Seksom Suriyapa was apparently destined to land with a risk company. A graduate of Stanford Law, he worked at two blue-chip investment banks before joining cybersecurity firm McAfee as a senior executive in corporate development, later working six years at HR software company SuccessFactors, and ending up at Twitter in 2018, where he was in charge until June 12 – Increase corporate development team.
The bigger surprise is that Suriyapa – who just joined LA-based venture firm Upfront Ventures – didn’t make the leap sooner. “The trigger was to find a company that exactly suits me,” says Suriyapa.
Today we spoke to Suriyapa – who lives and will stay in the Bay Area – about his new role at Upfront, where he and company founder Yves Sisteron will lead the expanding practice in the growth phase.
He also shed light on how Twitter – which has been on a little buying frenzy – is thinking about acquisitions these days. Our chat was edited slightly due to its length.
TC: How did you get into Upfront?
SS: [Longtime partner] Mark Suster and I were introduced to the venture world through a mutual business acquaintance, and I got to know him over time and really found him a remarkable person. He thinks about the business himself, he’s an incredible brand builder. I think that could be argued [Upfront] Put LA on the venture map.
TC: It was a young company for a long time, but now it has a “barbell” strategy. Is it your new job to ensure that the company can hold its stake in its portfolio companies as it grows? Can you shop outside of this portfolio?
SS: The mission for me is to support the best of Upfront’s over a hundred existing portfolio companies that are ready to scale, as well as investing in companies that are not floating on the platform, and I count on it [the latter] more will happen over time.
TC: In the years you’ve been there, Twitter has been much more active on the front lines of corporate development. Why?
SS: When I started in 2018, Jack Dorsey had been CEO for about three years and his main focus was on the core role of driving public conversation [shrunk] Wise people too.
TC: I remember it fired people in 2016.
SS: And one of the offshoots of that was much less related to newer products, so there weren’t any new purchases in the three years before I got involved, and that muscle atrophies if you don’t exercise it. So [ahead of me] Jack had redesigned the management team, which until then had been a revolving door of executives, and I was given the specific assignment of reviving a corporate development practice that had been silent for a few years. I knew [CFO] Ned Segal when he was a banker at Goldman Sachs and [while] I was at SuccessFactors, and when I heard about the role through the vine, I got in touch.
TC: And Twitter is starting to shop, buying up the newsreader service Scroll, the newsletter platform Revue. Did these decisions come from above or vice versa?
SS: The best way to describe it is that it was product-oriented. The company had different goals. One was to diversify Twitter from its reliance on an ad-supported company. About 80% of sales come from advertisements.
Second, there is an incredible need to increase machine learning and artificial intelligence as a company. If you’re looking for toxicity in conversations, it doesn’t scale to hire tens of thousands of people for it. You need machine learning to find it. Twitter, well done, is also capable of showing you the conversations that are most interesting to you, and in order to do so, it needs to pick up signals of what you are following and spending time reading as well what you interact with, and that is essentially ML AI. [Relatedly] Jack’s vision is that anyone who tweets in their native language should be able to speak to someone else in their native language as part of a global conversation [natural language processing] Techniques galore.
TC: There is also this focus on consumer applications.
SS: That is the third goal. What tools can followers and creators use when talking to each other? So [Twitter] Audio added [via its Clubhouse rival Spaces]. We bought Revue, a competitor to Substack. So there is a lot of innovation going on around the type of content someone should see or create on Twitter.
TC: Would you describe these acquisitions as proactive or reactive?
SS: From the outside it seems reactive, but the reality is that even before Clubhouse launched, we thought a lot about something like Spaces. I guess what I notice is [Spaces] is one of the first times a company like Twitter has built capacity and a new product area that will compete against a company that focuses only on that area and is competitive from day one. Twitter beats clubhouse in [offering an] Android version because it put resources into it and I would argue that a lot of the mechanics of Twitter and the fact that creators are on Twitter puts it in a great position to win that segment.
Twitter also has a great deal of experience at finding toxins and things to be on guard over when playing a social media game, and a clubhouse size business will have a tough time, at least in the early days, to get there .
TC: Twitter has so many interests, also around cryptocurrencies and decentralization.
SS: As for the priorities on Twitter, a lot is under wraps when it comes to the technologies that we expect [will rise up over] the next five to 10 years, however [a lot of thought is being given to] the impact of cryptocurrency and the underlying protocols and how Twitter on a trustworthy, permissionless. participates [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 consider Twitter a consumer app, but there is an amazing and considerable variety under the hood.
TC: Do you think that given the current regulatory environment, it has a better chance of working with companies and projects that may have been taken over by Facebook and Google?
In terms of the regulatory environment, the reality is that even if you take the Facebooks and Googles out of the equation, there are competitive buyers who would step up and buy things, so it’s a little short-sighted to just think about them two. But even when they were active, we won [deals]. Many of the companies we acquired selected themselves to Twitter because they like what it stands for, they like the way Jack Dorsey runs the organization, and they believe in the positions he and his leadership take in engagement.
TC: You represent a completely different brand now. How will your work on Twitter help you compete for deals on behalf of Upfront?
SS: I have this network of incredible entrepreneurs around the world because of companies that I have co-bought, tried to acquire or run over the course of my career; me too [have relationships with] VCs at different stages that companies around the world are actively recognizing [and introduce them to corp dev teams]. You may also know that Twitter has a diversity and inclusion program that aims to see 25% of leaders be diverse over the next few years. I also led a number of LP investments in emerging funds, some from LatinX, some from Women, some from Black, some that varied geographically and scouting companies in distant places. . .
TC: Does Twitter also make direct investments?
SS: We did direct investments, but [backing fund managers] is a more leveraged approach. Most of them are seed funds, which in turn invest in 30 to 60 companies each. But yeah, I’ve explored businesses in far-flung places including [India’s] ShareChat, where I served 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 relationships, but it still seems very difficult to compete for growth deals with so many other outfits investing there now too. How do you want to compete?
SS: I will definitely use these networks to find offers. I’ll be investing in sectors that Upfront has already invested in, but initially I’ll be double-clicking that I have a strong interest in, including the Creator Economy ecosystem, because I haven’t done much of that on Twitter. And w3b 3.0, ow this lack of permission comes together, Edge Computing ML AI and shared data going through a number of disciplines in which I have worked, I think one of the strengths that interdisciplinary areas, including sustainability, are, but i won’t kid myself. you compete by learning what your value proposition is. On Twitter, my strategy was to gain speed, know people earlier, and [underscoring] The Twitter Value Proposition [to close deals]. I can’t talk about mine [VC] Strategy without having implemented it; I have to find out what is most interesting for entrepreneurs that mega funds don’t.