Going Big with a Consumer Voice Skill Startup?

In the past few weeks there have been numerous product announcements in the voice computing space from big players like Amazon and Google.  It appears as though a key part of the strategy for these platform companies is to foster a rich third-party developer ecosystem developing consumer voice Skill “applications,” with an eye towards making the end-user experience increasingly vibrant.  But can you actually successfully build a consumer-facing voice Skills based business?  Not a hobby, or a side-project.  A consumer startup on a #VoiceFirst platform with venture-scale potential.  Today?

This new computing paradigm with third-party developers situation has created a logical analogy which many have said “maps pretty neatly” between the Amazon Skill “Store” and the Apple App & Google Play Stores.  So are Skill Stores the App Stores of the Voice Computing era?   The latter managed marketplaces have provided a Continue reading "Going Big with a Consumer Voice Skill Startup?"

Timber! Out of the Woods: Why We Invested in a Startup With a New Approach to Logging

For me, the most exciting time to become involved in a startup is the very earliest of stages, when there is a vision and promise of what could be. Pre-product-market fit. Pre-product, even. That’s exactly when I met Zach Sherman and Ben Johnson of what would become Timber.

When we first talked, they didn’t have a prototype developed yet. They didn’t have an official name. They hadn’t even incorporated the company. In fact, they hadn’t even quit their previous jobs.

However, the two of them shared a vision of a cloud-based logging platform designed to help software developers get more done. One that offered developers context to their logs, centralizing and intelligently parsing to offer them the ability to click, filter, and search in real time. This system, enabled by the new capabilities of tools like Amazon Kinesis and Athena, would empower developers to quickly find whatever they needed, address Continue reading "Timber! Out of the Woods: Why We Invested in a Startup With a New Approach to Logging"

Goodbye to the Old Boston Innovators Group, Hello to Something BIG and Different

TL;DR: After a dozen years, Boston Innovators Group as we know it is sunsetting, but I will be regularly creating new, focused events to contribute to the ecosystem. The first event focused on voice computing will be held on June 27th. You can learn more and register here. When I moved back to Boston back in 2004, the area was a pretty lonely place for internet entrepreneurs like myself. Still recovering from the dot-com startup crash, the local ecosystem wasn’t conducive to getting together informally and fostering collaboration. Most of the local events were exclusive and expensive to attend, making it hard to meet new people in the community. So, my natural inclination was to do something about it.

BIG’s Beginnings

The first event was small — just a dozen people interested in the future of the internet. We squeezed into the back room at Tavern in the Square Continue reading "Goodbye to the Old Boston Innovators Group, Hello to Something BIG and Different"

User Acquisition for Alexa Skills

Last week, I gave a talk at Voicecamp, a program produced by our friends at Betaworks for early-stage companies building voice-based products. Fahim Abouelfadl and Matt Hartman, who are producing the accelerator and are deep in the voice computing space, asked me to lead a session during the early weeks of the camp. Given how challenging monetization and distribution is in voice computing and my background in marketing, I decided to put together a presentation for the accelerator focused on identifying the current best practices for marketing Alexa Skills. My conclusion is that marketing Skills is not radically different than approaches for other digital products, but you need to apply a voice-first lens. Instead of just keeping the audience limited to the handful of interesting companies in the accelerator, I thought that it would be productive to post them here, too:

The post Continue reading "User Acquisition for Alexa Skills"

Why NextView Ventures Invested in MealPal

The entire NextView team are personally subscribers to MealPal.  Why?  Because the consumer value-proposition for urban professionals in cities like Boston and New York is so strong.  A subscription plan, the weekday meal service MealPal offers both the convenience of skipping the line to pick up a pre-paid lunch at hundreds of local restaurants AND the consistently much cheaper price for all of those great meals.  Plus, the MealPal mobile app & online service acts as a “pal” concierge aiding discovery of new tasty local takeout lunch dishes depending on what ingredients & types of food users like & dislike. But a great consumer proposition is only one component of a successful startup.  On the other side of the equation, the participating restaurants absolutely love MealPal, too, as it sends them net new sustainably profitable customers – unlike the churn & burn group-style discounting schemed Continue reading "Why NextView Ventures Invested in MealPal"

