Steven Dupree is a General Partner at Richmond Global, where he identifies and invests in seed- and early-stage companies across verticals such as digital media, mobile, and consumer Internet — but any technology that addresses a clear market need interests him. Dupree’s true passion is customer acquisition, and he provides marketing tips for entrepreneurs through his e-newsletter, MarketFound.
Dupree formerly evaluated companies at Catamount Ventures, which invests in disruptive technology, online marketplaces, and education technology. In 2004, he became one of the first employees at LogMeIn, a remote-access SaaS company. Dupree served as VP of Online Marketing and Operations, where he developed customer acquisition and lead conversion strategies, as well as implemented analytics and automation technologies. He also served as International Marketing Director and launched LogMeIn’s European marketing program from Budapest, Hungary. In 2008, he was recognized as a “Top 30 Under 30” marketer by Direct Marketing News. Steven welcomes everyone to reach out to him on Google+.
MO: You have a degree in mathematics and economics from Brandeis and an MBA from Stanford University. How has this background influenced your career choices?
Steven: At Brandeis, I was advised to become an actuary, teach math, or go to grad school. I chose the former, ended up at John Hancock Financial Services, and passed the first actuarial exam. The company was bought out by Manulife at the end of my senior year, there was a hiring freeze, and I needed a full-time job with benefits. Instead, I joined the precursor to what became LogMeIn; I knew this company would be successful because they had a great team, unique technology, and a sustainable competitive advantage over their competitors that allowed them to offer a free service at a next-to-zero cost to themselves.
The primary reason I ended up in a marketing function was that Sean Ellis (the first marketer at LogMeIn and Dropbox, and the first to write about “growth hacking”) knew, in 2004, that online marketing was a numbers game: behind-the-scenes auctions, testing, and optimization based on data. After six rewarding years at the startup-turned-IPO, a key driver in the Stanford MBA decision was determining whether I wanted to stick with marketing. LogMeIn was a kickass company, and I would have found a way in, whether it was through finance or operations — or even coding.
I was also excited about the prospect of idea exchange and collaboration on the West Coast. People don’t often share ideas with partners (never mind competitors) in the New England startup culture, but I wanted a taste of that. Within one month of arriving, I started to embrace marketing/customer acquisition because so many friends, colleagues, and classmates were working on projects and looking for relevant advice.
MO: What led to your passion for entrepreneurship?
Steven: I’ve always been drawn to building and helping companies that are poised to change the world in meaningful ways — increase quality of life, reduce pain points, and improve well-being. Some companies can do so on a large scale, yet when it personally came down to choosing between massive, influential companies and becoming a “cog in the wheel,” or having a major impact at a much smaller company with potential, the latter seemed more appealing.
I was one of the earliest employees at LogMeIn, but there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the company would scale. It wasn’t a risk/reward tradeoff for me; it was only a matter of time. It’s similar to joining Richmond Global, a small venture capital fund, instead of a more traditional fund. It gives me a unique opportunity to be on the ground, helping entrepreneurs every day, because that’s what I’m passionate about.
MO: If you could give two to three tips to other entrepreneurs who are interested in getting involved with startups, what would they be?
Steven: Find a startup with a product or service that’s genuinely good, where you feel you can grow personally and professionally, and in which you have respect for your boss and team. You’ll need these to remain satisfied with your choice.
The highs are higher, but the lows are definitely lower, so be prepared for that. Enjoy the highs. When you see the lows coming, remind yourself that you’re at a startup and, in a month, the moment will be long forgotten.
Don’t worry too much about process or structure in the beginning; roll up your sleeves and “do.” Gather data, test everything, know your customers, and build a must-have product or service, yet focus on “outcomes” before “inputs” so you don’t end up running around like a headless chicken.
MO: In your blog and e-newsletter, MarketFound, you provide marketing tips for entrepreneurs. What is the most rewarding advice you would give an entrepreneur?
Steven: My most rewarding advice is to enjoy the learning that comes with change. Even when your company hits a stumbling block, everything you’re learning and absorbing enhances your character and may help you in surprising ways down the road.
MO: How have you used your passion for writing in your career? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who share your passion?
Steven: I’ve used it externally to write copy for campaigns and internally to draft memos (to nudge people to do what I need), and I frequently proofread the work of my peers. My advice: Write a lot; you won’t be good at it overnight. Focus on creating unique content that makes people go, “Huh, that’s interesting.” Stick with something that’s authentic to you in order to achieve that effect. Don’t think about structure or grammar until you’ve belted out a rough draft, and certainly don’t focus on subscriber numbers or Facebook shares if you expect to be taken seriously in the long term.
MO: What accomplishment are you most proud of thus far, and why?
Steven: I’m most proud that I’ve put myself in uncomfortable situations where I could learn and grow as a person. I accepted an offer to move halfway around the world to Budapest — despite having no connections, nor language skills. I drove across the country with one carload from Rhode Island to California the same week I started my MBA. Each time I’ve put myself in a new environment, I’ve surrounded myself with people I could count on, I’ve found new groups of people with new needs, and I’ve adapted and learned at an accelerated rate.
MO: Based on your past experiences, it seems that you take joy in helping other people. Why is this so important to you?
Steven: Helping other people does motivate me. I could attribute this to my grandmother, a schoolteacher, or my mother, a reference librarian. But I also think about what it felt like to build a team at LogMeIn. My successes were team members’ successes, and vice versa. As the team grew, the total size of the pie — representing what could be accomplished — grew, too. With the newsletter, I feel I have the potential to help thousands of people and share in their successes. If an entrepreneur in Omaha spends his first $500 on Google AdWords, instead of printing out flyers because he read about push versus pull marketing, I enjoy having that impact.
MO: Where do you see your future taking you?
Steven: I will continue to advise those struggling with customer acquisition. Assuming I can utilize a venture fund as a springboard to helping others, I’ll invest for as long as I can. The more I learn from others, the closer I’ll be to becoming a thought leader, and the more I can help even more people. Perhaps I’ll teach in my later years like my father, a forestry professor at the University of Rhode Island.
In the meantime, I believe students with backgrounds in theoretical mathematics are great candidates for business, yet they are seldom exposed to it. There’s definitely a gap in matching strong analytical candidates out of college with appealing business opportunities — especially in a new world where so much is online and tracked. If anyone wants to start a program, grant, or scholarship to bridge business opportunities to those with mathematical backgrounds, please contact me.