Introduction to the Internet of Things (Slides)

I’m doing a talk on the Internet of Things tomorrow at the SIIA’s “IIS: Breakthrough” conference tomorrow, and here are the slides I’ll use.  It’s meant to be a high level introduction to the topic, for a broad audience of “information industry” professionals.  Also used an earlier version of those slides at the WIN Global Innovator last week, which was fun. Feedback welcome.

10 Quick Takeaways from CES 2014

1.  Big brand curved TVs and mega booths are cool, but to me this year’s show was all about the rise of the crowdfunded hardware startup.

 

 2.  It’s official, there are now more wearable wristband vendors than there are human wrists on the planet.

 

3.  The wearables category is still waiting for its disruptive “iPhone moment”.  New releases show nice progress, but mostly incremental.  Smart watches have a long way to go.

 

4.  Accelerating trends on display, still early: family tech and senior tech.

 

5.  The lines between the tech and non-tech worlds keep blurring.  Pizza Hut and Ford both had a very noticeable presence and were pitching their tech innovation.

 

6.  Hardware innovation is truly global.  Some of the most interesting startups I met were from Manchester (UK), Ukraine and Lebanon.  France continues to be very active in the space (Parrot, Withings, Netatmo, Sen.se, etc.). [UPDATE: See below some great 3D visualizations of the latest Withings and Sen.se products, produced by SketchFab]

 

7.  China was left, front and center.  Not just as the “workshop of the world” but, more strikingly, as as a producer/innovator in their own right. The rise of the juggernaut only seems to be accelerating.

 

8.  In home automation, entrepreneurs were talking a lot about AllJoyn, Qualcomm’s open source platform and language, and the AllSeen alliance that is going to promote an open standard for the Internet of Things.

 

9.  In 3D printing, Makerbot is killing it, with its three gorgeous new printers.  Toys still seem to be the killer app for consumer 3D printing, although the new Chefjet chocolate 3D printer by 3D systems was pretty awesome. Consolidation in the consumer 3D printer space seems likely, in the not-too-distant future.

 

10.  Yves Behar and Bre Pettis are incredible creative and entrepreneurial minds, who deserve all the hype they get.  I got to witness this firsthand as a judge on the finals of the first TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield (with Jen McCabe, also very sharp), as they turned the judging into a real time mentoring session, providing  insights that were worth way more than the top $50,000 prize.  Exciting and inspiring.

 

The Rise of the Female Hardware Entrepreneur

As the fundamentally important debate over women in technology and entrepreneurship rages on (most recently sparked by what Paul Graham said, or perhaps didn’t say), I’ve been intrigued by the comparatively higher proportion of women who seem to be starting companies in one of my areas of predilection: hardware (broadly defined: open hardware, Internet of Things, wearable computing, 3D printing, etc.).

I don’t have much data here, other than my anecdotal personal experience, both as a VC and as the organizer of Hardwired NYC. But, without having to rack my brain for more than a minute or two, a bunch of names of great female founders and/or CEOs in the general hardware space comes up, including, in no particular order:

  • Limor Fried, founder, Adafruit
  • Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO, littlebits (who spoke at Hardwired NYC last November)
  • Amanda Peyton, co-founder and CEO, Grand St (see her talk at Hardwired NYC here)
  • Jenny Lawton, President, Makerbot (see her talk at Hardwired NYC here)
  • Kegan Schowenburg, co-founder and CEO, Sols (speaking at Hardwired NYC next week)
  • Helen Zelman, co-founder, Lemnos Labs
  • Cheryl Kellond, co-founder and CEO, Bia
  • Monisha Perkash, co-founder and CEO, Lumo BodyTech
  • Daniela Perdomo, co-founder and CEO, GoTenna
  • Mary Huang, co-founder, Continuum Fashion
  • Meredith Perry, founder and CEO, uBeam
  • Julia Hu, founder and CEO, Lark
  • Debra Sterling, founder and CEO, GoldieBlox

And there are many more (both in the U.S and globally), which is exciting.

The question, of course, is why hardware would be an area of particular focus for female entrepreneurs. As a category, hardware is broad, lends itself to all sorts of products, and as a result feels pretty gender-neutral.

