It’s hard to come out the other end of Bravo’s Real-i-Tron with anything in the way of dignity. Just ask these gilded lilies. Something about the cocktail of ambition, insecurity, and actual cocktails tends to make one’s better judgment obsolete.
Thus, we can’t vouch for how the world will perceive stealth startup founder and Ampush Media alum Kim Taylor when Randi Zuckerberg’s creation (working title: “Silicon Valley”) debuts this fall. But over coffee in Midtown last month, Ms. Taylor came across as disarmingly articulate, well-versed in the chutes and ladders of Startupland, and, dare we say, sensible.
Blame her Midwestern roots, or the trial-by-fire of helping to grow a bootstrapped company to revenue in the high eight figures in its first two years.
Inside the bubble, Ms. Zuckerberg’s retelling of the entrepreneur’s dilemma as shirtless melodrama has been received with the kind of pearl-clutching usually reserved for marauding barbarians or Snooki. We’re pretty confident, however, that post-Empire viewers will be able to tell the difference between the real world and reality TV. Besides, Bravo’s mission has always been less about inspiring copycats of what you see on screen and more about offering aspiring anthropologists safe space to judge from their couch. And as a subculture, Silicon Valley could benefit from a little perspective from a world of potential users of their world-changing products.
The early word on “Silicon Valley” seems to indicate that its getting a lot of support from the network. We hear the hour-long show, which is slated to premiere the first of week November, will follow one of Bravo’s biggest hits (Ramona Singer, is that you?) and boasts the cable channel’s largest promotional budget ever. So it seemed as good a time as any to get to know the cast member responsible for the most memorable phrase of the trailer: “Silicon Valley is like high school, but it’s only the smart kids and everyone has a lot of money.”
When the show began filming, Ms. Taylor was still working as a digital director (and one of the first five employees) at Ampush Media, an online marketing company that became one of the first Facebook ad API partners. Somewhere during filming, Ms. Taylor decided it was time to launch her own venture, a fashion startup, which she is currently operating out of WeWork Labs in San Francisco. The diminutive 30-year-old said she closed first major client, a multibillion dollar company, during a trip to New York in August and is the process of closing a seed round as well.
Not that it’s earned her much respect. Yet. “I get asked five times a week if I work in PR,” said Ms. Taylor, sporting a silky, spaghetti-strapped maxi dress as we sipped iced coffees at Dean and Deluca.
“I wanted to do my own startup, but I knew I wasn’t ready so I decided to go find smart people I knew and do a startup with them. I was the sales team and marketing team of one [at Ampush],” she said of her decision to move from Chicago to San Francisco in 2010. “We were probably in the top 100 spenders on Facebook in the world because we realized no one was doing Facebook ads that well.” Ampush was cofounded by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey alums, friends of Ms. Taylor’s. “It was like trading securities, so we built this platform that allowed us to not just automate our bids, but create lots of audience profiles.”
She helped secure clients spending more than $100,000 a month on the social network, like Samsung, British Petroleum, and University of Phoenix. “People were applying their search methodology to Facebook and then failing and saying, ‘Oh, Facebook sucks. It doesn’t work for advertising.”
On LinkedIn, Ms. Taylor coyly listed her startup as “Mysterious & Exciting New Venture.” But in person the former gymast and NBA dancer confided that the startup’s as-yet-undisclosed name is derived from “my favorite move from my floor routine.”
Eschewing the Gilt Groupe route, her company isn’t a commerce play and focuses on the non-discount slice of the luxury market. “There are many young affluent women who are discriminating consumers and still willing to pay full price,” she explained. “I’m making a big data play on brands that haven’t fully embraced online,” she added, pointing to brands desperate to modernize themselves like Oscar de la Renta’s attempt to woo new audiences through Oscar PR girl.
Talking to investors in New York versus the Valley has helped illuminate the differences between the tech scenes. In New York, she said, “I can have in-depth conversations with male VCs about Chanel going online,” whereas across the country, “We have to spend a lot more time defining the problem for them.”
Ms. Taylor was well-aware of the bad reputation the show had already picked up in the tech world. “I hear some comments made, like there’s going to be this gold rush of wannabes that come out there. That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard. As someone from the Midwest, I can tell you there’s nothing more terrifying than moving to one of the most expensive cities in the country. In my case, I took an 80 percent pay cut and had my cost of living double.”
Besides, she shrewdly pointed out, “Most people there are transplants and immigrants. People running all those big companies didn’t grow up there. We become products of that environment but we all come there wanting the same thing.” With such a high bar for talent, most of those barbarians will be left at the gate.
So why sign up for a reality show if you want to be taken seriously? (Aside from the fameballing and fortune, of course.) “You always want to be riding a wave and when you look at Bravo I think Bravo is on a wave,” she said. Ms. Taylor should know, before Ampush, she was a regional sales manager at Alloy Media + Marketing, the tween tastemakers behind “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars.”
Programming like Andy Cohen’s “Watch Watch Happens Live” is proof of Bravo’s forward momentum, she said. “If you think about the future of entertainment, it’s two screens. It’s watching TV while you’re on a laptop, while you’re tweeting about it, while you’re researching things you’re seeing.”
That said, she whetted our appetite by admitting, “I can’t control things other people have done on the show and I’m not proud of them.”
When asked, Ms. Taylor also shrugged off that infamous assessment about her Best Coast cohorts. “I feel like when you say something is ‘like high school,’ you mean it’s small and everyone knows each other,” she insisted. “All of a sudden, everyone just thought of their worst memory ever and I was like, ‘No!’”
Shhhhhh, you had us at “Silicon Valley is like high school.”