Numer.ai is a crowdsourced hedge fund for machine learning experts

robot, technology, future, futuristic, business, economy, business, money, dollar, bill, high tech, cyber, cyber technology, data, artificial intelligence, 3D, metal, blue background, studio, science, sci fi, hand, gesture, robotic, tech, illustration, innovation, shiny, chrome, silver, wires, concept, creative Richard Craib believes that some of the best stock pickers aren’t on Wall Street. The former hedge funder came to the realization that tech’s machine learning experts may be able to build better predictive models than those with finance backgrounds. Craib carried this thesis forward when he launched Numer.ai last year, a crowdsourced hedge fund. The startup hopes to attract the… Read More

Abra: Innovation in Remittance

I’m really pleased to announce First Round Capital’s investment in Abra, the first global peer to peer cash money transfer network using the Blockchain/Bitcoin technology for secure low cost transfers.  As their founder, Bill Barhydt says “our mission is to replace bank driven financial inclusion with consumer driven financial inclusion.”

We have been looking at the Bitcoin space for a number of years, and trying to find the right models to invest in.  Better security and useful applications will be the key to widespread adoption.  Abra has found an important space in the $500 Billion remitted globally each year, mostly with very high fees paid by those who can ill afford it. By storing digital cash directly in the phones  of Abra Tellers ™ (via a Bitcoin wallet), which lets them take cash from workers and empowering the tellers to transfer it Abra Tellers™  who can dispense cash in the recipients home country, Abra creates a peer to peer global network of players for moving money around the world.  The tellers can charge a fee, and abra gets a small portion of that fee.  Because of the easy liquidity of Bitcoin, even amounts of less than $10 can be remitted, with most of the remittance going to the intended party, rather than being lost in high fees.

Another innovation is that while the value of Bitcoin in the teller wallets will fluctuate, Abra can guarantee the home currency value for the first 72 hours, making the transaction free of Bitcoin fluctuations  in dollars or other local currencies.

Bill has assembled a great team with experience at Boom, Opera, Goldman Sachs, Netscape, Verisign, eBay and other great companies.  And we’re thrilled to be partners with RRE, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Mesa+ and other great investors.  We believe that Abra will finally show the world how the Bitcoin/blockchain infrastructure can help solve real problems in the financial world.

Here's a picture of how it works, you can get in line for the beta at http://goabra.com

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Abra: Innovation in Remittance

I’m really pleased to announce First Round Capital’s investment in Abra, the first global peer to peer cash money transfer network using the Blockchain/Bitcoin technology for secure low cost transfers.  As their founder, Bill Barhydt says “our mission is to replace bank driven financial inclusion with consumer driven financial inclusion.”

We have been looking at the Bitcoin space for a number of years, and trying to find the right models to invest in.  Better security and useful applications will be the key to widespread adoption.  Abra has found an important space in the $500 Billion remitted globally each year, mostly with very high fees paid by those who can ill afford it. By storing digital cash directly in the phones  of Abra Tellers ™ (via a Bitcoin wallet), which lets them take cash from workers and empowering the tellers to transfer it Abra Tellers™  who can dispense cash in the recipients home country, Abra creates a peer to peer global network of players for moving money around the world.  The tellers can charge a fee, and abra gets a small portion of that fee.  Because of the easy liquidity of Bitcoin, even amounts of less than $10 can be remitted, with most of the remittance going to the intended party, rather than being lost in high fees.

Another innovation is that while the value of Bitcoin in the teller wallets will fluctuate, Abra can guarantee the home currency value for the first 72 hours, making the transaction free of Bitcoin fluctuations  in dollars or other local currencies.

Bill has assembled a great team with experience at Boom, Opera, Goldman Sachs, Netscape, Verisign, eBay and other great companies.  And we’re thrilled to be partners with RRE, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Mesa+ and other great investors.  We believe that Abra will finally show the world how the Bitcoin/blockchain infrastructure can help solve real problems in the financial world.

Here's a picture of how it works, you can get in line for the beta at http://goabra.com

Abra1

 

Abra2

Abra3

Abra: Innovation in Remittance

I’m really pleased to announce First Round Capital’s investment in Abra, the first global peer to peer cash money transfer network using the Blockchain/Bitcoin technology for secure low cost transfers.  As their founder, Bill Barhydt says “our mission is to replace bank driven financial inclusion with consumer driven financial inclusion.”

