May 4, 2018

Talking NEVYs (and Consumer Companies) With Founder Collective Principal Parul Singh

On May 9, the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) is holding their annual award show, the NEVY Awards at the House of Blues in Boston. As part of the lead-up to this year's Star Wars-themed event, we're going to be posting a number of bite-sized Q&As between now and the 9th—each offering a bit more insight into what attendees can expect (here's the last one we did with First Star Ventures Founding Partner Millie Liu).

For this installment, we spoke with Founder Collective Principal Parul Singh about the event, as well as trends across consumer companies. This year, "Consumer Company of the Year" nominees include Blink Security Camera, CarGurus, Embark, M.Gemi, Lovepop, EverQuote Inc., and Drizly.

Alex Culafi (AC): Based on the many consumer success stories (like the companies nominated for a NEVY this year), do you think Boston is finally starting to remove the legacy stigma of being a difficult place to build a consumer company? 
Parul Singh (PS): The reality on the ground is that Boston founders have been building significant, profitable, and frequently-capital-efficient consumer companies. Building a consumer company is demanding—there’s often not a lot of room to make mistakes—but there’s absolutely no question it’s happening here. In fact we found it nearly impossible to choose only five favorites this year.
AC: What are some of the trends in the consumer industry that you are seeing from a broad point of view?
PS: Consumers have changed, and they demand products which are personalized, where they have a direct relationship with the brand, and where they can be affiliated with the values behind that brand. They buy differently (online and direct), mobile is ubiquitous, and user experience and convenience are now absolutely table stakes. Because switching costs are often so low, we think that brands that don’t build that relationship with their users (through values or data) will be at a serious disadvantage.
AC: For Boston in particular, what areas of consumer would you consider a strength in the region?
PS: We have very strong adtech, product development and marketing technology clusters, which are basically the preconditions you need to scale a consumer company quickly. Scaling user acquisition well is one of the greatest strengths needed to grow beyond a seed round; luckily, we have a lot of native talent to help new consumer companies grow, grow, grow.
AC: When you are evaluating a company in the consumer industry for a potential investment, what are the key elements you look for?
PS: We always look at the team first: are they emotionally invested in their space and all over what they’re doing? We care a lot about the product and experience: is this something consumers will find compelling? Finally we care about growth potential, execution, and speed. We always find that the best founders do way more than we think is possible in a very short amount of time.
AC: Outside of the nominees, what other companies in the Boston consumer industry do you find interesting?
PS: It was amazing to see the sheer range of companies being built in this space: from bike sharing to Italian-made women’s shoes to incredibly accurate dog DNA testing.  
Beyond the nominees, I’m a big fan of ButcherBox and Paint Nite, both of which rapidly scaled with hardly any external funding.  
And a shout out to Boston consumer-focused companies which IPOd last year, from J.Jill to CarGurus—no one talks about the first one, which supports the curious fact that some of the best Boston companies like to fly under the radar.

You can learn more about the NEVYs by reading our full preview of the event right here. Use our code: VENTUREFIZZ for a 15% discount when purchasing tickets.

Alexander Culafi is a Staff Writer for VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @culafia