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Saar is a General Partner at Charles River Ventures (CRV) and is based in Menlo Park, CA.  Saar is passionate about discovering and growing early-stage companies and focuses primarily on CRV’s consumer investments.

As an investor, Saar was involved in early investments into companies such as; Doordash, Patreon, Classpass, Laurel&Wolf, MileIQ (acquired by Microsoft), Oportun (formerly Progress Financial), Viki (acquired by Rakuten), Orchestra/Mailbox (acquired by Dropbox) and Admob (acquired by Google).   Prior to CRV, Saar was a co-founder of BrightRoll (acquired by Yahoo).  

Before Brightroll, Saar helped build Adteractive as VP of Customer Acquisition (an old word for Growth Hacking) where the team built Adteractive to over $160m in revenues with no outside funding.  Adteractive was also one of the largest buyers of media on the internet across display, paid search, SEO and affiliate.   

Saar has a Stanford MBA, a biochemistry degree from the University of Wisconsin and loves to kite surf.

He lives in Palo Alto with his wife and two kids.

You can follow him on Twitter: @saarsaar

He will be live from 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 4 years ago #

    First - quick plug for Saar. Saar was the person who introduced me to the founders of Eventbrite back in the early days of the company. That's one of my big wins so I owe Saar a lot - thanks!

    Now for the question for Saar... You are one of the most plugged in people in Silicon Valley in knowing the top marketers. In your opinion, who are the top 5 most talented Silicon Valley based marketers today when it comes to driving growth for companies?

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Hey Sean! Thanks for the question. This is a tough one to answer as there are so many super talented marketers and growth experts in our industry - and most of them are known for being experts in one specific area.

      As a VC, I usually find that when I want to help a company accelerate their growth, we start with an assumption about what the company needs and then we try to rope in that functional expert to help. So for example, if a company needs SEO help I might ping Luc Levesque. If they need help on a/b testing viral flows and invites I might ask Ed Baker (Uber) to help. If they need help thinking about growth frameworks and how to instrument their company I would think of Andy Johns (Wealthfront). If they want to build out a growth organization I think of Javier Olivan at Facebook. These folks are all AMAZING at what they do. But honestly, most of these people are operating at a higher level at this point and are super busy.

      Often we get a ton of help from the lesser known individuals who work for these names, one or two levels down in the organization. That has been my secret to having a big impact on many of our portfolio companies. Often the known folks are already time constrained and are "known" so they are getting hit up all the time, and they often have not been in the weeds in awhile...Someone that has never asked to be an advisor or asked to get coffee but has been trained in a great marketing organization can often be the person who is most willing to get deep and helpful to our CEOs. Hope this answers the question.

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    almost 4 years ago #

    Saar:

    Thanks for doing this!

    A lot of investors and entrepreneurs talk about product market fit. From your experience as an investor and entrepreneur, what is the likelihood of a startup failing after product market fit is reached?

    -Terence

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question Terence. Thanks for asking.

      A couple thoughts here:

      (1) Often a product may have product/market fit but the business model may lag (or there may not be a great model at all) and the business may fail because they have a product and not a business. Having users love your product is different than being on a path of building a valuable business. This definitely applies to a lot of consumer internet concepts because historically most internet users have been conditioned not to pay directly for services like Twitter/Facebook etc.

      (2) I find that as startups grow, in most cases product/market fit is not one single condition. As the company tries to grow they are constantly innovating on the product to address new audiences. So even while a startup may have growth in one phase...they have to go through significant changes to reach the next set of users. And due to competition they also often have to keep innovating for their initial audience. A lot of startups can't make that transition from the first set of users to the next and I think that likelihood of "failure" in continual growth is very high.

      If the company has some level of product/market fit and a reasonable business from their initial phase of growth (or initial phase of product/market fit as I see it) than the likelihood that they fail entirely (as in a shutdown) is reduced considerably. That being said, almost every company requires regular execution and plenty of businesses fail over time because their teams get tired, lose focus, leave the company, and or other externalities happen (mismanage financings/cash flow, competitive products enter, etc).

      3 Share
  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Saar, very excited to have you here. Given your experience in Marketing Technology, what do you see as the major trends to watch for in this space?

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Hi Hila! Great question.

      My current view is that most of the marketers in tech really underestimate the value of brand and don't know how to execute brand strategies well.

      In the late 90s, many of the dotcom companies hired people from places like Procter & Gamble into the internet space and these folks were trained in brand strategy and brand management. In the dotcom bust, there was a strong over-correction (as these things go) to performance based marketing and growth hacking. I grew up in that culture and everything was about metrics without any interest in long-term investments in brand and brand related campaigns that might have longer-term payback or require a longer measurement perspective. I think that is an area that is going to become a major trend over the next few years...Some of that will come out from the growth hacking community as they study LTVs it is obvious that another tool set will be needed to understand how branding can help companies acquire and retain their best customers.

