Recap: StrictlyVC’s “Insider Series” (May 13)

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Last week, StrictlyVC with it’s chief exec Connie Loizos held it’s second “Insider Series” event on May 13 @ Galvanize in San Francisco. It was packed. Connie’s audience is growing and growing, and it’s been a blast to see people anticipate the events and reconnect with old friends and make new ones at these events. I suspect there will be more and more to come, and I’m excited to be a small part of it.

For this recent event, it was packed with content: Connie opened evening by chatting candidly with Tom Fallows, formerly the head of Google Shopping Express, and now the Director of Global Expansion Products at Uber (Connie’s write-up here); then I chatted with Dan Morehead of Pantera Capital in a more technical discussion of the Bitcoin and blockchain market, startups, challenges, and opportunities (Connie’s write-up here); this was followed up by Charles Hudson in conversation with Thumbtack’s CEO Marco Zappacosta alongside his VC board member, Sequoia’s Bryan Schreier (write-up); and the night ended with Connie again talking to Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew, who was remarkably thoughtful and candid about the limitations of VC in today’s age.

Thanks to everyone who showed up, here are pictures from the official photographer, pencil in September 17 on your calendar (no promises!), and if you haven’t already, make sure you’ve signed up for the StrictlyVC email list here:  http://www.strictlyvc.com/signup/

Video: If Seed Is The New Series A, How Helpful Are Angels?

Back in April, I drove over to Oakland for Bambi Francisco’s Vator Splash to sit down with good friends Renee DiResta and Jonathon Triest about the current state of angel rounds and “pre-seed” funding in and around the Valley today. I knew this would be a fun panel because I’ve known Renee for years and I text with JT about 100 times a day. I love both of these people. And, they’re scary smart about spotting opportunities and reading people. In this chat, the three of us talk for about 20 minutes. I would encourage early-stage founders and investors to play the video and listen in the background. Myself, JT, and Renee invest as the first checks in a company, oftentimes well before the seed firms you’d recognize jump in. “Pre-seed” is now a whole new category, and this is a great discussion to gain more context around it.

Contest: On-Demand Startups, But For Enterprise/SMB

In conjunction with The On-Demand Conference we are hosting on May 19 in San Francisco (tickets here), we are also pleased to announce a contest associated with the conference. Specifically, we are asking for submissions for “on-demand” startups that meet two clear conditions: (1) the end customer must be a business or entity, not individual consumers; and (2) the company shouldn’t have raised “institutional capital,” meaning it’s OK to have angel/seed money but not mega dollars from a VC firm. The winner of this “Call For Startups” will be presented with the opportunity to present their company on-stage during the event, and the top (5) submissions overall will be given free tickets to attend the event.

I’m a strong believer that concepts which work for consumer behavior (sharing, on-demand, collaboration, etc.) will create opportunities for entrepreneurs to bring those concepts to models where the end customer is not a person, but rather a business or entity. This has fortunately led me to investments in companies like Getable and Boomtown, among others, and I hope many more. Read more about the contest, and please apply if you’re eligible. Click here for more details.

On-Demand Conference: Line-Up, Agenda, and Few Tickets Remain

About a month ago, we announced The On-Demand Conference (May 19 in San Francisco) in this post (tickets):

After a few months of planning, I wanted to write a short update to highlight who will be represented. We aimed to make this conference inclusive as its a very competitive space, and we aimed to make the content be the main attraction. The conference is designed for founders, operators, investors, and journalists to get a deeper view into the operations, challenges, and opportunities in the growing on-demand sector:

  • Transportation: Uber; Lyft; Shuddle; Luxe; Zirx
  • Food: Sprig, Postmates; Instacart; Munchery; Caviar; DoorDash
  • Consumer Services: Shyp; Homejoy; BloomThat; Alfred; ClassPass
  • Business Services: Managed By Q; Checkr; Onfleet; PlaybookHR; Directly
  • Media: Re/code, TechCrunch, Bloomberg, StrictlyVC, Fortune.
  • Investors: Satya Patel, Shervin Pishevar, Simon Rothman, Steve Schlafman

Wow….what an amazing set of companies, CEOs, operators, journalists, and investors — and I know not every company is up here and i wish we had more space and time. Please know we tried our best to balance all the requests, and there are great companies and ideas we just didn’t have room for. Maybe next year will be two days! On-demand for food, but also help desk tickets for customer service. This will be the premier conference in what is arguably the biggest driver of consumer behavior change today. Additionally, there will be many companies and investors in the audience (we see the registration logs, of course!), so if  you’re in the space or thinking about breaking in, buy a ticket while you still can, click here to register.