Could it be that there are more female role models in hardware, since it is often said that role models are particularly important to female entrepreneurs ? It doesn’t appear that way. Sure, women have run some of the biggest hardware companies in the world (Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman at HP; Ursual Burns at Xerox) but it’s unclear how much of an inspiration they would be to early stage tech entrepreneurs, and more importantly, a number of software or internet companies have been run by women as well. Perhaps more relevant are female entrepreneurs like Limor Fried, who under her “Lady Ada” moniker has become the closest equivalent to a celebrity in the hardware alpha geek world (and beyond, through her appearance on the cover of Wired in 2011).

What’s interesting is that hardware lends itself particularly well to new entrants – there’s been a big gap in innovation in hardware in the last 10 or 15 years (with some notable exceptions like Apple), and as a result there’s a “missing generation”, and plenty of opportunities for new entrepreneurs to become leaders in what, in some ways, feels like a brand new field.

Curious if anyone can think of an explanation?

Regardless, and to the extent this is indeed a trend, it is particularly exciting and promising, and we should collectively think about how to accelerate it and extend it to other areas of tech entrepreneurship.

*****

UPDATE:

Got some great feedback on Twitter, and while my initial goal was not to be comprehensive here, thought it could actually be helpful to start a running list of female hardware founders  – perhaps it can become a good resource.   Here are the people that were recommended to me, who else should I add? (please add in comments)

First Name Last Name Company Location
Jeri Ellsworth Technical Illusions Bellevue, WA
Kati Bicknell Kindara Boulder, CO
Mary Turner AlertMe Cambridge, UK
Liz Salcedo Everpurse Chicago, IL
Anastasia Leng Hatch New York, NY
Christina Mercando Ringly New York, NY
Ezster Ozsvald Notch New York, NY
Gauri Nanda Toymail New York, NY
Lisa Fetterman Nomiku San Francisco, CA
Laura Berman Melon Santa Monica, CA
Amanda Williams Fabule Fabrications Montreal, Canada
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino Good Night Lamp London, UK
Alice Taylor MakieLab London, UK
Natasha Carolan MakieLab London, UK
Becky Pilditch Bare Conductive London, UK
Becky Stewart Codasign London, UK
Bethany Koby TechnologyWillSaveUs London, UK
Emily Brooke Blaze London, UK
Jane ni Dhulchaoinfi Sugru London, UK
Jessi Baker Provenance London, UK
Ana Burica Teddy The Guardian Zagreb, Croatia
Mila Burger Loccie Zagreb, Croatia
Alicia Asin Libelium Zaragoza, Spain

The Battle For The Connected Home Is Heating Up

Note: This post first appeared in TechCrunch, here.

Almost 15 years ago, a friend of mine at McKinsey spent a few nights writing a document called “The Battle for the Home”. The thesis at the time was that with broadband, the home PC was gradually going to challenge the TV as the core home digital system. Over the following few years, that battle gradually grew more complex, as the home saw the adoption of a new generation of HDTV sets, game consoles, set-top boxes and DVR options. But fundamentally, the discussion was about who was going to control the home entertainment system.

Now, the battle has expanded to the rest of the home. With the emergence of connected devices, the entire home is being reinvented as a data product, opening great opportunities to entrepreneurs.  A whole new generation of startups is rushing in. Nest, with its beautifully-designed home products, has become the poster child for this phenomenon, but many others are producing exciting new connected devices and platforms, at an outstanding pace.

The irony of this market, not always acknowledged, is that a number of large companies with big brands and existing “pipes” in our homes, have been unusually innovative. From connected locks to mobile-controlled home automation platforms, large companies such as GE, Comcast or Philips have been offering connected home products for a while now, sometimes at the risk of cannibalizing their own analog products. As a result, the new wave of connected home startups finds itself in the fairly unusual position of having to not only execute and build consumer brands, but also out innovate dynamic incumbents. The home is once again at the crossroads of a major battle between startups, cable companies, telcos, industrial conglomerates, and large technology companies.

