Being Upfront

No feature or fun friday today. I wanted to talk a bit about a feat that my friend Mark Suster has pulled off. He has completely repositioned and rebranded a 17 year old venture capital firm. And I think it is really impressive what he has pulled off.

I joined a 17 year old venture capital firm in 1987. It was run by the founding partners who were in their late 50s at the time. I was there for ten years and we struggled mightily to remain relevant with a brand that was, frankly, stuck in the seventies.

I eventually left and started a new firm, a new brand, and a new thing. We called it Flatiron Partners. When that blew up, I started a new firm, a new brand, and a new thing. We called it Union Square Ventures. That's the typical model in VC. Restart when things aren't working.

What I have not seen done well is to take an aging brand and inject new life, new positioning, and new meaning into it. And that is what Mark has done. They are now the biggest early stage VC in LA. Mark has one of the few must read blogs in the VC world. And they have a new name, Upfront Ventures. I love the name and what it means about how they want to behave and be seen in the world.

Congratulations Upfront Ventures. Very well done.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. jason wright

    a compelling name to live by.less a brand, more a mantra.

    1. leigh

      brand done right is a mantra, a way of behaving, a culture you are creating ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. jason wright

        i wonder if they’ll be doing morning chanting mantra huddles? :-)i like the transposition possibility. up front and front up.

  2. Dave W Baldwin

    Congrats to you and your team Mark. Love the new name.

  3. damiansen

    The mission is genius and marketing smart: WYSIWYG. Kudos to MArk, we’d live in a substantially better startup world if someone multiplied these kind of VC’s by 10

  4. John Best

    Yeah, bothsides is always interesting, and Mark’s honesty is engaging. I’m equally pleased for both Upfront and LA.

  5. JimHirshfield

    But don’t call it a pivot WHATEVER you do!<jk>

    1. William Mougayar

      Startups pivot. VC’s rebrand or re-start.

    2. jason wright


  6. William Mougayar

    Indeed. It was very well executed.Q- Mark said yesterday that raising in the 100-300 range is harder than raising a 50M or 500M fund.Why so?

  7. pointsnfigures

    like you, his blog is there for more than just himself. brings him deal flow etc etc etc. it’s a very good blog.

  8. SD

    Respectfully- launching the rename is the beginning. Whether or not the rebrand is successful remains to be seen. If, in 3-4 years, the brand comes to mean the things they hope it does, and if this helps attract customers /partners (entrepreneurs/ investors)- and helps them get deals- then it was a successful rebrand. Otherwise it’s just a new name logo and office space.

    1. fredwilson


    2. JamesHRH

      Technically, you can’t brand a service firm.You can name it & it has a reputation.

  9. RichardF

    Mark Suster’s blog is one of the most inciteful for entrepreneurs thinking of going down the VC funded route. His own experience as an entrepreneur shines through.Great to use your brand name as your mission statement.

  10. kidmercury

    those of you who follow tech blogs may have seen facebook billionaire sean parker’s 9,500 word essay responding to people who hated on him for throwing a lord of the rings themed wedding that cost $10+ million. please read that sentence again, as it contains multiple elements of light of parker’s magnum opus, and as a sign of congratulating mark suster for upfront ventures, i hereby propose that the act of writing something way too long be renamed from “pulling a suster” to “pulling a parker.”congratulations, mark. thanks, sean.

    1. JLM

      .Haha, well played. As usual.JLM.

    2. Rohan

      Just read up on the sean parker thing. Don’t know what to make of it.On the one hand, it’s his money and he has the right to spend it any which way he wants. On the other hand, being a celebrity and complaining about the media feels a bit old.Atleast it’s clear money doesn’t buy happiness…

      1. kidmercury

        there is something called unofficial billionaire’s rule (UBR) that parker does not appear to be aware of. probably because i just made it up, but still.UBR states that billionaires cannot complain about anything unless:1. somebody steals their money2. somebody physically hurts them or their family3. health problemsi know billionaires have problems of their own just like the rest of us, but they cannot complain about trivial things, or grandiose expenditures that draw envy (even though i agree it is their money, even if they got primarily from fraudulent bubbles, and that they are entitled to spend it as they like, ridiculously or otherwise).