      As an example, I find our portfolio company Zendesk did an amazing job at this early on in a crowded and unsexy enterprise software space. They took some big bets on brand and it paid off tremendously. I think this is an area that seems lacking in many of the organizations I see in Silicon Valley. How many people do you know who work at startups have any deep brand marketing experience? :-)

      8 Share
      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        almost 4 years ago #

        Very interesting perspective. The current version of marketing is very focused on metrics and measurement, and branding is something that is harder to measure and also takes longer time to measure, but it is not to say it is not important.

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey Saar!

    Really appreciate you coming on here! When you're identifying early-stage consumer-facing companies to invest in...

    What metrics are you most interested in?
    Which metrics would you say most investors focus on that you ignore?
    Which metrics do most investors ignore that you value?

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Thanks for the question Logan. Many of my investments at CRV have been pre-product or at a time where the company only has an initial prototype. As such, most of my time is spent around the founder(s) and forming a POV about them.

      In my experience it takes a lot of time and effort to build meaningful companies and even if a team makes an initial set of good decisions, they will need to keep doing so to build something meaningful. An initial prototype may get us engaged but it is often our conviction in the founders that they have the drive and capabilities to keep making great decisions, will be able to recruit great folks, etc. ,that gets us excited to invest.

      Also - personally I find that the founders need to be passionate about the problem they are working on and find great meaning on working on the problem. Startups are hard and if they aren't excited about solving the problem at a very deep level...than I find it can't lead to great and innovative solutions. In terms of metrics - metrics can often be misleading both with false positives and false negatives. As such, I try not to get overly excited about either.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    almost 4 years ago #

    In a recent Product Hunt podcast @JamesCurrier referenced you in the context of the idea that if you focus hard enough on something or intend it enough, it manifests into existence.
    I thought this was a fascinating way to describe a founder that's intrinsically motivated by a higher purpose of some sort, which contributes to almost unnatural resilience (at least that's how it came across to me)

    Can you talk more about this idea,how you interpret it and founders you may have met recently that exemplify this?

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question Anuj. Startups are hard (as we all know)...so we definitely look for founders who have a deep passion to solve a problem - this is the "mission" or intrinsic motivation that needs to be super intense to build meaningful companies. If the problem space is big enough...that person should have an intensity and excitement to work on the problem space for a very long time. Without this passion...I think it is very hard to wake up every day and work on a startup (especially when things are failing) and you can't do the best work of your life on a product because you just don't care enough. We want to find the people who "care" a lot more than most...as that is where many of the great product insights will come from. Hope this answers the question in some way.

  • MB

    Morgan Brown

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey Saar, you created one of the best decks on paid acquisition for startups I've ever seen. My question(s) for you are:

    1) what's your general advice/rule of thumb for testing a new channel?
    2) How much should you spend to see if a channel works/doesn't work as a startup? Is it a multiple of target CAC and if so, what's that multiple, like 10x target CAC or 50x target CAC?
    3) What are the signs that it's not going to work vs. it might work if you had someone more effective at leveraging the channel (like if you're wishing 3x target CAC it's probably an optimization issue vs. 10x it's a bad fit/etc.) if there are signs?

    Hope these are clear, thanks for sharing your wisdom in that deck, I have read it many times.

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Thanks for the question Morgan! (and the kind words about the deck) A few quick responses:

      (1) I think good marketers exercise good judgement around testing new channels by having a POV about these channels...for example...if the channel works, could it scale? Or they might have conviction that a given channel today might be small but it is going to grow. For example, Zynga early on made a bet on paid acquisition on Facebook and Facebook was tiny. Then Facebook became 1 out of every 4 impressions on the web in a short timeframe and Zynga was able to ride that wave for a while. Others made the wrong choice believing Myspace was the channel to focus on. I realize I am rambling here but ideally you want to think about some of the issues I mention in my deck: for a potential upside (scale) how much time/money/effort is required to test the channel.

      (2) Great question. I think some channels require a lot of learning and testing and others might not. In some cases there is an upfront expense (e.g., building a commercial) and that is different than the media budget itself. Generally this is where Silicon Valley is really great...as I often make sure that our marketers are in touch with other folks "like them" so that they can triangulate how much others have spent and what to expect. It is especially helpful when we can find teams that are 12-36 months ahead in making a channel work but have had to spend a lot of time and money to unlock the channel as a reference point...
      I have not found one magic number...say 10x target CAC yet... :-)

      (3) This is an awesome question. In my experience sometimes we find that one person/team can make a channel work when the prior person could not. As a CEO or manager I think you really need to be able to get in the details when things are not working and understand the approach, how decisions were made, etc. - just like any other mgmt issue. It is easier if you can see related products with similar (or worse) unit economics performing...than it may be easier to identify you have a personnel issue...but otherwise, this can be very difficult and I find sometimes you just need someone with a different approach. A second set of eyes can help here. So in some cases we may ask for an advisor or someone in a different company to help...and that person will often have a POV about the person. Hope this helps but this is a hard one.

