New Investment: Optimus Ride

As active investors in ‘frontier tech‘ (as described by my colleague Matt Turck), I couldn’t be more excited to announce today our investment in Optimus Ride.  We co-led a $5.25M seed round of financing with our friends at NextView Ventures, with participation by a strong syndicate of investors. Aside from a really cool name, the team at Optimus Ride is developing Level 4 autonomous vehicle technology, meaning fully autonomous systems without any need for human interaction. While the company is not ready to discuss its plans, suffice to say it involves the intersection of leading edge hardware, computer vision, sensor fusion, mapping, and machine learning.  If the company is successful, we believe they will have a material impact on one of the most important advances coming in the next decade.  The benefits of autonomous technologies — from enhanced road safety to carbon footprint reduction to traffic optimization — are almost too numerous to name. We
Continue reading "New Investment: Optimus Ride"

New Investment: Frame.io

“Check out the latest edit of our promo video and let me know if you have any comments. It is a large file so I uploaded it to Dropbox here – the password is Vide0Test1. Also, to make life a little easier, you can put all of your comments in this Google Doc. In case you want to compare, the link to the previous version is here (same password). I didn’t have time to change the intro music yet, but most of the prior comments have been addressed. A handful of other comments (copied below) contradicted each other; my suggestion is that we set aside 45 minutes later this week to review as a team.” Until recently, emails like these were the state of the art when it came to collaborating on video creation. In addition to the “real” work of actually producing video, video creators logged countless hours
DSC_6768_fixed.jpg
Continue reading "New Investment: Frame.io"

FirstMark Capital raises $480 million in new early stage, growth funds

_M9A9346 FirstMark Capital, the investment firm behind companies like Pinterest, Shopify, Riot Games, InVision, Tapad, Schoology, has today announced $480 million in new funds. This money will be split between two separate funds, with $275 million going into FirstMark IV (an early stage fund), and $205 million headed to the Opportunity Fund (for later stage companies and follow-on deals for existing… Read More

New Investment: Robin

We all know the feeling.  We have an office conference room reserved, we go to that room to find someone in it, and then the awkward dance begins.  Do I go look for another space to be polite?  Are they really wrapping up the meeting?  Do I knock?  How senior is the person in there? Does it matter?  Should I do another walk by?  We now schedule over 25 million meetings a DAY, and this is a familiar refrain in nearly all of them.

Robin wants to change that. And, I’m very excited for FirstMark to lead the company’s Series A.

Robin is a better way to manage meeting rooms and office resources. It is software, a mobile app, and a tablet display (optional) outside rooms that syncs to your calendars in Google, Office 365, and Exchange. The platform then becomes a search engine for your office, enabling users to

Continue reading "New Investment: Robin"

ROLI & The Future of Music Making

At FirstMark, we love to back companies that are pursuing differentiated ideas and building entirely new markets. ROLI is a perfect example. The Seaboard is one of the most unique music instruments ever created, and certainly the most ambitious.  It represents the intersection of deep material science, advanced hardware capabilities, high performance firmware and development framework,  an expressive sound engine, and a user facing application to boot — all of which had to satisfy the simple needs of Grammy winning musicians.  Not quite the “MVP” model of startup design. You can read much more about the products online but please don’t mistake the ROLI for “just another keyboard.” In the place of keys on a traditional keyboard is a soft, pliable, sensor-embedded surface that enables players to shape notes like a stringed instrument. The sounds achievable with the ROLI are like no other.  We have a ROLI Seaboard RISE stationed in the
Continue reading "ROLI & The Future of Music Making"

ROLI & The Future of Music Making

At FirstMark, we love to back companies that are pursuing differentiated ideas and building entirely new markets. ROLI is a perfect example. The Seaboard is one of the most unique music instruments ever created, and certainly the most ambitious.  It represents the intersection of deep material science, advanced hardware capabilities, high performance firmware and development framework,  an expressive sound engine, and a user facing application to boot — all of which had to satisfy the simple needs of Grammy winning musicians.  Not quite the “MVP” model of startup design. You can read much more about the products online but please don’t mistake the ROLI for “just another keyboard.” In the place of keys on a traditional keyboard is a soft, pliable, sensor-embedded surface that enables players to shape notes like a stringed instrument. The sounds achievable with the ROLI are like no other.  We have a ROLI Seaboard RISE stationed in the
Continue reading "ROLI & The Future of Music Making"

Introducing Starry!