As VC money is starting to pour into the space (SmartThings, August and Arrayent all announced significant rounds just in the last two weeks, as did Quirky, as part of an increased focus on the Internet of Things), a new battle for the home is heating up between startups, cable companies, telcos, industrial conglomerates, and large technology companies.

The first battle for the home was not always kind to startups. Many found that, once past the sheer difficulties of building a hardware product, consumers often preferred the convenience of package deals offered by cable companies to best-of-breed point solutions, resulting in many failures or tepid exits.

While this new generation of startups has an exciting opportunity in front of it, the path to success will also be narrow. To succeed long term, startups will need to maneuver shrewdly among the giants in the space, and do what startups do best: deliver truly ground breaking products, build developer networks, bet on openness and interoperability, and leverage data in innovative ways.

The new household brands

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the emergence of new connected home startups. For reasons I discussed in an earlier post, there’s been an explosion of activity in the space, initially financed by crowdfunding and now increasingly by institutional money –  SmartThings and August, for example, both just announced large Series A rounds. Each category is seeing rapid innovation: thermostats (Nest), locks (August, Lockitron), security (Canary, Doorbot), lights (LIFX), home automation (SmartThings, Zonoff, Ninja Blocks, Ube, Berg, Twine, Xively, etc.), garden products (Bitponics, Click & Grow), bathroom appliances (Withings), nursery products (Sproutling, in which I’m an investor), and many others.

This is a big opportunity. Beyond the fact that it’s already a significant market ($13 billion, say some estimates), connected home entrepreneurs have an opportunity to create, quite literally, new household brands. The emergence of connected devices is one of those disruptive waves that define entire new product categories. Consumption habits change and reform around a handful of brands that become leaders in the space. Some wonder why smart and ambitious entrepreneurs are scrambling to build products in those seemingly mundane home categories; in fact, those entrepreneurs are attracted like heat-seeking missiles by the opportunity to build category-defining brands. At the current pace, this window of opportunity may not last more than a couple of years, and successful first movers will have a strong brand advantage.

Clearly, the adoption of those connected home products is still largely the province of hobbyists and tech enthusiasts. Interestingly however, large retailers seem to be excited about distributing those products to their mainstream audiences.  Many entrepreneurs I speak with report engaging with some of the biggest players, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Staples, Apple stores and AT&T.

While this is not a recipe for long-term success, there’s an element of self-fulfilling prophecy here, where the combination of entrepreneurial energy, investor money and retailer interest could lead to rapid growth for the connected home startups.

Not so fast

However, for all the enthusiasm on crowdfunding platforms and in the press, this is already a crowded space. Many of the existing players are large companies that come equipped with deep distribution networks and a whole ecosystem of service providers that make a living installing and maintaining their products.

First, there are all the incumbents, both in home and energy automation (Crestron, Lutron, Control4, etc) and home security (ADT, Protection 1, Vivint, etc.). Not the most exciting brands? Perhaps.

Second, many large industrial companies have already launched their own connected home products – think, for example, Yale’s Z-Wave deadbolt or the Philips Hue, a smartphone-controlled LED bulb. There are many other examples.

Third, the cable providers and telcos increasingly view home automation as a strategic priority. Comcast (Xfinity), Time Warner Cable, Cox, AT&T and Verizon (FiOS) all have solutions for anything from thermostat and light control to security, accessible through mobile apps.

Last but not least, the large technology companies Apple and Google are already de facto active in the space, as the mobile phone has become the remote control for the connected home. They may want to go deeper. Google’s “Android @Home” effort seems to have faltered so far, but Chromecast is intriguing. Apple is rumored to be interested in the space at the highest level of the organization, and actively meeting with startups. It has been suggested that they should acquire Nest to enter the space and re-acquire the Apple-bred talent there. Microsoft (Kinect), Samsung and HTC all have existing or emerging efforts.

Dancing with the giants

So what’s a startup to do? For those ambitious startups that are gunning for a central position in the connected home, the question is what strategy gets you there faster

One key choice is whether to go “product first” (build a consumer product, like Nest) or “platform first” (build a platform that connects all products, like Revolv). The former involves more hardware, but arguably offers a better chance of gaining rapid sales traction if the product delivers. It is also less of an immediate challenge to most of the large companies in the space. The path to control of the home involves releasing multiple products that connect to one another (which Nest is starting to do with its Protect smoke alarm), and eventually become a platform.

