By Michael Varrati
As one of the founding partners of Greycroft Partners, Dana Settle knows a thing or two about making a good bet.
Along with fellow founders Alan Patricof and Ian Sigalow, Settle and the team behind Greycroft have already made a significant impact in the world of online video. Just look at who the firm has invested in — from content giants such as Maker Studios and AwesomenessTV, to technology companies like Fanhattan, Wochit, and Vidible — all of which are revolutionizing the way businesses and consumers interact with video content.
It’s been Settle’s acute awareness of the emerging medium that has put her investments in the position to succeed, and succeed remarkably — most famously with the acquisitions of AwesomenessTV and Maker Studios by traditional-media heavyweights DreamWorks Animation and Disney, respectively. It was under her watch and guidance that these companies found their industry-shaking successes,
Which is why, when I sit down to talk with Dana Settle about her impact on the world of digital video, I can’t help but address the topic of belief. For the layperson, it must seem like an incredible leap to take when you’re standing on the ground floor of a company/medium that isn’t yet established, committing years and capital to such an endeavor. Yet, this is the cornerstone of Settle’s work, and when I ask her what she needs to see in a company to invest, her answer exposes an individual whose success has been achieved as much with her heart as with her intellect.
“I tend to be a big believer in investing in great people and great entrepreneurs,” Settle says. “Companies morph and change their strategies, and great entrepreneurs are able to identify quickly when changes are occurring on the market. Really, if you back great entrepreneurs and don’t fold when things don’t necessarily go perfectly, that’s key. Of course, you have to believe there are great market possibilities and the inventor or entrepreneur has some sort of differentiation over the long term, but it’s still about backing great people.”
Settle, whose involvement with the digital video world dates back to her work on business development with Truveo (later sold to AOL), proves that a commitment to the individual can be as significant as the belief in his or her idea.
“At the end of the day, Dana is incredibly well-networked,” says Teerbek. “Executives, heads of large studios, every kind of entrepreneur in town, Dana is always on the shortlist of people they call to consult. Even if it’s not necessarily an opportunity for Greycroft to invest, they want her advice. They know she has broad contacts and they know she’ll be straight with them, and I think that’s a consistent characteristic of Dana’s. She’s almost always the first person people reach out to, which in our business means the world. It’s a hallmark of Dana’s personality and Greycroft’s personality as a result.”
Of course, entrepreneurs don’t just seek Settle’s advice due to her knowledge of what they do, but also because she has an incredible foresight and belief in the consumers they serve. In this continued discussion of what one needs to see to believe in an investment, it’s Settle’s understanding of the relationship between content and consumer that is one of her greatest tools in steering a ship to success.
“It has to be great content, and it has to be different in the eye of the beholder,” she says. “But not only does it have to be great content that connects with an audience, but also how that content is distributed and how that content is discovered.”
Using Maker Studios as an example, Settle illustrates exactly how she’s focused on these issues as the entertainment landscape shifts.
“In terms of Maker, we looked at a lot of the first-generation video companies, of which there are still a few, and they all had to essentially create the content, pay for the distribution, and then drive the audiences to them. It seemed very difficult to make the
economics work,” she says. “That’s when we saw the rise of YouTube as a mass platform. That’s when we decided the time was right to start to invest in video.”
“That was really the time we decided to invest in Maker,” she continues. “Anytime there’s a community of people or a company that’s early to a platform, like the founders of Maker and YouTube, they’re going to know how to do things on the platform. How to exploit little blips. If they keep up the momentum from the beginning, others won’t be able to catch them. I saw that in the early days of Maker, and that’s what got me excited…that opportunity to build technology out of the network and build the next-generation studio.”
Settle is notably enthusiastic when discussing this world that she has had a hand in creating, and I can’t really blame her. By combining a firm knowledge of business, drive, and, yes…belief…Dana Settle and her partners at Greycroft have helped contribute to the rise of a new frontier of media that is all the more accessible to consumers at home.
In closing, Dana tells me that, looking to the future, we can expect that gap to continue to grow smaller, and that the personal connections will be the most significant investments of them all.
“I think networks of any kind, whether traditional or digital, as they start to achieve scale can do really great things for the creators and the consumer. It’s helping consumers discover content in a world of ever-increasing options. It creates this great world where there’s something for everyone. As a network gets to scale, it can really connect the consumer to the right creator.”
It’s been a big week here at VideoInk, as we unveiled our inaugural Power-Sixer on Monday. If you enjoyed reading about Ms. Dana Settle, check out the other executives, true game-changers in the online video business, who we’ve already profiled.