I am excited to write about the launch of Starry today!  We’ve had the privilege of working with Starry’s founder, Chet Kanojia, now three times.  His first venture, Navic Networks, put rich, interactive software in tens of millions of cable boxes across America (and had a great exit to Microsoft). His second venture, Aereo, transformed the broadcast TV industry and accelerated OTT video by several years. Aereo’s technology was so disruptive it eventually wound up before the Supreme Court, a journey which I wrote about here.
Today, Starry comes out of stealth, with a mission to redefine how we access the internet. To call this vision “ambitious” is an understatement, and represents exactly the kind of challenge we love to get behind.  The first product is the Starry Station, which is a revolutionary WiFi router with the world’s first ambient touch screen interface.
Starry Station allows you to measure the health of your Internet service, see devices attached
StarryStation-Print-02
Continue reading "Introducing Starry!"

Congrats, Bluecore!

Since it’s the season to be thankful, I wanted to congratulate the team from Bluecore!  Today, the company announced a fresh $21 million Series B round of funding.  It is a testament to the 180 brands they’ve launched and the $200MM++ in ROI delivered in two short years.  It is also another plug for the rapidly growing SaaS community in NYC.

I originally met the Bluecore founders while serving as a TechStars mentor when they were called TriggerMail.  It was a classic example of a very focused product, clear ROI, and sharp tip of the spear, which several of our portfolio companies were the first to adopt.  Co-founders Fayez Mohamood and Mahmoud Arram built an extremely elegant initial product that required no integrations with off the charts performance. As I dug a bit deeper, it became clear this platform was an entirely new infrastructure to support real time personalization and automation in commerce.  We’ve just scratched the
Continue reading "Congrats, Bluecore!"

Sales Tax in SaaS: A Beginner’s Guide

One of the great things about our Community platform at FirstMark is that it has become an amazing resource for our entrepreneurs to turn to when they’re trying to solve a problem. Recently, a CEO at one of our companies reached out for guidance on handling sales tax obligations for SaaS in certain states, which quickly led many others to chime in for additional information.  We quickly pulled together leading experts and had a full house session a few days later. It was a great example of how 8 years of deliberate stoking a community has turned into a powerful network, and I thought I’d share some insights from the session. In spite of the fact that SaaS applications will generate $49 billion in revenues this year, there’s a lot of confusion and murky regulations to follow. If you haven’t put much effort into sorting through the sales tax
Continue reading "Sales Tax in SaaS: A Beginner’s Guide"

Convertible Notes: A Conceptual Perspective

There was a great discussion started by Mark Suster and Brad Feld around convertible notes and the many issues associated with a round in which they convert. This includes a hidden potential for a “multiple liquidation preference” if not adjusted for in the Series A and how the mechanics of the conversion could lead to differences in ownership than a new investor is expecting. Mark and Brad did a fantastic job walking through how the problem arises and the math that drives it. I’d like to take a crack as to why, in theory, the treatment of the Notes in the pre-money valuation makes sense as the starting point. Of course everything can be a function of negotiation, as Brad points out, but it’s nice when positions have some grounding in principles, and I find many times entrepreneurs and investors can get frustrated by the advice “because that’s the way
Continue reading "Convertible Notes: A Conceptual Perspective"

New Investment: Engagio

One of the most important things that we have built at FirstMark Capital is our platform and community.  It is an infrastructure that connects and empowers hundreds of employees across our portfolio companies and tens of thousands of people in the NYC ecosystem to world class content, relationships, customers and expertise.

Every journey has its start, and ours began shortly after we launched FirstMark Capital in 2008 and held our inaugural Marketing Summit.  The idea was simple: marketing was evolving rapidly, the channels through which customers and consumers engaged were changing, and those that moved to take advantage could build unfair scale ahead of others.  If we could get the best minds talking about leading technologies and their approaches, the entire portfolio could benefit.

One of the earliest speakers at our Marketing Summit was Jon Miller, the co-founder of Marketo, who evangelized a new way of

Continue reading "New Investment: Engagio"

Alibaba vs Google & Amazon

Having felt like I was reading about a new investment every month from Alibaba, it got me thinking about how rapidly they are expanding their reach outside of China. While many have written about this recent frenzy, I had not seen anything comparing Alibaba’s investing activities in the US to that of Google and/or Amazon in China.  As the digital platforms move towards true global competition, I got curious about the data.

Thanks to the folks at CB Insights, I looked at the data of investments made in the US by Alibaba and in China by Google and Amazon as far back as the data went.

Capture

By number of deals, Alibaba has a substantial lead, but by investment value (shown below), the difference becomes staggering.