The “Platform First” strategy is more of a software play, and its core value proposition is home automation.  It offers strong long term defensibility if you get there, but the journey is fraught with difficulties.  First, as Lowe’s has learned with Iris and Schlage with Nexia, it is difficult to get consumers to buy and install a “hub”.  In addition, among the early adopters that are likely to do so, a non-trivial portion are Arduino and Raspberry Pi aficionados that prefer to hack their own system.   For mainstream adoption, one avenue for platform players could be to work with home developers and gradually get their systems included in new construction, obviously a long process.   Second, the Platform strategy places startups in direct competition with Comcast, Verizon FiOS and many other large companies that are also vying to become the hub for the automated home, and already have millions of customers.  The bet here for “Platform First” players is that, by promoting openness and interoperability in a way that is harder for large companies to do, they can build a strong network of developers that write to the platform – perhaps starting with hobbyists and the smaller “Product first” companies that need help competing with the “Product first” leaders – the benefit for the customer being that they will be able to connect all their best-of-breed point solutions.

Another key choice, particularly for “Platform First” players, is whether to go consumer (develop your own brand) or enterprise (be an enabling technology for other brands).  Some solid companies have chosen the latter, such as iControl Networks (which powers Comcast’s Xfinity and others) or Zonoff (which powers Staples Connect). Others like SmartThings have been building a recognizable brand in the space, which some large companies could perceive as a threat. My sense is that eventually most startups will need to work with the large companies in some capacity to be successful, so perhaps the question is what strategy puts you in the best negotiating position for a partnership (or an acquisition).

Seven Key Characteristics

Beyond positioning, connected home startups will need to combine several characteristics to build long term value and defensibility. Here is my list of seven.

  1. Design quality is hugely important in transforming those trivial products into objects of desire, and to succeed connected home startups will need to be true “design natives”: Nest, August and Canary are great examples of design done right.
  2. Simplicity of installation and usage will be essential: little effort in, maximum return out.
  3. Mission criticality and strong ROI are key in a space where some products could easily be mistaken for nice to have “gadgets”:  security, health and energy are great categories from that perspective.
  4. In the same vein, startups will need to deliver real innovation.  Simply adding connectivity to a home product doesn’t make it great.  Is the connected product 10X better than its analog equivalent? Or, even better, does it simply not have an analog equivalent?
  5. A multi-product vision and the ability to release successful products back to back will be crucial in building self-standing, long-term successes in the space – obviously, easier said than done.
  6. Software openness and interoperability will be necessary to successfully build developer networks and partnerships.
  7. Perhaps most importantly, startups will need to be true “data natives”.  Many connected devices offer exciting opportunities to build “data network effects”:  each device captures data that, aggregated and analyzed at the cloud level, enables the extraction of insights that in turn make each individual device smarter, through machine learning and predictive analytics.  This is one of the main reasons why the Internet of Things goes much beyond a simple hardware play, and will be a key aspect of the defensibility of the winners in the space: you pay for the hardware, but the software (and data) is what keeps you using the product.

This new battle for the home is just getting started.  It will have many twists and turns, and I’m very excited to see how it all unfolds.

Thomson Reuters CTO Series (Podcast)

Thomson Reuters CTO James Powell runs a great series of podcasts where he interviews people in the technology world about topics of relevance to his organization.  I was fortunate to be invited to speak with James about the Internet of Things and Big Data, and it was a lot of fun.   Below is the podcast, uploaded on SoundCloud.  Thanks to James Powell and Dan Cost for the opportunity.

Launching New Sites for Data Driven NYC and Hardwired NYC

Some updates on the event/community front:

1) A little while ago, I changed the name of the data event I’ve been organizing from “NYC Data Business Meetup” to “Data Driven NYC”.   I originally started the event mostly as experiment, and didn’t give much thought to branding (so yeah, that was a terrible name).  The event has now grown quite a bit (over 3.700 members as I write this), so it was time for a better name; also at this stage, it feels more like a community than “just” a meetup, so I wanted a name that reflected this reality.

