I have been waiting for an app like Refresh to come along for a while now, and I’m really excited that Redpoint had the opportunity to invest. As a VC, I spend much of my time meeting new entrepreneurs, and reconnecting with executives and strategic partners that I see only occasionally. My job is ultimately about building close relationships with these key startup ecosystem players, and then translating these relationships into opportunity for both Redpoint and our portfolio companies. Often I find that these relationships are strengthened through serendipitous points of connection made during a meeting. Maybe we share a really good friend in common that we didn’t know about beforehand. Maybe we discover that our kids both played in the same soccer tournament last weekend, or that we both took family vacations to Yellowstone. Perhaps I read an article in which he or she was quoted, and that leads to an interesting discussion around the article topic. These seemingly random connection points help bring us closer together, and make the conversation more memorable for both of us. Refresh turns these occasional, random connection points into everyday occurrences, and it has become an invaluable meeting preparation tool for me as a result.
The Refresh app makes these conversations more effective by aggregating insights about the people I meet from various online social platforms. These insights, organized into a digital personal dossier, help to identify things we might have in common or interesting discussion topics, and to paint a picture of what makes the other person tick. And with its clever usage of notifications, Refresh has become the place where I jot down notes after my meeting so that it’s all right there for the next time.
Refresh fits nicely within a Redpoint investment theme we call Ambient Computing. It’s the idea that my mobile device, with its implicit understanding of who I am, where I am (or where I will be), and what I am doing (or about to do, or need to do soon), can anticipate my information needs and thereby enhance my real-world experiences without manual input. Google has a very ambitious Ambient Computing project underway with Google Now, which endeavors to anticipate information needs across several aspects of your life. Refresh is focused on the people with whom you interact, and aims to make those interactions richer and more fulfilling. We expect to see several more compelling ambient apps focused on places, tasks and communications.
The good (or bad?) news about ambient apps from an investment perspective is that they’re hard technically to do well. In Refresh’s case, calendars, email and contacts are notoriously messy data environments. Figuring out which “Bob” is the right “Bob” on my device, and then associating that “Bob” with the right “Bob’s” across multiple different social platforms, in real time, is tricky. Figuring out which insights about the “right Bob’s” are actually insightful for me right now is even trickier. The Refresh founders Bhavin Shah (@bhavinator) and Paul Tyma (@paultyma) have assembled a world-class product team out of Stanford, Microsoft, Google and LinkedIn with the necessary mix of NLP, machine learning, predictive analytics and real-time graph analysis expertise to pull it off. It will take more than a slick mobile U/X design to keep pace with the Refresh team!
I and my Redpoint partners are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with the Refresh team, and we’re excited to be building closer relationships with entrepreneurs as Refresh power users! You can follow their progress at @Refreshapp and www.refresh.io.