The data is fairly stark.  If you look at the individual deals, Alibaba is investing in all the areas you would expect — mobile, gaming, ecommerce — and even some you would not, expanding their sphere of knowledge and influence as they chart their inevitable global push.  For Google and Amazon, is the difference deliberate and due to different strategic choices or is it because China remains a more difficult and protected environment to enter and invest?  If it’s the latter, does that put the leading US platforms at a structural disadvantage competing in the global stage? We are entering a new era of the digital Game of Thrones and this will be interesting to watch play out.

Some notes on the data:

1) Investment dollars reflects total round size, as a reasonable proxy for invested dollars, as well as acquisitions. Some deals did not have any announced round size and are included at $0.

2) This is solely focused on investments and does not include capital associated with local operations in country.

Thanks to my colleague David Rogg for assistance pulling this post together.


Tagged: Alibaba, Amazon, e-commerce, Google

A Mighty Swing

News has now spread on Aereo’s filing for bankruptcy. While folks in venture generally don’t talk about their failures, this is one I’m exceptionally proud to talk about.

We are in the business of backing innovation and taking big swings. Companies that can be change agents for their industries. Aereo is the very definition of that. Long before Aereo stood in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, the Company ignited conversations about the future of television and its delivery at a time when these services remained fixed, bundled and costly.

Since Aereo’s launch and first victory, we’ve seen cable companies introduce “TV Everywhere” strategies, networks announce over the top mobile apps and unbundled streaming options, and even the FCC take dramatic steps to define OTT players alongside cable and satellite companies. Can Aereo take credit for all of it? Probably not. But I think it’s fair to say they accelerated many of those discussions and helped re-shape an industry perspective.

While that impact may not be found financially, it is felt in the hands of consumers everywhere. For that, we at FirstMark are exceptionally proud to have partnered on this journey with Chet Kanojia and his incredible team. And as I’ve said before, we’d do it again in a heart beat.


Tagged: cable, consumer, TV

New Investment: ROLI

I am excited to announce our investment in ROLI, the inventor of the Seaboard.

The Seaboard is a beautiful redesign of one of the world’s most iconic instruments – the piano – for the modern digital world we live in.  It is the first in a line of digitally programmable, highly interactive, connected music products for ROLI that combine novel design aesthetics, proprietary touch interfaces, and powerful social elements.

continuous_touch

The degree of difficulty on executing a product like this is extraordinarily high.  It requires expertise in material design, fabrication, manufacturing, hardware, and software.  It has to satisfy the demands of the world’s leading artists, while incorporating social elements that appeal to the masses.  Getting to a shipping product was no small feat, and we believe ROLI is at the forefront of a transformation in the music creation, collaboration and consumption process.

We are delighted to partner with Roland Lamb, the founder/CEO of  ROLI, and welcome him to the FirstMark family!


Tagged: consumer, hardware, music

New Investment: Gravie

Well, we foreshadowed we’d be doing more around the intersection of healthcare and technology.  On the heels of our BioDigital and Recombine announcements, I’m excited to publicly announce our newest investment in Gravie.

Gravie sits at the intersection of some profound changes in healthcare.  Consumers are becoming empowered (or forced) to take control of their healthcare decisions more than ever before.  Employers are struggling with the increasing cost curves in healthcare, and in many cases, as disinterested parties, are phasing out coverage.  Insurers and insurance remain incredibly complex to navigate and difficult for the lay person to understand, often times only figuring things out in their moment of greatest need.  And finally a regulatory backdrop that is forcing major change on the system in the form of the ACA (“Obamacare”). 

Gravie emerged to bring simplicity and transparency to this new world order.  An intelligent, easy to use platform to navigate all the complex decisions in terms people can understand and a single place to consolidate all the information around health in one’s lives.  Gravie also offers advocacy to consumers, acting as a voice for individuals and offering help when questions or problems arise.  In short, Gravie is one place to go for peace of mind around your family’s health. 

The company was founded by three fantastic entrepreneurs who have a long history together and in the space.  Abir Sen, Jill Prevost and Marek Ciolko all worked together at Bloom Health, a company they started to bring Private Exchanges to employers, and successfully acquired by Wellpoint.  Abir has also been part of the founding team at Definity (acquired by United) and Red Brick Health (pioneer of corporate health & wellness plans).

We seeded the company in the summer of 2013, and have witnessed swift execution on both product, launch and adoption.  We are delighted to announce the close of a $10.5MM Series A, in which we participated heavily.  We are quite excited to continue our partnership with the team at Gravie and welcome in Mo Kaushal and the Aberdare team!


Tagged: consumer, healthcare

New Investment: BioDigital

I am excited to announce one of our latest investments, BioDigital.  BioDigital is one of several investments we have made at the intersection of healthcare and technology.  I laid out our rationale at a high level here.