2) Back in June, I launched a new community called “Hardwired NYC”.  It covers startups, technologies and products at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, including topics like 3D printing, Internet of Things, wearable computing, etc.  I developed a strong interest in those areas through my involvement in the Big Data world – the Internet of Things, in particular, is deeply intertwined with Big Data (the proliferation of sensors has been contributing to the Big Data “problem”; equally  the Internet of Things will be highly dependent on Big Data technologies if it is to deliver on its promise).

3) As Hardwired NYC is taking off fast (more than 700 members after just two events), I figured that both events/communities should have their own website with full video libraries, including for people who don’t live in New York and are interested in the content. So, with the great help of my FirstMark colleague Dan Kozikowski,  I’m launching this week www.datadrivennyc.com and www.hardwirednyc.com.  Both sites have a “Watch” section where, from now on, I will post pictures and videos of events (as opposed to this blog).

Data Driven NYC

Hardwired screenshot

Making Sense of the Internet of Things

Note: This post was originally published in TechCrunch a few weeks ago (see original post here).  Below is a revised version of the chart, that reflects many of the comments we received.  Although the chart is very full, it is likely that some companies are missing.

The emerging Internet of Things — essentially, the world of physical devices connected to the network/Internet, from your Fitbit or Nest to industrial machines — is experiencing a burst of activity and creativity that is getting entrepreneurs, VCs and the press equally excited.

The space looks like a boisterous hodgepodge of smart hobbyists, new startups and large corporations that are eager to be a part of what could be a huge market, and all sorts of enabling products and technologies, some of which, including crowdfunding and 3D printing, are themselves far from established.

 
The chart above is an attempt at making sense of this frenetic activity. From bottom to top, I see three broad areas – building blocks, verticals and horizontals:

Building Blocks

The concept of the Internet of Things is not new (the term itself was coined in 1999), but it is now in the process of becoming a reality thanks to the confluence of several key factors.

First, while still challenging, it is easier and cheaper than ever to produce hardware – some components are open sourced (e.g. Arduino microcontrollers); 3D printing helps with rapid prototyping; specialized providers like Dragon Innovation and PCH can handle key parts of the production process, and emerging marketplaces such as Grand St. help with distribution. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo considerably de-risk the early phase of creating hardware by establishing market demand and providing financing.

Second, the world of wireless connectivity has dramatically evolved over the last few years. The mobile phone (or tablet), now a supercomputer in everyone’s hand, is becoming the universal remote control of the Internet of Things. Ubiquitous connectivity is becoming a reality (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G) and standards are starting to emerge (MQTT).  The slight irony of the “Internet of Things” moniker is that things are often connected via M2M (machine to machine) protocols rather than the Internet itself.

Third, the Internet of Things is able to leverage an entire infrastructure that has emerged in related areas. Cloud computing enables the creation of “dumb” (simpler, cheaper) devices, with all the intelligence processed in the cloud. Big data tools, often open sourced (Hadoop), enable the processing of massive amounts of data captured by the devices and will play a crucial role in the space.

Verticals

Unlike the Big Data space, where the action is gradually moving from core infrastructure to vertical applications, the Internet of Things space is seeing a lot of early action directly at the vertical application level. Some notable players like Nest Labs seem to have adopted a deeply integrated vertical strategy where they control key pieces of the product, including both hardware and software, in order to have complete control over the end-user experience (a lot like Apple, which is not surprising considering the founders’ background).

Beyond the Nest, home automation in general has become the central battlefield of the Internet of Things, with some of the most exciting startups in the space jockeying for position. Another hot consumer-facing area is obviously quantified self, which is playing a huge role in developing consumers’ awareness of the potential of the Internet of Things.

Beyond consumer, B2B/enterprise vertical applications of the Internet of Things, fueled in part by robotics, hold considerable promise in a number of areas such as manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, retail and energy. Some of clearest revenue opportunities for IoT startups are in the enterprise area.

Horizontals

While a lot of the action is happening at the vertical application level, the ultimate prize for many ambitious players in the space is to become the software platform upon which all vertical applications in the Internet of Things will be built. For example, several of the home automation providers (SmartThings, Ninja Blocks, etc.) also provide a software platform, and seem to be leveraging their vertical focus as a way to kickstart activity on the platform.

