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New Early Stage speakers to tackle growth marketing, media strategy and M&A

By Jordan Crook

In a little less than three months, TechCrunch will bring its Early Stage event to SF for the very first time. Early Stage is meant to bring together more than 50 experts across startup core competencies, from funding to marketing to operation.

Today, I’m pleased to announce another four experts being added to the agenda. We’re thrilled to be joined by Priti Youssef Choksi, Brooke Hammerling, Ethan Smith and Susan Su.

Priti Youssef Choksi

Choksi is a partner on Norwest Venture Partners consumer internet team. Before joining Norwest, she spent nine years in executive roles at Facebook around corporate and business development, leading the company’s M&A efforts. Before Facebook, Choksi spent six years at Google in strategic partnership roles. She was one of the people responsible for setting up the search partnerships with Apple and Mozilla, with top-line revenue from these deals growing from $0 to $4 billion on her watch.

How To Get Your Company Acquired, Not Sold

Learn how to think about M&A as a possible exit opportunity from a former Facebook corporate development executive turned investor. Understand what acquirers are looking for and what questions you should be asking. Create optionality for yourself as you build and grow your company.

Brooke Hammerling

Brooke Hammerling is the founder of The New New Thing, a strategic communications advisory that works with founders to shape the brand narrative. She also founded Brew Media Relations, which was acquired by Freuds in 2016 for a reported $15 million. She has 20 years of experience in the communications field, with a focus on authenticity and relationships at the core of her business. Brands she’s worked with include Live Nation, Framebridge, Refinery 29, Sonos, Splice, GroupMe, Eko and Oracle.

How to Tell The Story Between The Stories

The news never sleeps. Hear from communications veteran Brooke Hammerling, founder of Brew PR and The New New Thing, about how to build a narrative that isn’t driven by press releases and announcements.

Ethan Smith

Ethan Smith is the founder and CEO of Graphite, an SEO and growth marketing agency based out of San Francisco. He’s served as a strategic advisor to Ticketmaster, MasterClass, Thumbtack, and Honey. Before Graphite, Smith held several executive roles in product management and marketing, and has been tapped by organizations like Venturebeat, Marketwatch and INC to speak and write about SEO and growth marketing.

How To Build A High Performance SEO Engine

Hear from Ethan Smith, who has worked with brands like MasterClass, Ticketmaster and Thumbtack, as he shares some of the most effective modern SEO strategies. Starting with a deep understanding of the user and their intent, the most successful modern SEO strategies focus on building a data-driven approach to drive user experience, content, and conversion to ultimately beat the competition.

Susan Su

Susan Su is a startup growth advisor and EIR at Sound Ventures. Su has led startup growth at Stripe, served as an in-house growth advisor at 500 startups, and led the growth marketing as a founding team member at Reforge. After a career that spanned both product and marketing, Su has combined the two to take advantage of the rise of scaled distribution platforms.

Minimum Viable Email

Love it or hate it, email is here to stay. But understanding where it fits into the conversion funnel, and how to maximize its impact can be arduous. Learn from Sound Ventures advisor and EIR Susan Su how to optimize open rates, deliverability, unsubscribes and conversions for consumer and enterprise products alike.

There will be about 50+ breakout sessions at the show, and attendees will have an opportunity to attend at least seven. The sessions will cover all the core topics confronting early-stage founders — up through Series A — as they build a company, from raising capital to building a team to growth. Each breakout session will be led by notables in the startup world on par with the folks we’ve announced today.

Don’t worry about missing a breakout session, because transcripts from each will be available to show attendees. And most of the folks leading the breakout sessions have agreed to hang at the show for at least half the day and participate in CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s great app to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buy your ticket today and you can sign up for the breakouts we are announcing today. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

We’re absolutely thrilled for this event, and we hope you are, too. Buy a pass to Early Stage SF 2020 right here!

Interested in sponsoring Early Stage? Hit us up here.

Calm co-CEO Michael Acton Smith explains strategy behind ‘mental fitness’ app

By Eric Peckham

Mental wellness unicorn Calm has more than two million subscribers to its mindfulness and meditation app, raising over $140 million in funding to bring “mental fitness” practices into the daily lives of mainstream consumers. Anchored in a range of audio courses, the company has expanded to video and even book publishing.

