Posts tagged “venture capital”

Good and bad ideas in the daily paper

Adam Richardson recently wrote a strong critique of the San Francisco Chronicle – both their unattractive redesign and their poor content.

Although Monday’s Chron featured anti-elitist sneering about Nate Silver’s semi-failed Oscar predictions, I was impressed with a new feature, where startups get feedback about their ideas from venture capitalists.

They’ve done a good job at tying this coverage to a unique aspect of the San Francisco Bay Area:

Silicon Valley, long known as a hotbed for innovation, has one of the highest concentrations of startups and investors in the world. At any one time, 20,000 entrepreneurs in the valley are thinking about starting companies, and as many as 8,000 are circulating business plans and looking for funding

One example: Mojamix: Breakfast enthusiasts personalize their own cereal or granola online and have it shipped to their door in just a few days.

David Pakman, partner, Venrock: I’m skeptical that consumers at scale actually know enough about what ingredients go together to make a breakfast cereal or granola they will like and will taste good. If I pick dried cranberries over raisins, will I like it less or more? Kinda have to taste it to know.

Mass customization of food products is indeed an interesting trend, but I wonder if it is better to focus on areas where the customer does not have to taste it to know if they will like it.

Margins in food products are low and are thus only interesting at scale, so Mojamix would need to demonstrate that the lifetime value of a customer is large enough to afford the customer acquisition costs that would be required to attract lots of customers.

As I’ve written before, I appreciate the ability of some VCs to look at an idea and consider many facets and contexts.

Sure, this sort of material is available elsewhere, especially online, but seeing this piece in the mainstream media was refreshing.

Under the Radar: video startups

Under the Radar is a showcase of early-stage innovation. Events feature several companies in one sector presenting to a panel of VC judges. Judges and attendees pick the company most likely to succeed and discuss the future of the presenting companies’ industry sector.

Last night I attended my first such event, hosted by Orange R&D. There were actually 7 companies, and the panel didn’t in fact make any overall picks.

Living and working in Silicon Valley means that I’m not immune from lingo like “burn rate”, “angel-funded”, “series-A”, “[something]-play”, “the eBay of [something]” and beyond, but this was my first formal in-depth exposure to this scene.

The companies shown were podaddies (dynamic video ad network), CastTV (video search), Veodia (enterprise video distribution), Nexage (video on mobile phones), Eyespot (editing/mashing up video on the web), ComVu (mobile video sharing), and OneCast (turnkey venue-based video).

The ideas were all very different and so some just were more easily explained than others, some were better presenters than others. Some were prepared to pitch to investors, others like CastTV were funded using money from their previous startup and there was an interesting comment about not wanting to bother with dealing with investors this time around. Isn’t that a sign of the latest dot-com economy; that companies can do a lot without millions of dollars?

Some folks were slick, some were slick but without merit (the video editing tool that was framed as telling stories since stories are important but offered nothing more than a way to butt clips together and overlay music – that’s not storytelling, sorry).

But the greatest part was the panel – it was a neat form of a crit, really. They asked great questions, shared their own concerns, picked on the weak, challenged the strong, and just emitted so much wisdom and experience (without much attitude) that I was very impressed. I mean, that’s the job of a venture capitalist, to be able to assess new companies based on having seen a million others, but for me to get to see that live and in the flesh was very neat.

There was little discussion of culture, or users; it was mostly about technology and markets, but that’s okay, I learned a bit just being part of it.


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