Ahead of the Apple Watch event, I thought I’d take a minute to lay out what it is I’m thinking about these days, what types of companies I’m looking for right now and what I think is coming next:
What, exactly, do I mean by that? The easiest current example of an “effortless experience” is Google Now. If you haven’t used it, it is a contextually aware, predictive computing platform that tries to anticipate what information you need next based on a mix of your location, calendar, email and Google searches. Things automagically appear in Google Now, so – “effortless”.
“Smart services” is another way to start thinking about this. We invested into Waze years ago – this was (and is) an extremely smart service, that optimizes your travel path based on current traffic conditions. Very smart if you haven’t used it – and at times you get very unexpected turn by turn directions. There’s some work involved on the user side, but the results are something you or no human would have ever thought of…
Which leads us to yet another way to describe this: Artificial Intelligence. In the case of Waze, we’re talking about very narrow, domain specific AI (although the service has never been described in those terms) that’s delivering a smart service. But, I’m not suggesting you’re going to get Hal 9000 on your wrist (just yet).
Smart Watches in my view are going to usher in an era of effortless experiences. Why? The form factor is simply too small to be a heavy computing platform; but is a fantastic platform for things to automagically appear. I’m not clever enough to guess what types of great ideas are going to come out of this, but directionally, I’m comfortable stating where I think things are going.
We have the computing power in the cloud and on the handset, but the UI/UX on a handset just isn’t that great for push services. A watch form-factor is an entirely different matter… Google Now takes on a whole different feel when it’s on your wrist vs taking a phone out of your pocket, unlocking it, opening Google Now to see if there’s something useful there. With a watch – it’s just there. Effortless.
So, where does that leave us? I think we’re on the cusp of some great new services, and that smart watches are going to be a key enabler that unlocks that future. That said, and watches aside; effortless experiences are what’s next in my mind.
P.S. If you really want to read more on A.I., I can recommend the following (lengthy and terrifying) blog post: The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence
5. Evernote – It just keeps getting better. Simple UI for a complex app. Across all platforms.
4. Carousel – not that the app is mind-blowingly great, but if you keep your photos in Dropbox, it does make life much better. Especially the latest update. Flashback is cool.
3. Headspace - Guided meditation… it’s a paid app after the first 10 days, and it’s one of those things that gets more valuable the longer you use it. 12 months in I value this app *far* more than the first month.
2. Inbox from Google – Still in beta, but there’s no way I’m going back to regular Gmail. Inbox brings a lot of the goodness of Google Now by surfacing what you need vs making you dig for what you need.
Which brings me to my number one App of 2015:
1. Android 5.0 – Lollipop. Yes, technically it’s not an App, but the whole OS works together to make your life better and easier. Google Now continues to be amazing – combined with Inbox and Google Calendar, it’s a major winning combo. And this is coming from a long term member of the Church of Apple. I really like the new UI as well, but that’s form, not function.
Mac OS X, Yosemite - Yeah, this isn’t an App either, but I think it’s definitely the best iteration of OS X since it was first released 14 years ago. Everything has been simplified, and it’s a delight to use. It also works seamlessly with my iPhone.
Uber - because I use it *all* the time.
Shameless Portfolio Promotion:
Peak - Addictive games that help with your memory (and I need a lot of help on that front), along with other cognitive abilities. Featured in Apple’s “Best of 2014″
Yplan- Best way to figure out what’s happening, and get yourself a ticket (maybe even a VIP ticket). Currently available in London, New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
I get asked this question a *lot*. I wrote a post about it back in 2006 on the topic that I could point people to, but it looks a little light, so I thought I’d post an update.
There’s no set way to get into VC – it really depends on what you’re starting with (and what role you’re shooting for). So, these are some of the things that are good to start with:
1) Be an entrepreneur. Successful or failed. I helped torpedo a few companies back in the dot com boom. Learned first hand what doesn’t work… This is a sub-optimal path, but it’s valid. Being a wildly successful entrepreneur turned awesome VC is clearly the preferred route. (Reid Hoffman comes to mind here…)
2) Work at a startup, then migrate. Or, work at a big Tech company (Google, Facebook, Twiter, etc), then migrate. Product, Marketing, Sales. You’ll have insight into big company M&A (they will be your customer as a VC) and you’ll have some operational skills. Bonus points if you’re a ninja in your field of expertise.