  • SG

    Saar Gur

    almost 4 years ago #

    Great question Anuj.
    For me it has been more similar to Justice Stewart's quote on porn that "he knows it when he sees it." We look at thousands of products a year and meet with tons of founders....often when we invest we have conviction that we see something in the team and their vision for the product that stands out. I mostly do seed/Series A investments where the company is pre-launch or has only been around for a few months...so most of my calls about "over the moon love" are early and not clear. There are plenty of growth investors who could give you the exact metrics that they look for. For me...sometimes it is just my own opinion that users are going to love something....or in other cases we may have a small set of users who seem to really resonate with the product. When we made a seed investment in Twitter for example...that was the case. Not much to go on, but a very small group of users who loved the service. In the Doordash example, I knew someone was going to build a product in the food delivery space and met with every team that I knew of working in this area...In their case, I had a strong feeling they were the best team in the market and had awesome product insight unlike any other team I met with. And I believed that those insights and their execution ability would lead to magical product experiences.

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi sir, another question for you on behalf of our community members.
    From your own experience, can you share some career & personal growth advice to
    1) A recent college graduate who wants to enter the world of startups
    2) A marketing professional who wants to advance his career

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question Hila.

      While joining a "startup" can sound great, I think ideally for your first job you should try to join a startup or a company that has some folks around you who have been around and can be good teachers/mentors. I would much rather grow up in an organization like Facebook on the growth team learning best practices for a few years before joining a random startup that does not have product market fit or any great marketers to learn from. I would try to find/gain experiences that if you had money...you would pay for that education or exposure. And I would say this relates to marketing professionals as well. Put yourself in a position where you can learn with other people's money and make decisions. There is a lot of truth to the fact that we learn from our failures...especially in marketing. So try to get a job where you can make marketing decisions and see the results... If a company has no marketing budget or growth resources...you won't learn as much as a company that does...so I would try to put yourself in a position where you can take on responsibility and have the ability to make decisions.

      3 Share
      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        almost 4 years ago #

        Find experience/exposure you would pay for when you look for a job. Excellent advice!

  • DL

    Dylan La Com

    almost 4 years ago #

    Thanks @saarsaar for being here today!

    Kickstarter recently announced they reincorporated as a Public Benefit Corp. Do you believe they are setting a precedent for other high-profile startups to do the same? And if so, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, coming from the VC side of things.

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question Dylan.

      I do think that this is a trend we can see. Especially when labor markets are tight...I think employees and customers are attracted to companies where a social mission is a core part of the brand. So I think it will make economic sense for a number of companies to follow this trend.

  • MB

    Morgan Brown

    almost 4 years ago #

    No question, yet, but just want to say that Saar is the king of paid acquisition and I'm totally pumped for this AMA. What a great get guys!

  • SJ

    Sebastian Johansson

    almost 4 years ago #

    You often hear Kevin O'Leary from the popular tv-show Shark Tank say "There is nothing proprietary about this!".

    How important is that you when you invest in companies?

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question. There are definitely products that are afforded network effects or economies of scale, and if a company in one of these areas starts to get some traction they will have an unfair advantage going forward to gain more market share than many of their competitors. At the same time, Kevin is right that with many businesses it often is not clear why a particular company will gain an unfair advantage.

      Historically people have thought "tech" gave you some advantage because something was hard to build and copy easily...or other folks have invested in their brand...while others have tried IP/patents to protect their market...and any of these can be reasonable ways to try to gain a competitive advantage over competitors. But network effects and economies of scale seem to have led to many of the huge sustainable unfair advantages. (Another one has been "owning the assets" in the way the Da Beers have owned most of the mines in Diamonds.)

  • HN

    Huy Nghiem

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hi Saar,

    Thank you for being in this event.

    Can you please let me know what would be the criteria for you to decide whether the startups are worth for investment?

    Cheers,

    Huy Nghiem

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      A lot of it sounds simple but in reality is very hard: We look for spectacular founders who want to disrupt very large markets and often have some unique product insight on how to do that.

  • AM

    Andreas Mitschke

    almost 4 years ago #

    Servus @saarsaar,

    Regarding that @morgan named you "the king of paid acquisition" how would you describe the difference of effort put into paid customers in early low-profile scaling campaigns compared to the beginning of real scaling effort and then finally post A-series scaling effort? Implementing more affiliate networking, adding sales units, and SMA and SEA on higher scale, but same methods?