        1. takingpitches

          +1 billion ๐Ÿ™‚

        2. andyidsinga

          thanks for being up front about just making that up ๐Ÿ˜‰

        3. Donna Brewington White

          deleted… commented to the wrong person… your avatar is confusing me

        4. JamesHRH

          This is called the Sandberg Rule.

      2. LE

        “Don’t know what to make of it.”There’s a scene in the movie “bad boys” with Sean Penn (practically before he was famous) where someone (don’t remember if it’s Penn’s character or not) is wrongly accused and in the juvenile jail for something. One of the guards there says “well if you didn’t do that crime you did something that you didn’t get in trouble for”.If you look hard enough you can find something to hang on anyone Parker is no exception.”At least it’s clear money doesn’t buy happiness…”Money certainly helps you avoid unhappiness though.I mean if you wake up in the morning and don’t have a headache that doesn’t make you happy.But if you have a headache you might be unhappy.Money helps you avoid many things that might make you unhappy. (As only a start that’s not the complete benefit obviously..)I don’t have a ton of money but I have enough to have my own large office where I can totally control the temperature in the office and not only that I can wear a t-shirt and shorts. I set the thermostat to 70o if I want not caring about the electric bill. That’s great when it’s 97o outside! If it were 80o I’d probably be unhappy and uncomfortable. I can also buy whatever drugs I need and get any medical care I want. And any food I want. So the suffer factor is less than if I didn’t have “money”.

        1. Rohan

          Of course LE โ€“ we could make any statement look incorrect if taken to an extreme and if we ignore the spirit.The intention with โ€œmoney doesnโ€™t buy happinessโ€ wasnโ€™t to say youโ€™ll be okay if you had none at all. Atleast that wasnโ€™t the spirit. ๐Ÿ™‚

      3. Donna Brewington White

        I liked your Tumblr quote along the lines that it’s easy for people worth $millions to write songs entitled “All You Need is Love.”Yeah, yeah, yeah…

        1. Rohan

          Hehe. That was with tongue firmly in cheek.

    3. takingpitches


    4. ShanaC

      mazel tov – but I loved some of marks longer pieces

    5. jason wright

      there will never be a bitcoin billionaire.

    6. LE

      “act of writing something way too long be renamed from “pulling a suster””Well obviously Mark had nothing to do with the lean approach to the new website on day 0. There’s nothing there.

    7. andyidsinga

      there it is …i knew knew knew that comment ( re suster ) would be in here ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. kidmercury

        lol my favorite joke! though now sean parker may have taken that crown….

        1. andyidsinga

          NO ! sean parker does not deserve that title. suster earned it through good,albeit long posts. ๐Ÿ™‚

    8. fredwilson

      yeah. good thing he did not call it Brevity Ventures. that might be my next one ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. kidmercury

        too bad twitter is already born, it would have been a great portfolio company for brevity

      2. Donna Brewington White

        You’re the master in that regard.Wait…. your next one? Another announcement coming?

    9. JamesHRH

      For those uninterested in reading The Parker Riposte – a summary:- in my 20’s, I knew a lot less about the world than I realized (join the club junior).- despite the access, experience & opportunities I have had since then, I still don’t get how the world works- I am a Nerdus GiganticusOn the Right Place Right Time Mount Rushmore:- Parker- Schmidt- Allen – open to voting

    10. markslater


  11. Tom Labus

    The Nets.I don’t know if they gave away the store or made a good move.

    1. kidmercury

      i don’t think it was a terrible trade, though i don’t think it was good enough. i think the celtics got the better end of the deal.

    2. Dave W Baldwin

      Who cares? Otto to Wizards ;)Late last night though, I did hear mention of someone who has a wingspan of 7’9″ . Whew!

      1. pointsnfigures

        Nets are giving out Geritol with season ticket packages. Will carry defibrillators and oxygen machines on the bench at all times-and plenty of ice.