Voice Computing in Enterprise: Inside & Out

We have an Amazon Echo in the NextView Ventures office.  Every day I say “good morning” and “good night” to it, and I ask Alexa for my flash news briefing when I walk in the door if I missed it earlier at home.  It answers the regular fact-check from team members and guests alike, as well as acts as an easy timer for quick stand-up meetings.  As the Alexa platform becomes smarter with more skills, we’ll use it more often in this office setting.  While venture capitalists’ offices aren’t your typical corporate environment, just having one around has helped open my own eyes to the potential for voice interfaces in the enterprise. Most of my blog posts to date on personal voice computing have emphasized the personal aspect – what are the services and supporting layers for the consumer?  But shortly after one of those Continue reading "Voice Computing in Enterprise: Inside & Out"

Current Challenges in Voice Computing: Distribution and Monetization, Not Necessarily Retention

Last week Voice Labs released a Voice Report on the current state of the voice computing industry.  The main theme of the document is the tremendous growth in the proliferation of voice computing devices (mostly Amazon Echos) over the past year or so and the sheer number of skills created to date.  However, the media narrative that was picked up wasn’t at as positive.  Instead, both ReCode and Techcrunch spotlighted a glaring issue: people aren’t sticking with voice apps they try.  With all of the 9000+ skills which are available to consumers today, are there any that are really worth using?  Or all they just silly disposable toys? A voice computing proponent’s retort to that critique might resemble Ed Sim’s insightful tweet reply: that “retention on voice apps, sounds like mobile world.”  Getting consumers to frequently & consistently integrate any application Continue reading "Current Challenges in Voice Computing: Distribution and Monetization, Not Necessarily Retention"

Making Sense of Startups’ Q4 Results

It’s currently that time of year when startups are holding board meetings to go over their Q4 results and look ahead to the next twelve months of the new year.  The tricky thing is that for a lot of startups, Q4 numbers are an anomaly. Seasonality isn’t just determined by the weather.  It’s derived from the natural flow of the business.  Sometimes the fourth quarter performance figures are inordinately great.  Media-related companies sometimes have up to half their entire year’s revenue generated in the last three months of the year.  Similarly, e-commerce companies can trend towards the same situation depending on how applicable their product is to gifting.  On the other hand, many businesses struggle towards the end of the year because buyers (businesses or consumers) are distracted, corporate budgets are depleted until the following year, or yes, just plain seasonality.  And it’s Continue reading "Making Sense of Startups’ Q4 Results"

A Personal Voice Computing Map

As we enter 2017 and millions of people received Google Homes and Amazon Dots+Echos as gifts over the holidays, an increasing amount of attention will be placed on Personal Voice Computing.  I’ve recently been on a thematic pursuit exploring this space, and so I recently went looking for a market map to help orient me to the relevant categories and players.  However, because I couldn’t find one, I decided with significant consultation help from others to create one.  What follows is my first iteration of the voicescape, a map of the players in the Personal Voice Computing landscape: A couple of caveats, thoughts, and insights on the above:
  • While my aspiration is for this map to be both crisp and exhaustive, it’s in reality a work in progress reflecting a dynamic ecosystem. Some of the logos are products, some are companies, and some are acquired Continue reading "A Personal Voice Computing Map"

Charting the Personal Voice Computing Startup Roadmap

In the three months since I penned my initial blog post on “Ubiquity of Voice and the Venture Opportunity,” I’ve been on a deep dive talking with a wide range of people exploring the “Personal Voice Computing” theme, all the way from entrepreneurs building unique applications for consumers to execs at the large platform companies like Amazon.  In that short amount of time the market has developed further (see release of Google Home – we now have both that device and an Echo in the NextView Ventures’ offices) and I’ve become more convinced about the coming wave of awesome Voice UI-enabled applications and supporting technologies. A connected microphone in every room in your house or one perpetually worn in your ear creates always-present voice-directed ubiquitous computing layerVoice-directed interactions pairs persistent computing access with humanity’s most natural user interfaceThe result is a new Continue reading "Charting the Personal Voice Computing Startup Roadmap"