Fight Night In The Age Of Social Media

It is fight night tonight. Back when I was in high school in college, in the days of Tyson and Holyfield, boxing occasionally surfaced as a big deal. Nintendo’s “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out” became an instant classic video game. In those days, the fights were all Pay Per View broadcast (PPV) and on ESPN they’d show still pictures of the fight during or right after. It would take a long time for the news to trickle out. It was big money for the casinos and PPV, and there were only two ways to access the show: pay for PPV or show up with tickets.

Fast-forward to today, to tonight, hours away from one of the most highly anticipated boxing matches in recent memory. Lately, boxing hasn’t had the cache it use to have in the days of Tyson, and certainly in the hey day of Ali, Frasier, Liston. It’s been replaced with new sports, like MMA, or Ultimate Fighting. Nevertheless, the old is on display tonight, with two great fighters already set with fame and legend (and money) battling for pride. And, as we fast-forward to today, 2015, tonight’s boxing match, but the world is different now — mainly, because of mobile and social media. Consider the following:

  1. Live Streaming via mobile & social networks: Will someone at the fight tonight try to live broadcast the event from their phones through Periscope or Meerkat? Will those people be allowed to do so, or escorted from the building?
  2. Mayweather’s sordid past: This week saw a surge of reports surfacing to mainstream media but really amplified on social media — all about Mayweather’s disgusting regard outside the ring. Boxing’s a violent sport, and Tyson was beaten up by the media during his reign, but maybe this will tip the scales over to promoters and boxing associations being more careful.
  3. Gambling: Boxing is big business for bookey’s, of course. In the days of Tyson, had to call in bets via telephone or show up at the book. Now, it’s text, apps, FaceTime, messenger apps…bigger audience, more gambling, and more interest overall.

The Story Behind My Investment In Onfleet

Yes, the company name is Onfleet, not “On fleek,” though they are actually are “On fleek” when it comes to providing platform services and routing infrastructure to the on-demand economy. I could bore you with stats such as powering volume growth at a 30% month by month rate (40% scheduled, 60% on-demand), or how they’re growing B2B revenues by 35% per month, but that’s par for the course these days in SaaS.

The interesting part of the story is how I met Khaled, the CEO, and how I came to invest in the company. @Rafer, for those of you who know, is a friend and tireless supporter of the early-stage companies he fosters. Onfleet is one of those. Back then, in April 2014, the company was called “Trak,” and the founders had recently left Stanford and started their entrepreneurial journey.

At the time, I was writing about the on-demand economy and making a few investments in companies like Instacart and DoorDash. Rafer figured I should meet Khaled, and while I liked him initially as a person (we had a great first conversation), I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest because I didn’t feel a personal connection to the company. My first impression was Khaled was too reserved, but I came to learn letter, I misinterpreted that first meeting. We stayed in touch after I said “no,” and in fact, we discussed this very point. It’s not an easy conversation to have, and who I am to make such judgments.

To his credit, Khaled heard me out and, despite that, asked me very nicely for help in getting the story, pitch, and details together — and so I did, as a friend. He responded really well, and over the next few weeks, we traded a ton of emails, texts, calls. Three months in, Khaled was rolling in his round, and he called me up again — asking me to come on board. Now, looking back, I was lucky I got a second chance to invest, and I took it. Khaled has really grown and matured as a technology and operations CEO, building a team of 10 and providing critical platform services as part of the on-demand stack — right in the middle of one of the biggest trends in consumer behavior we’ve seen.

What Onfleet focuses on and where they’re going, you can read about that in all the news today as they launch into the public sphere. For me, what I’ll remember about this investment is that the frenetic pace of seed often doesn’t afford an investor the chance to get to know someone over a period of time. With Khaled, I had that luxury of time and no pressure other than our mutual respect for each other — and I had a second chance to learn that while he may be reserved in person, he’s relentless in his own quiet way. As I mature as an investor and begin to change my own style, I will look back on how I got to know Khaled over time as a potential model for how I operate as an investor in the future.

Sports Innovation Conference @ Stanford GSB (2015)

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Last week, I was invited to moderate an hourlong conversation at Stanford as part of the business school’s Sports Innovation Conference. You can link through and see all the great panels, speakers, and topics. While I wasn’t able to stay the whole day, what was clear to me from the energy around the event is that entertainment is a huge, huge business and the management of sports talent and rights within that is a major driver of it. Perhaps that’s obvious to some, but the angle to tech and Silicon Valley isn’t often discussed. (I’ve made one investment related to sports, but what attracted me to this company was their unique approach to mobile.)