BioDigital is based in NYC and has built a powerful platform around 3D visualization and immersion of the human body.  Our short hand for BioDigital is “Google Earth for the human body”.  Their team sits at the intersection of 3D / CAD software, web technologies (HTML5/WebGL), human anatomy and physiology, bio mechanics and high scale back end infrastructure.  A rich, deep, powerful service made simply available via APIs.  If you want a wicked engineering challenge, apply here.

The team has been working on complex 3D human modeling for the last several years, but with the introduction of WebGL and HTML5, saw a profound opportunity to instantiate all of their models into a Web based platform called the Human.  In the brief period of time since launch, the company has surpassed over 1 million registrants.  Even more exciting to us was the breath of use cases for the product.   Frank Sculli, founder and CEO, details some of them here.

There will be a number of ways to access the Human.  Their web, mobile and tablet apps will appeal to the millions of consumers interested in learning what’s inside our body and how it works.  Consumer health sites will be able to easily use our widgets to offer much richer representations of health conditions that afflict us.  Search engines can embed physiology and conditions directly into rich snippets.  Content publishers can enrich the learning experiences for students across the globe.  Doctor offices and hospitals can use the Human as their front end UI, with patient records mapped to the Human’s ontology.  And more exciting are the ways we cannot think of via our APIs.

In addition, we also can’t predict the ways in which individual consumers will add to the platform  People will be able to append all sorts of information into the Human to improve it in a Wikipedia like model – MRIs, content, interactions, etc.  People will also be able to personalize the human to the things they care about and share them out to the people they love or groups they interact with.  It will be exciting to see how people engage with an experience that was never possible before.

We believe this will be a transformative project and we are at the very beginning.  We are delighted to partner with Frank Sculli, John Qualter, Aaron Oliker and the entire BioDigital team!  Frank’s announcement on the BioDigital blog is here.


Tagged: digital media, education, healthcare

Sun Rising in Healthcare?

One of the hardest things in venture is timing.  Pick the wrong time to disrupt a segment, and the result is a lot of optimism and lost investment dollars.  Pick the right time to disrupt and you can build a massive company in a short period of time. Ideas are rarely bad, they are often simply at the wrong time.

A few years ago, we decided that the time had come for innovative changes in education.  We followed that up with some very successful investments in companies like Lumosity, Knewton, Schoology, Straighterline, and others.  Our macro thesis was pretty simple.  First, it was an extremely large important market that hadn’t changed in a long time.  Second, the cost curves in education had increased in multiples of inflation for decades and began coming under significant scrutiny as a result of the 2008/2009 recession.  Third, the industry was supported by an array of subsidies and government regulations that was destined to change.  Fourth, technology and software had the ability to dramatically reduce cost and bring an innovative value proposition “over the top” directly to the end consumers – eliminating traditional intermediaries along the way.  The mix of market size, economic crisis, government changes, and technology created what we thought was the “right time”.

As we started observing other markets in a similar state of change, another one became obvious to us: healthcare.  The only thing you might care about more than education is health.  It’s a gigantic market.  The cost curves have been increasing at an unsustainable rate.  The government’s role is changing rapidly, and causing major shifts in who and how people pay.  Consumers are now starting to take a much more active role on the paying side of the equation and doctors are beginning to select new technologies to power their practices (“over the top”).  While different in specifics, the parallels to education are quite striking.

The exciting news is that we’ve already made a few bets in the area, and will be announcing some next week.  We believe this is a tremendous opportunity to transform the sector and have a profoundly positive impact on lives.  Stay tuned for more!


Tagged: education, healthcare

Thanks and Congrats Aveksa!

Today is one of those wonderful bittersweet moments in venture.  When a team you’ve worked with for many years and is firing on all cylinders gets acquired in a fantastic exit.  This is the case with the announcement of EMC buying Aveksa this morning.

Aveksa builds enterprise identity and access governance software.  What does that mean?  Well, in lay terms, their software ensure that the right people have access to the right data and applications at the right time.  It’s a core security function and one that is quite technically complex to solve.  And in today’s world where anyone can spin up an application with an email address and password, it’s one that’s coming under increased scrutiny.

We’ve known Deepak Taneja, the founder and CTO of Aveksa for many years.  My prior firm had backed Deepak’s last company, Netegrity, where he was CTO and VP Engineering.  Netegrity pioneered the web-based SSO market and built into a $100MM+ business before being acquired by CA.  We were of course delighted to partner again with Deepak when he founded Aveksa.  As part of that, Barry Bycoff – the former CEO of Netegrity – also joined Aveksa’s board as Chairman and we partnered with CRV to co-lead Aveksa’s Series A.

