do you have a fav? and why the man bun?! ;)
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@poornima You know I tried e-cigs but couldn't really get into. I don't think I want yet another device to charge!
Sean Percival
Sean Percival@percival
@poornima For the manbun that was just to blend in to the local Nordic surroundings. But I actually lost it already. Too much man bun hate in the world today!
poornima
poornima@poornima · Founder
@percival they are probably just saving you from the fate of the mullet ;)
poornima
poornima@poornima · Founder
@percival @poornima they are probably just saving you from the fate of the mullet ;)