We have been looking at the Bitcoin space for a number of years, and trying to find the right models to invest in.  Better security and useful applications will be the key to widespread adoption.  Abra has found an important space in the $500 Billion remitted globally each year, mostly with very high fees paid by those who can ill afford it. By storing digital cash directly in the phones  of Abra Tellers ™ (via a Bitcoin wallet), which lets them take cash from workers and empowering the tellers to transfer it Abra Tellers™  who can dispense cash in the recipients home country, Abra creates a peer to peer global network of players for moving money around the world.  The tellers can charge a fee, and abra gets a small portion of that fee.  Because of the easy liquidity of Bitcoin, even amounts of less than $10 can be remitted, with most of the remittance going to the intended party, rather than being lost in high fees.

Another innovation is that while the value of Bitcoin in the teller wallets will fluctuate, Abra can guarantee the home currency value for the first 72 hours, making the transaction free of Bitcoin fluctuations  in dollars or other local currencies.

Bill has assembled a great team with experience at Boom, Opera, Goldman Sachs, Netscape, Verisign, eBay and other great companies.  And we’re thrilled to be partners with RRE, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Mesa+ and other great investors.  We believe that Abra will finally show the world how the Bitcoin/blockchain infrastructure can help solve real problems in the financial world.

Here's a picture of how it works, you can get in line for the beta at http://goabra.com

Abra1

 

Abra2

Abra3

When Machines Talk, Augury Listens

There has been lots of excitement about the Internet of Things, - where devices communicate with humans and one another.  But machines talk in many ways, not just digitally, but through the sounds their motors, gears, belts, etc. all make.  Our newest investment, Augury Systems, actually listens to these sounds and uses AI technology to do predictive maintenance on the machinery. We call it DaaS – Diagnostics as a Service.

While there have been vibration monitors for years, they have been extremely expensive to purchase, and require lots of expertise to analyze the results.  Augury’s cofounders, Saar Yoskovitz and Gal Shaul, have brought an inexpensive sensor, coupled with smart phone technology to the task of collecting the data and uploading to the cloud. 

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Once in their cloud, it can be analyzed with their specialized algorithms to determine, for example, that there is a hairline crack in a fan blade, or that a gear is slightly off round.  Finding these conditions early permits preventive maintenance to be performed, potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars of repair it that fan blade broke off and hit other parts of the machine.  And the user interfaces and dashboards provide a great view of the health of a building’s systems through time.

As any of you who’ve been on a power boat know, your ears become acutely tuned to the sounds of the engine.  When it speeds up, slows down, or hopefully rarely, starts to make grinding noises, everyone knows there’s been a change that may need looking at.  The Augury team, which includes former Naval personnel, took this idea and found a way to implement it, initially for industrial machinery.  This is a giant market, and they have pilots in several countries with major building and equipment maintenance businesses.

While good preventive maintenance can save money for building owners and others, Augury has found that Predictive Maintenance can increase these savings by 8-12% over just preventive. And the US Department of Energy says that building owners can save $1/sq ft/year by implementing Predictive Maintenance, which amounts to real money for even modest sized buildings.

In the longer run, their sensors could be put on every washing machine, refrigerator, etc. uploading baseline data to the cloud, and warning the owners before expensive repairs are needed. Prognostics is this new science of predicting the future, while helping keep that internet of things running.

First Round Capital is thrilled to have led the investment in Augury, joined by Orfin Ventures, Lerer-Hippeau, and a number of others.  We have no doubt that eventually, all of our machines will have embedded sensors that report this type of vibration and acoustic data, and that using the big data and AI methods in the cloud will radically reduce the amount of down time we have to endure.  And we believe that Augury Systems is leading the way.

CloudHelix: Understanding and Managing Network Infrastructure

I’m thrilled to announce that First Round has led the seed financing round for CloudHelix, which is helping web and network operators to easily and more fully understand and manage their infrastructure. This new, scalable platform allows for the collection, fast visualization and querying of network traffic and performance. Developed by veteran leaders in networking, site operations and content delivery networks, CloudHelix already counts some of the largest infrastructure operators in the world as customers.

