Vsnap’s Dave McLaughlin: why tech startups are like making movies

by MVStaff

Boston Business Journal, July 24, 2012

Before Vsnap founder Dave McLaughlin was a Boston startup captain, he spent a decade as a screenwriter in Hollywood, ultimately going on to write and direct a film in Boston starring the likes of Eliza Dushku and Amy Poehler.

He wrote the independent film, “On Broadway,” while working in Hollywood but didn’t find the financing to create it until 2006 (after he’d left to run marketing for the Boston Redevelopment Authority).

McLaughlin moved into the tech world when he joined local mobile payments startup Fig Card as CEO in 2010 — a company that was acquired by eBay in April 2011. He next launched his current startup, Vsnap, which offers a short-video messaging service; this month, the company closed a $750,000 seed round led by Ted McNamara, an executive-in-residence at General Catalyst Partners.

Though he’s out of the film business, McLaughlin says there’s plenty about that experience he draws from as a startup CEO.


  • “I spent the first 10 years of my career in the independent film business, mostly as a writer, a little bit as a director. But I was also raising money, building teams, and bringing films to market and so forth. And so while I thought of myself then as sort of a guy who didn’t want to get a conventional job, I was in fact doing all the pieces of starting and growing businesses. They were one-off LLCs for the purpose of producing and exploiting a certain piece of IP, as opposed to the kind of business that startups are, so they were different in that way. But they are very similar in that they start from nothing and have to attract all the resources — capital and equipment — and build the set of relationships and build the team.”


  • “I think directing movies is just like running a tech company — which is to say, if you’ve done your job right as a film director, then probably everyone else, all of your department heads, know more than you about their respective areas. You want a cinematographer, knows the most about lighting. Yet you’re the person who gets to be the arbiter of all those decisions. I feel much the same way, on a day-to-day basis, the community manager knows more about Twitter than I do, and the CTO knows more about what’s under hood.”

Dealing with advice

  • “The central characteristic of the job of a film director, or I think the startup CEO, is this ability to balance humility with bulletproof self-confidence. So with the suggestions that come at you, you’re always trying to figure out whether you’re right to maintain your focus, while at same time being open to the help others are going to offer.”

Both are obviously creative endeavors at their heart, McLaughlin said. But, he added, “I think that technology startups (are) just a more creative place to be than the film business.”

“Some people are surprised by that,” he said. “But in the film business you’re really in boxes in terms of what you can do. In tech you now have these amazing platforms — the iPhone, the tablet — and what you can build on top of them is pretty much whatever you can imagine. So I think it’s a much more fertile place for creative expression at the moment.”

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