Co-founders and co-CEOs Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew previously founded gaming startup Mind Candy and news aggregator Pop Jam. For Calm, the duo drew from their experience marketing digital products to figure out a business model, content strategy and long list of celebrity collaborations.

In a recent conversation with Acton Smith, I dug into the company’s strategy and the case study it can provide to other entrepreneurs. Here is the transcript of our discussion, edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: How do you view this market of meditation and wellness content? When the internet is filled with free content related to well-being and you have competitors like Headspace, how do you differentiate Calm?

Michael Acton Smith: There’s a mistaken view that Calm is a meditation app. We did start as a meditation app, but we think of what we offer more as mental fitness: How can we help people better understand their own minds? The brain is incredibly complex and doesn’t come with an instruction manual.

Utah tech magnates create new Silicon Slopes Venture Fund to boost startups in the state

By Sarah Buhr

Those looking outside of Silicon Valley as a potential hub for their startup might want to take a gander at Utah — at least that’s the kind of trend the new Silicon Slopes Venture Fund hopes to create.

The newly formed fund, put together by Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith, Omniture and Domo founder Josh James and Stance co-founder turned Pelion Venture Partners’ Jeff Kearl, pledges to invest solely in Utah-based startups. The goal? To become every bit as notable as a16z or Sequoia Capital.

Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith and Domo and Omniture founder Josh James onstage at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit.

“I grew up in the Bay Area,” Kearl told TechCrunch of the energy he feels in the state. “This feels like the 1990s in the Bay Area. You can find hundreds of open jobs up and down the Wasatch Front.”

Utah has a reputation as a mostly religious, conservative and sleepy mountain region for outdoors enthusiasts but tech has fast become the leading job sector in the state, with some salaries from companies like Adobe and Qualtrics rivaling those in Silicon Valley. The state recently pledged a push to include at least one computer science course in every high school in the state by 2022 and also just hosted a massive, 25,000 person startup festival called the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, where it held a Utah state governor’s debate and both Steve Case and Mark Zuckerberg spoke on stage.

It’s unclear how much the fund has set aside for its mission to help Utah become a full-fledged tech ecosystem rivaling Silicon Valley but one would imagine it would have a sizable sum to invest, if, as Smith tells TechCrunch, it is to help Utah’s up-and-coming startups go all the way from seed stage to IPO.

“I want to see companies get even bigger than Qualtrics…and do it in this state,” Smith said. Qualtrics sold to SAP in 2019 for $8 billion, notably the largest private enterprise software deal in tech history.

Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2020 Gubernatorial Debate

One of the many issues tech hubs around the world face is both the networking capabilities and the ability to invest after the seed stage or Series A. Most startups throughout the globe still find the need to travel and make connections in Silicon Valley to get them through the next step of growth. This has been true for every billion-dollar startup idea in Utah as well so far. Both Smith and James took in Silicon Valley venture for their companies, as did unicorn turned public ed tech startup Pluralsight and the recently rebranded sales platform Xant (formerly InsideSales), before making it big.

However, this new fund represents the kind of push needed to create a strong innovation ecosystem in the future, as Steve Case mentioned on stage at the summit event this last week. “Venture capitalists must look at ‘what’s happening in the Silicon Slopes’ and make sure it ‘is happening other places’,” Utah newspaper Deseret News paraphrased the AOL founder as saying.

Pelion Venture Partners, which operates in both Utah and Southern California, will act as a support to Silicon Slopes Venture Fund, providing organizational overhead. Each partner will still keep their day job and donate most fees to support the ongoing operation of the non-profit tech organization, Silicon Slopes, which runs the annual tech summit of the same moniker. However, the Silicon Slopes Venture Fund will be an independent fund from Pelion, with the sole purpose of investing in deal flow the three partners find through their respective networks within the state.

“I used to hate the term ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ because I want to be the only boat,” James told TechCrunch. “But I really think it applies here for what we are trying to do [in Utah].”