Meet Suzy: One Of Kevin Durant's Latest Investments

This article originally appeared in Forbes

The startup world is forever evolving and changing at the speed of light, but we couldn’t say the same about the startup investment world until recent years. The era of the “celebrity” investor is one of the new waves, but I think it’s for the betterment of the ecosystem. It raises awareness, drives inspiration, and shines a different light on some of the people that get idolized through our pop culture. No longer do they need to “shut up and dribble,” act, or rap. Examples of “celebrity” business savviness have been in the news more frequently with Nas’ early investment into Ring, Ashton Kutcher with Skype, Jessica Alba with The Honest Company, and one of NBA all-star, Kevin Durant’s most recent investments, Suzy.

 LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18: Kevin Durant #35 of Team LeBron warms up prior to the NBA All-Star Game 2018 at Staples Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18: Kevin Durant #35 of Team LeBron warms up prior to the NBA All-Star Game 2018 at Staples Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

I chatted with the founder of Suzy, Matt Britton to better understand what made his company attractive to Durant. Matt’s a seasoned founder who started Mr. Youth (MRY), which was acquired by LBi International (now part of Publicis) in 2011. Matt went on to write a book and then eventually came back to be the CEO at Crowdtap, a spinout company created while Matt was running MRY. Matt continues on trend with Suzy, a spinoff company from Crowdtap. So needless to say, I had questions for Matt that needed answers.

So what or who is Suzy?

Suzy is a technology platform that allows business to harness intelligence from over a million consumers at the push of the button so everyday decisions can now be data-driven. It is built to take the guesswork out of nearly every marketing-related decision a business of any size makes.

I keep reading Suzy is the “Siri for business.” Is she that smart or going to be that smart? What can Suzy actually do?

Suzy is a service tech platform. Customers that license the Suzy platform can ask a targeted group of consumers any question in several different forms and have hundreds of measurable responses during the same meeting. For example, if you are an apparel company and want to know what fashion-minded consumers think of a design, you can learn so during a design meeting... Or if you are a financial services company developing a new offer for a credit card, you can test the offer against existing or new customers before rolling it out... even uncovering new ideas along the way.

What attracted Kevin Durant to invest in Suzy?

The Durant Company, led by the iconic athlete Kevin Durant and his business partner Rick Kleiman, has recently been quite active in pursuing investments in innovative business and talented management teams. I would imagine that's what attracted them in this instance. I think it’s fascinating how they have used their proximity to Silicon Valley to put themselves at the center of the tech world. It shows how true influence can extend very quickly if done in a well-thought-out manner.

Was this in the works or is this an example of SXSW magic?

This Durant Company’s investment was part of a larger financing round of $5MM that we recently completed and was led by the Foundry Group (whom I believe are one of the most forwarding thinking Venture Capital firms in the world). The purpose of the financing was to drive the evaluation of Crowdtap to Suzy and support the new product feature sets we will be announcing this weekend at SXSW.

The last time we chatted you were coming back to Crowdtap, will Crowdtap still exist? Did you separate Suzy out from Crowdtap?

The technology and user base that were formerly part of Crowdtap are now the foundation of the Suzy platform. As for where Crowdtap is headed since being sold, we are continuing to service clients in the influencer space and will likely have more to share on that brand later this year.

Let’s back up a bit… You started MRY, and that sold, then you came back to create Crowdtap, and then that was sold again? And now you have come back as the CEO of Crowdtap and have created Suzy? How did that work?

  • I founded MRY (originally Mr. Youth) in 2002, and the company was acquired by LBi International (now part of Publicis) in 2011.
  • Before selling MRY, we incubated and spun out a standalone technology platform in the influencer marketing space call Crowdtap in 2009. Since it was a standalone entity, it was not part of the LBi/Publicis acquisition. I put in a separate CEO of Crowdtap, and it raised its Series A Round led by the Foundry Group in 2011.
  • In 2014, I left MRY (then part of Publicis group) to focus on writing my book YouthNation and to launch a two-year speaking tour that spanned three continents, 21 countries, and over 100 appearances.
  • In late 2016, I was approached by the board of Crowdtap to formally join as CEO. Then in mid-2017, we made the collective decision to pivot our focus away from influencer marketing to consumer intelligence and thus Suzy was born.

There are mixed emotions when people talk about the word “pivot,” especially to investors, but a lot of great companies pivoted to success. What are your thoughts on it?

I think many entrepreneurs don't do enough listening. Listening to the market, customers, even employees. If you listen hard enough and put any prior notions aside, you can see where the need states exist and begin to reverse-engineer your business to deliver upon them. In the case of Crowdtap, we concluded that influencer marketing had become saturated, somewhat risky for brands and largely a "pay-to-play" strategy. We looked ourselves in the mirror as a team and knew that if we wanted to become a true market leader, we would need to make some hard and risky decisions… and thus made the decision to pivot to Suzy and haven't looked back for a second.

It seems like you’re the Darwin of startups in the sense of evolving them to the next level through listening to your customers. What indicators came up for you when you all thought about launching Suzy out of Crowdtap?

There are hard and soft indicators that any CEO needs to consider. Hard indicators like customer renewal rates, top-line growth, employee retention, and product efficacy. The soft indicators are more instinctual. You need to ask yourself questions like "Will this company really achieve its goals on its current path?" "What changes are we willing to make and at what cost to get there?" "What data points can I look at to validate my thesis"? The fact is that too many leaders are either too deep in the "dirt" (tactical everyday performance) or too high up in the cloud (i.e., don't have a good handle on how they will ever generate revenue).

If you are going to pivot—what’s the best method? Like fast? Often? Rapidly?

When you see the right opportunity and know that a change is needed, my take is to always create clarity in vision and purpose, gain organizational alignment, and then proceed boldly ... and look past your fear as the biggest risk was probably just staying the course.

Ask Suzy Interface Matt Britton

What’s the evolution of Suzy going to be?

We have some fairly grand aspirations for Suzy as an "open exchange of human intelligence," a true platform built to make people smarter in ways that tools like Google can't. We obviously have a ton of work to do in getting there, but I believe we have the seeds of something that has the potential to really blossom… and so do our customers.

I think as entrepreneurs we’ve all been in the mental place that our idea will work no matter way, but at what point do you switch from passion and conviction to logic and data to take the company to the next level?

I don't think it's a binary exercise. You need to continually balance IQ like product data and revenue with ER (gut instinct and inertia). In the case of Suzy, we have over 70 major customers already on the platform so thankfully our vision is not just based on a dream but a reality that is looking brighter each day.

I blog and speak on topics that help entrepreneurs. You can find me on the social webs if you want to get in touch. I'm @richwinley.

 

Matt Britton