Fall 2017 Portfolio
As an aspiring venture capitalist I’ve always maintained a list of what my portfolio would include if I had a fund (and of course if they’d take my money). This is a list of companies that I’d be thrilled to put money into.
I saw a tweet from Jonathon Triest advocating for doing this exercise in public and I thought it made sense to put a timestamp on it so I can see how these “investments” pan out.
(In Alphabetical order)
Adhawk – “AdHawk is the easiest way to manage your digital advertising across all platforms.We aggregate your data and put it into one dashboard that updates in real-time. We then give you optimization tips that you can accept or reject in one click.”
- “There’s only two ways to make money (on the internet): bundling and unbundling” -Marc Andreessen quoting Jim Barksdale. I think about this quote often and especially when I think of Adhawk. If you are a digital marketer you’ve gotta manage Facebook Ads on Facebook, Twitter ads on Twitter, Google Ads on Google. Adhawk creates a single platform for managing all these buys across platforms. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. Not only does adhawk give you a centralized dashboard but it learns and starts to make intelligent suggestions about adjusting your buys. Increase the CPC here. Change the targeting there. That sort of stuff. While the bundling is a nice aspect the real defensibility is the intelligence that Adhawk has on how to improve ads for it’s clients. AdHawk was founded by Ex. GoogleAds employees who spent years optimizing campaigns for clients. What’s especially impressive here is they were able to take all these learnings from inside their brains and weave them into software. I met Adhawk after having a terrible experience with one of their competitors while they were going through TechStars and was thrilled when they moved to NYC the advertising capital of the world.
Cleriovision – “A world class team focused on non-invasive refractive vision correction”
- Cleriovision’s goal is “lunchtime laser correction”. They have intellectual property surrounding a better method of surgically correcting eye conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness etc. The current gold standard for these type of surgeries is LASIK. To grossly oversimplify: LASIK involves a surgeon cutting parts of the eye and manually reshaping the cornea. This involves significant risk not to mention pain and fear from the patient’s perspective. LASIK recovery time can be anywhere from 2-7 days. Cleriovision’s innovation involves using lasers to accomplish this task. Instead of using a knife to shape the eyeball Cleriovision uses a laser to change the optics of the eyeball. Here’s a far more technical and professional explanation. Over 700,000 LASIK procedures are done yearly and with a less invasive technique Cleriovision has the opportunity to expand this market by 2-3x.
Density – “ A modern infrastructure for counting people”
- Density makes these little boxes that count people in public places. Think coffeeshops, stadiums, restaurants or anywhere else it would be valuable to know the flow of people. There are generally two ways to get data: first party: ex. checking into a location on Foursquare or third party ex. web scraping, data exhaust or sensors. (Detour: apparently second party data is becoming a thing). The problem with first party data is it requires action from the user which invariably creates a dependency risk or bottleneck. Third party data IMO is an easier business to be in as most of the success is based on building a thing that works, not hoping a customer or user will create data. The possibilities for Density are endless. Knowing the ebb and flow of foot traffic has benefits for both consumers and business owners. Your coffee shop is empty every thursday from 1-3pm? Perhaps offer a discount. Headed to the DMV but crunched for time? Check out Density. I’ve had the good fortune of knowing the Density founders for the better part of a decade. Originally Density was spun out of a software consultancy. What impresses me about this team is their ability to pivot. Originally Density was counting individuals via WI-FI pinging and counting MAC Addresses but moved to a computer vision model. After pitching at the Launch Festival they secured investment from a veritable who’s who of the startup world on the condition they move part of the team to Silicon Valley. The rationale behind their decision shows a team that is building for the long term.
Good Uncle: “ The best food in the country is heading your way. Equal parts restaurant and technology company, Good Uncle partners with exceptional restaurants nationwide, chooses their most crave-worthy dishes, and delivers them fresh from your local Good Uncle kitchen As a delivery-only restaurant concept exclusively focused in secondary and tertiary markets (i.e. non major metros) and, specifically, college towns, we license the top 1-2 items from popular, iconic major city food brands and recreate those items out of our local commercial kitchens.”
- Good Uncle is a ghost restaurant. Here’s a great breakdown of their value props. Delivery only in a restaurant with no storefront. Similar to Munchery/Blue Apron model but with two major distinctions. First they deal with branded foods. Meaning notable dishes from leading restaurants in major cities. They work with those purveyors to perfectly duplicate a signature dish of theirs. Good Uncle sells these meals in secondary and tertiary markets. This expands the reach for the restaurants who of course share in revenue. Good Uncle also delivers to set “drop points” to maximize efficiency. Students can sign up for meal plans that are priced competitively or less expensive than university provided dining. Good Uncle is in part led by Wiley Cerilli one of the leading entrepreneurs of our time and just about the nicest human being you will meet. Here’s a story of the company returning investment capital to one of its investors.