Led by Avi Freedman, a top network pro with more than 20 years of experience (he was my first ISP in the Philadelphia area in 1993 and later ran Abovenet’s engineering and Akamai’s network groups), along with Co-founders Ian Applegate, Ian Pye, and Justin Biegel, the team has run large networks and service operations for decades. Dan Ellis, who recently joined as CTO, is also seasoned at running major, scalable networks. While some players in this space have created tools to monitor and manage their huge packet flows, the vast majority still run things manually — tuning routers, logging into multiple systems from multiple vendors, and getting incomplete information from peers with no easy ability to share.

Companies using CloudHelix’s single scalable system can easily collect routing, detailed traffic utilization, and performance data from all infrastructure elements. This data is also funneled into an open system with an SQL interface, allowing for ad hoc analysis and integration with external tools. It quickly performs detailed traffic forensics and makes dDoS attacks and performance issues visible. Over the next year, the platform will be extended to allow opt-in, community-based sharing of aggregated data in real time to further extend customers’ capabilities. No longer will they need to fight performance and network attack issues in isolation.

If this all sounds like rocket science, it is. While I had a very early machine on the ARPANET in 1973, I recently took the Stanford online course on networks. As it turns out, taking characters smoothly and reliably from Typepad to your screen is a massive, daunting task. It’s difficult for even net ops and dev ops engineers to obtain the visibility necessary to diagnose and fix problems. On top of that, customers see outages before site and network operators.  CloudHelix is making that task simpler and faster, with setup and time to initial visibility taking mere minutes.

 

We’re excited to be joined in this investment by Data Collective Venture Capital, The Webb Investment Network, Tahoma Ventures and Orfin Ventures, as well as a who’s who of angels that really understand large networks. If you’re running one, you should know CloudHelix.

Privacy Policies for Mobile Applications

Privacy is a crucial issue for most of the advertising driven companies we invest in.  Many of our companies have been in the forefront of ensuring that not only do they take the proper care of the data, they also make their policies transparent to interested users.

As mobile apps become increasingly relevant, what happens to consumer data from these devices becomes equally important. A solid, updated privacy policy is crucial to control the risk of mismanaging data, especially considering the recent regulatory developments. While many developers want to do right by their users, there are not a lot of resources out there to help them figure out how.

Now, First Round portfolio company Docracy presents an open-source privacy policy for mobile apps: http://www.docracy.com/mobileprivacy/  As with all the legal documents on Docracy, it’s Github like structure lets developers branch the document (i.e., make a public copy that will maintain a relationship with the original, and publicly show what’s changed) to customize it for their application.

I like Docracy’s initiative because offers a practical solution: three different versions covering the most common types of policies to provide a sensible, fair starting point for app developers. Like a Github of legal documents, Docracy’s founders have 6 years of experience in building mobile apps, and they know how much easier life would be for app creators if public standards could be established.

I’d encourage developers to take a look, and incorporate some form of privacy policy in their mobile applications.  The gatekeepers are starting to enforce standards that will make all that necessary, and Docracy is trying to make it simple.

Congratulations: Single Platform Acquired by Constant Contact

Helping entrepreneurs build great companies is our primary purpose at First Round.  If we can do that, we achieve the mission of making great returns for our investors. But we want the exits to not only make good money, but also to find a great homes for the enterprises we’ve helped create, whether that’s as a public company (such as Bazaarvoice) or a merger into another company.  So I’m really happy to congratulate @WileyCerilli and the entire team at Single Platform on their acquisition today by Constant Contact (CTCT). Wiley talks about being an @FirstRound entrepreneur here:

 

 

@SinglePlatform has made it simple for a small business – starting with restaurants, but expanding to any business with a menu of services – to creat and maintain their digital storefront.  They can now get accurate information out through hundreds of publisher sites, so that a search can find and influence potential customers.   Along the way, Wiley made a number of astute decisions that helped fuel growth.  First, he built a great team – Kenny Herman, Peter Chen and others.  Second, after starting out just delivering social media and web presence for the restaurants, he had the insight to realize that putting all the world’s menus in one place, in an easily updatable format, would build a great asset for publishers.  Third, Wiley is the best salesman and sales management leader I’ve ever met.  He was able to get untrained people up to speed and profitable in well under a month – creating an inside sales machine that was really starting to hum and deliver amazing results.

