Seksom Suriyapa seemed to be destined for a job at a venture company. He graduated from Stanford Law and worked for two large investment banks. After that, he joined McAfee in cybersecurity as a senior Corp Dev worker. Later, he spent six years with SuccessFactors, then moved to Twitter where he led its 12 person corporate development team, until June 2018.
The bigger surprise is that Suriyapa — who just joined the L.A.-based venture firm Upfront Ventures — didn’t make the leap sooner. Suriyapa says that finding the right firm was what triggered her decision.
Suriyapa, who is still in the Bay Area, spoke earlier about his new role with Upfront. He will be heading Upfront’s expanding growth stage practice along with founder Yves Sisteron. He also shed light on how Twitter — which has been on a bit of buying spree — thinks about acquisitions these days.
The chat was edited for clarity and length.
TC: What made you join Upfront?
SS: Mark Suster, my long-term partner and we were connected through mutual acquaintances in venture business. I got to know Mark over time and found him to be an exceptional individual. He is solid and thoughtful, and he has a great knack for building brands. You could say that Upfront put L.A. onto the global venture map.
TC: Although it was an early stage firm for some time, it now has a “barbell” strategy. Your new task is to ensure that it has a stake in the portfolio companies’ growth. Is it possible to shop in other areas of the portfolio?
SS: My mission is to support the hundred plus Upfront portfolio companies poised for scale and to also invest in companies, not currency, on the platform. I expect the latter to happen more often over the years.
TC: Twitter was much more active in the corp development front over the years that you were here. How come?
SS: Jack Dorsey was CEO for three years when he joined me in 2018. His focus was really on driving public discussion and Twitter shrunk out of many businesses. He also [shrunk] people smarter.
TC: I remember it laid people off in 2016.
SS: One of those offshoots was a lack of newer products. There were not many new product acquisitions during the 3 years before I joined. That muscle is prone to wasting away if it’s not used. Jack had already transformed the management team. It had been, relative speaking, a rotating door of executives up until then. I was appointed with the specific task of revitalizing an inactive corporate development practice. When Ned Segal was working as a banker at Goldman Sachs, and while I was still at SuccessFactors [while] he was at Goldman Sachs, I knew him well so I approached Ned to learn more about this role.
TC: Twitter purchases Scroll news reader service and Revue newsletter platform. These decisions were taken from the top, or vice-versa.
SS: It was product-need driven. There were a number of objectives for the company. The company had several objectives. One was diversification of Twitter’s reliance on ad-driven businesses. Ads account for around 80% of the revenue.
There is a tremendous need for the company to increase its machine learning, artificial intelligence and other capabilities. It’s impossible to scale up tens or thousands of employees to find toxicity in conversations. Machine learning is required to locate it. Twitter that works well can also show you conversations that interest you. It must take in signals from the people you are following and interact with. This is MLAI at its core. Jack envisions that anyone who tweets in any language should be able talk to someone in that same language as them in a global conversation.
TC: Consumer applications are also emphasized.
SS: This is the third goal. Which tools can followers and creators use to communicate with one another? Twitter added audio via Spaces, its Clubhouse competitor. Substack’s competitor, Revue was acquired by us. There is a lot happening in the area of what type of content someone can expect to see on Twitter.
TC: Do you consider these acquisitions proactive or reactive?
SS. It may seem like a reactive approach from the outside, but we had been considering Spaces for a while before Clubhouse was even born. What I find most remarkable about Spaces is that it is the first time you have seen Twitter create a product and capability that is competing against another company. It is competitive right from the beginning. Clubhouse was unable to offer an Android version of Twitter because Twitter invested resources in it. I would argue that Twitter has a lot of the technicalities of Twitter, as well as the fact creators are present on Twitter. This puts them in a great position to win the segment.
Twitter has an incredible amount of experience in detecting toxicity, which is something you need to be cautious of as a social media player. Clubhouse, however small, won’t have any trouble getting there at all.
TC: Twitter is so interested in cryptocurrencies and decentralization.
SS: Twitter’s priorities are still being worked out. We have a lot to share about the technology that will be most popular over the next 5-10 years. But, we’re also considering the potential impact of crypto and its underlying protocols. This is a world where the internet is decentralized and can allow users to keep their privacy private and not worry about where it’s stored. Although Twitter is often viewed as a simple consumer app, there are many other features.
TC: Would you say that the regulatory environment is better for working with projects and companies that may have been snapped up or acquired by Facebook?
The reality of regulatory environments is that, even if the Facebooks or Googles are removed, there are still acquirers who are competive and would buy the things. It’s not fair to limit our thinking to just these two. We were still winning deals even though they weren’t active. Many of the acquired companies chose to join Twitter as they liked what the company stands for and Jack Dorsey’s leadership style. They also believe in his positions and support the values he holds.
TC: Now you represent a completely different brand. What will you do to make Upfront more competitive in securing deals?
SS: Because of the companies I’ve worked with to help them acquire, try to acquire, or run businesses in the past, I am able to build a network of amazing entrepreneurs all over the globe. I also have relationships with VCs from different stages of my career who look for businesses and introduce them to the corp dev team. Twitter also has diversity and inclusion programs. They plan to make 25% of their leadership more diverse in the coming years. My team often helped to identify diverse target companies to purchase. A series of LP investments were made into new emerging funds. Some were founded by LatinX, others women, and some were Black. These new funds are scouting for companies from far-flung locations. . .
TC: Do direct investments also exist on Twitter?
SS: While we did direct investments, [backing managers of fund managers] requires a much more leveraged approach. They will invest in between 30-60 companies per year and most of them are seed fund managers. Yes, yes. I did indeed visit companies far away, such as India’s ShareChat, where I was a board member for the past two years. TechCrunch earlier reported that Twitter was considering buying ShareChat. The company has raised many rounds of capital and its most recent valuation by investors is almost $3 billion.
TC: Although you have many relationships it is still difficult to get growth-stage deals, as so many others are also investing in the area. What are your plans to be competitive?
SS: These networks will be a key source of deals for me. Upfront is already investing in certain sectors. I will however, initially, double-click any areas that I have a strong interest, such as around the creator economy ecosystem. I do a lot of this at Twitter. W3b 3.0 is ow permissionless. Edge computing ML AI, shared date, and other areas that go across many disciplines. I think this will be one of my strong points. Your value proposition can help you compete. My strategy at Twitter was speed and knowing people better than others. I also [understood] Twitter’s value proposition to close deals. My [VC] strategy cannot be discussed without being implemented; entrepreneurs will have to find out the most compelling aspects of my strategy.
Publited Sat, 4 Sep 2021 at 01:44.04 +0000