077: Boston Speaks Up with Zach Servideo of Value Creation Labs
Updated: Jun 19
Zach Servideo is an entrepreneur and the founder of Value Creation Labs® (VCL), a brand studio-growth accelerator. The 15-year consulting veteran has spent time in Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Known for his boundless energy and storytelling prowess, Servideo is a sought out chief brand officer of sorts for companies looking to elevate their public presence and stoke growth. In 2021, he created VCL as a means to one day realize his vision to own and operate a venture studio. He’s currently building toward that goal helping provide flexible consulting services to a range of companies. He also has an investor network betting on those same companies.
Servideo nurtures a dynamic VCL talent consortium ranging from artists and writers to patent attorneys and bankers. He’s currently working with a group of Boston-based tech journalists on a series of custom analyst reports for Silicon Valley Bank, New England Venture Capital Association, Glasswing Ventures and Accomplice. With Servideo serving as publisher, the reports shed light on innovations from Boston that are hiding in plain sight and yet driving global economic growth. VCL recently released its latest report on cybersecurity (download for FREE).
Of course, he’s also the founder and host of Boston Speaks Up (BSU), an innovation podcast visiting with inspiring people from all walks of life that is sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank. Founded in 2018, BSU helped catapult Servideo back into the Boston innovation community he spent much of the 2000s and early 2010s in, before a five year stint in Los Angeles.
He began his career at Schwartz Communications in the mid 2000s before transitioning to a role at fama PR in 2009 which found him embedded in the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) community at One Broadway, Kendall Square. It was at fama/CIC where Servideo began honing the craft of developing brands and taking startups to market — Opower (acquired by Oracle in 2016), Suniva, TweetMyJobs, CloudLock, to name a few.
By 2012, he took the entrepreneurial plunge, created his first LLC and developed a business plan to bring his abilities to Los Angeles at a time when ‘Silicon Beach’ was just taking off. He spent 5 years between LA and San Francisco bringing companies to market and helping them reach successful exits — Klutch to eBay (2015), Epoxy to Vemba (2016), Watchwith to Comcast (2017), Beachfront Media to PSP Capital (2017), Whosay to Viacom (2018), Downstream to Jungle Scout/Summit Partners (2021) along with several more.
For those listeners less familiar with Servideo’s work behind the scenes, he’s an active business development specialist working on an array of initiatives to support first time founders. For example, he serves as entrepreneur-in-residence at Endicott College’s Angle Center for Entrepreneurship where he’s a major catalyst behind the school’s startup incubator and annual Spark Tank startup competition.
He somehow manages to play soccer a couple times a week, coach his daughter’s youth soccer team and train/compete in triathlons (with one 70.3 Ironman under his belt).
Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood?
Methuen, MA. I was the oldest of 3. Very close to my siblings. I spent a lot of time outside, playing capture the flag in the woods, pickup basketball and soccer with friends, riding my bike around town. It was a great upbringing and a humble one. My parents worked hard so I could play sports and have opportunities.
What were some of your early jobs and what did they teach you?
When I was old enough to (12 or so), I had a paper route. By the time I was 16, I was working the service desk at Bob’s Stores. Those two jobs helped me hone my interpersonal skills. I build on that foundation when I got to college and secured employment at Pour House, a flagship bar on Boylston Street in Boston. I worked there and at their sibling bar Whiskeys for 4 years. I think everyone should work in the bar/restaurant industry. It really humbles you and teaches you the importance of practicing empathy in the direction of a broad swath of individuals.
What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
During summers in college, I worked full time for the City of Methuen as a landscaper, worked the weekend at the bars in Boston and also worked part time for a moving company. I identified the moving company was wasting money sending movers from the Methuen/Lawrence area to Boston for big office moves (30+ minutes in trucks each way), and I brokered a deal with the owners of the moving company to manage a team of movers at Boston University where I went to school. I’d be paid $1 per hour for each person I provided for a move. I’d organize moves once or twice a week, typically with 10+ movers working for 8–10 hours at a time. I’d often have conflicts with my other jobs, so I appointed on-site managers and built the system up to run without my presence. I’d make a few hundred dollars a weekend simply facilitating and project managing it all from afar.
Who’s your greatest inspiration in life?
