Culture Archives

The Story Behind My Investment In HourlyNerd

Toward the end of college, and again toward the end of graduate school, there was a predictable recruiting campaign from all sorts of consulting agencies looking to scoop up and hire labor. In exchange for brand, a high salary, and a bit of prestige, graduates would sign up early in the final year, start a plan to payoff their student debt, and sign-up for intellectually challenging work filtered down through various organizational levels.

I know all of this because I almost lived it. Worse, I wanted to live it. As I saw it all go before my eyes, I also jumped into the fray, practiced case questions, riding off the competitive juices of the process of staged interviews. That process exposed me to the partnership model of consulting shops. The hierarchy could be loosely described as “finders, minders, and grinders.” New graduates were “grinders,” grinding out the work with long hours; “finders” were the partners, who found new clients and managed existing ones; and “minders” sat in between the two, minding up and minding up.

Now, what if online networks could put the clients directly in touch with labor? Could that create more efficient flow of information, better working conditions, and better output?

I think so. A few years ago, I used HourlyNerd for a few projects and was surprised by the output. They used a vetted network of current and recent grad MBA students, matched by background and interest, to create slide decks, conduct research, and so forth. So long as I (the client) was able to scope out what I needed, the workers (students here) were more than capable of producing the work with the added benefit that we never had to meet, we were able to email and chat online, and they could keep their hours and location flexible.

Then, out of the blue, the founders pinged me about their latest round. This is a bit later stage from when I invest, but I asked the founders a ton of questions about their plans to scale, about how their marketplace could propel them beyond a services network. Even though my check was small for them at stage, they made a concerted effort to engage with me around all of my nitpicking questions. Through that process, I learned some interesting facts: Over a yearlong period, the company had nearly tripled its average project size, that most customers repeat purchases frequently, that the marketplace had very good liquidity, and an average sale price that would make an investor pretty happy.

So, I am breaking my own model for Haystack and investing “late” into HourlyNerd, partly because they’re empowering the folks who, like me, could’ve also taken that traditional path into consulting. With a company like this, now those workers are free to interact directly with clients, to build their own reputations around topics, to travel and live where they want to, and much more. It’s a mission I can support — not only with an investment, but also my time. Sign up here and give it a try, they offer a great discount to start.

The Story Behind My Investment In VSporto

JasperBack in 2014, Pascal, another early-stage SF investor who invests in companies at the intersection of local and mobile, introduced me to a kid from Mississippi who is now in the Bay Area starting his company. I searched my email and it turned out Jacob from Exitround (a portfolio company) also tried to make this connection a long time ago, but for whatever reason, we never synched up. The kid’s name: Keith. His company: podcasting.

Ugh.

I get so many pitches around podcasting. It’s hard because it’s just not an area I want to invest in, so I figured some polite way to not engage further. But, then, something interesting happened — I asked Keith about how he started on this, and his answer begin with something to the effect of: “I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old…”

Oh, really? I rarely hear that, so I listened more (see the pic here, from 1999). Turns out Keith is a huge, huge mega-fan of the Buffalo Bills, so huge that he started building and managing fan sites for the team back when he was 12, living in Mississippi. Since then, Keith went to school, was a producer with Sirius Radio, and during that time, had a novel idea for a product: An app which played fan-oriented podcasts for college sports teams.

To get his idea going, Keith and his team figured out something clever: In many cities where college football was big, VSporto discovered, vetted, and created a monetary incentive for superfans of the local college teams to create a podcast around the team. VSporto aggregates these, pays out CPMs, and builds micro-apps for mobile devices that just focus on a particular school. In this on-demand economy, people are changing jobs and careers quickly. For VSporto, they’ve noticed that people quit their basic day jobs to pursue their interests and talents for podcasting and creating media around the subject they love.

Say you went to Florida State University — VSporto would have ~15 podcasters (or more) who create content, and the app broadcasts those streams through the week leading up to the game. Additionally, one might think the football season lasts a few weeks, but in many of these towns, it’s a full-time job just being a fan.

