Charles River Ventures (CRV) confidently posted “F*ck Trump” on their home page on August 24th in a move designed to show their support for entrepreneurial immigrants while confidently daring the blow-back. According to the announcement, the partners at CRV unanimously believe in this proclamation, and I am sure they do, but that didn’t stop someone there from carefully crafting their words for maximum positioning benefit. At Upper Diamond, for the past 7 years, we have learned quite a bit working with one of largest and most successful VCs in the USA so I will speculate that the top benefits CRV sees with this positioning are:
- Winning deal flow
- Recruiting future partners
- Positioning themselves as the future
Marketing is about powerfully telling your authentic story and backing up the territory it claims with something memorable, like a financial reward – paying for your visa. The announcement connects CRV’s positioning to 3 core values deeply held by their audience and lived by CRV’s leadership:
Immigrants help make American great
Their first sentence states “Entrepreneurship begins and ends with a powerful immigrant spirit.” Nearly universally Americans connect to the two-fold myth that we are a land of immigrants and that if you work hard enough you can achieve the American Dream. They point out that 6 of their 9 partners are from foreign countries and that 50% of the teams they back are “people like us”. What founder would be any good if they didn’t believe that a great team behind their breakthrough idea, sufficient capital and their willingness to work their rear off was all they need to achieve the dream? CRV must know the statistic that 51% of US billion dollar startups are founded by immigrants but they don’t mention it because the emotional and aspirational language of “people like us” is much stronger in the ear of future entrepreneurs.
People matter more than ideas
If you scroll below that home page image and don’t click on the announcement you get to this statement listed with a No.1 next to it, “We invest in people before ideas”. That section’s final sentence brings the statement to life and I imagine unlike the home page image this has been on their site for some time: “Having a big idea matters, but being the person who can make it a reality matters even more.”
In the announcement they define all people in terms of immigrants and let you know where they stand. “We stand behind immigrants, the sons and daughters of immigrants and anyone with the immigrant spirit.”
Action wins over Rhetoric
“We want to move beyond rhetoric and focus on concrete actions…” They write the actions they want to take with heroic prose, “knocking down walls…creating the unthinkable from scratch with small odds of winning”, because this is the language of an entrepreneurial spirit. It is a filter to inspire the right applicants and they are fine with weeding out those that find this language too “rah rah” as they double down on the sentiment: “That is what makes the U. S. great and what drives meaningful innovation and change.”
CRV knows its audience but every position comes with potential risks. Their statement carefully didn’t endorse anyone and unlike this campaign didn’t get personal. They focused on his ideas, building a wall, and the idea of him as president, “we reject Trump’s candidacy” and by doing so diminished the emotions when the attack or endorsement feels personal. As for data on the audience, if you think education and age correlate to first time entrepreneurs, according to a recent Bloomberg poll Trump was polling at 34% for college educated voters, 21% for Post grads and 28% for under 40 year olds. Those numbers point to risks CRV can probably live with.
What CRV did by courting a small amount of controversy to publicly live by their values is not common but does happen and it will be interesting to see if it gets them future founders. Apple made headlines and gained more friends than foes over time, according to polling, by sticking to their position of not creating a backdoor to the iPhone for the government. That was a principled position with real risks that now, in light of hacks into the NSA looks really smart. It was best captured by this tweet from a week ago:
Good companies and good marketing agencies focus on the substance behind your product or service. Companies that are great communicators know that substance drives your unique selling proposition and that it should inspire your voice on social media; paid and earned. The tone and content should be something that you can live, that is also distinct enough to cultivate an audience who connects to your values. “People like us” can come in every shade and shared values make raving fans – in the end that is who you want to do business with.
David Spitzer is CEO of Upper Diamond, a marketing and communications production company. If you want to engage in a conversation around a campaign or build some amazing assets we are great allies, willing to help you make a principled stand, launch a new product or share a laugh. To prove we aren’t always serious read my article Vince Vaughn Teaches us 5 Truths of Stock Photos and find out more about us at upperdiamond.com.