Talking shop with Twitter’s recent head of corp dev — and now VC —

Seksom Suryapa was set to land in a venture firm. A Stanford law graduate, he worked at two blue-chip investment banks before joining cyber security company McAfee as a senior corp dev employee, later joining human resources software company SuccessFactors for six years and in 2018, Landed on Twitter, where he headed. Your 12-person corporate development team by June.

An even bigger surprise is that Suryapa — who has just joined L.A.-based venture firm Upfront Ventures — didn’t make the jump early. “The catalyst was looking for a firm that felt like the perfect fit for me,” says Suryapa.

We spoke with Suryapa — who lives and will live in the Bay Area — about his new role at Upfront, where he will lead its expansion-phase exercise with firm founder Yves Sisteron earlier today.

He also highlighted how Twitter — which has been on somewhat of a buying spree — thinks about acquisitions these days. Our chats have been lightly edited for a long time.

TC: How did you get involved with Upfront?

SS: [Longtime partner] Mark Suster and I were introduced to the enterprise world through a mutual business acquaintance, and I got to know him over time and really found him to be a remarkable person. She herself is thoughtful about the business, she is an incredible brand builder. I guess you can argue that [Upfront] Put LA on the enterprise map.

TC: It was also an early stage firm for a long time, but now has a ‘barbell’ strategy. Is your new job to make sure he can maintain his stake in his portfolio companies as they grow? Can you buy out of that portfolio?

SS: The mission to me will be to support the best of the more than a hundred existing portfolio companies upfront, that are ready to scale, and also to invest in companies that are not currency on the platform, and I hope [the latter] Will be more and more with time.

TC: While you were there, Twitter was a lot more active on the corp dev front. Why?

SS: When I joined in 2018, Jack Dorsey was CEO for about three years, and really his focus was on the core mission of driving the public conversation, and in doing so, Twitter has locked itself out of a lot of businesses. And [shrunk] People are intelligent too.

TC: I remember it fired people out of jobs in 2016.

SS: And one branch of that had little in the way of new products, so there weren’t any new acquisitions in the three years before I joined, and muscle atrophy if you don’t use it. Therefore [ahead of me] Jack had replaced the management team, which until then was, relatively speaking, a revolving door of executives, and I was brought in with a specific mandate of reviving a corporate development practice that had been quiet for a few years. . I knew it [CFO] When Ned Segal was a banker at Goldman Sachs and [while] I was at SuccessFactors, so when I heard about the role via Grapefruit, I was hooked.

TC: And Twitter has started buying news reader service Scroll, the newsletter platform Review. Were these decisions coming from above or vice versa?

SS: The best way to describe it would be that it was product-necessity-driven. The company had slightly different objectives. The idea was to diversify from Twitter’s reliance on being an advertising-driven business. About 80% of the revenue comes from advertisements.

Second, as a company it has an incredible need to scale up machine learning and artificial intelligence. If you’re looking for toxicity in a conversation, it’s not possible to hire thousands of people to do it. You need machine learning to find it. Well done Twitter is also capable of showing you the conversations that are most interesting to you, and to do so, it has to take cues from the cues you follow and spend time reading and who you are. interact with, and at its core is ML AI. [Relatedly] Jack has a vision that anyone who tweets in their mother tongue should be able to talk with anyone else in their mother tongue as part of a global conversation, and to do that, you need to [natural language processing] Technology in abundance.

TC: There’s also this focus on consumer applications.

SS: That’s the third objective. What are the tools that followers and creators can use to interact with each other? Therefore [Twitter] added audio [via its Clubhouse rival Spaces]. We bought Review, which is Substack’s competitor. So there’s a lot of innovation going on around the type of content one should expect to see or create on Twitter.

TC: Would you describe these acquisitions as proactive or reactive?

SS: From the outside it would seem reactive, but the reality is we were thinking a lot about something like space even before the clubhouse took off. I think what’s worth noting to me is [Spaces] This is the first time you’ve seen a company like Twitter build a capability and a new product area that’s going head-to-head against a company that’s focused only on that scope, and that’s been competitive from day one. Is. Twitter beats Clubhouse [offering an] Android version because it has put resources into it, and I would argue that a lot of Twitter’s mechanics and the fact that the creators are on Twitter puts it in a terrible position to win this segment.

Twitter has a lot of expertise in detecting toxicity and the things you want to be wary of when you play social media, and the clubhouse-sized company, at least in its early days, had a hard time getting there. Will happen .

TC: Twitter has a lot of interests, including cryptocurrencies and decentralization.

SS: There’s a lot hidden in terms of the technologies we’ve come to expect from Twitter, in terms of priorities. [will rise up over] next five to 10 years, but [a lot of thought is being given to] The impact of cryptocurrency and the underlying protocols surrounding it and how Twitter participates in a trustless, permissionless [world] Where there is a decentralized internet that can protect people’s privacy and allow people not to worry about where their content is stored. People think of Twitter as a consumer app but there is amazing and quite a variety under the hood.

TC: Do you think it has a better shot at working with companies and projects that have been taken away by Facebook and Google because of the current regulatory environment?

In terms of the regulatory environment, the reality is that even if you take Facebook and Google out of the equation, there are acquaintances who are competitors who will step in and buy things, so it’s a little short-sighted to think about just those two. But even when they were active we were winning [deals]. A lot of companies that we’ve self-selected to be on Twitter because they like what it stands for, the way they lead the Jack Dorsey organization, and they believe in the stand it takes and He and His Leadership Position Spouse

TC: You are now representing a very different brand. How will your work at Twitter help you compete for deals upfront?

SS: I have this network of incredible entrepreneurs around the world because of the companies I’ve helped or tried to achieve or run businesses that I’ve helped in my career; Me too [have relationships with] VCs in various stages who actively search for businesses around the world [and introduce them to corp dev teams]. You may also know that Twitter has a diversity and inclusion program where they intend to be 25% leadership diversified over the next several years, so my team was often involved in finding the best ways to find diverse targets to buy from. I led a series of LP investments in newly emerging funds, some Latinx-founded, some female-founded, some black-founded, some that were geographically diverse that are exploring companies in far-flung locations. . .

TC: Does Twitter also make direct investments?

SS: We made direct investments but [backing fund managers] more useful approach. Most of them are seed funds and they will in turn invest in 30-60 companies. But yes, I searched for companies in far-flung places, including [India’s] ShareChat where I served on the board for two years. [Editor’s note: reported earlier this year that Twitter explored buying ShareChat at an earlier point; the company has since raised numerous rounds of funding and was most recently valued by its investors at nearly $3 billion.]

TC: You have a lot of relationships, but it’s still going to be really hard to compete for growth-stage deals when so many other organizations are still investing there. How do you plan to compete?

SS: I would obviously draw on those networks to find deals. I’ll invest in areas where Upfront has already invested, but initially I’ll double-click on areas I have a strong interest in, including the creator economy ecosystem, as I’ve done a lot on Twitter. and w3b 3.0, it comes without permission, edge computing ML AI and shared date that goes into many of the topics I’ve worked on, I think one of the strong points is in consistency even in sinterdisciplinary areas , but I wouldn’t kid myself. You compete by learning what your value proposition is. On Twitter, my strategy was winning fast, getting to know people firsthand, and [underscoring] Twitter’s Value Proposition [to close deals]. i can’t talk about myself [VC] strategy without yet implemented; I’ll have to find out what’s most interesting to entrepreneurs who don’t offer MegaFunds.

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