    3. JamesHRH

      Canuck #1 – that would be the first of 2, thank you.

  12. awaldstein

    I like Mark and his blog. He’s a smart marketer and if anyone can pull this off, he can.But of course, success in rebranding is in what the market thinks of you.Answers these questions for AVC:-do you know not only Fred’s but USV’s investment thesis?-know their exits at the top of your head and do they weave a picture not only of success but of thematic intent?-Do you know USV as you do AVC, the people as individuals and their different approaches.That to me is what defines a brand.I bet Mark has a similar set of objectives as well. He’s a maven and will make it be so. Really liked that they are moving their offices into SM.Huge congrats for a really well orchestrated start on this! I”m a believer.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      The move is brilliant and fits the message Mark and team are trying to convey. Century City has a completely different vibe and sends a different message than SanMo. Plus it cuts 20+ minutes off my commute if they ever want to hire me. ;)Have you been to Santa Monica lately? It feels so different than it did five years ago. Like NYC with a beach. Feels like a tech/startup center. And the energy is palpable.

      1. awaldstein

        Been too long actually,

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Hey what happened to the other half of that comment? Well I’ll respond to it anyway– Come on! And maybe on my turf you will finally let ME pay!

          1. awaldstein

            I’m planning a trip.The other half of my comment–Disqus ate it.

  13. takingpitches

    Congrats Mark – enjoy reading your blog!

  14. Pessi Mist

    lipstick on a pig?- same old firm and partners only now they wear t-shirts and have new business cards

    1. jason wright

      an understandable critique. time will tell.the new location is probably the most beneficial change.

    2. fredwilson

      i believe there are new partners in the mix

  15. JLM

    .Every person has within themselves 5-7 “careers” and a lot of other avocations.The reality is that change is the base norm.Is this a great time to be alive or what?JLM.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      It is, JLM, it is.”change is the base norm” Love it.

  16. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    All the while you have been telling you never had start-up experience…but you do have started 2.btw, Is there anyone in USV who feel the same what you felt when you started FlatIron…I mean … people in their early fifties,frankly, struck in 2000 :-).P.S. What is Friday without fun?

  17. Anthony Serina

    I think it is such a great move to rebrand and freshen things up a bit. Longevity of a company is usually inversely related to the amount of creative thinking taking place. GRP Partners, now Upfront Ventures made one of the best decisions over the past couple of years and it was hiring Mark. As an entrepreneur, his blog and Fred’s have been monumental into helping our company develop and not fall into a lot of “early stage traps.” Also, Mark’s writing is just another testament as to how important and impactful a VC or any blog can be. Candid distribution of thoughts, guiding recommendations, and reliving past entrepreneurial experiences elevates the persona from a traditional VC to an active partner who is trying to help your business succeed.

  18. WA

    Well lets hope a better job is done with Twinkies then. For nostalgia’s sake only of course. Never touch the stuff personally. This has been a Fun Friday response on a No Fun Friday.

  19. Kirsten Lambertsen

    This seems pretty fun to me!I love Mark’s blog and have learned so much from it. I watch his interview program. He seems like a really good egg. At the very least, he deserves a nice office in Santa Monica ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. loupaglia

    It is a very interesting move, probably the right one for them and I would think in the works for quite some time. great name. Very consistent with Mark’s approach that he expresses on his blog. Mark may have some of the best VC blog content out there on enterprise startups.

  21. howardlindzon

    The logo should have more silicone in it. My two cents. Mark?

  22. btrautsc

    Mark, if you make it to here today – the startup basketball game is still on the table…

  23. ShanaC

    rebranding takes a long time – 4 years.Either way, mazel tov

  24. andyswan

    sometimes the good guys win.

  25. Aaron Klein

    Now if Mark could just figure out how to write 500-word blog posts, he’d be set. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. LE

      The long blog posts are good. But.Stylistically he could organize them in a way to make them nicer to read by creating summaries and section headings so that it is easier to get what you want and skip what you don’t need or excess detail (when you get the point already). Or footnote with some detail that is in the main post. Part of this is length but it’s also organization.Just saw this from Mark “and my ADHD too great” so it makes sense to me.Mark needs to put some further thought into how he organizes his writing similar to the suggestions that he gives people re: phone calls in this blog post:http://www.bothsidesoftheta…(Which I didn’t read, it’s to long, I skimmed.)