Wiley has also built a culture that reflects his innate humanity and feelings for his employees, customers and the world. Here’s a video that gives you a little insight into this. There are few US companies that take a break once an hour for some exercise – to keep the blood flowing and the body sound.  And Wiley himself devotes time every summer at a camp for children who’ve lost a parent, sharing his own experience with them at such a crucial time in their young lives. You can donate to that great cause

As @Gail_Goodman, Constant Contact’s CEO noted, Wiley had built a great product, and was just getting to the inflection point where additional capital and other resources could make a difference.  With Constant Contact as a parent, the angle on that inflection curve steepens dramatically – they can instantly reach millions of existing small business customers. And since part of the consideration for the merger is an earnout, everyone has incentives aligned to help speed the growth.  This is what makes CTCT such a good home for Single Platform.  Wiley, in an email to  the company this morning, recalled some words of Sheryl Sandberg.

"In my last company wide email I referenced part of Sheryl Sandberg's speech that she recently gave at the HBS graduation.  ...

First Round Is Going To The Dogs

In a way, we are – with our latest investment – dogvacay.com.  I’m happy to announce that @FirstRound has lead a seed round in Dogvacay.com – a community where you can have your dogs boarded in real home settings, not caged in a kennel.  While I’m not a pet owner (NYC apartments are not that dog friendly), I  know many of them – and they all feel guilty whenever they have to put the pet in a kennel.

Aaron Hirschhorn faced this same problem and decided to do something about it.  He has created a web site and community where people can sign up to allow dogs to be boarded in their homes, living in a far more friendly environment than the traditional kennel.  And the family’s that are boarding the dogs get to make new canine friends.  It’s even possible to board a dog for a weekend and show your kids what it really means to take good care of a pet. 

Dog Vacay vets (no pun intended) – (ok it was intended) all pet-sitters to make sure they have the experience and  ability to provided a loving temporary home. In addition, DV provides insurance, veterinary support, and a satisfaction guarantee,

What surprised us when we started looking at Aaron’s plan in detail was how large a market exists – over $5 billion per year.  And we always love coinvestors – in this case Mike Jones’ Science Ventures – that have real experience in consumer facing internet companies.

So if you’re a pet owner anywhere in the US or Canada , please check out www.dogvacay.com

 

The First Round BOT

The dictionary defines a bot as “an autonomous computer program that performs time-consuming tasks, esp on the internet”.  Those of you who know First Round Capital have learned that we are fanatics about measurement and metrics.  We believe that it is easier to improve something when you have a metric, and can tell objectively when things get better.  Analytics are at the heart of web based businesses, and we’ve also made them at the heart of our FRC culture. This past week, we held our Annual meeting with our investors.  We have been collecting data almost since day one about every aspect of our business – deal flow, voting habits, performance of companies, performance of our portfolio, etc. 

To make sense of all this data we are fortunate to have built an outstanding BOT.  This one is not a computer, but our Back Office Team.   Led by Jeff Donnon, our CFO, this group of five people did yeoman’s work, both on and off the computer, to put together the charts, graphs and data analyses that help us provide strong transparency to our investors. When you look at almost 3,000 deals each year, and tens of funding events, there is a huge amount of data to make sense of.  Yet our BOT, which I doubt we could automate into a “bot”, has done this work quarter after quarter to make sense of our investment pace, decision timing, reserve planning and so many other factors. They are helping us to find the signals in all this noisy data.  While the business of judging entrepreneurs and ideas will always require some key human judgments, having our BOT adds analytics that let us focus our attention on the people part of the equation, while adding the quantitative view to our process.

So kudos to the team, and I’d encourage any of you who want to adhere to the high standards of transparency that we do, to build a BOT that can not only crunch numbers, but also help make sense out of them.

