Seksom Suriyapa was apparently destined to land in a venture capital firm. A Stanford law graduate, he worked at two blue chip investment banks before joining cybersecurity firm McAfee as a senior corporate development employee, then spent six years at the human resources software company. SuccessFactors and, in 2018, landed at Twitter, where he led his 12-person business development team until June.
The biggest surprise is that Suriyapa – who just joined Los Angeles-based venture capital firm Upfront Ventures – didn’t make the jump sooner. “The catalyst was finding a business that suited me perfectly,” says Suriyapa.
We spoke earlier today with Suriyapa – who lives and will remain in the Bay Area – about his new role at Upfront, where he will lead his growing practice with company founder Yves Sisteron.
He also shed some light on how Twitter – which has been on a bit of a buying spree – views acquisitions these days. Our thread has been edited slightly for length.
TC: How did you join Upfront?
SS: [Longtime partner] Mark Suster and I were introduced through mutual knowledge of business in the risk world, and I got to know him over time and really found him to be a remarkable person. He is attentive to the company itself, he is an incredible brand builder. I think you can argue that [Upfront] put LA on the corporate map.
TC: It was also, for a long time, a start-up company, but now it 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 shop outside of this wallet?
SS: The mission for me will be to support the best of the hundred or so existing companies in Upfront’s portfolio that are ready to scale, and also to invest in non-money companies on the platform, and I plan to [the latter] will happen more and more over time.
TC: Twitter was much more active on the corporate development front during the years you were there. Why?
SS: When I joined in 2018, Jack Dorsey had been CEO for about three years, and he was really focused on the core mission of driving the public conversation, and in doing so, Twitter pulled out of a lot of companies and [shrunk] wise people too.
TC: I remember he fired people in 2016.
SS: And one of the ramifications of that was a lot less in terms of new products, so there weren’t any new acquisitions in the three years before I joined, and that muscle atrophies if you don’t. don’t exercise. So [ahead of me] Jack had transformed the leadership team, which had been, relatively speaking, a revolving door of executives until then, and I was brought in with a specific mandate to revive a business development practice that had been silent for a few. years. I had known [CFO] Ned Segal when he was a banker at Goldman Sachs and [while] I was at SuccessFactors, so when I heard about the role through the vine, I reached out.
TC: And Twitter is going shopping by buying the news reader service Scroll, the Revue newsletter platform. Did these decisions come from above or vice versa?
SS: The best way to describe it would be that it focused on the needs of the product. The company had several different goals. One was to diversify Twitter from its addiction to being an advertising-driven business. Something like 80% of income comes from ads.
Second, there is an incredible need to strengthen its machine learning and artificial intelligence as a business. If you’re looking for toxicity in conversation, hiring tens of thousands of people to do it just isn’t scalable. You need machine learning to find it. Twitter well done is also able to show you the conversations that interest you the most, and in order to do that it has to take cues from what you follow and spend time reading and what you interact with, and that, at the core. , is IA ML. [Relatedly] Jack has the vision that anyone who tweets in any native language should be able to speak with someone else in their native language as part of a global conversation, and in order to do that, you need [natural language processing] techniques galore.
TC: There is also this focus on consumer applications.
SS: This is the third objective. What are some tools that subscribers and creators can use in conversation with each other? So [Twitter] added audio [via its Clubhouse rival Spaces]. We bought Revue, which is a competitor of Substack. So there’s a lot of innovation happening around the kind of content someone should expect to see or create on Twitter.
TC: Would you describe these acquisitions as proactive or reactive?
SS: From the outside it looks responsive, but the reality is that we had been thinking a lot about something like Spaces before Clubhouse even took off. I think what is noticeable to me is [Spaces] This is one of the first times you see a business like Twitter developing a capability and a new area of products that goes with a business that focuses only on that area and is competitive from day one. Twitter beat Clubhouse in [offering an] Android because it has put resources into it, and I would say a lot of the mechanics of Twitter and the fact that the creators are on Twitter puts it in a great place to win that segment.
Twitter also has tremendous expertise in finding toxicity and the things you want to be wary of when gaming on social media, and a company the size of Clubhouse, at least in its early days, will have a hard time getting there.
TC: Twitter has so many interests, especially around cryptocurrencies and decentralization.
SS: In terms of priorities at Twitter, a lot is hidden in terms of the technologies that we expect [will rise up over] the next five to ten 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 system without trust and authorization [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 Twitter is a mainstream app, but there is incredible and considerable diversity under the hood.
TC: Do you think that due to the current regulatory environment he has a better chance of working with companies and projects that could have been snapped up by Facebook and Google?
In terms of the regulatory environment, the reality is that even if you take Facebook and Google out of the equation, there are competitive acquirers who would engage and buy things, so it’s a little short-sighted to think of those alone. of them. But even when they were active we won [deals]. A lot of the companies we’ve acquired have self-selected to be on Twitter because they love what it means, they love the way Jack Dorsey runs the organization, and they believe in the positions he takes and the positions that he and his leaders adopt.
TC: You now represent a very different brand. How will your work on Twitter help you win contracts on behalf of Upfront?
SS: I have this network of incredible entrepreneurs around the world through businesses during my career that I have helped acquire or tried to acquire or that are running businesses; me too [have relationships with] VCs at different stages that actively spot companies 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 have 25% diverse leadership over the next few years, so my team has often been involved in finding the best. ways to find various targets to buy. I have also led a series of LP investments in new emerging funds, some founded by LatinX, some founded by women, some founded by Black, some that were geographically diverse and looking for companies in remote places. . .
TC: Does Twitter also make direct investments?
SS: We made direct investments but [backing fund managers] is a more efficient approach. Most of them are seed funds and they will in turn invest in 30 to 60 companies each. But yes, I have spotted businesses in remote locations including [India’s] ShareChat where I sat on the board for two years. [Editor’s note: TechCrunch 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 connections, but it would still seem very difficult to compete for growth phase contracts when so many other companies are now investing in them as well. How do you plan to compete?
SS: I will clearly rely on these networks to find offers. I will be investing in areas that Upfront has already invested in, but initially I will double-click in which I have a great interest, including around the Creator Economy ecosystem, because I have done a lot of that on Twitter. And w3b 3.0, ow this permissionless comes together, ML AI edge computing and shared date that covers a number of disciplines I have worked in, I think one of the strengths that will be interdisciplinary, also in sustainability, but i won’t kid myself. You compete by learning what your value proposition is. At Twitter, my strategy was to speed up, get to know people earlier and [underscoring] Twitter’s value proposition [to close deals]. i can’t talk about my [VC] strategy without having yet implemented it; I’m going to have to find what is most interesting for entrepreneurs that mega-funds don’t offer.