Network Advisor Spotlight: Brian Schwartz, SIZE
Silicon Foundry’s Network Advisors are a distributed network of hyper-connected founders, investors, and cross-industry leaders who are part of our extended Silicon Foundry family. This handpicked group of advisors, who are embedded in innovation hubs across the world, amplify our visibility across the landscape, extend our global network, and serve as resident experts for our Members.
Brian Schwartz (@brianschwitter) is currently Co-Founder & Partner at SIZE Advisory Group. As a marketing and growth operator, Brian has devoted his career to designing innovative digital/e-commerce, retail and omni-channel marketing strategies for Fortune 500 brands. Brian has led diverse teams as VP Global Partner Marketing at Expedia and Head of Global Licensing Partnerships at DreamWorks Animation.
You were a self-described intrapreneur for a significant part of your career. What were some of the challenges you faced while trying to promote innovation within large corporations like DreamWorks and Expedia?
I think the biggest issues are size, scale, politics, and bureaucracy. DreamWorks has 2,500 people and Expedia has 30,000 people, so you know getting stuff done at DreamWorks was a little easier. To their credit, Expedia actually did a really good job building processes to try and drive innovation, but the reality is that they’re just so big. You could have a product innovation session where you have 400 really good ideas which get whittled down to 10, and from 10 you focus on 5. What about the other 390 ideas though? The next billion-dollar spinoff could come from there but it’s a matter of capacity and time and how you’re prioritizing within these larger organizations. As large as companies get, they always say they’re under-resourced, which I find hilarious. But it’s kind of true. A really large company might have 600 people on a product team, but they are under-resourced if there’s 400 projects every 6 months and they can only do 10. I think those are the biggest issue with larger companies.
Where I’ve thrived and what I tend to gravitate are companies where there is more autonomy, more ability to make things happen. Like a true entrepreneur, an intrapreneur is taking the same mentality of creating a startup and testing the waters, but it in a corporate complex.
What prompted you to shift your focus to advising and consulting, and how do you choose which teams and companies to advise?
There isn’t a straightforward answer — it was a journey. When I left Expedia, the former CMO at McDonald’s told me to meet 300 people and figure out what I want to do. I said, “Challenge accepted” and actually met over 600 people in one year. That’s what made me start to realize that advising was what’s exciting to me. I loved helping founders and entrepreneurs think differently about their business.
For a startup, going from zero to one million in revenue is really hard, going from one to 10 million tends to go really quick, and going from 10 to 50 million is also very hard. When a company is at 10 million in revenue, they’re a real company. Helping founders and entrepreneurs realize that their job is not the same as when they started the company, and that they must now be a leader and create a mission, vision, and strategy for the company and lead other leaders is what I really love doing.
How I choose who I advise is a combination of things. The first aspect I look at is if I can add value. The second is if I really believe in the team. The third is looking at the culture they’re building. Finally, the fourth is if I would be able to bring other people to the table as well. Sometimes I actually won’t take an advisor role and refer the company to someone else if there’s someone who could do it better.
What really drove me to advising is that I love meeting entrepreneurs. There are two types of entrepreneurs — serial entrepreneurs or seasoned veterans and younger entrepreneurs. One of the companies I advise was founded at Stanford, another at Drexel. In a traditional career you learn a ton in your first ten years of being at a job. These younger entrepreneurs didn’t have that. They were learning on the job how to be a really good person and really good leader, and I loved being able to coach and guide them through that. And vice versa, I love being able to learn from them. Some of the founders I advise are so smart and seeing what they’ve done successfully and helping bring that to other companies is something I love doing.
What superpowers have you picked up from your past lives that you now bring to the startups and entrepreneurs that you advise?
I would say there’s two, and these are superpowers I never knew I had as a corporate exec. The first is that I can sit with a founder and within 30 minutes make them think completely differently about their business. A lot of that comes from how to scale a business fast. Many people go step by step through a linear process, but to me there’s always a hack for how you can get there faster. The second is that I’m able to sit with somebody in a meeting and, like a doctor, diagnose their problem. The medication for me is people. For each problem, I’ll say “Go talk to this person.” Since I’ve met so many people and built a robust network, it’s very easy for me to pull those folks from my memory and to help connect businesses with the right people for them to scale faster and solve some of their critical business issues. I’m able to quickly diagnose who they should be connected with and then connect them accordingly.
Can you tell us more about what you’ve been working on most recently?
Over the past 18 months I’ve met a lot of folks like me who are advisors for a multitude of awesome companies. They’ve all been consulting but were primarily sticking to their functional lanes. For example, HR doing HR, finance doing finance, marketing doing marketing. My thought was: Hey, there’s these awesome people working with all these awesome companies — could we bring them together as the Dream Team or the SWAT team and help companies between a series A and B get to the next stage of capital raising at a much larger valuation.
That was the idea behind forming SIZE, an advisory group that offer seven functions — marketing, business development, HR, finance operations, talent, PR, and branding (with a 20-person creative agency supporting on the branding). The core of what we do is helping founders identify and implement what they need to get to a much larger valuation, which we know probably won’t involve all seven functions, but will likely require two or three. Founders will traditionally say branding or marketing, but I’m a big believer that they should always be saying HR — culture and processes.
Where our business is different than a traditional advisory group is that part of our business focuses on venture rebuilds or reimagination. We can come in to distressed venture portfolio companies, acquire a controlling stake from the VC but keep the VC on board, and deploy our advisory team onto the company with the goal of getting to break even in 12 months and profitability within 18 months. Afterwards, we would either sell the company or bring in a full-time management team and raise growth capital. Our model is a holding company model and SIZE Ventures is our investment vehicle. I should mention that we invest in our clients as well, so we have skin in the game.
We’ve been working on this venture for 18 months now. We truly believe we’re a value add for VCs on both sides one — one in terms of helping their companies get larger valuations and therefore larger returns, and the other in getting the ones that aren’t doing as well off their plate turning them around in the right direction.