The Story Behind My Investment In Shaper Tools

Earlier this year, a seed investor I co-invest with frequently offered to introduce me to one of his favorite companies. This startup raised a small seed round a year ago, and in that time, they brought in a new CEO, sharpened their focus, and — lucky for me — I was able to be a part of their next round of funding.

As those who have been following along, I’ve been spending more time in and investing more in what I have called “Industrial Software and Robotics.” The thesis, simplified, is that many of the world’s cutting edge technologies today will first interact with the outside world in the commercial space, specifically in heavy industry. To that end, over half of my portfolio in Fund III is tuned to this industry, so I am staking a part of my career and reputation here.

That may sound risky from a portfolio perspective, but every time I meet one of the CEOs in this space, I am blown away by the range of skills they possess. And with Shaper Tools and Joe Hebenstreit, that happened before we even met face-to-face. Aside from being a fellow Wolverine (Go Blue!), Joe’s career has taken him from Urbana-Champaign to Ann Arbor, from DaimlerChrysler AG to Amazon’s Research Labs in Silicon Valley, from frog designer to Google Glass. After visiting the Shaper Tools workshop in the Mission, meeting the team, and scouting the market, I focused my diligence on Joe’s leadership. The line that stuck with me most: “Joe is staking his industrial reputation on this team and company.”

Shaper Tools rests in a space that some refer to as “human-involved robotics,” where technology can be used to assist — not automate or replace — human work. In the case of Shaper Tools, that could be seen as large advancements in hand-eye coordination; and augmented-reality fabrication, which ties back into Joe’s experience on the Glass team. This is an interesting play into the forthcoming world of 3D printing, based on the belief that humans will still want some agency, control, and tactile feeling of completion of creating something with their hands, even if assisted with technology.

This week, Shaper Tools formerly launched Origin, a handheld power tool which merges computer vision with real-time motor control. In a world with Origin, imagine being able to create your own desk at home, or buying designs of your friend’s desk and making it at home. Origin enables a cut similar to what a CNC router would offer, but at a fraction of the size (it’s portable) and cost — and without needing prior experience. (Note: Origin is the name of their first product, not to be confused with another Haystack portfolio company, Origin, which is in the 3D printing space for additive manufacturing.)

If you’re into woodworking and machinery, make sure to check out Shaper’s website, learn more about the great team Joe leads, watch their campaign video (which actually made me tear up at the end), and look at the pre-order offers here.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2017 Semil Shah.

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