Data Warehousing for All

At Redpoint, we’re always proud to support our portfolio companies and it’s gratifying when one receives industry recognition for its accomplishments.

In case you missed it, last week the O’Reily Strata + Hadoop Conference held its fourth annual Startup Showcase where a panel of judges picked the best data-driven startups.  The first place winner was Snowflake Computing, a company we are honored to back for its veteran team, timely vision,and killer technology.  A good recap of the conference with insights on the evolution of big data technologies can be found on Snowflake’s blog here.

More broadly, we’re excited about Snowflake because they are disrupting the status quo of the old and complicated premise-based SQL data warehousing systems and re-imagining a better way to turn data into insights. The experienced team at Snowflake, which includes data scientists from companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Cloudera and Google, observed that there hadn’t been a major advance in database technology in more than a decade. They knew that global enterprise customers needed a better way to turn their data into insights, instead of worrying about managing infrastructure.

By building a database entirely based on the cloud and bringing together all the users, data and workloads into a single place, Snowflake lets customers access their company’s data as a service so that they can better run their business. Snowflake is making data warehousing accessible to everyone by building this new model from scratch, and using low cost, but highly available cloud resources.

Technically, this is a company that’s solving hard problems with real innovation.  Personally, we know how hard they work, and we’re thrilled to see the judges at Strata take notice. Congrats to Bob Muglia and the entire team!


Tapping the mobile monetization Button!


Today I am excited to announce that Redpoint is leading a Series A investment in Button, the commerce enablement platform built for the mobile app economy. We are proud to support Mike Jaconi and an outstanding founding team. With their deep knowledge of the mobile commerce space and their combined engineering and operational talents, this team has a unique competitive advantage.

The emerging market for mobile app commerce is evolving rapidly and Button sits at the center of some of the most interesting challenges in tech right now.   As I wrote about previously, Facebook is on a $6.5B run rate on mobile and Apple and Google app stores are each on $10B+ run rates. Uber, the mobile commerce icon and early Button partner, is rumored to have done $1.5-2B in revenue last year.

Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The smartphone has the potential to become the remote control for getting anything done with just a swipe or a tap, and unleash a tidal wave of commerce in the process.  But there are still many challenges left to address to make this a reality.  The market opportunity for players who can solve these problems and accelerate mobile app commerce is significant.

App discovery, and increasingly re-engagement, remain the largest friction points constraining mobile commerce.  There are over two million apps available to download on iOS and Android, yet only about a quarter of US mobile users download more than 1 app per month. It is increasingly difficult for app developers to rise above the noise and acquire users, and then re-engage these users over time.

Even in its early days Button’s product has proven incredibly useful to helping solve that challenge with partners like Uber and Resy.  Button is building out an in-app distribution network for mobile on-demand commerce apps to enable DeepLink commerce.  Put more simply, Button helps app developers drive traffic, engagement and transactions within other apps. They do this by leveraging native button-like placements and a combination of deep commerce integrations and cross-app loyalty. In doing so, Button converts app functionality into monetization, and introduces a new, native mobile “ad” format that we’ve been waiting for.

Button’s initial integration is with the startup reservation service Resy. After a consumer books a table, a prompt allows the user to set up a reminder to book an Uber right before the time of the reservation. If the user does not have the Uber app, it is downloaded seamlessly in the background.  This integration is a great channel for Uber to acquire new users and reengage existing ones, while also enabling Resy to provide a richer user experience and monetize its existing audience. Uber + Resy is just one of the many integrations that Button will enable.

Within mobile, we think most of the purchase intent for these commerce apps will be generated within other apps, but this intent is not being adequately captured today. Button is enabling a new channel for user acquisition and engagement, one that will allow apps to more closely connect together and provide the most seamless user experiences on mobile.

Most importantly, here at Redpoint, we make bets on people and we are proud to back Mike as he builds Button into a company that matters to our mobile first economy.  It also just happens that Mike meets the criteria of a successful founding CEO that I previously wrote about here. He saw the market opportunity for Button when he was working at Rakuten where he gained up close, first-hand knowledge and understanding of the opportunity.  He has the gift of passion and persuasion.  And he is relentless in his focus on execution.

Welcome to the Redpoint family Mike and the Button team!