3) Work in the industry - Accelerators, PR, HR, Design, IP – whatever. Get yourself into the mix, get to know lots of people at various firms. Then transition.
4) Fix a portfolio company- This works if you have operational skills. Every VC has at least one portfolio co that’s not doing well. Probably more. If you can fix one (or more) venture backed co’s, you will be loved and will probably find yourself a more permanent role.
5) Professional Services – These are the old stand-bys: Investment Banking, Strategic Consulting, Freshly Minted MBA (from a top school usually), Technical background
6) Be lucky. Right place, right time. This applied to me. I had a mix of some the above (startup, MBA, sales, VC intern) when I rocked up in London. And then happened to be in the right place at the right time, so I got my official start as a VC…
I think this pretty much covers the various paths into the industry as an investor… Depending on what level you’re looking to enter at will drive which set of skills you need. Analyst, Associate, Principal, Venture Partner, General Partner, Managing Partner – all require different amounts of the above.
Following my previous posts on why I decided to make any given investment, I thought I’d share briefly why I decided to make an investment into the gaming space – an area where many investors fear to tread. The first game from Grand Cru, Supernauts, has been in further development for 1 year since we invested. Without the product in the market, this post was largely meaningless. (You can grab the Supernauts game here and give it a whirl. Just be warned, you might get addicted and end up spending your entire pay check on gems: http://www.appstore.com/supernauts)
Looking at my Three P’s of Venture Capital:
People: The team at Grand Cru has enough successes behind them to warrant an investment on their own: Markus Pasula (ex Mr Goodliving) and Mikko Wilkman (ex Habbo Hotel) are two of the co-founders behind the company (and the ones I interacted with the most during the investment process). We had zero scalability issues at launch (some secrets here)- testament to Mikko’s work behind the scenes for Supernauts. We had great featuring from Apple – testament to Markus’ (and the Marketing team’s) ability to engage with great partners.
Product: When I saw the Supernauts demo, my mouth fell open. Literally. It was easy to see how it could be a hit game – tried and testing building mechanic, coupled with cool space characters and a very user friendly, mass market game play.
Potential: Games either take off like a rocket, or do a belly flop. Time will tell what happens to the Supernauts, but with 1M downloads in the first 6 days, it looks like they may be taking off…
This is a case where, despite having a great first product to go to market with, I had to take a bet on the team. Grand Cru is a games studio, not a product. They are in the game making business, and I have to trust that the water in Helsinki will continue to produce the types of games that millions of people want to play, and pay for. Supernauts is only the first in a string of titles the Company plans on producing…
Finally, I think a big congratulations to the entire Grand Cru team is in order (not just the two co-founders I single out here) – there has been an incredible effort to bring Supernauts to market.
<– Happy Cru
Last week I was asked what I look for in Founders/CEOs by some LPs (limited partners, the people that actually give VCs the money they invest). I gave them three characteristics that I think are critical to success:
1) Tenacity. Starting a company is hard. If anyone could do it successfully, everyone would be a successful multi millionaire/billionaire entrepreneur. As we all know, that’s not the case. What separates the wheat from the chaff? The ability to fight long after others have gone home. And wake up again, take on Goliath, and fight until you bleed. And then do it again the next day. And the next.
2) Self-sacrifice. Being successful doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t come for free. Many founder/CEOs I’ve worked with have been the first to cut their paycheck to zero, to invest their last dollar and even end up in divorce. I’m not suggesting that level of sacrifice is what it always takes, but if you’re going to get in the water with sharks, you’d better be willing to lose a leg. Or more. If you can’t deal with that level of risk (commitment), you’d probably better stay on the beach. Something will definitely be lost along the way (and other things gained).
3) Salesmanship. Two words: Steve Jobs. Greatest salesman of all time. He had ability to outsell everyone. Has to be like that with a CEO too – sell the vision, sell the product, sell the company, etc…
There are other qualities I look for as well, like the ability to select a crisp font or color palate for corporate presentations, or possibly impeccable taste in hot dogs, but those are slightly further down the criteria ladder…