The venture financing path has evolved incredibly fast over the last 18 months. In this very busy financing market, what used to be a reasonably well understood progression from a seed round to a Series A to a Series B, etc. has now morphed into a more complex nomenclature of pre-seeds ($500k or less), crowdfunding rounds (especially for hardware), seeds ($1M-$2M, 6-9 months after the pre-seed), seed primes (an extra $1M or so, 12-18 months after the seed), Series A (now routinely $10-$12M in size, occasionally up to $15M), Series A-1, Series B, C, D, E, F etc. (as companies remain private longer).
The latest entrant in this rapidly evolving nomenclature seems to be what I’d call the “Straight to A” round, where the founders skip the seed stage altogether and raise directly a $5M-$10M Series A, often before building anything, sometimes even before incorporating a company. I had seen
A few days ago, I was invited to speak at a Yale Entrepreneurship Breakfast about about one of my favorite areas of interest, Artificial Intelligence. Here are the slides from the talk — a primer on how AI rose from of the ashes to become a fascinating category for startup founders and venture capitalists. Very much a companion to my earliest post about our investment in x.ai. Many thanks to my colleague Jim Hao, who worked with me on this presentation.
The superb Lending Club success story is what the startup world is all about: a software-based reinvention of massive and inefficient industry; a product that puts consumers first and delivers undeniable benefits ; and an entrepreneurial mega-hit that brings incredible riches and returns to its founder and investors.
In some ways, Lending Club is a classic Silicon Valley story; in some other ways, it is pretty atypical. As a friend of Renaud Laplanche’s for over 20 years, I have had a chance to witness from up close some parts of his journey with Lending Club. It is full of interesting lessons for entrepreneurs and the tech industry in general.:
1. Nice guys don’t finish last. According to some, the tech ecosystem has been grappling with a proliferation of jerks with oversized egos at the helm of very successful startups (see Pando’s “asshole rollcall” here). Whether one shares that point of view or not, Renaud is exactly the opposite of that. Kind, loyal, generous and understated, he’s the living proof that world-class entrepreneurial talent, drive and persistence don’t necessarily come associated with arrogance and low EQ.
2. CEO focus does matter. Renaud has been focusing maniacally on his venture for the last eight years. Up until recently, he had spoken at comparatively few conferences. He doesn’t have a portfolio of cool angel investments on the side. Heck, he doesn’t even have a Twitter account.
3. Great founders can come from all sorts of backgrounds. Renaud defies a lot of current startup CEO stereotypes. He is not a technical founder. He started his career as a (gasp) corporate lawyer. He’s a sole founder. He is French, with an unmistakable accent.
4. Unicorns are not always “hot deals” at first. It took a while for Lending Club to get going and it was largely under the radar for a long time. Most VC firms missed entirely this unicorn in the making. Lending Club had to do a down round in 2009 to survive, albeit in the specific context of the financial crisis (see financing history here).
5. What matters is to be the last entrant. Like Google or Facebook, Lending Club was not the first entrant in its market. A part of the initial deck for the company’s seed round (when it was still code named “SocBank”) was devoted to explaining why prospective investors should not worry about Prosper, an early leader in the space (with 80,000 members at the time, and $18M cleared on the platform) and Zopa, a UK company with US expansion plans. It seems trivial now, but looked scary at the time.
6. Embracing regulators is also a strategy. Truly
It’s been about 18 months since my original attempt at charting the Internet of Things (IoT) space. To say the least, it’s been a period of extraordinary activity in the ecosystem.
While the Internet of Things will inevitably ride the ups and downs of inflated hype and unmet expectations, at this stage there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The Internet of Things is propelled by an exceptional convergence of trends (mobile phone ubiquity, open hardware, Big Data, the resurrection of AI, cloud computing, 3D printing, crowdfunding). In addition, there’s an element of self-fulfilling prophecy at play with enterprises, consumers, retailers and the press all equally excited about the possibilities. As a result, the IoT space is now reaching escape velocity. Whether we’re ready for it or not, we’re rapidly evolving towards a world where just about everything will be connected. This has profound implications for society and how we collectively interact with the world around us. Key concerns around privacy and security will need to be addressed.