Large corporations (GE, IBM, etc.) are very active in the space and are developing their own platforms.  Carriers (AT&T, Verizon) have a large opportunity in the area, as well.

One open question is whether a platform developed for a vertical will easily translate to another vertical. In addition, whether the winning platforms are open or closed will play a huge role in the future of the space. My bet would be on openness.

The related area of connectivity (connecting objects to the network/Internet and to one another through all sorts of rules) is also a very significant opportunity.

The space is extraordinarily exciting, but still very much in its infancy – expect this chart to change dramatically over the next few months and years.

Data Driven NYC: Special Data Science

The May edition of Data Driven NYC (f/k/a NYC Data Business Meetup) featured some of the coolest kids of the Data Science world, in NYC and beyond:

* Cathy O’Neil, Senior Data Scientist at Johnson Research Labs
* Claudia Perlich, Chief Scientist at M6D
* Drew Conway, Scientist-in-Residence at IA Ventures
* Chris Wiggins, Professor at Columbia University and co-founder of HackNY
* Max Shron – Data strategy consultant and former data scientist at OkCupid

Unfortunately, no videos for Cathy and Claudia – their microphones did not work.  I didn’t include the panel video either because large chunks of it are silent (due to the same issues with Cathy’s and Claudia’s microphones).  Bummer.

Chris Wiggins:

Drew Conway:

Max Shron

Internet of Things Meetup

At the April #NYDBM, we explored  the fascinating intersection between Big Data and the Internet of Things.

One of the reasons why volumes of data have been escalating prodigiously over the last few years has been the proliferation of sensors of all kinds (in cell phones, cars, industrial plants, etc.), providing a unique articulation between the online and physical worlds. The concept of an Internet of Things (and its cousin for the manufacturing world, the “Industrial Internet”), where objects, devices and machines are connected and operable through a network, is not a new concept, but it is now quickly accelerating.  In the Internet of Things, all objects become represented by data, and the intelligence is pushed above the level of the devices themselves, to the cloud where big data technologies help operate the devices with new levels of efficiency, factoring in not just the individual circumstances of that specific device but also those of connected devices as well as the external context affecting the network at any point in time.

We started with a few spotlight presentations by three pre-funding startups in the space:

  • Canary (fka ForceField Labs): Connected device for home security and monitoring
  • Placemeter: Smart in-store sensors capturing customer data(part of the current Techstars NYC class)
  • Dash Labs: Connected car platform (also part of current Techstars NYC class)

We then featured the following speakers:

  • Alex Hawkinson, CEO, SmartThings
  • Peter Semmelhack, CEO, Bug Labs and author of a new book, “Social Machines”
  • Jon Bruner, data journalist at O’Reilly and author of a new report on “The Industrial Internet”
  • Steve Schlafman of Lerer Ventures
  • Phin Barnes of First Round Capital

Canary:

 

Placemeter:

 

Dash:

 

Peter Semmelhack:

 

Jon Bruner:

 

SmartThings:

 

Panel:

 

Cloudera, Greylock, Platfora and Think Big Analytics

We had an all star event on March 19 at the New York Data Business Meetup with some great presentations and discussions (and some fun stuff as well: see Jeff Hammerbacher’s first few slides about how the term “data scientist” came to existence).

Many thanks to the people who made it possible:
–  Silvio Galea and Annie Dane for hosting us at the very cool WeWork space in SoHo
– David Raviv for doing amazing work with the videos
– Shivon Zilis for taking great pics and being all around super helfpul and resourceful

Here are the videos, in order of appearance:

 

 

 

 

 

And here are some pics:

Big Data 101 Presentation

A few weeks ago, I was invited to do a couple of guest lectures at NYU (as part of the excellent “Ready, Fire, Aim” entrepreneurship class that Lawrence Lenihan, now my partner at FirstMark, has been doing for a while there) and at The New School (as part of a Big Data course organized by Debra Anderson and Greta Knutzen).  Thought I’d share the slide deck I had prepared for those classes.  Very much a Big Data 101 class for a college-level audience that had had little or no exposure to the key concepts prior to the class.

