I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Price, a new member of the Central Texas Angel Network who recently moved from Dallas to Austin. Here’s her take on angel investing and the outlook for 2008.
What is your background?
Corporate communications. Developing communications strategy and programs for technology companies. I was over corporate communications at Sabre Holdings out of Dallas, a travel technology company whose businesses include Travelocity. Before that I worked many years at Texas Instruments. My last position there was VP of strategic communications, which involved the external positioning of the company during a time of major transformation. Before that I was over communications for TI’s European operations for more than four years, living first in France and then Belgium.
One area where I’ve gained a lot of experience is in acquisitions and divestitures – which is where I also developed my interest in working with startups. When I came back to the U.S. in 1997, TI was in the midst of its transformation to primarily a semiconductor company, selling off several businesses and buying in a number of small technology companies. In a three-year period, I worked on more than 20 acquisitions and divestitures, and more later at Sabre.
These communications are very involved, and multi-phased. One critical element is determining how to best integrate the newly acquired company and build that brand going forward. Given the entrepreneur’s personal investment in their company, it may be challenging to see any change to their company’s identity -- which I can understand. But you have to look at how to bring the most clarity to customers and how the acquiring company can best generate that new value. Sometimes that will mean maintaining the existing identity, and sometimes the decision is to fully integrate into the acquiring company’s brand. But there has to be a framework in place to guide those decisions.
Why do you like startups?
I have always admired entrepreneurs – people who have an idea and take the risk to go off and start a business and get it going. It’s exciting to see them succeed. We have a culture here in the U.S. that encourages some level of risk taking and innovation. I haven’t seen that everywhere – there is a lot more understanding here if a company doesn’t succeed.
What do you look for in an angel deal?
I look at the management team. I think the quality of the management team is so significant. You have to determine if they can take the product idea all the way through and make it successful. And other factors include the market opportunity, the technology, what differentiates them from what’s out there.
You recently invested in Displaypoints. What did you like about them?
I think they have a strong management team as well as a great idea. They’ve met their milestones and progressed very well. I think they’ve found a niche that has some real interest as seen by the companies who are in talks with them. They’re at an early stage but progressing well and getting a lot of interest that is helping them refine their product and expand their customer base. They’re about to roll out version 2 of their product, and they’ve just gotten approval for a pilot program with a national restaurant chain. I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more about them.
What is your day job?
I work at Edelman, which is a global public relations agency, the largest, independently owned PR agency in the world. They’re family owned and have been in business for over fifty years. It really combines the best of a boutique – local presence, specific expertise – with the resources of a global company. I focus on technology companies.
Why change from the corporate world to the agency world?
I like the idea of applying my experience to many companies, and I admire Edelman’s creative history and how they continue to shape the PR profession.
How does Edelman work with startup companies?
We recognize that there are unique needs with a new company. We recently designed a PR model that’s specifically for companies at this stage – to help smaller companies get noticed. We’ll work with these companies to help develop their initial communications platform and build that early buzz that they need. The level of support the startup needs is different from a more established company, and we offer a lot of flexibility with this program.
What are some of the tactical ways a startup gets their message out there?
It really depends on their business needs and the markets they want to reach. Certainly talking with industry analysts and the media is key. And being visible at key forums – conferences, trade shows. But you need to first build a strategic PR program based on the company’s business objectives, and then a variety of tactics will fall in place.
PR is evolving based on technology. What do you see as trends for 2008?
Social networking and mobile marketing are going to be the key trends in 2008. It’s becoming more and more important to a solid PR program. Edelman has been on the forefront of this. For example, one client, a technology startup, needed help in building its name and customer base and countering misinformation about them. Edelman used social media – in particular blogs, and built up a program and trained execs and had it live in under two weeks, with great results. It allowed them to open up a dialogue and talk with potential customers, and clarify who they were. They were able to correct the misinformation as well as sign up new customers. It’s all about getting that initial conversation going rather than having a one way communication. Mobile marketing is growing too – but these programs must be opt-in. You have to earn the right to be on their handsets. These are complicated programs to develop, but it can be an effective tool if used in the right way.