GoPuff “Super fast, 24/7, and for only $1.95 fee, goPuff (www.gopuff.com) is not just an on-demand delivery service app, it’s a lifestyle. Caught a 2AM craving for ice cream? Phone charger broke? Ran out of milk and paper towels (again)? We got you.Available on iOS and Android, goPuff offers thousands of products that are received, packaged and delivered from a goPuff warehouse to your door in much less time than the average trip to the convenience store. “
- One of the most referenced stories of the dot com bubble was that of Kozmo, which raised 233 Million dollars on the promise of delivering a suite of consumer goods to anyone in one hour. The problem is that in late 90s early 2000s mobile meant a Startac. Mobile commerce was barely a thing and GPS on mobile was about a decade away. Kozmo existed in a world with ~20% mobile penetration. Today that number hovers above 80%. The market is (on simple math) 4x larger. This why GoPuff can exist. This isn’t to say that their business and team aren’t fantastic. I’ve know their VP and early hire Dan Folkman for the better part of a decade and love watching him build. GoPuff has relationships with many of the major CPG brands. They’ve set up shop in ~24 cities where they aren’t burdened with the retail costs a traditional c store is. GoPuff also sits on top of a MOUNTAIN of data that brands would love to get their hands on. They know at the most granular level who bought what and which items are trending. 7 Eleven and your local bodega have none of this information.
Maidbot – “Maidbot is on a mission to revolutionize the way humans clean – starting with Rosie – the world’s very first housekeeping robot for hotels. “
- I met Founder Micah Green through the Central NY Startup scene ~2.5 years ago when Maidbot was just an idea. Since then I’ve watched Micah take a leave from school, build a prototype and secure financing. Even more impressive is his ability to attract talent. In addition to luring his CTO away from a full time Professorship Micah has grown the Maidbot team to nearly 20. The market opportunity for Maidbot is equally impressive. Hotel maids have the highest incidence of workman’s comp injuries; predominantly from moving items around and vacuuming in tight spaces. This makes a large part of the value proposition reducing these costs for hotels. An emerging part of the business model is the data collection aspect. Bringing a computer into every hotel room allows for the analysis of hazards like mold and mildew. As a recovering data salesman this speaks to my heart. To borrow a tired startup analogy this makes Maidbot both a pain reliever and gain creator.
Nautilus Labs – “Nautilus Labs is a technology company focused on advancing the efficiency of maritime transportation. We drive positive transformation and sustainability in the shipping industry. Nautilus enables maritime shipping companies to easily optimize their business for speed and consumption through a cloud-based analytics platform that provides unified fleet intelligence.”
- ~90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea with a majority of these traveling on containerized shipping vessels. Despite this staggering statistic the shipping world has seen little innovation in recent years. To understand the health and performance of these ships the current standard is manual reporting: checking physical sensors, meters and other non digital assets. Like anything else analog this introduces room for error and risk. Nautilus has created a platform that automates this reporting so fleet owners can better understand how their ships are performing, which ones need maintenance and more. Automatic reporting allows for more granular analysis and increased efficiency than the standard of daily reports at noon. More here on how Nautilus works. This is a classic example of technology coming to an old “pen and paper” industry and modernizing it. What’s special here is how widespread the effects of efficiency go. Better understanding of vessels could lead to reduced shipping costs and savings for the end consumer. Another massive second order effect is fuel usage. Fuel costs range between 40-90% of the cost of a voyage and ships use what’s known as bunker fuel to power the engines. Bunker fuel is what’s left over after gasoline, diesel and other “lighter” fuels are extracted. It is quite literally the bottom of the barrel. Since ships use bunker fuel this creates extraordinary pollution consequences. These ships handle nearly all global trade and burn the worst type of fuel while doing it. Nautilus CEO, Anthony DiMare, wrote about the dire consequences of shipping pollution here. I met Anthony ~8 years ago during our time with our university’s ambulance corp. From there I saw him build Regattable, a foldable sailboat company (we went through the same accelerator program) and was always impressed with his drive. After Regattable he went on to work at leading companies like Statasys, Bre & Co and Grow Labs.
Odd Networks – “Wordpress for TV”
- If there is one thing I know about the internet, it’s that it exists to destroy the middle man. Disintermediation is ruining every company in its path. Instead of buying razors from Gillette via CVS I buy directly from Harry’s. Instead of buying a mattress from Sealys via Macy’s I buy directly from Purple. The examples go on and on. The media world is no different. ESPN has almost no information on it’s cable subscribers because it has to “sell through” Cablevision, Time Warner et. al. This is why we see Disney is defensively building its own streaming service because it’s terrified of Netflix. The smart creators in the modern media landscape realize they need to own their customer. Odd Networks is a platform where creators, influencers and media outlets can create their own Over the Top (OTT) apps for a handful of platforms (Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire etc). To borrow another VC funding metaphor Odd Networks sells pick axes to gold miners.
ROIKOI: “Attract diverse, amazing talent hand-picked for you.Our platform helps you identify and attract diverse, highly qualified people through your own employees’ networks. ROIKOI automates a 3-step process: Identify great people your employees already know, Attract talent through warm introductions, and Hire through your ATS or ROIKOI. Used across a diverse employee base, this naturally delivers a highly qualified and engaged funnel of diverse candidates. As an added benefit, you’ll save $10K per hire by removing 7 hours of sourcing and screening, reducing time to hire by 10 days, and increasing employee retention by 2x.”