Founder-Go-To-Market Fit

The concept of Product-Market Fit, and the process by which startups find it, has been discussed so extensively within the startup ecosystem that it has its own acronym, PMF. Derived from it has been the similar concept of Founder-Market fit – is there a “match between the founder and the problem they are going after”?  My partner Rob has blogged about how we think about founder-market fit at NextView addressing “how authentic is this idea to the founder’s experience” and if the founder “exhibits specific superpowers that are uniquely well suited to the biggest immediate challenges of the business.”  The notion of founder-market fit has become so embedded into our investment decision-making process that we baked into the NextView investment decision tree flowchart. But a third related concept has emerged in our firm’s internal dialog over the past year: Founder-Go-To-Market Fit.  How much is there Continue reading "Founder-Go-To-Market Fit"

The Shape of Traction (Part II: How Much Traction Do I Need to Raise a Round of Financing?)

A couple weeks ago, my partner Rob penned a blog post about the “shape of traction” which really resonated with a number of folks.  The quick summary is that the shape of a startup’s traction (with time/product-quality on the x axis and traction on the y axis) and isn’t at all a linear path.  Rather, when true product-market fit (PMF) happens, it’s an accelerating curve… and a very steep one at that!  It will become extremely apparent to entrepreneurs (and investors) when it’s happening, so that if you have to ask where you are on the curve, it’s likely a signal that the startup isn’t on the right trajectory.  Go read his post here. The resulting question which my partners and I often hear in this context (and was asked for in the comments) is then:  “How much traction do I need to raise a round
shapeoftraction
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Continue reading "The Shape of Traction (Part II: How Much Traction Do I Need to Raise a Round of Financing?)"

The Ubiquity of Voice and the Venture Opportunity

Voice is everywhere. People have always used their own voices (supplemented with facial and other movement) as the natural UI for real-time person-to-person communication.  However, while human-to-machine user interfaces have changed and progressed through different paradigms over the decades of computing, voice as one of those until only recently was merely a cute toy which didn’t really work well (enough). But now the race is on between Apple and Amazon to make voice as the primary input & output everywhere: Yes, in Continue reading "The Ubiquity of Voice and the Venture Opportunity"

Atomization of Seed Rounds Part II: Opportunity for Founders & VCs

In my first post in a two part series, I detailed the dynamics in the venture market leading to a current atomization of seed rounds.  Not only has Seed become the new Series A, but the capital path for startups to approach that milestone has become less straightforward.  In this second post, I’ll examine what this means for entrepreneurs planning their capital strategy as well as how we think about this atomization at our firm, NextView Ventures. This shifting of the Series A bar could be seen as a harbinger of trouble for startups.  However, the ability for many of these very same companies to be able to raise additional incremental amounts of capital to prove out real successive milestones in reality unshackles them from the linear up-or-out framework of the past.  Plug-in monetization platforms for both consumer and B2B business means that, if made a priority, revenue metrics Continue reading "Atomization of Seed Rounds Part II: Opportunity for Founders & VCs"

Atomization of Seed Rounds Part I: An Explanation

When we first started NextView Ventures in 2010, we did so because we recognized that there was an underserved need for seed-stage capital particularly along the east coast between Boston and New York.  And during that time, the venture market has evolved to a point where “Seed is the New Series A.”  However, not only has the Seed round established itself as the first round of institutional capital prior to product-market fit, but recently it’s being smashed into pieces… into little atoms… the sizes and shapes of which each look and feel different from each other. Over a quick series of two posts, my plan is to explain of why this atomization is happening, share a roadmap for entrepreneurs and VCs to navigate this landscape in flux, and identify where I believe there are currently unique opportunities for founders, other VCs, and NextView. My partner Rob Go previously
atomization of seed round nextview
Continue reading "Atomization of Seed Rounds Part I: An Explanation"

VC Decisions: Eye of the Beholder or a Different Lens?