Joining FirstMark Capital

Today I’m very excited to announce that I’m joining FirstMark Capital as Managing Director.  My main investment focus will be on areas that correspond to my professional background (B2B, enterprise, Big Data, fintech, education, etc.), but I will also happily be open to any big idea involving technology.

As anyone who follows the venture capital industry knows, opportunities of this nature and quality don’t come by very often, and I’m incredibly grateful and honored by the trust that the FirstMark team has placed in me.

At a time when venture capital has been facing substantial challenges and transformation, FirstMark is in my opinion a perfect example of “VC done right”, resulting in much deserved early success:

  • Results:  Probably in large part because FirstMark’s philosophy has been to focus the light entirely on their entrepreneurs, I don’t think people have quite caught on to just how impressive a firm FirstMark has become in the short span of five years since its creation.  In many ways, FirstMark is one of the industry’s best-kept secrets: their first fund ($200 million) is one of the very best of its vintage, and the follow up fund ($225 million) has already had some real breakouts.
  • Disruption & Innovation: A quick perusal through the FirstMark’s portfolio immediately tells a story of thoughtful but gutsy bets in a number of highly disruptive plays.  Beyond the more visible runaway hits (first VC money in Pinterest), FirstMark has invested in companies reinventing education (Knewton), finance (SecondMarket), television (Aereo), news distribution (NewsCred), gaming (Riot Games) and… your brain (Lumosity).
  • Founder/CEO Support: Perhaps the ultimate testament to FirstMark’s approach in my opinion is that the CEOs of its portfolio companies simply rave about the firm.  The FirstMark team brings a tremendous amount of intelligence, hard work, experience and connections to the table, as well as a fair amount of New York-style hustle.
  • Community and Portfolio Services: The venture capital model has been gradually evolving over the last few years from a capital-centric model (where VCs provide mostly funding and oversight) to a service-centric model (where money is increasingly commoditized and VCs add value by providing a suite of operational services that enable entrepreneurs and their startups to fully realize their success potential).   FirstMark is one of the few funds, typically part of a new generation of VCs, that have made a true commitment to providing operational services to their portfolio companies, whether in terms of recruiting, research or knowledge sharing. In my own community-building endeavor (the monthly Big Data event I run, see below), I have experienced firsthand both the level of effort required to pull this off and the tremendous benefits one gets in return, and I was extremely impressed with the current programming and roadmap for community that FirstMark has put in place, with apparently a lot more coming.

Beyond the intrinsic qualities of the firm, perhaps the most important factor that drew me to FirstMark is the effortless personal fit I have with its partners and team.  Venture capital can be a tough business, with its fair share of ego and difficult types, so it’s an extraordinary privilege to get to work with a team of highly intelligent, humble, focused, talented and overall great group of individuals.

I will certainly miss my friends at Bloomberg, a company for which I have developed a profound admiration over the years, but I couldn’t be more happy and excited about the future. I look forward to being even more active in the startup community and interacting with many of you.

For those of you in NYC who are wondering, I will still very much continue to run my Big Data meetup (the NYC Data Business Meetup) and in fact I will use the opportunity to take it to the next level over the next few months – stay tuned.

 

Quantopian, Plaid and ZestFinance

Our February NYC Data Business Meetup was focused on the intersection of data and finance (both market and consumer finance).  Quantopian, Plaid and ZestFinance presented.

We also had a great panel presenting the customer perspective on Big Data (hype vs. reality), from a financial institutions’ viewpoint, with the following speakers:  Mike Simone (Global Head of CitiData Platform Engineering), Emile Werr (Head of Enterprise Data Architecture, NYSE EuroNext) and  Raj Patil (up until recently Data innovation CTO at UBS, now an entrepreneur).  Unfortunately, due to standard policy at some of those institutions, we can’t publicly post the video of the panel.

The slides are here: 

Quantopian

Plaid

ZestFinance

Here are the videos, in order of appearance (we also had a great “customer panel

Bloomberg App Portal:

Quantopian:

Plaid:

ZestFinance:

Panel: