Lunch With Mark Suster

Mark SusterI recently had lunch with Mark Suster, General Partner at GRP Partners, blogger extraordinaire and overall cool dude. I am writing this entry at 4:00 AM. Mark’s kindness and insights moved me to roll out of bed, fire up my laptop and share my thoughts while they are still fresh.


Mark recently wrote a blog entry titled “Whom Should You Hire At A Startup” that was forwarded to me by about a dozen people, including several of my former students. If you have not read it, please take a quick moment to check it out. Reading it will provide you with a good frame of reference for the remainder of this post.

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Attitude Over Aptitude

Mark and I have been friends for several years and our mutual affinity is no surprise. We sit on RingRevenue’s Board together and we are co-investors in Burstly. We are likeminded in many ways: both of us are serial entrepreneurs who are now Venture Capitalists, we are about the same age (I am a bit older, chronologically and visually!) and we both believe that entrepreneurs do not work at the behest of their investors.

We also share a number of similar views regarding the startup hiring process. As my former students know, I preach that at a startup, Your Greatest Ability Is Often Your Availability, and that you should seek out A+ Players who will help everyone on your team excel. I also tell my portfolio companies that they should, “always be hiring,” great people. Hence the number of people who forwarded me Mark’s post.

I remember when Mark told me that he was going to start blogging. He had previously written a blog when he was a startup CEO several years prior, but at that time, he was too immersed in his company’s daily operations to make the blog a priority.

I wished Mark well with his new blog. At that time, I had been blogging (under the pseudonym Uncle Saul) for about two years. With no promotion, I had achieved a small, but loyal following of readers. My peak monthly readership when Mark launched BothSidesOfTheTable was approximately 18,500, largely due to traffic generated by readers who posted my articles to Hacker News.

Over the following two years, I watched Mark’s blog EXPLODE. His readership is currently approaching 500,000 monthly visitors, making him arguably the widest-read startup blogger on the planet. I now routinely meet people who say, with a bit of wonderment, “You know Mark Suster?” My response is usually, “Yeah, I knew him before he was the Lady Gaga of startup blogging.”

Back To Lunch

During our lunch, Mark and I had a great chance to catch up regarding the VC landscape, our respective investments, the Santa Barbara startup scene, etc. As lunch was nearing its end, I said, “Mark, I know you need to get back to LA, but I wanted to quickly chat with you about my blog.”

What Mark did next was worth gold to me. He leaned back, smiled and said, “John, I have as much time as you need. Let’s talk.” I know that Mark has 10,000 tasks more pressing than talking with me about my blog, but at that moment, he gave me his full attention, something many busy entrepreneurs find difficult to do.

We then spent the next 30 minutes or so discussing how he grew his audience (hard work) and what motives him to write (desire to share). Although I picked up a number of invaluable blogging tips-and-tricks, my primary takeaway was that Mark approaches blogging with a highly defined sense of purpose.

His purpose is not to drive as much traffic as humanly possible to his site. If this were the case, he would not write for third-party sites like BusinessWire or TechCrunch. His purpose is not to make money. If he wanted to monetize his site, he could seek pay-to-play company promotions, sell sponsorships, display ads, etc. His sense of purpose is simple: to expose his insights and experiences to as many budding entrepreneurs as possible, irrespective of the forum or who gets credit for the pageviews.

Lady Gaga In The Shower

Lady GagaAfter saying goodbye to Mark and walking to my car, I realized that my blogging sense of purpose was writing content that interested me, without an emphasis on proactively sharing it with emerging entrepreneurs. This is akin to Lady Gaga singing in the shower and never attempting to garner an army of “Little Monsters.” While a lifetime of shower sonatas might be entertaining for her (and her neighbors), it is hardly a lofty sense of purpose. If she viewed her music solely as a means of self-entertainment, few people would have been exposed to her “talents”.

The music industry is similar to the startup world. To excel, entrepreneurs need an aggressive, lofty purpose. Without one, your adVenture is likely doomed to be a self-fulfilling hobby from which few people will ever benefit. We can all learn from Mark’s blogging success. Combining talent, diligent effort, and a motivational sense of purpose is a powerful recipe.

A Mark Suster Blogging Tip In Action: If you are not yet following me on Twitter or Quora you can do so here and here. You can also receive my posts via email here.

John Greathouse has held a number of senior executive positions with successful startups during the past fifteen years, spearheading transactions, which generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is currently a partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage web-based businesses, and is a Co-Founder of RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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