My grandfather, affectionately referred to by us Servideos as Papa. He died way too young — 70 years old when he passed away in 1999. I have goosebumps to this day as I type out words attempting to explain what he meant to me. He did a lot of small things the right way. He made everyone feel special. He was present with each of his grandchildren (and there are a lot of us). Above all else, he loved. Specifically, he loved my grandmother. He adored her and he didn’t hide it. When he was sick and it was close to the end, the last thing I recall him saying to me was to take care of my grandmother. I was only 14, and that had a profound impact on me and the way I live my life. I leave it all on the line. I lead with my heart. I love those I come into contact with. I’m present with them. I love them. Just like Papa did.
How hard was it transitioning to life in LA and then life back in Boston?
Change has been a source of growth for me in life. Moving to LA was an important change, and as beautiful as sunny SoCal is, I could have moved to a lot of places and had a similar experience. In LA, I moved in with my then girlfriend now wife Elizabeth. I fell in love with her in LA, exploring a new place and growing together as both individuals and a unit. Our daughter Mila was born in Santa Monica and spent the majority of her first year of life living in our Venice Beach apartment. As remarkable of an experience that was, we yearned for life back east around friends and family. We decided not to go to a community we knew, but rather seek a new community that gave us excitement to explore. We settled on Beverly, MA and are enjoying exploring the beauty of Cape Ann. Maybe we always would have ended up here even if we never moved west, but the experience we had somewhere else really has helped evolve our perspective and appreciation for a strong community of like minded people. We feel we have that now, and I couldn’t be happier with how it all played out.
What’s your long-term goal with Value Creation Labs?
Venture studio. We believe that we possess the talent to develop our own IP and/or enhance existing IP to generate revenues and liquidity events to generate the capital required to further develop and invest in purposeful pursuits.
What’s the most rewarding work you’re doing today?
My EiR role at Endicott College. I love working with young budding entrepreneurs. One of the freshmen I’ve been working closely with recently won the school’s annual entrepreneurship spirit award. I have another duo I’ve been working with for 2 year that won second place at the 8th annual Spark Tank startup competition in April. This impact means the world to me. I’m really proud of it.
What’s wrong with the agency model? Why doesn’t it work?
Lack of flexibility. Agencies have bloat. They have systems and processes that work for them, as opposed to being customized to the needs of a specific company/customer.
What’s your advice to founders who are trying to ship product, raise capital and hire at the same time? Do they have to create content to?
Find active capital and/or people tied to capital that can help you address needs such as hiring. Create content along the way.
Re: content — Definitely produce content along the way. Journal as you go, which creates a backlog of potential blog posts. When you’re in the throws of user experience design in Figma, put your marketing hat on and consider how those product designs can activate as marketing visuals.
Let’s look at Boston from an LA perspective. Why are so many tech companies here so bad at creating buzz and excitement?
For starters, I think Boston undervalues the role of brand. Brand development through creative investment and storytelling production is not something Boston tech companies by and large prioritize. From a community perspective, Boston suffers from a general lack of investment in media production. That begins at the brand level, but independent of that, there just aren’t enough innovative media ventures focused on elevating the troves of stories that matter here in Boston.
Everyone is playing the content game and there is so much out there that is thin as toilet paper but somehow ranks high in Google search. Has shitposting ruined the Internet? Where do we go from here?
For me, here lies a massive opportunity in Boston from a media innovation perspective. I’d argue trade publications have surged during the pandemic. For b2b in particular, companies became more reliant on sources of truth and their virtual events during the pandemic. I think there needs to be more focus put on quality content as opposed to the thin junk we’re seeing too much of these days. Wise people will always be skeptical of brand created or sponsored content, as they should, but I do think there’s a way for brands to sponsor quality content that hits the masses. Our analyst work is a good example of this. SVB, NEVCA and local VCs support our analyst reports, but they have no say in the content production and we ultimately put the content out under our banner, not theirs. I’m shocked that publications in town — new or upstarts — aren’t embracing this model themselves.
Boston rapid-fire round:
Hubspot or Wayfair Celtics or Bruins Santarpios or Reginas New Hampshire or Vermont Mid-Cape or Outer-Cape North End or East Boston
FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from a book, creating a new healthy habit… what is one challenge you have for the listeners?
Be present with a complete stranger. Have a conversation with someone on the street or at the grocery store. Spark up a chat with another parent when picking your kid up from school. I love this exercise. So, go forth and chat with someone new, practice empathy and enjoy a new human connection.