Meet the Man That’s Getting Everyone’s AttentionBen Parr
Shortly after, he left Mashable and launched DominateFund, an early stage venture capital firm that focuses on harvesting attention and making products go viral. His hard work was recognized when he made the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2012.
Now, Ben Parr has culminated his expertise and years of experience in the field of marketing, virality and attention-getting into a new book called “Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention.”
Recently, we sat down with Ben Parr to talk about his backstory, his startup investment philosophy and of course — how to get people’s attention.
Did you always want to be entrepreneurial?
When I was in college, I originally wanted to go into politics. Then I entered for congress after my freshman year and learned how terrible of an idea that was and got the heck out of that. Still have a poli-sci major, but what probably changed the course of my life was the class taught by one of my two mentors, Troy Henikoff, who’s now the head of Techstars, Chicago. What he was teaching was Entrepreneurship 301. This was a class was for juniors and seniors, and I was a sophomore so I had to work my way to get into this class. But, when I did, I worked my butt off. In this class, Troy made you basically start a company. Every single week, it was a whole different, new level: accounting, financials, building a business plan, pitch deck and every little aspect that you have to do to be a great entrepreneur. That really set me on a path and made me realize that this kind of things is what I really want to do. That’s why I’ve been in this game for so long and will continue to be.
Why did you choose to work at Mashable? Did you have a specific long-term plan?
A little bit of a plan — the plan to not be a journalist for the rest of my life. I knew I always wanted to be entrepreneurial. So what I saw in Mashable was this capability to make a difference and be a part of conversation, but at that same time also an opportunity for me to build a network and build a lot of knowledge especially. I knew eventually though I would leave and do something else. I didn’t know exactly what at that time. I knew Mashable was an incredible path towards it and would be tons of fun. I did get burnt out at the end though.
What have been the biggest critiques about you that you’ve heard from people online?
It’s kind of been a journey for me over the years; the critiques changed. For example, early on in my career, I became a co-editor of Mashable at 24. That was a lot of power for a 24-year-old. That was a lot of attention and I wasn’t ready for it. I got full of myself for sure and I’m not exactly proud of maybe some of the things I said or did at that time. So a critique at that time was that I was full of myself and that sort of thing, and it was wrong. When I really realized the error of my ways, I worked on improving myself. When I hear a critique that’s really true, I try to work on that. Nowadays, we’ll see what happens after the book. I hope what people critique is more things like my content — the things I’m putting out, rather than my personality. The example I learned from the book is that people have this great capability of building relationships with somebody even though the other person doesn’t know them. So as an example, people feel like they know Rachael Ray or Justin Bieber or Zoella better than they know their own parents or their own friends; this is actually a scientific phenomenon known as parasocial relationship. It’s our amazing capability to build this kind of one-sided relationship that makes it feel like its two-ways. It’s the same thing as idealization. As a result of that, whenever I disappoint people, maybe with opinions or politics, I’ll get an outpouring of anger or disappointment about what my parents might say to me, even though these people have never met me before, and maybe never will. Then you go to a level higher and some of the top celebs and the reactions they get are crazier. It’s a crazy kind of phenomenon when you see it.
Tell us a little bit about the #dominatefund.
We have very, very straightforward value-add that we give to startups, which is we coach them on attention, press, marketing, customer news acquisition, how to build viral products and how to work with influencers and celebrities. My partners and I have unique experience: my time at Mashable and from “Captivology” and all my knowledge and research from that; my partner Matt, who was the head of product at UStream and understands products better than almost anybody; our partner Mazzie worked with everyone from Lil Wayne to Cristiano Ronaldo. So combined, we work with all of our companies on these different aspects on how to launch and how to build a go-to market strategy and how to build long-term attraction.
How do you decide to invest into a certain startup?
We have 13 different points that we go through. They are all preparatory by the way. Yes, there are a lot of typicals like team and that sort of thing. For example, we do a lot of projecting of whether or not one of the founders can be the founder-CEO over the long term. You think about the best performing companies like dropbox, Airbnb, Uber, Facebook — what do they all have in common? Their founders are still the CEOs. In general, when you do the math, that produces your biggest unicorn, your billion-dollar companies, your companies that make it to exit and beyond. We look for founders that are able to grow and able to adapt on all different stages of building a company.
Who is able to take the company from the beginning to end?
There are a lot of people who are not capable of doing that. We have a capability of being able to see which of those factors work and doesn’t work for those entrepreneurs. There are tons of other factors; we look at every market individually. We just have so much experience from all the startups that we’ve worked with and from my time at Mashable. We’ve seen startups fail and succeed in tons of different markets and we understand a lot of times why and then apply that to some of the companies and industries that we invest in and don’t invest in.
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