Check out Vsporto here. To date, they have ten (10) team apps and engagement time for MAUs could be from 47-93 minutes. The average listener goes through two podcasts per day, and nearly 1 out of 5 users will also download the app of the opponent their team is playing; many of their apps have been ranked quite high in the Sports category, which is notable for such a seemingly niche app. The engagement is so deep that the team visited a specific college campus for a football game and hosted a viewing party: Over 200 people showed up. As VSporto commissions content, the company also holds the licensing rights to the media, such as being able to license the content out to various radio stations.

This startup broke a lot of rules for me. I don’t want to invest in podcasting, but they figured out a medium not many others would stick with; and I don’t like to invest often in pure mobile apps because the distribution is choked. When I heard this, I sort of took the meeting as a courtesy, but a few minutes, that’s when it hit me that this is exactly why I don’t like to answer those “What are you looking for?” questions often posed to investors. If I knew what to expect, I would go and try to build it. In this case, I had to have enough patterns around podcasting and Apple’s iOS to make a decision about whether to get involved. I would have never thought of combining commissioned content with an array of scattered apps that all meet on the backend.

It’s early days for VSporto, but I never worry about Keith and the team. They are the only team I know who would have the passion to pursue this idea of building and stitching together niche markets. It is my privilege to support them, to have introduced them to other investors, and to have opened their round on AngelList. In terms of relaying a story about a founder and an a unique approach, it’s probably one of my favorite stories to show and tell.

Meerkasting In A Brave New World

Meerkat has the makings of not only becoming a big, important platform, but you can already start to see how disruptive it may be given all the reactions it generates (“get off my lawn!”) and serious questions it raises about other media networks and platforms. Observing the way folks are using it and how different people are tweeting about its varied potential for over a week now, I believe it has the makings of that rare disruptive platform. Here’s how I think about it:

  1. The best “entry point” into a live experience: So far, we think of Twitter as the real-time network, so it must be that a livestream product would need Twitter as a base. I don’t think this is true. Think of other avenues where real-time information has currency — sports, finance, etc. — and also of online communities and niches that run within these verticals. For instance, breaking news about a football team midweek could affect Vegas odds, fantasy rosters, and more. The best analysts in right now tweet or work for big sports networks (like ESPN); pretty soon, they can just “Meerkast” instead of traditional TV (ESPN) or online (Twitter) broadcast.
  2. Twitter needs Periscope to grow: Twitter has a user growth issue, and offering Periscope “in-line” as a broadcast feature to major celebrities will be a killer feature for the users, but also to help Twitter grow. Media like this can help onboard new users and give them an excuse to follow a few accounts. “OMG, Steph Curry is practicing dunks right now and giving away a few signed balls on Twitter, I need to watch this right now.” Furthermore, these notifications on mobile could have way more currency and make Twitter notices look static. Contrast a notification like “Steph Curry just tweeted: xxx” vs “Steph Curry is practicing dunks….right now. Tune in and win!”
  3. Meerkat can be extensible: While Periscope will live within Twitter, Meerkat can use all of this attention to encourage creators and audience members to create their own accounts and extend the network to other big social media sites. Imagine being able to read a LinkedIn Influencer piece while you’re browsing the site and then see your favorite business authors or self-help coaches give live training via Meerkat. Or a platform like Pinterest, imagine curators showcasing a wedding they’ve planned or a party, or showing off goods they want to sell exclusively on Meerkat.
  4. Speaking of sales, Meerkat’s nativity could lead to money: If Meerkat can figure out the right entry points to grab your attention into their native app or their web browser while you’re logged in as a Meerkat user (regardless of entry point), they can also leverage payment gateways to help facilitate transactions with the ease of a click. Imagine that Taylor Swift is practicing a new single that’s not yet polished, and for charity, she wants to sell the song for $0.99, so as a viewer you can offer to pay and the money is collected and routed to Taylor’s account. Taylor would also know which fans hang out in the room (better analytics on mobile vs multiple tabs on browsers). Hopefully, the infrastructure will support such a big network.
  5. And, speaking of infrastructure, Meerkat’s is great so far: Garry Tan has one of my favorite lines: “The best software is invisible.” So far, Meerkat just works, but to pull off high-fidelity, real-time, synchronous broadcast from one device to many requires robust infrastructure that cannot just be engineered in a month. This gives them the type of defensibility an external investor would look for and also raises the bar for Twitter/Periscope upon release. As more mobile devices come on board, it will not only strain those users devices (video bandwidth is costly in many ways), but may also require a different network architecture that a blockchain-enabled mesh could provide. The timing may be impeccable here.
  6. Mobile software is eating mobile hardware: Just a few months ago, GoPro was the talk of the town; now, our phones are GoPros, thanks to Meerkat’s timing. Will people Meerkast from comedy clubs, sports arenas, private boardrooms, and so on and so on? As there are endless possibilities for celebs and big brands to leverage this new channel, but what about individuals who can disrupt what is bread and butter to networks like CNN, ESPN, The Cooking Channel, and so on…instead of paying a toll to cable operators and studios, content creators now could have yet another layer stripped away and capture more value. There are too many examples to list here, so just pick your favorite show, guesstimate the economics, and now add more to the protagonists and you’ll start to see how Meerkat can leverage the web to trigger this transfer.
  7. The end-user watch points are also aplenty: Where will I watch my favorite Meerkasts — on my mobile devices? In the browser? As a channel or network of channels inside Netflix or Roku or Apple TV? If Twitter only offers Periscope, is there room for Meerkasts to extend and not need to rely on Twitter? You bet there is! And, what if I could watch a Meerkast via virtual reality? A sideline reporter or a network of cameras on a football field could capture the live feed, and I could view in total immersion — in real time.