- Most referral marketing platforms are glorified link tracking services.Some try to proactively suggest qualified candidates in your secondary networks but it is often guessing at best. They say Bob might be good for this role or Becky is a strong candidate for another one. But that method is fundamentally flawed. YOU know who your strongest coworkers are. YOU know who is a good referral. ROIKOI knows and leverages that by having employees identify standout people, and then the matching happens. Fishing in a higher quality and vetted lake. More on how it works here. ROIKOI has also helped increase diversity of the employee base which is a high value proposition especially today. Strong team with data science background this company is going places.
Tuzag: “tuzag is a content architecture firm that provides consulting, technology and support services to help companies optimize customer engagement.
We’ve married behavioral science, one-to-one marketing technology and interactive storytelling to ensure you get the most out of every customer relationship. We’re here to help you connect with customers the way you connect with people, rethink your approach to customer lifecycle optimization and transform your data and content to build better relationships and accelerate the customer behaviors that grow your business.”
- One of the central tenants of Tuzag is that marketing and advertising is fundamentally broken. The current model is to target advertisements. Target people in NYC area. Target people who read GQ. Target people who walk through Times Square. This model worked in the pre-internet era before society and customers was spewing off gigabytes of data each day. This model is inherently flawed. Not everyone who reads GQ is the same. Sure there are shared attributes but its an overreaching assumption to treat them all the same. A great passage from Scott Galloway’s the Four book explains this beautifully. Tuzag believes the future of marketing is tailoring communications based on the individual. Here’s a demo of the tailoring technology in action. Tuzag’s founder, Dave Bulger has the perfect resume for this kind of effort. He’s got the academic chops to understand marketing from a strategic level but has also spent decades working with leading agencies on global brands. The further we get into the internet, the more data we create the bigger the need for tailoring communications over targeting.
Twine Labs: “Twine is people analytics software that helps Fortune 500 companies reduce employee turnover. Twine’s employee recommendation engine algorithmically suggests current employees for new job openings. By doing so, Twine helps employees find more fulfilling roles and companies save millions by tapping into their rich pool of existing talent.”
- I spent most of 2017 in the exciting world of Talent Acquisition with Talent Tech Labs. If there is one thing I learned it’s that employees are able to switch jobs faster than ever. A few decades ago if you wanted to work for say IBM you had to really hustle. You had to find someone who knows someone who knows someone at IBM then get connected to a recruiter and along the way likely fill out a paper application. Due to the sheer work involved (and of course other factors) people switched jobs less frequently. Today if I want to work for IBM. I head to Linkedin. It tells me my mutual connections and lets me apply. Depending on the role this modern application and networking could take 5-10 minutes. It’s easier than ever to apply for a role but harder than ever for employers to sift through the mountain of applications. When an employee leaves a company they take years of institutional knowledge with them. Sure they may help train their successor but losing a key employee can really crush a business. Often employees leave for roles they could have found elsewhere in the company. Twine labs exists to help companies keep their employees and place them in new roles instead of losing them entirely.
Vivastream: “Vivastream bridges your events and sales, seamlessly. .By adding Vivastream technology to your events, you’ll know more about your audience with every interaction, and achieve a single view of your customers that drives results for sales and marketing teams. The Value is in the data. Vivastream’s Audience Intelligence Engine aggregates the data surrounding your event to find your most-engaged prospects by business topic. With Vivastream, you receive a prioritized list of leads, by product or solution, that can be distributed to sales and marketing in real-time.”
- Business events are a double edged sword. Great way to build your brand, attract influencers and position yourself as an authority. Downside is they are often really hard to tie back to sales and profit. If you are an enterprise the size of Google, Amazon, IBM, HP or Microsoft you pour millions of dollars into events (ex. Developer or partner conferences) and likely struggle showing ROI beyond “brand”. This is where Vivastream comes in. Vivastream creates a white label app for event producers to push to their attendees. This helps establish Vivastream as the central home for everything happening at the event. This helps drive insights that fuel account based marketing. Instead of knowing that John Doe from Acme attended conference A. Vivastream tells event producers that John went to session X, stopped at booth Y or took survey Z. This allows a more targeted sales approach around the topics that Joe is specifically interested in. More on one of Vivastream’s recent successes here.
WeFind: “At WeFind, we’re here to help companies leverage the love their consumers have for their products to help them grow. Today, companies only think of users in one dimension, a list of people who purchase things from their brand. However, the reality is, every user base is a group of incredible individuals. It’s influencers that actually love and use your products, ready to promote your brand. We give companies a platform to tap into this individuality, and bring the people back. We transform the user base into a data platform that companies can use to discover authentic influencers. We unlock the personal relationship that exists between people and brands, and as a result we give our clients a tool to help them transform their marketing.”
- WeFind provides a term that I just made up called “community intelligence”. The leading brands of our time are Their pitch is pretty straight forward. Brands have hundreds of thousands or millions of customers with affinity for their products.The best brands in business today are building communities. But how do you know who to engage with? WeFind tells you by looking at a brand’s constituent base to mine for job candidates or influencers to focus engagement with.
Would love to know your thoughts on any of these companies