      1. Aaron Klein

        Lots of what Mark writes is great.Fred-style 500-600 word posts are so much more digestible. I think it’s so much stronger to break up a 2000 word idea into 3-4 posts.

    2. andyidsinga

      ahhh sheesh… you sound like kid mercury …always giving him shit on the long writes ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Aaron Klein

        I like Mark…but I like Fred’s writing style better. ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. kidmercury


  26. msuster

    Thank you, Fred. Obviously for the blog post. But more importantly for being an inspiration to other VCs and for all of your private guidance on matters big & small over the years. I’m sure everybody knows how helpful you are publicly – I feel lucky to know how helpful you are privately.And rather than do a take over of Fred’s blog by responding to all the well wishers I would say a hearty “thank you” to all of you, many of whom I know not just from my own blog but I regularly read the comments on AVC and always enjoy the banter between you. I never quite got that kind of community going on BothSides but I enjoy watching it here.Finally, I should at least acknowledge the “doubters” with my existential question, “which comes first the brand or the brand name?”For us the brand name was recognition of the firm we’ve become. My mentor Yves is as active as he’s ever been and has had man billion $ exits but he’s not public, so few people know. My partner Steven has had 2 exits north of a billion and the third is in process. These are guys I respect deeply even though they’re less public.As a group we: – Increased our investment in a “platform” (with a research staff, more operational folks, etc.)- Run thematic events to bring together industry leaders to discuss disruptive topics- Hold CEO gatherings to help our portfolio companies network- Added more operational partners (Greg Bettinelli, ex eBay, HauteLook) plus another operational partner will be announced in Sept- We blog. We started LA’s first accelerator. My partner Steven started the largest internship program in LA to retain local talent.So my answer – we created a brand name to represent the kind of firm we have become over the past 7 years.If we were naming the firm after me it would be “long-winded capital” … sorry for the usual essay! Thanks again, all.

    1. kidmercury is available, mark!but i don’t know if you truly deserve it anymore. i mean when was the last time you wrote a 9,500 word essay about a lord of the rings themed wedding? yeah. that’s what i thought.

    2. andyidsinga

      Speaking about thematic events – that is a fantasic thing!i recently went to ‘hardware summer camp’ hosted at OATV in SF …it was a really well done event / micro conference with experienced entrepreneur speakers talking nuts and volts. ..anyhoo point is, their’s is a model that should be replicated! Renee from oatv was one of the organizers.

    3. PhilipSugar

      I will take the con on long winded, I’d like your posts longer with some real examples. I timed myself. Anybody who takes longer than 15 seconds to read this post moves their lips when the read.

    4. fredwilson

      long winded capital!anyone who can make fun of themselves is on the right track

    5. jason wright is registered to Domains By Proxy LLCunless you’re also being stalked it might help the integrity of the brand’s gestalt vibe to change that small detail. just a thought.

    6. Donna Brewington White

      Brilliant, Mark. With this new name you are staking a claim and making a promise.

    7. JamesHRH

      Good name – although Relentless Ventures would have also worked for you.

    8. William Mougayar

      “I never quite got that kind of community going on BothSides.”You do have a great readership. I think the community’s vibrancy and loyalty increase when the author regularly and frequently dips back into the comments. In the spirit of being upfront, and please don’t take it the wrong way, I think you have an opportunity to increase your level of commenting further & I will bet the BothSides community will double or tripple.

  27. LaVonne Reimer

    You two are the only blogs I follow faithfully so really nice to see this post. You described the re-branding as if it has already worked and some are taking a more wait and see approach. I think you’re right though. Mark’s posts (treatises) and everything he does is authentic and consistent. In effect he has something like 4 years of telling the Upfront story ahead of changing the name.

  28. LE

    The new site has no details at all on the rebrand other than a marcom statement as to why they are rebranding.When you make an announcement like this it’s really important, when major attention is focused on you, to have all the facts about the firm on the site. This isn’t some “image” teaser ad in the WSJ or NYT. It’s a website.Facts? Not a day later. Not a week later. But right when you make the change. People aren’t going to bookmark and come back.They are loosing attention and a chance to give people further information about the firm, partners, history, investments whatever.I hate to be negative (I’m always critical but I try not to be negative) but this more or less dovetails with my thoughts that investors really don’t have a seat of the pants feel for basic business concepts. Unless they’ve hired the right people to manage a situation. To me this is a classic case of this. Now of course I guess that’s good if they are investing in you since you don’t have to worry about them trying to tell an entrepreneur how to run their business.I think they jumped the gun on this announcement and should have waited until they could have their website updated with all relevant info.

    1. JamesHRH

      It is just further proof that you don’t rebrand a service firm.The name changes – the people don’t. Their LPs could not give a damn what they call the place, as long as the partners deliver.

  29. Elia Freedman

    Forget VC. This — “What I have not seen done well is to take an aging brand and inject new life, new positioning, and new meaning into it.” — is really hard to do in any business.

    1. fredwilson


    2. JamesHRH

      Sugar water.

  30. Pete Griffiths

    Good for LA.

  31. andyidsinga

    ha …was just making an idiotic comment on yesterdays avc post about sales.i love Mark Suster’s blog for his post on sales and revisit them as references on the subject.

  32. jonathanjaeger

    In terms of individual blog posts, the whole ‘lines not dots’ observation is one of the most quoted in VC and investment-related interviews. Love Mark’s blog — and Fred, it would be great for you two to do an episode of This Week in Venture Capital if he ever resurrects it for a few more interviews.

  33. Artcrit

    Perfect. The new logo has an entrepreneur getting f’d in the a$$. Look at the f r in Upfront. You’ll never not see it now.

    1. fredwilson

      people see what they want to see

      1. kidmercury

        def siding with fred in this beef. i consider subliminal messaging to be very real but this is not it.

    2. jason wright

      r = entrepreneur?i like cypher cracking.i wonder what the t means?have you seen Kryptos at Langley?

    3. JamesHRH


  34. Semil Shah

    Fred, do any other successful VC firm rebranding efforts come to mind, from your career?

    1. fredwilson

      softbank ventures tried it with mobius but that didn’t last long enough to know

  35. vruz

    Brilliant branding. Brand is the things other people see in you.Impossible to pull without Suster being genuinely upfront, on his blog, and through his career in the flesh, for bad or good.Which leads to the other imprescindible keyword: authenticity.That which cannot be faked.Upfront is brilliant branding for those two reasons:1) Because it’s an explicit promise, but it’s one with a track record to back it, and the courage to go all the way to honour it.2) Because people see it’s authentic and they believe the promise is true.Upfront Ventures cannot lose.Great work.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Nice, vruz.

  36. Tereza

    Mark is brilliant for a lot of reasons, but he and I would agree that his most brilliant decision yet was marrying my friend Tania, who was and is a Grade A catch and certainly smarter than he is. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And she’s damn funny, too.It is a high octane household.A few years back to stay over at the Suster house as things were just starting to ramp up. I think he’d been reblogged by Fred for the first time. Tania talked about how he’d committed to daily blogging to put himself on the map. And — yep — that night Mark blogged got home at about 11pm, after yet another evening event, and blogged for another 2 hours. Good times.It’s pretty simple. Being super-smart is a given. But being pro-entrepreneur, sticking to commitments, and shipping over and over is actually pretty rare. And it accumulates and yields great things.Mark — Mazel Tov! And a big smooch to Tania and the boys.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      The Susters have the matched set to your two girls. Four rosy cheeked wonders.

    2. William Mougayar

      Nice story Tereza.

  37. markslater

    love reading mark. Can’t get with that logo though. The red R makes no sense.

  38. Eliot Peper

    Congrats to Mark and huge news for SoCal entrepreneurs, just gave a big shout-out on my blog (!