 

GroupMe to be acquired by Skype – what a birthday present

Last night, GroupMe announced their acquisition by Skype, a great outcome for Jared Hecht and Steve Martocci, and for their investors, First Round Capital included. It was announced a few days after their first anniverary party.   I"ve had a great time working with Jared and Steve - their enthusiasm and work ethic are first rate. I've also had a great time using the product, which has made keeping in touch with my family and friends much easier. I'd write more, but my colleague, Charlie O'Donnell (@CEONYC), who brought this deal in, has said it very well here.  And our coinvestor, David Tisch (@DaveTisch) shows that the focus on investing in people works.

All the best to @jared and @Smart  as they build Skype's NYC Social Media presence.

A Pivotal Week At Firstround

My partner @joshk  has written about finding entrepreneurs who are “heat seeking missiles” , and this past week has driven that point home to me and the entire @Firstround team.  When we fund a company, we hope that we have picked the combination of a great entrepreneur and his/her team, along with a great product in a large available market.  But sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way we all expected.  Perhaps we need to modify the old adage to “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then pivot, don’t  be a foolish slave to the first idea.”  When the first idea doesn’t succeed, the true heat seekers show their advantage over those who are so wedded to their initial idea that all the contrary data does not move them off of it

With both Jason Goldberg at Fab.com  and Billy Chasen at StickyBits we have been fortunate to back two of those heat seeking missiles  that know when to pivot and how to reaim. 

Jason (@betashop) came to us with an interesting social networking idea, well executed in terms of product design and market focus..  But the truly viral growth wasn’t happening.  However, once he had an audience, Jason tried to add a few daily deals to his audience.  Seeing how well they did inspired Jason and Bradford, his cofounder, to stop and tell the board they wanted to pivot into becoming a truly design inspired flash sale site.  He set some ambitious goals, such as having more than 100,000 people on the list pre-launch, and getting lots of beautifully designed products in the sales queue.  And then he added the community feature to encourage people to post on the inspiration wall, so that the design aesthetic of the site could be shared across communities.  Fab.com launched a week ago (sign up here), and the results blew us all away.  Sales were a significant multiple of expectations, ASP was higher, viral signups higher, and it looks as if we have another winner here. Jason has been generous enough to share some of the experience on his Betashop blog. Only time will tell, but this seems as well designed a pivot as we’ve seen.

Billy Chasen (@BillyChasen) came to us with StickyBits, a FourSquare for objects.  The concept was to allow users to scan bar codes of objects, and attach comments, get offers, share with friends and participate in some games.  The launch at SXSW went very well, and there was a lot of interest in testing. But, in the end, scanning bar codes, QR codes, etc. did not prove to be a viral behavior.  Lots of things were tried to boost engagement, but we never quite found the secret sauce.  However, Billy told the board he had been thinking about another completely different idea, listening to music with friends, synchronously.

The music space is ...

A Pivotal Week At Firstround

My partner @joshk  has written about finding entrepreneurs who are “heat seeking missiles” , and this past week has driven that point home to me and the entire @Firstround team.  When we fund a company, we hope that we have picked the combination of a great entrepreneur and his/her team, along with a great product in a large available market.  But sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way we all expected.  Perhaps we need to modify the old adage to “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then pivot, don’t  be a foolish slave to the first idea.”  When the first idea doesn’t succeed, the true heat seekers show their advantage over those who are so wedded to their initial idea that all the contrary data does not move them off of it With both Jason Goldberg at Fab.com  and Billy Chasen at StickyBits we have been fortunate to back two of those heat seeking missiles  that know when to pivot and how to reaim.  Jason (@betashop) came to us with an interesting social networking idea, well executed in terms of product design and market focus..  But the truly viral growth wasn’t happening.  However, once he had an audience, Jason tried to add a few daily deals to his audience.  Seeing how well they did inspired Jason and Bradford, his cofounder, to stop and tell the board they wanted to pivot into becoming a truly design inspired flash sale site.  He set some ambitious goals, such as having more than 100,000 people on the list pre-launch, and getting lots of beautifully designed products in the sales queue.  And then he added the community feature to encourage people to post on the inspiration wall, so that the design aesthetic of the site could be shared across communities.  Fab.com launched a week ago (sign up here), and the results blew us all away.  Sales were a significant multiple of expectations, ASP was higher, viral signups higher, and it looks as if we have another winner here. Jason has been generous enough to share some of the experience on his Betashop blog. Only time will tell, but this seems as well designed a pivot as we’ve seen. Billy Chasen (@BillyChasen) came to us with StickyBits, a FourSquare for objects.  The concept was to allow users to scan bar codes of objects, and attach comments, get offers, share with friends and participate in some games.  The launch at SXSW went very well, and there was a lot of interest in testing. But, in the end, scanning bar codes, QR codes, etc. did not prove to be a viral behavior.  Lots of things were tried to boost engagement, but we never quite found the secret sauce.  However, Billy told the board he had been thinking about another completely different idea, listening to music with friends, synchronously.

