Kirsten Green on selling to consumers in the metaverse: brands should ‘get in there’

When Forerunner Ventures was founded in 2012, traditional brands still reigned supreme, and most of us shopped in physical spaces. Firm founder Kirsten Green, who was earlier an equity research analyst at Banc of America Securities, was maybe more aware than most that this picture was about to dramatically change; over the years, Forerunner invested in a company that delivered cheap razors to people’s doorsteps, a beauty company built atop a devoted community and a marketplace that matches bewildered shoppers with people who are “expert” in their fields.

Forerunner’s bets have been so prescient in some cases that the young outfit is now managing roughly $2 billion in assets after quietly closing its sixth fund with a whopping $1 billion in capital commitments last month.

Given the team’s success in funding what’s up and coming, we talked with Green last week for a podcast interview about the trends Forerunner is tracking closely right now. Some of what we discussed follows, edited for length and clarity. You can also listen to that chat in its entirety here.

TC: In recent years, per a post you authored recently, Forerunner has become more focused on this trend of creators on Instagram and Substack and other platforms who are reaching audiences directly. Where do you think we are in terms of that trend?

KG: A lot of that thinking, if not most of it, still feels very relevant and active for us today. Thinking about powering the one-to-one opportunity and what it takes to make that viable is multilayered. You start with this idea that anyone who’s got something to say can now be a publisher and put [out content] and charge for it. But the difference between that idea and its execution is a lot, because it’s a lot to do and it’s hard to do. So we try thinking: What are the tools and services and software and community that needs to support the person who is becoming the single entrepreneur, the ‘solopreneur’? There’s a whole ecosystem of efforts that need to be built and trialed and tested and moved forward. I think we’re still early on in the innings of organizing all of that and [producing] the really big, breakout companies.

A number of livestreaming commerce companies have raised significant funding over the last year to sell a wide variety of items. You’ve bet on one, Loupe Tech, a live e-commerce streaming platform built for sports card collectors. Why?

When it comes to discretionary spending, sometimes it’s about the item, but a lot of times it’s about the journey. We had malls that brought lots of stores together to create a dynamic environment . . . You [separately see] people on social networks following people and engaging in content. It’s sort of natural to think, okay, there’s a shopping component somewhere in here, too. It’s part of the mix of the entertainment and the engagement and the camaraderie that happens. And certainly we’ve seen this in other places in the world, most predominantly in China, where [livestreamed shopping] it’s a huge business.

[Layer into the mix] this collectibles trend, which is also not new, and the sports memorabilia market [which is] a huge, significant market [the majority of which is still offline] and the founder of Loupe, Eric [Doty]. He comes from Xbox. He has a lot of experience around gamification and game-oriented experiences. He is passionate about the category and really articulated a vision for how to create a great intersection of entertainment and exchange — which is commerce in this case — and maybe even be a third screen for people who are engaging in watching sports or sports activities.

Are you giving much thought these days to the so-called metaverse? Do brands need a metaverse strategy?

The whole metaverse, web3, crypto [universe] opportunity or conversation is really interesting and really promising. Like most new things, it’s unknown how long it takes to play out or when the mass adoption [reaches] a tipping point. But I definitely believe in it, and I think most companies do [because of the] contributing trends driving it, so with that in mind, I think it’s, ‘Get in there and start experimenting. Get comfortable. Start building muscle in it. Think about what’s right for your business and brand and identify where there are opportunities, [be it for] customer acquisition or customer retention or even to sell new things, because quite frankly, all of those things are probably in play in that universe.’ It’s not going to come out of the gate as a make-or-break-it [moment] for anyone’s business in 2022. But a few years out, or maybe even closer, it could.

What, if any, related bets have you made on web3-type companies?

We’ve invested in a handful of B2B companies over the last 18 months because of the stage of development of that whole ecosystem. A bunch of them have not been announced. But we think with this web3 evolution, companies can use it to have a future-leading stance on community, on empowerment, maybe even a future product strategy.

I’m imagining a whole new protocol being developed for digital connections. On the infrastructure side, there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity, and that’s not historically where Forerunner has really showed up. We’ve been more on the front line as it relates to the consumer. So I think [our focus is on] what is it going to take to include web2 companies in web3. [To date, much of the activity has] lived in specific corners of the universe [including] NFTs, which, when they hit the radar, may have confused people [regarding] how they worked or why [consumers] should value them. But  the idea that there was a good or a service that you could pay money for [by using NFTs] resonated . . . [Now] to make [them] more mainstream, I  imagine there needs to be real use cases — something beyond a novelty — and there needs to be much lower friction in how you engage. So the effort to make that happen is essential to getting [web3] mainstream and ubiquitous and valuable, and I think there are a lot of opportunities [in creating] that bridge.