My panel was titled “The Future of Sports Content,” and we had Karen Brodkin (WME/IMG), Marie Donoghue (ESPN/Disney) and Dan Reed, formerly of the NBA and now Head of Sports Partnerships at Facebook. Let me say up front that while some folks in the Valley “know the business of sports,” these three blew me away with their breadth of knowledge around the intersection of sports, media, and technology. Here are my high-level takeaways from the panel and Q&A:

  • Live vs Virtual: I proposed whether VR could dampen the live-sports experience for spectators, especially those who pay through the nose for nose-bleed seating. We discussed how a few people will ever have a courtside NBA experience in their lives, but now with VR, they could. It’s early days, but everyone — the leagues/teams, the networks, and tech companies — are gearing up for this.
  • Snapchat & FB Mentions vs Instagram/Twitter: An audience member wondered how an athlete/celeb could manage discussions on Facebook (with Mentions) versus being able to easily reply 1:1 on Instagram or Twitter. I’ve got a friend in the NFL who says he only uses Twitter for broadcast but not interaction because, in his opinion, fantasy and trolling has ruined his experience. Instagram works a bit better, but there are still trolls. He hasn’t experimented much with Snapchat yet, but feels like this is where the world is moving for mobile broadcast. (Currently, ESPN produces their daily Snapchat Discover piece, but are looking for ways to create more and automate them over time.)
  • Talent Management in Sports: I did not wholly appreciate all the various rights associated with sports talent and content.
  • A New Sports Category? An audience member inquired about “Participatory Sports” as they relate to current sports networks. Clearly on Facebook, people share and organize around sports, but it was interesting to hear WME and ESPN discuss more recreational sports (like this, maybe?) and how they could become mainstream phenomena in the future — I mean, a while ago, it sounded silly to watch people play video games, right?

StrictlyVC Insider Series (May 13 in SF)

I’m excited for the StrictlyVC events that are rolling out this year. I’m proud to now be a member of StrictlyVC’s Advisory Board, and the next “Insider Series” event is just around the corner on May 13 in San Francisco. There are a few tickets left, so you can click here to register and get a ticket for the event: http://strictlyvcsinsiderseries.splashthat.com/

The agenda looks awesome for those of you who are venture-nerds like me. Connie Loizos (@cookie on Twitter) has done an incredible job to draw in great speakers who will be in conversation with the group, investors from Sequoia, Lightspeed, and Pantera — and Parker Conrad, the CEO of high-growth startup Zenefits. Specifically, Bryan Schreier from Sequoia will chat with Marco Zappocosta (co-founder of Thumbtack); Connie will have a chat with Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew (who invested in Snapchat, Whisper, and a bunch of other cool companies; I will sit down with Dan Morehead from Pantera Capital to talk about the current state of Bitcoin, and Connie will end the content session with Parker from Zenefits.

All of that, plus some good beers and conversation before the show starts and after the show ends. I made great new friends at the previous event and ran into a bunch of old friends. For me, even though the content is great, that’s the best part — meeting other folks interested in investing. Get tickets while they’re still available.

A New Conference: The On-Demand Economy (May 19 in SF)

A year ago, I wasn’t sure if the “On-Demand Economy” (ODE) was the real thing or just a fad. I’d keep asking myself, “How can this persist?” and plenty of other people would ask me the same thing, given that out of 70 or so investments I’ve made, over 20 of them touch the on-demand stack in some way. Now as 2015 approaches the midway point, I have since gained more confidence this isn’t a fad, but the early stages of an on-demand world where we will summon goods and services via our watches, via single-purpose connected devices, and perhaps even without consciously thinking about it. Geographically, ODE services are tailor-made for the developing world and urban centers in Asia, especially as those consumers and labor suppliers go straight to mobile devices and skip the laptop and web generations entirely.

So, it was even more good fortune when one of my most frequent seed-stage coinvestors in ODE, Pascal, pinged me on IM to say he’s putting together a conference with my friend Misha @ Tradecraft. I jumped in and we are going to co-host this event on May 19 in San Francisco. Pascal had a good base committed, and so I called up Bastian, Max and Apoorva, Tony, Tri, Dan, Nick to participate — they all loved the idea, as did all the great tech writers who have cover the trend, like Ryan, Eric, Katie, Leena, and even Liz after her breakout series on the topic from 2014. I called up other friends who have also made core investments in ODE, and we are happy to have Satya, Steve, and Simon round out the event. As a bonus, I called up Shervin and convinced him to do a 1:1 Fireside Chat with me earlier in the day.

If you are a potential founder in ODE, work in the sector, want to learn more, cover the sector as a journalist, or invest in it, this is a can’t-miss conference. Here are more details:

Date: May 19, 2015 (all day)
Location: Broadway Studios, North Beach, SF (map)
Website: (link)
Tickets: (register)

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2015 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus