I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Thompson and Adriaan Zur Muhlen from Progress Ventures. Progress Ventures is a specialty venture capital firm focused on investing in advertising, marketing, and media technology companies. During our discussion, Sam and Adriaan provided fascinating insights into how they identify disruptive innovators, support their portfolio companies, and anticipate emerging trends in digital media.

Progress Ventures differentiates itself from other venture capital firms in several key ways. As former industry executives themselves, Sam and Adriaan have deep experience and networks within the marketing and advertising sectors. This allows Progress Ventures to act like "strategic investors" for their portfolio companies. Progress also takes a hands-on approach, limiting their fund size to around 14-15 companies so they can work closely with each one.

In terms of identifying disruptive innovators, Progress Ventures focuses on specific themes they believe will be important, such as retail media, artificial intelligence, data/identity, and automation. They are constantly networking within their extensive industry contacts to scout out emerging companies within these themes. Progress Ventures looks for companies building platforms rather than single products, as platforms are more likely to achieve venture-level returns through disruption.

Some of Progress Ventures' most notable investments exemplifying their approach include Simplify, a pioneer in local digital advertising that was acquired, and Integral Ad Science, an innovator in brand safety and ad verification. One area Progress sees ripe for disruption is the complex landscape of over 600 retail media networks. They are actively seeking a company that can consolidate and make sense of this fragmented ecosystem.

Beyond just funding, Progress Ventures provides hands-on support like helping companies expand their revenues, make new hires, and establish pilot programs with strategic partners. They also maintain close relationships with later-stage investors to prime their portfolio for successful exits. Progress leverages its expertise in mergers and acquisitions to counsel companies on positioning for ideal acquirers from the start.

Looking ahead, Progress Ventures sees continued focus on retail media/commerce technology, international expansion, and more "complicated" areas like data/identity that demand technical solutions. Their dual model of traditional limited partners and strategic corporate investors has allowed them to identify innovative disruptors for nearly two decades. It will be fascinating to follow their continued leadership in digital transformation.