The Case for EiR

This post originally appeared on Medium.

For the past couple decades I’ve been focused non-stop on founding and running start-ups back to back, punctuated by intense immersions at some of the more culturally influential companies of our times from SEGA to Twitter. So it was new territory when I found myself with breathing room trying to figure out my next move. The central question as I saw it: was my obsession with electronics and hardware just a hobby, or a pivot to a new industry segment?

In thinking about how to sort out my next adventure, I spent time talking with a number of my friends at both startups and venture. A common thread to these conversations surprised me: the suggestion to pursue an entrepreneur in residence position as a way to help me answer my question and identify my path.

I had never considered being an EiR. I had previously only thought of the role as a way to build relationships for fundraising, or a place to have an office to work through ideas with a co-founder. Things I was not worried about in the immediate term. As I spent time considering the pros and cons of EiRing I didn’t find much posted on it from this angle. I thought it might be helpful to write about my journey in the hopes it helps others in the future.

A little more background on my conundrum:

With the maker movement in full swing, there are tons of accessible entry points on designing and building hardware prototypes, but far fewer sources of information on the challenges of building a scalable business involving hardware.

To be sure, people have been building successful scalable hardware businesses for a long time. Recently however, the democratization of product design and prototyping tools has gotten to the point where it’s possible to create rough prototypes of ideas in mere hours and production like prototypes in a week or two. Arduino and Ultimaker are extremely accessible platforms for quickly realizing the germ of an idea. High fidelity prototypes are in easy reach of small scrappy teams and individuals with software tools like Eagle CAD, cloud offerings from Autodesk and on-demand manufacturing services like Oshpark and Shapeways.

On the business side, it’s less clear. Crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter provide practical rungs up the customer validation ladder, but the ramp is far less smooth than scaling a software only business. Rapid prototyping and advances in low production volume runs certainly help accelerate the build, measure learn loop on a small scale, but the challenges ramp steeply as the business grows.

As I started to investigate the EiR role, I quickly realized that it’s the ultimate “choose your own adventure” with huge variation across, and even inside VC firms.

For some firms, the EiR role is the chance for a partner to realize an existing hypothesis working with a founder. For others, it’s the opportunity for yet more perspective on pitches and teams. For most, it’s early access to a new company in the formative stages.

As the benefits to VC firms started to become more clear, the real question for me was: “what was I looking to get out of an EiR experience?”

I knew that a fundamental criteria was wanting to spend my time with smart, experienced folks that I really like as people. In my case, I specifically wanted to learn more about scalable businesses involving hardware, both at the seed stage as well as growing businesses. I also didn’t want to miss out on learning from folks starting and scaling their consumer and enterprise software businesses.

Before joining SEGA, as an independent developer I knew how the game publishing business worked from an intellectual standpoint, but it was no substitute for seeing how the sausage was made. Similarly, another key goal for my EiR experience is to gain insights into the process that only come from first hand experience.

Finally, a big part of what drives me as a person and an entrepreneur is solving problems and being helpful. I knew I wanted to be somewhere that I could use my experience to be helpful to other entrepreneurs and the firm.

I was lucky to be talking with a few of the best firms in venture. Narrowing it down to those who were actively investing in both hardware and software, consumer and enterprise, still left me with a tough decision.

Ultimately, I decided that Redpoint was the right home base for me. I still get to spend quality time with my friends at other firms, but where you spend the bulk of your time during the experience is important.

Here were some key things that helped me make the decision that I would definitely advise anyone in a similar position to consider:

  • Talk to folks that have had successful EiR experiences at the firms you are considering. For me this was conversations with Javier Soltero and Arthur van Hoff, both amazing guys with unique stories and perspectives on the EiR role and Redpoint.
  • Spend time with multiple partners at the firm. I knew Ryan Sarver well and he was a big part of the attraction for me, but getting quality time alone with Chris and Satish really cemented my interest in the firm.
  • Understand the process of the firms in question. How open is the partner communication? What does their deal decision making process look like and how much access will you have to it? Redpoint is an incredibly open and collaborative environment which is important to me given that I’m still thinking broadly and trying to figure out what space my next adventure will be in.

Gestating a new venture is an exciting time. I couldn’t be happier learning with such a great group of people!


