Spotlight on kbs+ Ventures’ Taylor Davidson: How Roads Lead to Ad-Tech


A sharp and discreet man, powered by a hugely curious and focused mind, with a passion for photography – this could be the shortest description for Taylor Davidson, director at kbs+ Ventures.

If you’re reading this and wondering why ClickZ would write about him, this is why: kbs+ Ventures is the only laser-focused early-stage fund for advertising and marketing tech start-ups in New York. Davidson is the only full-time employee there, and pretty much runs operations.

kbs+ Ventures
One interesting thing to note is that kbs+ Ventures doesn’t just exist in a void: it is the investment arm of an advertising agency employing more than 400 employees, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, itself part of the larger MDC Partners network of agencies.

You might already be familiar with some the companies kbs+ has invested in so far: social buying platform, social media optimization platform Socialflow, location-focused ads analytics and insights start-up PlaceIQ, audience data provider Crosspixel, omni-channel loyalty and analytics solution CrowdTwist, and real-time consumer intent platform Yieldbot.

Diverse Background
In his own words, Davidson has had a very diverse background, though “finance has always been a part of it.” From mobile payments to financial consulting to venture capital via event photographer, his path is not so typical. Bottom line: He does not come from an advertising or ad-tech background, but he made his way there because it’s a topic he likes and invested time and effort into.

In 1999, when electronic cash and digital payments were starting to be explored (that’s also when PayPal started), Davidson was attracted to that space. He joined C-Sam, a mobile wallet start-up based in London. He was one of the first four hires and, in true start-up fashion, had to have his hands in everything as they grew the company.

Way before Square did it, C-Sam was already looking into how to let customers pay for Starbucks with their phones. They also explored the couponing model, not unlike many of the current brands – send coupons to customers’ phones (vs. email or apps today), based on their locations (which, as always, brings forth the issue of actual localization vs. cell towers), for them to pay for something. How it would work is that you would pay via your phone and then get it settled through your next telephone bill.

Davidson participated in the fundraising process, too…a taste of what he would be doing later, but from the asking side.

A Curious Mind
In 2002, Davidson went to get an MBA in finance. Fresh out of business school, he worked as a financial strategy consultant for inCode, advising phone operators (SBC Communications, Cingular Wireless – both part of AT&T now), Sprint Nextel (now Sprint), Motorola, and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). He jumped from there to Capital One, where he stayed for three years until his curiosity for the world made him antsy. In 2008, Davidson set off to travel the world for a year. He spent half of that time driving across the U.S. to really get to know the country. He also toured Japan and Europe (Eastern and Western) during the rest of the time, also meeting up with the local tech communities.

Back in the U.S.A.
Once back in the States, Davidson’s first instinct was to live in New Orleans, “move to a truly unique USA,” where he felt at home and welcomed. He got together with a group and started an early-stage/seed fund for local start-ups, but he left before it was launched to move to New York. That project has become Launchpad Ignition, the start-up accelerator in New Orleans. Davidson is still involved as a mentor.

Why the shift to New York? “I wanted to move to a big environment, wanted to be part of something bigger. I wanted the East Coast, something with a broad range of industries and activities but not purely tech-focused,” he says. So New York it was, over San Francisco.

Living off a Passion
His strategy to land a job was to talk to people, “anybody,” as he says, to figure out his next step, including start-ups, ventures, and corporate jobs. Meanwhile, one of his passions fed him.

Rewind: One of Davidson’s passions is photography – his mother was a professional wedding photographer and he’s always been around imagery. While he was job hunting, Davidson sustained himself through photography by shooting events for The Economist, CNN, and Rockefeller Center.

In 2002, he’d added one more skill to his personal inventory, so to speak – he taught himself how to code in HTML, in order to share his photos online. Remember, this was way before social media. Today, he keeps his photography on Flickr and shares some on Instagram. He also shares his thoughts on his blog.

Growing kbs+ Ventures
The job hunting took about six months. That’s when he landed his current job at kbs+ Ventures. His scope of work? Sourcing/meeting entrepreneurs, business development, due diligence on potential deals, managing a portfolio, helping solve problems with the start-ups the firm has invested in – all marketing and communications. He also teaches the Venture Fellows, a program he helped set up to foster the cross-pollination of ideas in the broader agency; anyone from kbs+ Partners from any background can participate as long as they have a passion for technology and/or entrepreneurship. Davidson, who also published a book for this fellowship program, Creative Entrepreneurship (free to download), calls it “a safe place to explore entrepreneurship.”

The Programmatic Shift
Looking at the current advertising tech and marketing place, Davidson says his focus is very much on programmatic buying for the moment. Not just because of the technology, but because of the way any new approach causes amazing shifts in the whole ecosystem: a domino effect. Programmatic drives how sites are being built, influences private exchanges, etc., ultimately leading to the question of what is the right ad unit and format.

Brands have a lot to do to adapt their communications and digital strategies, and things are moving at a very fast pace. Davidson goes as far as saying that what we see as the native advertising and content marketing novelties will soon also be integrated within programmatic solutions and will look like banners. Not physically so, but it will be the same perception of an obsolete format soon.

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