The music space is ...

Medico.com – Health Care is more than a US concern

It’s always easy to think of the United States as the greatest market in the world, and ignore the rest of the world (except maybe our Canadian cousins) as we develop businesses and web sites.  Often the next step is to simply clone the US site overseas, sometimes successfully, but often with poor results as the Ugly American syndrome raises its head.  And for those businesses that can really help people improve their lives, e.g. health care, there are added problems when local issues are ignored.

So I’m really pleased to announce First Round Capital’s investment in the just launched medico.com web site.  Elan Dekel, a former Google Executive with extensive international experience, connected with us last summer and described his concept of bringing locally sensitive health care information to the rest of the world.  More than just WebMD for non-US, it would include the community and local health care providers, along with local language information, and local disease related information.  Today’s launch is Medico.com in Spanish, targeted at Spain, and later the Latin American markets.  By the end of this year, several other markets including India will be launched. 

In each market, medico.com strives to find physicians who can answer questions and direct consumers to relevant information.  There are already thousands of articles on the site, a twitter stream @Medico, and communities for key diseases (heart, diabetes, etc.) . One of the interesting drivers to our investment was finding out that is nih.gov one of the most heavily trafficked web sites from outside the US (for health information).  There are also many countries where information about pregnancy care, STDS, etc.  are hidden because of cultural biases that often prevent women from getting this information at home or in schools.  Here medico.com can provide truly life saving information.  And by later this year, it will also be on our mobile platforms, which dominate internet access in many countries.

Together with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Julian Fisher, a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, a member of the Harvard Medical School Faculty and a pioneer in health care information on the internet, Elan has built a strong international team.  If medico can give people around the world the information and tools to become well-informed and take control of driving their health care, this will have been a worthwhile investment. Of course, our hope is to do exceptionally well while doing good; the business case looks very good.



Medico.com – Health Care is more than a US concern

It’s always easy to think of the United States as the greatest market in the world, and ignore the rest of the world (except maybe our Canadian cousins) as we develop businesses and web sites.  Often the next step is to simply clone the US site overseas, sometimes successfully, but often with poor results as the Ugly American syndrome raises its head.  And for those businesses that can really help people improve their lives, e.g. health care, there are added problems when local issues are ignored.

So I’m really pleased to announce First Round Capital’s investment in the just launched medico.com web site.  Elan Dekel, a former Google Executive with extensive international experience, connected with us last summer and described his concept of bringing locally sensitive health care information to the rest of the world.  More than just WebMD for non-US, it would include the community and local health care providers, along with local language information, and local disease related information.  Today’s launch is Medico.com in Spanish, targeted at Spain, and later the Latin American markets.  By the end of this year, several other markets including India will be launched. 

In each market, medico.com strives to find physicians who can answer questions and direct consumers to relevant information.  There are already thousands of articles on the site, a twitter stream @Medico, and communities for key diseases (heart, diabetes, etc.) . One of the interesting drivers to our investment was finding out that is nih.gov one of the most heavily trafficked web sites from outside the US (for health information).  There are also many countries where information about pregnancy care, STDS, etc.  are hidden because of cultural biases that often prevent women from getting this information at home or in schools.  Here medico.com can provide truly life saving information.  And by later this year, it will also be on our mobile platforms, which dominate internet access in many countries.

Together with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Julian Fisher, a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, a member of the Harvard Medical School Faculty and a pioneer in health care information on the internet, Elan has built a strong international team.  If medico can give people around the world the information and tools to become well-informed and take control of driving their health care, this will have been a worthwhile investment. Of course, our hope is to do exceptionally well while doing good; the business case looks very good.