If You Build It, Will They Come? Tips From the Trenches on Mobile User Acquisition

If You Build It, Will They Come? Tips From the Trenches on Mobile User Acquisition

Hands down the best part of my job is supporting entrepreneurs solving thorny problems.  I always get a charge when we get to convene founders with common interests to compare notes on what’s working for them and learn from one another. So I was pumped when we recently gathered a set of industry experts, tacticians and entrepreneurs in the trenches to talk about techniques that are successful for mobile user acquisition.

There is obviously no one size fits all playbook to get people to find, download and engage with your app, but we did identify some common themes and surface some practical advice.  Below is a summary.  Got to do more of these!

Discovery: Good Apps Can Be Hard to Find

Not surprisingly, app discovery surfaced as one of the biggest challenges developers are facing today.  We’re still in such early days with mobile that we just haven’t developed a quality search and discovery experience yet.  Conventions like page rank for mobile apps simply don’t exist.

Since consumers have limited ways of finding apps, smart publishers are experimenting with the dials with which to reach them.  The three main channels for app discovery are word of mouth, Apple and Google app stores, and app install ads in Facebook.

Understanding how to work with Apple and Google’s respective editorial teams and curated app stores is critical, and viewed by many as a black art. Creative hacks for testing and understanding how to work with the system were popular in this crowd.  Testing content to see what resonates with consumers in different channels emerged as a best practice and testing images was cited as potentially game changing.  Above all, keep showing consumers the value of the app throughout the entire process to get to download at this stage.

Distribution: Easier Said Than Done

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that if an app isn’t inherently viral, it’s hard to drive distribution even if it’s providing value to people.  Publishers are using a variety of tools for paid app distribution. Top rated were Kahuna for push notifications, Tune for marketing attribution and Heap for analytics.  For paid channels, Facebook was driving the largest cost performance volumes for most companies, not a big surprise considering Facebook’s $6.5B run rate on mobile.  Facebook’s lookalike audience tool is incredibly effective.

Targeting international markets is par for the course with global consumers having more influence than ever in the rise and fall of app popularity.  To succeed globally, app localization is mission critical with both the AppStore and word of mouth distribution.

When the topic of optimizing organic app store distribution came up, the advice is deceiving in its simplicity.  Build a great app.  Market it accurately.  Think about the title and write a good description. Reviews and images all make an impact.

Engagement: It’s All About Context

The onboarding experience emerged as one of the most important aspects to keeping users.  You need to hook people as quickly as possible since you don’t have a lot of time to demonstrate value to people with micro-attention spans accustomed instant gratification.

One intriguing insight was that the more information someone receives about an app before they get pushed to an install page, the higher the conversion rates are.  Context matter a lot. Giving users information that is personalized and compelling can prime them to engage more deeply with the app.

An app publisher, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of various channels is vital. For instance, Twitter is great at interest targeting, which is expressed via follows, whereas Facebook lets you delve into behavior and demographic targeting.  Again and again we heard that granular targeting pared with deep links drives conversions.

Retention is an age-old problem in mobile.  You might be getting thousands of downloads, but if people aren’t staying and engaging with your app, you’re just running in place.  You don’t want to constantly refill a leaky bucket.  Timely, context-related push notifications and re-marketing campaigns are particularly helpful in bringing users back and building loyalty.

This particular get together just scratched the surface on this broad topic, but it was good to see people making connections and finding tangible ways to grow their business.  Grateful to the insightful group of folks who joined us at this last gathering and looking forward to the next one!  Drop me a line if you have thoughts or questions.




Why Redpoint Doubled Down on Infer


When we consider investments, we look at a business’ market opportunity, its people, and its product. If the opportunity is big, the market is bound to get crowded because lots of companies will want to win in that space. That’s why at Redpoint, most of our investment decisions revolve around the people, and we look for teams or DNA that can actually go and win in their market.

We first invested in Infer’s Series A 18 months ago because it fit this investment philosophy. The company had a path-of-revenue product and early success with marquee customers like New Relic, Zendesk and Tableau. We knew that if Infer could prove repeatability and deliver predictive-as-a-service to companies of all sizes, that’d be huge. But most importantly, we were extremely impressed by CEO Vik Singh and his team. They were clearly talented from not only an entrepreneurial and technical perspective, but on the business side as well. With the recent addition of Jim Herbold, who grew Box’s annual recurring revenue from under $1 million to over $100 million, Infer has truly formed a dream team.