An intangible and qualitative judgement process is the core of a VC firm’s decision to invest in one startup vs another. My partner Rob Go has tried to deconstruct and demystify this effort and has even created a VC decision tree outlining our thought-process at NextView Ventures for making seed stage investments. Fundamentally, all early stage venture firms look at team, market, product, and traction. Internally here at NextView we always talk about those four categories ourselves – and those four categories in that order of importance – when exploring a new investment idea. There isn’t magic or “secret sauce.” It feels almost “of course” when you describe it… after all, those are four inputs into what makes a company great. However, recently in watching our own investment decisions and those co-investors, and I’ve observed different VCs deliberately employ different lenses for investment selection beyond the categories above. Although Continue reading "VC Decisions: Eye of the Beholder or a Different Lens?"

7 Golden Rules for High Consideration Commerce Startups

Consumers are increasingly purchasing goods and services online which take more than a few minutes of reflection. Items like cars, clothes, jewelry, mattresses, eyeglasses, and even small home renovations are given more consideration because the absolute costs are higher. They also take up more space in a person’s life and home, can often be unique or bespoke, and they’re experienced over a longer duration of time. Facilitating “high consideration commerce purchases” is not just about publishing a web product catalog with features, specs, and as with vending simple goods like books or electronics. Rather, it’s about helping foster consumers through a rich buying experience. While a trend towards these types of purchases by consumers has been emerging over the past decade, it has accelerated even more recently, driven by a new wave of startups attacking existing and entirely new categories. The innovation happening in this space now is centered on Continue reading "7 Golden Rules for High Consideration Commerce Startups"

Using the NextView Offices to Support Pre-Seed Startups

The NextView Ventures offices have changed a lot since we switched locations two and a half years ago. The only real physical change between the two, aside from basic layout, is our entrance, where we added a showcase of our portfolio (as seen below) that matches our firm’s focus on being craft-like in our work. IMG_1730 What has changed, however, is the people working from our office. Of course, since the beginning of NextView, the firm has included Rob, Lee, and me. We’ve since added Jay Acunzo to our team here in Boston, first as director and now VP of platform, as well as Tim Devane who, while based in NYC on the investment team, spends a few days a month up in our Boston office. Both have made a tremendous impact during their tenure, and their presence around the office is now integral to who we are at NextView.

Standing Continue reading "Using the NextView Offices to Support Pre-Seed Startups"

Boston’s WebInno Is Now BIG

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webinno logo

Back in June, the local Boston tech community together celebrated the ten year anniversary of the Web Innovators Group, affectionately known as “WebInno.”  Now Boston’s largest regular tech conference, every few months it draws hundreds of attendees from the entrepreneurial ecosystem – including founders, software engineers, startup executives, and investors. Each gathering showcases early stage startups in their infancy, not as a capital-raising pitch, but rather as a way to show off their product to peers for both exposure and feedback.

The origins of WebInno are humble. Originally, I had invited a dozen or so internet entrepreneurs to a Cambridge bar where we crammed into the back room wearing hand-drawn nametags. My intent wasn’t to create an organization, let alone an “institution,” but rather just react to the readily apparent desire for those in the local community to have a venue for connecting and sharing ideas. In the mid-2000’s,

boston innovators group logo med
Continue reading "Boston’s WebInno Is Now BIG"

Boston’s WebInno Is Now BIG

< p dir="ltr">

webinno logo

Back in June, the local Boston tech community together celebrated the ten year anniversary of the Web Innovators Group, affectionately known as “WebInno.”  Now Boston’s largest regular tech conference, every few months it draws hundreds of attendees from the entrepreneurial ecosystem – including founders, software engineers, startup executives, and investors. Each gathering showcases early stage startups in their infancy, not as a capital-raising pitch, but rather as a way to show off their product to peers for both exposure and feedback.

The origins of WebInno are humble. Originally, I had invited a dozen or so internet entrepreneurs to a Cambridge bar where we crammed into the back room wearing hand-drawn nametags. My intent wasn’t to create an organization, let alone an “institution,” but rather just react to the readily apparent desire for those in the local community to have a venue for connecting and sharing ideas. In the mid-2000’s,

boston innovators group logo med
Continue reading "Boston’s WebInno Is Now BIG"