And, therein lies the challenge and opportunity. The challenge is that while we’re enjoying the flurry of experimentation today, the cost of watching video (especially poorly produced grainy and unstable video) is very high to the audience. It can feel noisy or disorienting. Very few things will have real-time currency, but as more people experiment, no doubt interesting things will emerge. Also, Meerkat couldn’t’ve exploded without ambushing Twitter, and now that Twitter also has its own competitive product, has a huge incentive to bring the feature in-line and give preference to Periscope. While we have Net Neutrality now for our big pipes, the social and interest pipes on top of the web do not have their own flavor of net neutrality. Now, Meerkat will have to go through the work of building out user accounts, finding other networks to integrate with, and helping those with large and niche audiences produce this new style of media. That’s the opportunity ahead, and I’m sure the team will have enough talent and dollars chasing it to see if they can make it into a reality.

A final, personal aside about Meerkasts and blogging — nothing I do in life ever has true real-time currency, so in a Meerkat world, I’m likely to be a consumer, not a creator. In the world of text, I can create, but blogging for me is a way to structure thoughts over time — I’ve been tweeting and thinking about Meerkast for a week, and finally had a chance to write this as my daughter is napping. By contrast, I technically could’ve opened up my Meerkat and broadcast this to you all, but it wouldn’t have been as structured, and it would’ve been significantly more boring!

 

Five Years Into “SoLoMo”

In 2010, John Doerr coined the term “SoLoMo,” the combination of social , local, and mobile. Doerr, who correctly called and invested in technology’s two previous waves (personal computing and networking, and Internet 1.o like Amazon and Google), now believed SoLoMo was the next wave.

And, now in 2015, looking back, he was absolutely right, though not always in the exact ways in which he envisioned.

  • Social: For instance, it turns out our phones, phone numbers, and various messaging apps (like Snapchat, Instagram, and Whatsapp) are social but not because of Facebook or Twitter’s graph, but because of our phones being social devices themselves.
  • Local: We have spent the past five (5) years basically using mobile phones to rewrite and reinvent the local goods and services delivery model. Pick any consumer behavior which occurs which some frequency — transportation, buying food, laundry, home & office cleaning, parking cars and valets, dog boarding and dog walking, and so many others. Most people spend their money within a specific radius of their home, and with phones, entrepreneurs have built entirely new consumer brands (with Uber leading the way, of course) to reinvent local.
  • Mobile: This is the easy one, as we’re doing all of this on our phones. This was the main driver of the trend. In 2010, we all didn’t realize how much of a driver, as in 2015, it all seems obvious now.