As a member of the board, I’ve enjoyed a front row seat as the company’s story has unfolded. Infer has grown revenue bookings 150% quarter after quarter, and consistently boosted customers’ win rates through applications that can be deployed easily by any business. Along the way, I’ve built trust with Vik and been able to see his talents at work. Since I’ve been on the other side of the table, I know how rare it is to find an entrepreneur who is so intelligent about decisions, who understands the strategy, and whom I can respect and challenge because he’s open to suggestions.

When it came time for Vik to raise the Series B funding, he garnered considerable VC interest due to the company’s great traction and vocal customers. At Redpoint, we have so much trust in Infer that we just had to go all-in and lead the B round as well. We have tremendous belief in this A+ team and their ability to win in a hot market, and we couldn’t be more excited about what’s to come.


Moments in Time and the Trend of Social Sharing


One of the questions I always ask myself when meeting founders is why is this person or team uniquely positioned to solve this problem? Do they have an obsession for finding the answer and understanding their user?

When I first met Lee Hoffman he had been methodically recording every emotion, activity, place and thought he had on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis for the past five years. He started collecting these records with the goal of understanding himself better. In the process, he discovered an unexpected thrill from being able to relive every moment on demand at a later point in time. He found a particular magic when it came to recounting memories that he had with friends and could relive the experience with them.

Thousands of notes on his iPhone later, Lee and his cofounder Angela Kim, launched Memoir, an app designed to let us all relive our memories with the people who experienced them with us.

Lee and Angela discovered an important behavioral trend and an interesting social irony: today people are capturing photos more and more but they are sharing them less and less.

We, at Redpoint, see Memoir as part of a broader move away from “public by default” sharing where you can only share into a single social graph every time, and more towards shared private experiences with ad hoc groups. As Memoir notes in a company blog post 
“Public sharing isn’t going away, but it’s clearly becoming a smaller part of our digital lifestyles. The new photo universe will revolve around storage and one-to-one (or one-to-few) sharing.”

As evidenced by the 26,000 tweets I’ve posted and the time I spent working at Twitter, I’m obviously a big advocate of the power of their broadcast model. But it is limiting to rely on a single default always public personae to share private memories.

We’ve all watched with fascination at the rise of Snapchat, which was a fundamental shift away from the always-public lives we’ve had to lead if we wanted to use products like Facebook and Twitter. While these platforms fill an important role in our lives, the rise of Snapchat showed that they are not the only way people want to share and express themselves. Like the complex facets of our real selves, people are looking for products that allow them to engage and share in those same complex and nuanced ways.


Where Snapchat is about sharing moments of your life that are ephemeral, Lee and Angela created Memoir in order to help people remember, relive and understand shared experiences in context of their friends, families and lives. Last week the WSJ did a great job of describing how Memoir works.

Technology needs to support and enhance the way we actually live. People are multi-facted and want digital products that reflect the complexity of human relationships and experiences.

Here at Redpoint, we’re excited by the opportunity for connecting and sharing around the memorable experiences in our lives big and small.  And we’re excited to welcome Lee and Angela to the Redpoint family with Memoir.


Microsoft buys Acompli


Redpoint Ventures and I would like to congratulate and thank Javier Soltero, Kevin Henrikson and J. J Zhuang for their amazing insights, entrepreneurship and leadership at Acompli. Today Microsoft announced that they will purchase Acompli.

It is bitter sweet for me. While we are thankful for the amazing ROI that they delivered us, I will really miss working with them hacking on product and business strategy at Acompli. I have had the privilege and fun of working with these guys for literally more than a decade since before Acompli and it has been great every time. Javier was a product guy at heart but always had a great business acumen (Javier and I used to compare strategies on the open source business model back in the day!) while JJ and Kevin are among the best product guys in the messaging landscape (even before JJ and Kevin worked on Zimbra). When these three guys came together to found a company in the mobile mail landscape, it was a no-brainer for us to fund.

Every step of the way, they continued to remind us why it’s so exciting to be in the venture business and work with great entrepreneurs. This is what wakes me up every day – to work with people like them on exciting new products.

