OpenView’s Blake Bartlett on How Product-Led Growth Can Break the 'Fundamental Physics' for Startups

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
OpenView’s Blake Bartlett on How Product-Led Growth Can Break the 'Fundamental Physics' for Startups
Courtesy of OpenView

Investor Blake Bartlett spent high school exploring different passions, from skateboarding to photography.

He now sees himself as the “song and dance man” at OpenView Venture Capital, a growth-stage venture capital firm. On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, the L.A.-based VC talks about coining the term “product-led growth” and building companies in the “end user age.”

OpenView is currently investing from its sixth fund. Focused on B2B software, the firm invests in companies that are actively scaling up, usually around the Series A or Series B, Bartlett said. Based in Boston, the firm has led investments in startups including Calendly, Expensify and Highspot, among others.

OpenView’s “value-add,” he said, is its 75- to 80-member expansion team, which focuses on helping its portfolio companies grow.

While many investors have a reputation for being interested mainly in metrics and math, Bartlett prides himself on bringing imagination to his investing approach.

“I'm much more wired like a creative,” Bartlett said. “Creativity means lots of different things. Creative problem solving, and how do we sort of really have a unique angle to diligence and this investment thesis like that is creativity, and that certainly comes to bear, but also having other outlets.”

Currently, he also uses that vision through his YouTube series, “PLG123,” and his podcast, “Build.” Both allow him to explore finding his voice and presenting a unique perspective to a wider audience by discussing topics relevant to the VC community.

That creativity came into play in 2016, when he noticed more companies were using product development—rather than sales or marketing—to grow. These companies were different both in operation and performance, Bartlett said, and were expanding quickly without burning capital.

“These businesses were growing incredibly fast on the top line, and then also being capital efficient, if not profitable on the bottom line,” Bartlett said. “For me, that kind of broke the fundamental rules of physics of startups, because I had heard and been taught that there's a fundamental trade off more times than not—almost all the time—between growth and profitability.”

Where a traditional business might invest heavily in its sales and marketing teams in order to expand, Bartlett said, a product-led organization looks first at tactical problems and seemingly small details like signup processes, paywalls and other features. These types of startups were building their product to serve the end user, rather than the division lead who might be purchasing software for a large company, for instance.

“So it's a difference first and foremost, the building for the user, not for the buyer. And then you distribute it to the user, not to the buyer.”

Bartlett said one of the benefits of this model is that companies can build a user base before dealing with administrative issues that software companies have to deal with when selling to much larger companies. Instead, product-led companies can focus on how to turn individual users’ love for a product into revenue, and then scale it from there.

“What is the business case and how do we take all this user love and this thing that people say they can't live without, how do we articulate that into ROI in dollars and cents for this organization that's considering [purchasing in] six figures, seven figures or something of that nature?” Bartlett said.

dot.LA editorial intern Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.

Click the link above to hear the full episode, and subscribe to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.