    I had a lot of impressive impacts with highly targeted facebook ADs that went through numerous iterations of copy and images with numerous sets simultaneously. However, contrary to some PPC mental models, I have not been surprised by one negative outlier that suddenly normalized and then became a positive after thousands of added impressions (to reach pseudo significance). Never experienced that phenomenon that a negative at ~2k impressions suddenly normalizes after ~100k. Did you and what is your most surprising experience you can remember with SEA/SMA?

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question Andreas. Thanks for asking.
      Let me try to offer a perspective...I agree with your comment...we often find that many of our teams will see gradual "linear" gains after they get their initial marketing campaigns to be ROI positive. The only time I have seen massive changes in a single channel is when there is a change in the broader competitive market or the channel itself (e.g., Facebook makes a change). If for example the competition for a given media channel goes away entirely (I have seen this) than you can sometimes see huge unexpected gains due to a change in the price of inventory. Otherwise, we find that many of our great marketers see "non-linear" gains from either (1) finding an entirely new untapped channel or (2) realizing something about the marketing campaign that fundamentally changes the tactics (for example, realizing a purchase is a "considered purchase" and you need to hit the user 3-5x before they convert instead of 1, and having a working plan on how to do that - using direct mail and online targeting for example). Hope this answers the question.

      • AM

        Andreas Mitschke

        almost 4 years ago #

        Hey, thanks @saarsaar - every explained experience helps, which is why AMAs are so valuable.

        I'd still like to know what you'd describe as the biggest challenge and operative difference between early paid acquisition strategies (seed) vs scaling strategies (post A) -- assume we already have a working PMF model and demand established.

        Appreciate your effort :)

  • PM

    Phill Moorman

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey Saar,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

    My question: What are some of the things you look at when evaluating founders themselves? What are some of the questions you typically ask the founders when meeting with them for the first time?

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    almost 4 years ago #

    Hey Saar - so great to have you with us!

    In the summary of your LinkedIn bio you say "Saar loves products that consumers and customers LOVE (over the moon LOVE)..."

    Could you elaborate more on what "over the moon LOVE" looks like (to you)?

    Thanks!

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Great question Anuj.
      For me it has been more similar to Justice Stewart's quote on porn that "he knows it when he sees it." We look at thousands of products a year and meet with tons of founders....often when we invest we have conviction that we see something in the team and their vision for the product that stands out. I mostly do seed/Series A investments where the company is pre-launch or has only been around for a few months...so most of my calls about "over the moon love" are early and not clear. There are plenty of growth investors who could give you the exact metrics that they look for. For me...sometimes it is just my own opinion that users are going to love something....or in other cases we may have a small set of users who seem to really resonate with the product. When we made a seed investment in Twitter for example...that was the case. Not much to go on, but a very small group of users who loved the service. In the Doordash example, I knew someone was going to build a product in the food delivery space and met with every team that I knew of working in this area...In their case, I had a strong feeling they were the best team in the market and had awesome product insight unlike any other team I met with. And I believed that those insights and their execution ability would lead to magical product experiences.

  • KA

    karim Abd El Kader

    almost 4 years ago #

    Thanks for conducting this AMA

    What do you believe, if there are any - the best ways to acquire users for SAAS (in general) and marketplaces (specifically)?

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Thanks for the question Karim.

      It is hard for me to be too prescriptive for either of these as I think it really depends on the buying behavior of the customer...

      If it is a considered purchase you may need direct sales even if the solution is SAAS, or sometimes online customer acquisition can work. It depends on the product space, the pricepoint, etc.

      Marketplaces are similar but in order to get them going often require the company to acquire sellers and buyers simultaneously. Sometimes the channels are the same for both audiences but often they are different and require different tactics and competencies.
      Many broad consumer marketplaces require on the ground marketing from multiple angles to build enough of an echo chamber to get them going. If you look at what has is happening right now in classifieds...you will see a lot of television/facebook/etc. bombarding cities to try to get the flywheel going for a service like OfferUp.

      • KA

        karim Abd El Kader

        almost 4 years ago #

        Thanks for your feedback.
        Very true..I have a classifieds startup here in Egypt and our competitor use heavily offline media. Any ideas on how we can accelerate our growth as a classifieds?
        Thanks again

  • MM

    martín medina

    almost 4 years ago #

    Saar,

    Thank you for taking your time to answer some of the community's questions. Although you have done marketing and growth work in the past you currently are involved in CRV as a Venture Capitalist. How has this past experience helped you with your day to day work as a VC and how has it impacted what you look for in companies that you invest in?

    Martin

    • SG

      Saar Gur

      almost 4 years ago #

      Thanks for the question Martin.

      A few quick answers:
      (1) I think it helps me filter companies in terms of the types of products that can reach massive scale or not.
      (2) I think my background and connections allow me to give better advice than many VCs who don't have marketing backgrounds around growth....and my network helps me supercharge some of my companies when I get them involved. :-)

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