Looking back on the creation of the acronym in 2010, which also became a bit of a joke given how it sounds, it’s pretty clear to me it was spot-on and prescient. How it all unfolded was a bit different, and it’s still happening, creating multiple billion-dollar companies almost out of thin air.

Apple Watch, Voice Control, and On-Demand Services

dick-tracy-5

When it comes to “The On-Demand Economy,” this blog has been a broken record. But, with today’s news about Apple Watch, one of the first thoughts that came to mind is — the new watch could actually increase the frequency of on-demand service orders made by customers — over time. Briefly, to review how I define this category, from an earlier post:

There are two types of species in this genus: (1) services which are truly on-demand, like Uber, Lyft, and Postmates, where users demand a good/service, which then triggers the system to fulfill that demand; and (2) services which allow the consumer to transact by phone, but the service is delivered at a scheduled time, like Instacart — here, the consumer experience feels close enough to on-demand that it all gets wrapped up into one moniker.

Now, imagine the last time you called an Uber or ordered Postmates. You reached for your phone. If the app wasn’t on your homescreen, you scrolled a few pages or swiped down to search and input for the app. The app loaded, and you directed it to order you a car or burrito. With Apple Watch, you can order an Uber with a few taps of your phone. While cool, the interface is pretty small, and it may be that at least in the early days, opening the Uber app on the phone could be more efficient than on a Watch, though the Watch could be a great screen for viewing car arrival times.

Ok, so now imagine if you need to order an Uber, you just bring your hand toward your nose, and talk to the Watch via Siri, a la Dick Tracy. Even though Siri seems to be getting less useful as iOS hardware gets better, there could be a day where it actually works well deep into third party apps. And, if that capability extends to watches, we could have that Dick Tracy moment, ordering an Uber by speaking into our wristwatches. It would be the fastest input channel possible, and if it works, it could actually increase the amount of services ordered on-demand — it will be even easier to buy convenience.

Women On Stage In Venture Capital

In this post, I will talk about the presence of women on stage at venture capital (VC) events or as part of digital media. In the past, I created and produced about 75 short TV interviews on TechCrunch TV from about 2012-13, and after that show was cancelled, created and produced interviews with eight (8) VCs which spanned 12 episodes in total. Last year, I helped organize the Post-Seed Conference in SF (Dec ’14), and this year, as a friend, I helped StrictlyVC design and launch the “StrictlyVC Insider Series,” for which there has been an inaugural event and one coming up in May ’15.

Every now and then, someone will inquire about why there aren’t more women involved in these events or on digital media. Sometimes, these inquiries start as accusations rather than trying to open up a conversation with me, so in this post, I will do my best to detail some things I believe everyone should know and discuss openly:

TechCrunch TV: From 2012-13, while I was an official contributor to the publication, I created and helped produce a weekly TV show which included all founders and investors and one journalist (who happens to cover VC). Out of the 75 guests, there were only three female guests, but I certainly did ask many visible women to be on the show, and for whatever reason, they either declined or didn’t return my email. Looking back, I could have pushed it more as an issue, but I wasn’t consciously trying to achieve gender balance on the show.

Sunday Conversations: After the TechCrunch TV show was cancelled, I had a friend who kindly offered to sponsor all the video, editing, and production o the interviews, and for my first interview, I chose the guest who was slated to be on TechCrunch TV as that show was put to bed. After that, I chose a small handful of VC general partners and, in early 2014, decided to not continue them past 2014. I have since stopped, and the last four (4) were all of Keith Rabois. I extended the series with Rabois because of the overwhelming response from the audience who wanted more. I did not ask any VC women general partners to be on the show because almost as soon as it started, it was over.

[Today, I posted the audio and video from Sunday Conversations, and it triggered a conversation on Twitter. You can click here to open up the thread. As I mentioned, as soon as I started the show I basically made a decision to shut it down as my friend was producing the video out of his pocket. So, yes, there were no women out of these eight (8) guests, and had I continued the show, I would most certainly have tried again to bring women GPs on the show. I was surprised to learn some people didn’t believe that I had asked female guests in the past with TCTV, so all I can do is state here that I most certainly did. Many times.]