Along the way, we were joined by FT Ventures (Liron Gitig in particular) and were quite fortunate to find Vick Vaishnavi, who joined as CEO of Aveksa in late 2010.  He’s an incredibly accomplished individual, having been VP of Marketing with Bladelogic from its early days through going public and eventually at BMC when it was acquired for $800 million.  He brought together a veteran team and drove the business to 100% year over year growth.

This is a great outcome for us as shareholders and for the employees of Aveksa.  I’d like to thank the entire team, most of whom are with us today from founding and some who are not, and the Board & co-investors I’ve worked with over the years.  It’s been a thrilling ride that I’ve been privileged to be a part of and building Aveksa proved that creating complex software for the enterprise can still be sexy.  I hope to work with you all again in the future!


Tagged: emc, enterprise, security

APIs First

Lots of discussion about whether a service should be “mobile first” or “web first”.  I tweeted it actually should be “API first”, and I got a lot of reaction to that comment and asked to expand.

First let me clarify.  I believe mobile IS important and a huge emerging channel.  Source of traffic has shifted dramatically and I don’t have my head buried in the sand in that regard.  Across many of my companies, mobile origination (tablet included) comprises anywhere from 30-50%+ of traffic.  I recognize that access patterns have structurally changed.

When I say API first, I mean that an idealized service needs to start with a core infrastructure with robust APIs that is tapped into via any number of “front ends”:  web, mobile, and even 3rd party ecosystems.  If you look behind many “web first” companies today, including in our portfolio, you’ll see a very clean architectural split between the front end and the back end.  The back end exposes a range of services that allows the front end to innovate independently and be re-purposed in interesting ways depending on changing business needs.  The rate of change on the front end is usually a LOT higher than in the back; the scale and stability requirements on the back are far more demanding than on the front.

“Mobile first” companies really are just a front end selection accessing a solid API driven backend infrastructure.  The use case, the logic, and what the app is optimized for may be a subset or different than Web, and I think this is what Fred Wilson and others are focused on.

But as I look at the world, while point of entry may vary, I believe having all three elements of web, mobile and 3rd party are going to be table stakes in the future.  You CANNOT be one only.  Users want different experiences for their different point of engagement.  Mobile is about speed of access, much more transactional and timely, very much about getting something done.  The web is great for researching, deliberating, and exploring.  Both are different aspects of the same service, and I’d want both as a user depending.  Finally, enabling third parties is a realization of the web services and SOA manifests from the late 90s that allow for programmatic distribution and can launch powerful new economic models.

Facebook has already shown us the above and what a powerful, mature, winning service looks like.  They have their core site, their massively used mobile applications, and their various graphs 3rd parties access which gives them tremendous power, platform extension, and plata.  Instagram, normally

Continue reading "APIs First"

Excited to Announce Artisan!

Sometimes the best journeys are the ones into the unknown.  I remember catching up with Bob Moul after he had left Dell late last year.  He had spent a lot of time focusing on Philadelphia’s startup tech scene, passionately working with the Mayor’s offices and programs like DreamIt.  The one area Bob kept coming back to was mobile – as a new frontier, a new challenge, and potentially a new opportunity.

He met Scott Wasserman, founder/CTO of AppRenaissance, and joined on as CEO.  It was a talented team of mobile developers building custom mobile apps for companies.  While the apps they built were really solid, to say it’s not an obvious venture investment was an understatement.  But we loved Bob and the great work he had done at Boomi (sold to DELL in November 2010), and were going to partner with him in whatever area he found interesting.  “Don’t worry, by working closely with customers we’ll find the product opportunity in here,” he said.  That was a few months ago.

Well, today I am thrilled to announce they found that product far more quickly than I anticipated.  Artisan aims to bring to the mobile app world the deep set of tools and infrastructure that exist on the web today.  The initial product is an A/B/n testing software, which allows companies to target specific users with a different look and feel, without requiring coding changes and resubmission to the app store.  Simple examples could be showing a Platinum color app for holders of an American Express Platinum card, while Gold for others, and Blue for those on that product.  One could test how button placements affect conversion.  Or explore user flows within an app.  Again, all areas marketers understand well, have done on the web, now available on mobile!

The best thing is that the platform will extend to a lot of different areas, ranging from advertising to personalization.  Lots more to come here, but I think Bob’s vision of building a large public software company out of Philadelphia is much closer to reality.  I’m delighted to partner with the team and sure as heck we took that journey into the unknown!


Tagged: Ad-Tech, cloud computing, mobile, SaaS, tools