While it’s the end of the first chapter of their journey at Acompli, I am confident we are going to see some great new products emerge from Microsoft directly as a result of this team. We wish them continued success in their endeavors.


What It Takes: Qualities of a Successful Founding CEO

Which is more important: The idea for a startup or the qualities of its founder? I am increasingly convinced that the founder is the most important ingredient for success. Of course, the idea is important; it has to be and compelling enough to warrant the gajillion hours it takes to build a meaningful business. But in the end, if you don’t have someone at the helm who can figure out what it takes to win a market or evolve as circumstances warrant, then you simply can’t succeed.

There are three key qualities I look for when mulling whether to back a founding CEO and these have served as the most accurate predictors of whether someone will be a great founder. I look for them every time I consider a deal and almost never get to ‘yes’ without seeing at least some combination of them. They are neither exhaustive nor non-negotiable, though they are key to the decision-making process around funding. So, in no particular order, here they are:

Up Close, First-Hand Knowledge and Understanding of the Opportunity

There is almost nothing better than a pitch that begins with a founder citing that a-ha moment, when he or she noticed a problem in a prior work role and realized that there was a big market opportunity if only if someone could solve it. This kind of real-time epiphany turns what might be just a good guess from another would-be entrepreneur into a tangible, actionable opportunity for someone who has the deep insights into what needs to be done to solve the problem and create a new market. What’s more, thanks to the experience gleaned from being in the right place at the right time, this kind of founder usually finds that he or she is uniquely qualified to go after the opportunity. They have lived the problem and therefore have a deep conviction about what to do. More than that, they have developed a passion about the proposed pursuit, which typically gives them the push needed to strike out on their own.

This is what convinced us to back Anil Kamath, the founder of Efficient Frontier. His pitch combined an impressive pedigree–he has a PhD in computer science from Stanford– with a definable ah-ha moment. Early in his career, Anil designed program trading models for the D.E. Shaw & Co. hedge fund. From there, he started a search-engine company that helped consumers compare products from different shopping sites. It was bought by Shopzilla. It was at Shopzilla that Anil realized the importance of search in driving web traffic. Since he had already designed systems for millions of stocks at Shaw, Anil figured he could build a system for millions of keywords and other Internet advertising tools that would be useful to anyone involved in ecommerce. Anil’s insight was what eventually led to the leading platform for digital media optimization, which was acquired by Adobe.

Unbridled Passion that Translates into Visionary Salesmanship

Before you start rolling your eyes, I’m not talking about the slick, transactional version of salesmanship–the form that is typically embodied in a successful sales exec that delivers against his quota from company to company. I’m talking about the person whose enthusiasm and conviction for an idea is so palpable that it’s almost infectious. This enthusiasm is deep-rooted, earnest and genuine, meaning he or she can harness it to convince anyone within earshot about the sheer brilliance of the endeavor being pursued. Let’s face it: You can’t fake what it takes to sell a vision, especially when you are repeatedly pitching everyone from business partners to employees to investors to customers or to anyone else who might be part of the solution.

Case in point: Omar Tawakol, founder and CEO of BlueKai. Finding an entrepreneur and leader like Omar is like winning the trifecta. He has extraordinary technical chops with CS degrees from MIT and Stanford. At the same time, he’s a natural marketer, having served as CMO at two previous startups. These two talents, combined with a deep appreciation for the importance of audience targeting in digital media gleaned from a previous role at Revenue Science, make Omar one of the most effective salesman I have ever met. He moves effortlessly from explaining the strategic potential his offerings have for the customer to the minute technical details of the implementation. Like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, Omar has you at hello.

Virgin Founders

The last and possibly most important quality I look for in a founder is that he or she hasn’t done it before. Yep, I like newbies, albeit with a few important caveats. I don’t want an inexperienced first-timer. I am much more partial to someone who has been part of a successful team or played a meaningful role at a promising startup. But they were not the one who made it all happen. Instead, when you reference this person, you hear things like “always the hardest working or smartest one in the room,” “kept getting more and more responsibilities ahead of others,” or “hasn’t been a CEO yet but undoubtedly will do it someday.”

These virgin founders are recognized up-and-comers, hungry to take the next step in their professional paths. They are also sufficiently naive and don’t realize how hard building a successful startup actually is. Most first-time entrepreneurs dramatically underestimate the obstacles they will face. Lastly, these people usually have not yet “made it.” They don’t have a sizable nest egg from a previous exit, or the promise of another plum assignment if this one doesn’t pan out. These folks need their startup to succeed.

I can think of no one who fits this bill better than Mike Walrath at Right Media. Here is a guy with as unconventional a path to tech stardom as you can find. He started out as a personal fitness trainer who also sold gym memberships. He jumped to Doubleclick in a hiring blitz just before the dot-com bubble burst. As most folks received pink slips, Mike earned promotion after promotion. When he finally came up with the concept for Right Media, his Doubleclick boss was the first to confirm that Mike had what it takes to launch and lead a startup. He said he had always been the hardest working and smartest guy in the room. And he was hungry to prove it. Plus, he was obviously a strong salesman with a compelling vision. You can’t ask for much more than that.

We can all agree that startups are tough. But I have observed that founders with one or more of these qualities are even tougher. They are undaunted by the endless stream of naysayers who tell them their ideas will never work, that they will be crushed by the competition, or that better, more experienced players have already tried and failed to execute similar business plans. These are the winners, the over-believers who can overcome almost any roadblock in their way–and come out on the other side with an unmitigated success story.


Riffsy and the Business of GIFs

Today we are excited to announce we’re leading an investment in Riffsy backing strong entrepreneurs like David McIntosh and Erick Hachenburg.  We are proud to partner and work toward their mission to improve communication, helping people express themselves.

There has been a tremendous rise of communication apps in our now mobile world.  Riffsy enables frictionless sharing of animated GIFs and nano (extremely short form) media.  Beyond flat text or static images, animated GIFs allow users to perfectly express a feeling, emotion or moment.

Enabled by the release of iOS8 and the inclusion of custom keyboards, Riffsy launched the GIF Keyboard to tremendous consumer adoption.  With more than half a billion animated GIF views from greater than one million downloads immediately out the gate, Riffsy has tapped into a consumer need.

Instagram demonstrated a picture is worth a thousand words. Riffsy enables sharing emotion which in some cases transcends words.

Download the GIF Keyboard and prepare to have your …


How I Learned to Stop Circling and Love to Park in San Francisco

Today LuxeValet is launching out of beta in San Francisco and we are excited to announce our investment in the team. We are proud to back founders Curtis Lee and Craig Martin on their mission to transform a daily, painful experience like parking into one that gives people joy by letting them quickly and safely leave their car and get on with their day.

We were impressed by LuxeValet’s veteran team who saw an opportunity to transform the $25B annual parking business with an on-demand, valet-driven model. The team brings engineering, product and operations experience from Zynga, Groupon, Tesla and YouTube and has developed a sophisticated platform that makes the city parking process easy, efficient and affordable.

The parking problem in San Francisco, as with most cities, is awful by any measure.  The median price to park in a San Francisco city lot is $29/day and $375/month. In some neighborhoods, parking meters charge as much as $7/hour during periods of high-demand. Last year, 70,000 cars were towed in San Francisco and it costs at least $400 to get a car back. Instead of dealing with that hassle and cost, at the press of a button, a LuxeValet will meet you in front of your next meeting to take your car and park it in one of their secure spots for $5/hour and $15 max.

The LuxeValet team has been building the technical and operational foundation of the company for the past 18 months. LuxeValet has a fleet of pre-screened valets in bright blue jackets and dozens of insured and secure indoor parking lots all over the city. This allows them to deliver a great consumer experience at the push of a button. The valet experience also allows them to deliver one of my favorite features which is the LuxeValet will fill up or wash your car while you spend time with your family or attend your meeting.

Even more interesting are the economic advantages that happen to the model at scale. By obtaining parking spots en masse, LuxeValet brings down the price of spaces, making it the same cost and many times less than a traditional lot, while delivering a much better experience. Like most marketplaces this also has great network effects: more users mean keeping more valets busy, which means the valets make more. More riders mean more parking spots and lowered costs for the spots themselves.

We love these type of marketplace investments that reward each player in the virtuous cycle and are perpetuated by an amazing consumer experience.

Congratulations to the entire Luxe team from your friends at Redpoint.  We’re excited to be along for the ride.