The Post-Seed Conference: In the organization of this conference, the organizing committee (which comprised of a woman entrepreneur) actively discussed this issue, and we all independently sent requests for speaking to a number of people; in my case, those requests were mostly not returned on email. Did I send an email to every single general partner at a VC firm? No, but I definitely spent time thinking about it and inviting people to speak, and it’s important for me that people know that. I recognize what people see is what they see, so I’m sharing a bit more about what went on behind the scenes. Right before the event, a female friend emailed me the note below, which triggered a conversation. I tried to explain that we did absolutely consider it and sent out invites, but they were not returned:

Hey! Would love to attend. I have to be honest though, I was shocked guys who I really respect like you and (redacted) would be cool with an event that has only 2 women speaking, both journalists it looks like? There are so many great female investors, I know women can be harder to come by and get to say yes but I can think of 20 women who are in sf and would be great, at least 5 of whom would say yes even on this short notice. Is there room to add more speakers on the panels? An investing conference that ends 2014 with no women investors feels like a step backwards :(

The StrictlyVC Insider Series: This was started by and is run by Connie Loizos. She is a friend, and I offered to help her organize a small handful of speaking events for her brand and newsletter this year. I will bring it up as a topic of discussion for one of the events.

Ultimately, now in 2015, I have my own blog, and I help out a little with StrictlyVC. I do not engage in organizing any other media or events, so it’s important people recognize this — just this blog and maybe 2-3 events with StrictlyVC. I will do my best to get more women in venture involved. People will see what they want to see, but it’s critical people know that many people do not respond to requests to appear at an event or on media. I’m sure there are many good reasons. Maybe they don’t want the scrutiny at work; maybe they don’t want to be part of a quota; maybe they don’t want to talk about this topic specifically, which would invariably come up; maybe they get too many requests because they’re visible and people are trying to get them on stage more. I could go on and on.

I do not recruit people into general partnerships, so this is a small way for me to bring the issue into the light, though of course, there are other inescapable facts about diversity in venture capital which I don’t have control over. I can think of one thing to do where I’m in total control of what is produced — on my blog — and I will email a bunch of female VCs to see if they’ll share their thoughts on email so I can reproduce them here in a compendium. I hope they respond, but I understand if they don’t want to, as well. (If someone has an email list of women VCs, could you please send that to me or post it here? Thank you.)

The Story Behind My Investment In Getable

“Consumerization of the Enterprise” is one of those phrases that now feels old, in part because it was used so much without real examples. That was then, and this is now — we are now starting to see enterprises adopt design-oriented products like Slack and Zenefits, to name a few. Looking back now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that products designed with principles to suit everyday consumers are preferred by workers at larger companies.

This got me thinking — what about other prevalent consumer business models today? Could concepts like “on-demand services” or “collaborative consumption” take root inside older, larger, perhaps stodgier, less sexy industries? I wrote about this with respect to on-demand services here. While I didn’t find many on-demand services with consumers as the end customer (except for Boomtown), I did start to see some interesting companies in the sharing economy, but now applies to other industries, specifically related to industrial equipment.

Growing up studying economics, textbooks beat into your head that western economies were stronger in part because they were fueled by consumption. Buying things drove GDP, and that had a strong, trickle down effect. Then, 2001 and 2008 happened, and went the tide went out, the people (and industries) who were naked had to scramble to find new places to eek out efficiency and lower their own operational and capital costs. We’ve seen what’s happened to consumer markets, with the success of companies like Airbnb (full list of “sharing economy” companies on AngelList) — so, can larger industries benefit from the trend?

What I found out is: Yes. The first company I found is Cohealo, based out of Boston. When I found them and finally met them, they’d already well passed me by as an early-stage investor, and they’re well on their way to the big time, helping hospital networks share their high-end equipment which requires high, upfront capital expenditures but often just sits around waiting to be used. Cohealo found the white space between centers which own these and those which need them, and now the sky’s the limit for them.

The next two companies I found, I invested in them. The first is Asseta, which provides an aftermarket for industrial parts for semiconductor companies, a capital-intensive business which Asseta helps provide more financial efficiency.

And the second company I found was Getable. There’s a fun story behind it. I had been tweeting about this subject after posting about it, and Kevin from Getable jumped into the conversation. I knew construction, like medical equipment, was a huge industry ($40B+ industry), big enough for a concept like sharing to pervade. It took a while for Kevin and I too schedule our meeting to talk more about this, and I had no idea how they were doing as a company. Finally, Kevin called me to apologize he had to cancel a meeting because they were just about to close a round — and, the light went off in my head.

“Can I invest, too?”

Kevin was busy as a co-founder dealing with the round, but he took my request seriously, checked out my references, and after a few weeks, managed to make a bit of room for me in the latest Series A round that was announced in February. I had a bit of time to really dig into the Getable’s metrics, which now already services more than 50 construction companies across 250+ job sites, process over $3M in construction rentals (saving on average over 20% for companies), and also driving over $20k in sales to suppliers who join the Getable network.

So, where do I send the check again?

I am grateful to Kevin for taking my call during a stressful time and taking the time to read my posts on the matter. In return, I am now allowed to invest alongside a great syndicate which led Getable’s Series A as the company marches further into a massive industry ripe for new technologies and new business models. Finally, it’s worth noting I wouldn’t have arrived at Getable if I didn’t see the concepts take root among consumers and then, write about them here on my blog. The writing helps reinforce what I see taking place, and then helps me connect with new friends like Kevin, and those connections lead to things that I couldn’t have planned with any grand strategy. That feels good.

Keepsakes, Nostalgia, and Apple

When I think back in time, to my youth, I have very strong memories of those days, but not many physical reminders or keepsakes from that era. In my parents’ house, I have some boxes stored here and there, and as I’ve moved around from NYC to SF to NYC to SF to Cambridge to Palo Alto over the last 15 years, I’ve been trying to get rid of things — not hang on to them. However, I do have a smaller box with some actual photo prints, my old passports, my old wallets, and my old wristwatches. Each of these items, in turn, carry a lot of personal nostalgia for me. You wear the wristwatch so much, it becomes a part of your body; you shape the wallet with your body over years; the passports remind you of change over the time and the places you’ve been; and the pictures, well, we all know how important those are.

Now, speeding up to 2015, close to the eve of another Apple announcement (presumably about Apple Watch), I am excited because the Watch is awesome and I want one. And, this all got me thinking: There’s time, so we have Apple Watch; there are wallets, so we have Apple Pay; there is the matter of our identity, like passports, so we have TouchID; and we have pictures, often the most critical trigger for us to recall our memories, for me now entirely taken via iPhone. All of the nostalgia I have ever kept for myself now, with Apple Watch on the way, will fit into one ecosystem, across two devices, connected in the cloud, and at my fingertips with iCloud (hopefully).

I dug out my keepsakes (see pictures below of my old wallets, watches, and passport photos). On the wallets, the green one is a freebie from Newport cigarettes, my dad got it as a promo and I wanted it so badly, so he gave it to me; on the watches, the second one from the left is something I found in the woods in my hometown and have had fixed 4-5x over the last 30 years; and on my passport photos, my dad would sign them for me as we traveled back and forth to India. It makes me realize just how transformative this mobile era is. It is not just changing how we live, but maybe also how we remember our pasts.

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Investing Pre-YC

Being a new, inexperienced, and small investor, I really have to “take what the defense gives me.” Put another way, I am often forced to look in areas and stages where more professional investors wouldn’t go. Sometimes I ride along and go late, but lately, I’ve also been going early, and one of the things I try to do in these cases is see if the company has what it takes to get into Y Combinator in the next 3-6 months. Here, I help them prepare.

People may think of Y Combinator as a startup incubator, and in some cases it can be, but it’s really a startup selector and accelerator. And, over the past two years, it has quietly been moving upmarket, as well as growing in absolute size. This means on Demo Day you can see three companies in a row present, where one has zero revenue, one is making about $4k a month, and one is making $350k/month and growing. This distorts the Demo Day vibe a bit (and potentially puts less mature companies in a tough spot), but ultimately, the YC engine is about a huge, smart, network effect and growing. The best startups coming out of there are doing both, leveraging the network for advice and new customers and growing by any means necessary.

Which brings it back to me and Haystack. I love going to Demo Day but it’s also so big and fun and a firehose, it’s hard for me to make decisions so quickly. So, I meet a bunch of the companies earlier, like many others. So, I also try to meet people early who I think have a great idea and incredible drive and who could benefit from applying and getting into YC. I have a company in the current batch I did this with, and while it was a bumpy road, it worked out and the founders are loving the experience.

A final note: I do not have any special ties with YC to help with applications, and this approach doesn’t work all the time (I’m 2 for 3), but I do think it’s an opportunity to find founders who have already started something that’s beginning to work, and a big idea — if they’re thinking about something big, if they’re leveraging their limited resources, and if they’re focused on how to grow, it’s a fair shot to get into YC. Getting into YC doesn’t mean the company will be successful, of course — but the network, peer & time pressure, and focus on growth gives an early company a great chance to get to the next key milestones.

Which Funds Catch American Unicorns Early?

Like everyone else blabbering on about unicorns, I catch myself reading the posts, too — and many LPs I talk to often just want to know, “How many unicorns do you have?” I’m partially joking, but it’s directionally true. These are the companies which drive the outsized returns. However, I wanted to ask a slightly modified question and see what public data sources would reveal. I wanted to focus on America, on consumer companies that have grown to a $1Bn of private market value since 2008., and specifically on the institutions which were able to invest relatively early — not later stage investors. Here’s the list I came up with, based on a conversation on Twitter. (Disclaimer: Please let me know if I missed any company or fund, happy to amend this!)

Since 2008, the following consumer-facing companies (U.S. HQ’d only) have been formed and reached a private market valuation of at least $1Bn. I’ve also included the only the institutional funds (even if small) who were in the round before a $100M pre-money valuation, give or take, based on public sources — note, 1) I may have not listed a fund, so please correct me if I need to, and 2) I am not listing individuals:

Uber / Lowercase, Benchmark, Structure, Founder Collective, Kapor, First Round, *AngelList
Pinterest / Bessemer, FirstMark, High Line
Whatsapp / Sequoia
Instagram / Baseline, a16z, Benchmark, Lowercase
Waze / BlueRun, Magma, Vertex
Oculus / *Kickstarter, Formation8, Spark, Matrix, Founders Fund, Big Ventures
Nest / Shasta, Kleiner Perkins
Tinder / none (*Benchmark now on BoD)
Living Social / Revolution, Grotech, USVP, Lightspeed
Groupon / NEA, Accel, SV Angel
Houzz / Advent, Sequoia
Square /
Khosla, First Round, SV Angel
Snapchat /
SV Angel, Lightspeed, Benchmark
Wish /
XG Ventures, Caffeinated, Felicis, Digital Garage, CRV, AME Cloud, Formation 8, GGV
Instacart /
Y Combinator, Khosla, Canaan, Sequoia, *Funders Club
Tango / Hambrecht

Assuming this list and rundown is true, what can we glean from it? Well, no surprise, Benchmark and Sequoia are both early and swinging big; First Round and SV Angel caught a few, as did Khosla and Lowercase, then there’s actually plenty to go around for the rest, as many firms have one — and two companies above were actually part of crowdfunding platforms (while one was on Kickstarter, but no equity was sold there). Finally, consumer is what grabs everyone’s attention and what the tech and popular media focus on, but relative to enterprise & B2B startups, there are just fewer consumer companies (16 since 2008, by this case in the U.S.) that reach $1B status — however, the total market cap of the consumer companies is much larger, hence our collective obsession and fascination of tracking such things. Oh, and LPs care, too ;-) By the way, if I only started counting from 2010 onward, the list for consumer would drop from 15 to only 10, and a good portion of them have been acquired already. Of course, there are many more in the pipeline, and if I checked on this list in a year, there will be more.

Sources: WSJ; Crunchbase; Fortune.

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