For entrepreneurs, the opportunity is massive. Where Web 1.0 connected computers to the Internet and Web 2.0 connected people, Web 3.0 is shaping up to be connecting just about everything else – things, plants, livestock, babies… Each new wave has spun out giant companies (Google and Amazon for Web 1.0, Facebook and Twitter for Web 2.0). Will Web 3.0 create a comparable group of behemoths?
The space has been evolving so rapidly over the last year and a half that our IoT landscape became quickly outdated. Here is a revised and updated version. A few notes: as always, and despite our best efforts, a number of great companies will be missing; omissions are completely unintentional. Also, as much as possible, we have tried to put one brand per category, although many companies probably belong to several categories. Finally, categorization of a rapidly evolving space is an imperfect exercise – we have done our best to be directionally correct, but we’re certainly open to feedback on how to make this chart better and more accurate.
Some comments on the chart:
Explosion of startup activity: With hardware incubators graduating legions of new entrepreneurs, crowdfunding in full swing and an increasing number of VCs excited about the space, new companies and products are popping up left and right. The previous version of this chart featured 199 companies – it now has 612 logos!
Big companies are very active: I’ve written this before about the connected home segment, but this is a
I joined FirstMark as a partner a little over 18 months ago now, and it’s been a thrilling ride. It’s also felt like a steep learning curve: lots of nuances, and lots of institutional memory to absorb. Below is a glimpse into what I’ve seen happening “behind the scenes” on the VC’s side to the table – stuff that was not obvious to me in my former roles as entrepreneur, angel investor or corporate incubator/strategic.
Last night I was invited to speak at the inaugural NYC European Tech Meetup. There are tons of obvious reasons why the NYC and European tech ecosystems should work closely with one another, so a meetup on the topic was long overdue. Congrats to Alban Denoyel and Anthony Marnell for starting it, and thanks for inviting me to speak, was a lot of fun. Below are the slides I used – the presentation was meant to be a “State of the Union” of European tech in NYC, a high level overview fit for an inaugural meetup and get the conversation started.
Many thanks to David Rogg, our newest associate at FirstMark, for helping me with this. I’m sure we missed some companies and people – if so, let us know in the comments, and we’ll update the presentation.
I know, when thinking about hotbeds of startup innovation, France doesn’t exactly jump to mind. Sure, there are interesting things happening in European tech – in London, or Berlin (which I covered here). Or Finland. But France? Ask U.S investors and entrepreneurs, and you’ll hear more or less the same thing: high taxes. Impossible to fire people. Government intervention. Language barrier. Fear of failure. Strikes. The country of the the 35 hour law, where people are prohibited by law to answer email past 6pm.
Yet things have started to accelerate meaningfully in French early stage tech, particularly in the last two or three years. I was fortunate to be recently invited as part of a delegation of US VCs and media guests to spend a few days in Paris to meet with local entrepreneurs and VCs, as well as President Hollande and other senior members of the French government. As a Frenchman who has spent his entire professional career in the US, I’m perhaps more cynical than most about those matters, but I came back from my trip genuinely intrigued by the potential of the French tech scene.
For anyone who cares to look, the fairly obvious conclusion is that there’s a huge gap between perception and reality, when it comes to the French startup ecosystem. Very significant progress has been made on all fronts – more interesting startups, more funding, lots more talent rushing into the sector, improved legistation, etc. – yet the word has not caught on.
It is going to take a while to close that perception gap – if nothing else, because it takes a long time to overcome a negative reputation. But you can’t blame people outside France for being confused – France has been showing traits of schizophrenia in its approach to innovation and business success. For all its emerging crop of talented young tech entrepreneurs, most of France is still deeply ambivalent about business and individual wealth creation. French entrepreneurs are building great businesses, but often show a tendency for self-bashing and country-bashing. The current French government has been sending mixed signals (or has done a dramatic 180 degree turn, depending on how you look at it). Elected on a left wing platform, at first it showed signs of being anti business – including an ill fated attempt at raising capital gains tax, and a badly botched meddling into Yahoo’s attempt to acquire Dailymotion, a French competitor to YouTube. It now has launched a charm offensive towards the startup world both within and outside France, labeled “La French Tech” – first started by Fleur Pellerin, then Minister for the Digital Economy and now run by Axelle Lemaire, her successor since April
Note: This post appeared on VentureBeat, here.
It’s been almost two years since I took a first stab at charting the booming Big Data ecosystem, and it’s been a period of incredible activity in the space. An updated chart was long overdue, and here it is:
(click on the arrows at the bottom right of the screen to expand)
A few thoughts on this revised chart, and the Big Data market in general, largely from a VC perspective:
Getting crowded: Entrepreneurs have flocked to the space, VCs have poured money into promising startups, and as a result, the market is starting to get crowded. Certain categories like databases (whether NoSQL or NewSQL) or social media analytics feel ripe for consolidation or some sort of shakeout (which may have already started in social analytics with Twitter’s acquisitions of BlueFin and GNIP). While there will be always room for great new startups, it seems that a lot of the early bets in the broader infrastructure and analytics segments have been made at this stage, and the bar for success is getting higher – which doesn’t mean that VC money will stop pouring in. In terms of this specific industry chart, we’ve clearly reached the limit of how many companies we can fit one page. I’m sure there are a number of great companies we either missed or didn’t have enough space to include – apologies in advance to those, and I’d love to hear people’s thoughts and suggestions in the comments section about who else should be included.
Still early: Overall, we’re still in the early innings of this market. Over the last couple of years, some promising companies failed (for example: Drawn to Scale), a number saw early exits (for example: Precog, Prior Knowledge, Lucky Sort, Rapleaf, Nodeable, Karmasphere, etc.), and a handful saw more meaningful outcomes (for example: Infochimps, Causata, Streambase, ParAccel, Aspera, GNIP, BlueFin labs, BlueKai). Meanwhile, some companies seem to be reaching significant scale, and have raised spectacular amounts of money (for example, MongoDB has now raised over $230M, Palantir almost $900M and Cloudera $1B). But overall, we’re still early in the curve in terms of successful IPOs (Splunk or Tableau notwithstanding) and large exits, although the big companies are getting more acquisitive in the space (Oracle with BlueKai, IBM with Cloudant). In many segments, startups and large companies are jockeying for position and no obvious leader has emerged.
Hype, meet reality: A few years into a period of incredible hype, is Big Data still a thing? While less press worthy, the next couple of years are going to be hugely important for this market, as corporations start moving Big Data projects from experimentation
The field of bioinformatics is having its “big bang” moment. Of course, bioinformatics is not a new discipline and it has seen various waves of innovations since the 1970s and 1980s, with its fair share of both exciting moments and disappointments (particularly in terms of linking DNA analysis to clinical outcomes). But there is something special happening to the industry right now, accelerated by several factors:
• The cost of full genome sequencing has been dropping precipitously, in fact a lot faster than Moore’s law would have suggested. Illumina just released brand new machines that make the $1,000 full genome sequencing a realistic possibility. As a result, an extraordinary amount of data is going to become available at reasonable cost (5.5TB or 6.3 Billion bases… per patient).
• Big Data technology has had its own, separate evolution, and there is now an arsenal of tools to process and analyze massive amounts of data, at a comparatively cheap cost.
• Wet lab work has become a more standardized and increasingly automated process, considerably reducing the “friction” involved in collecting and processing physical samples. The cost of setting up biology labs, while still high, is starting to decrease, and molecular techniques are no longer the limiting step in genomic analysis.
As a result of the above, biology is rapidly evolving from being predominantly driven by traditional life sciences research to being largely driven by software and Big Data. This evolution considerably reduces the capital required to build a successful venture in the space. It also opens up the field to a new generation of startups run by inter-disciplinarian teams that have at least as much of a software and data science background as a biology background. A whole new world of bio-hackers is also emerging, from synthetic biology to personalized medicine, the possibilities are immense and the impact on our lives potentially unparalleled. It is entirely possible that the next generation of great entrepreneurs will be building “biology 2.0″ companies, rather than mobile apps.
This opportunity has not been lost on entrepreneurs and the last 3 years or so have seen a rapid acceleration of startup creation, in a wide range of area from diagnostics (Counsyl) to cloud platforms (DNANexus) to lab automation (Benchling, Transcriptic). Interestingly but not surprisingly considering the above, most of those startups are funded by technology, rather than life sciences, venture capital firms.
Today I’m excited to announce that FirstMark is partnering with Recombine, a New York based startup that very much operates at this intersection between software, Big Data and biology, as its lead Series A investor. Recombine’s CEO, Alex Bisignano, symbolizes this new generation