March 4, 2020
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast are Joshua Rahn and Steven Rosenblatt, Co-Founders & Partners at Oceans Ventures. In this episode, Joshua and Steven discuss their careers at Facebook and Foursquare, their journey launching Oceans Ventures and how they’re helping other Founders to launch successful startups.
Jeff Ragovin: Josh, you were one of the first 7 employees at the NYC Facebook office. Can you tell us more about your journey?
Joshua Rahn: What’s interesting for me is that I actually became in love with marketing, growth hacking, and mobile before I joined Facebook. I had sold a startup to Sony Ventures in the late nineties and it was a desktop marketing platform, which is actually fairly ironic as we are back there now, but from there I went into the mobile space and led up the mobile marketing initiative and platform at Univision. Moving over to Facebook it was interesting because there was no mobile when I joined - it was completely a desktop company. There were 7 of us in New York and only around 275 employees at the time and it was about hacking and marketing and marketing and hacking and trying to find virality and not just for us as a company but for our teams and eventually our ad partners.
The thing that was so crazy about it was that the company literally molted every two years. Every two years we were a different team, a different company tackling going from banners to feed, feed to mobile, mobile to location, location to identity, and during each one of those iterations the company had to figure out what its brand voice was and what it meant to the marketplace. There was a special kind of DNA that was needed to live in that environment. I used to tell all new recruits “Listen, you have to know that this is like working where the ground is moving beneath you, and it’s not for the fainted heart”, but I was always confident in was that it is a mission-driven company and that if everybody followed the mission and if we were clearly articulating the mission not to just our partners but to our teammates, then I had complete confidence in the engineering horsepower of the company, and it was just an amazing ride in which I got to meet some of the best marketers and engineers of all time. I am so eternally grateful for the people and the organization for helping me to understand what marketing and growth of a company really could be.
Jeff Ragovin: Steven, you were over at Quattro which was acquired by Apple and from there went over to Foursquare as the Chief Growth Officer and then President. Can you tell us more about your time at Foursquare?
Steven Rosenblatt: The first decade of my career was in early internet startups. I went over to Dennis Publishing in the early 2000s to run digital for Maxim, Stuff, Blender, and pre-YouTube we created one of the first viral video branded entertainment ads for Colgate. One of the things I was fascinated about was mobile so we launched one of the first WAP sites at Maxim pre-App store. We did it with Burger King who was the sponsor at the time. That kind of fed my passion for mobile. I then helped to build Quattro which started out really building WAP sites for publishers like Univision where Josh was at. We were building WAP sites but didn’t have a lot of scale so I led this transformation at Quattro to really grow audience, grow scale but the big thing we also did was we launched the first software developer kit. We get on the radar of Apple and they acquire us to launch iAd, Steve Jobs is still at the company, we are one of their tentpoles, they announce us at the Worldwide Developer Conference. iAd was supposed to be this TV-like experience that really created beautiful looking ads on mobile platforms, and we built some of the most beautiful ads on iOS. Apple was clear that they were going towards more of a privacy stance and it was almost impossible to compete on the ad-serving when you saw the Facebooks of the world rising up and so it was incredible launching a product under Steve Jobs, and in 2012 I was connected to Foursquare.
I then spent 6 years at Foursquare leading the transformation from a consumer check-in company to an enterprise data company. I think part of the reason why Josh and I were so passionate about starting Oceans is that we saw exactly the same thing from a different lens which is this idea that to build a company that can scale and endure over time that it takes a village, the best talent in the world and really incredible execution and we saw an opportunity to start a firm that really helps founders in the early critical days to help them build the foundation for success.
Joshua Rahn: We had been watching a lot of the DTC consumer marketing platforms out there being super disruptive. I had just been wrapping up the partnership between Facebook and Dollar Shave Club. As someone who had cut his teeth on the Unilever and P&G business, watching was disruption really felt super interesting. Steven and I had known each other since the late nineties and we were talking about what was really needed and we really felt like the ability to invest in companies and support founders gave the opportunity to disrupt. In bringing our operational and marketing expertise, we are able to help founders achieve their potential in a different way.
Jeff Ragovin: You guys have this tagline which is “The Power of Together”. Let’s talk a little bit about that because it's a big part of your mission at Oceans.
Joshua Rahn: We had to AB test our messaging because we were by design different. The world does not need another fund, it needs another model. There’s so much capital out there, and we spoke to so many founders who said that the day their value creation from their VC ends the day the check clears, and that seems tragic. We had been a part of all these great companies that we had seen teams of people help founders fulfill their potential and we thought cash had become a commodity and how does somebody help a founder who has little ability to hire world-class talent really access talent in a way that is really aligned with their businesses interests. It kept coming back to the fact that it takes a team, it takes a village and it takes people rowing together. Having seen what I saw when Mark hired Sheryl, it is this big aha moment in which people have to play to their strengths, and so we wanted to be able to do was enabled founders play to their strengths and then us to help bring in our team or our operating partners to help elevate and build the foundations of these companies as they scale.
Jeff Ragovin: Who is the perfect candidate for you guys?
Joshua Rahn: The candidate for us is someone who ideally is a tech co-founder. 75% of the people we want to work with will be people in New York because we believe that our model resonates when mentorship and proximity require each other to be connected. With software at its core, the company is typically between 5 to 15 employees - even earlier sometimes - but it's somebody who has a software base that wants to build a scalable product and company and who is transparent, self-aware, fearless. We are betting on people at this point. We have seen companies where the founder is so mission-driven and we’ve talked to companies where its a first-time founder and they don’t typically trust third parties yet and it all makes sense. Second-time founders call us and are like “These are the 3 things I hate doing, make them go away and I trust you”. So for us the partners that we are working with we know we are going to be with them for 5-7 years.
Steven Rosenblatt: I think Jeff also we are not consultants. Over the last year alone, we have seen over 300 companies. We are working with and invested in 11. For us, it really comes down to if it's a really great investment but also something we can get really excited about for the long term. One thing Josh and I have in common as partners and in our careers is our ability to see where we think things are going to go, and so we are looking for very disruptive ideas and some of the areas we have gotten involved in is energy, elderly care, the student debt issue, female funding, micro-mobility and so we see some really next-generation stuff and our bet over the next 5 to 10 years is that these businesses will really grow.
Jeff Ragovin: What are some of the key ingredients for a successful startup in 2020?
Steven Rosenblatt:: There’s a couple of key ingredients. Number one is the ability to articulate a vision. They are thinking big, they can see the world, they can articulate where this is going to go. I think the second thing is that they have a tremendous amount of focus, in that they are obsessed with a problem but they are tackling one core issue and are building one product to solve it. As Josh said, there are two areas that we are looking at in terms of the founder. One is that they have significant expertise in an area because they lived it and they’re so frustrated with a problem they are faced with so they just have to go and solve it. A second is that they’re so passionate about solving a problem because that problem has really impacted their life. The rollercoaster ride is peak and intense so to survive building a company you know you are going to have incredible highs but those lows are going to be near-death experiences. The only way to overcome them is to be so intensely passionate and focused on the mission ahead, and also knowing what the long term objective is.
Joshua Rahn: The founder has to be capable of leading that mission. If you are going to tackle these big problems, then you have to be ready to lead a big organization. It is scary, but it’s not that it’s not going to be scary but is going to be something that you’re not afraid to do, and if you are it’s okay but you have to be prepared to bring in a partner or a co-founder who will help you do the things you can't. For us it’s about how do we not do the work for the founder, but how do we empower them and give them the confidence to tackle the problem they are trying to solve.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes