All posts in “Venture Capital”

Cyan Banister to tell her story at Disrupt SF

When we look around at some of the Silicon Valley superstars, it’s easy to wonder how they got here. Was it luck? Brute force? Wits? Charm?

At Disrupt SF, Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister is going to tell her story, and it might not be the narrative you’d expect. Not everyone in Silicon Valley goes to Stanford or Harvard, but sometimes it’s that alternative perspective that gives someone a leg up.

Banister’s history isn’t what you’d expect, and at Disrupt SF she’ll explain where she came from and how she became one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful investors.

Before joining Founders Fund, Banister was a wildly successful angel investor, with portfolio companies including Uber, Thumbtack, SpaceX, Postmates, EShares, Affirm and Niantic. Banister taught herself to code, and held a number of technical leadership positions prior to angel investing, including overseeing support infrastructure and performance at Cisco.

If Banister had to narrow her success down to one factor, it would be mentorship. Some people see that as an inorganic prospect, but Banister plans to explain how simple it can be to invite someone along to that concert, or conference, or hackathon, and make a difference in their life.

“When I tell people my story, they always tell me that I should write a book,” said Banister. “That feels very self-serving to me. I’ve been searching for a way to tell my story in a helpful way.”

At Disrupt SF, Banister will tell her story with the hopes to inspire folks to reach out and touch someone else’s life. The conversation will be livestreamed and recorded to VOD.

Tickets to Disrupt are available here.

VCs serve up a large helping of cash to startups disrupting food

Here is what your daily menu might look like if recently funded startups have their way.

You’ll start the day with a nice, lightly caffeinated cup of cheese tea. Chase away your hangover with a cold bottle of liver-boosting supplement. Then slice up a few strawberries, fresh-picked from the corner shipping container.

Lunch is full of options. Perhaps a tuna sandwich made with a plant-based, tuna-free fish. Or, if you’re feeling more carnivorous, grab a grilled chicken breast fresh from the lab that cultured its cells, while crunching on a side of mushroom chips. And for extra protein, how about a brownie?

Dinner might be a pizza so good you send your compliments to the chef — only to discover the chef is a robot. For dessert, have some gummy bears. They’re high in fiber with almost no sugar.

Sound terrifying? Tasty? Intriguing? If you checked tasty and intriguing, then here is some good news: The concoctions highlighted above are all products available (or under development) at food and beverage startups that have raised venture and seed funding this past year.

These aren’t small servings of capital, either. A Crunchbase News analysis of venture funding for the food and beverage category found that startups in the space gobbled up more than $3 billion globally in disclosed investment over the past 12 months. That includes a broad mix of supersize deals, tiny seed rounds and everything in-between.

Spending several hours looking at all these funding rounds leaves one with a distinct sense that eating habits are undergoing a great deal of flux. And while we can’t predict what the menu of the future will really hold, we can highlight some of the trends. For this initial installment in our two-part series, we’ll start with foods. Next week, we’ll zero in on beverages.

Chickenless nuggets and fishless tuna

For protein lovers disenchanted with commercial livestock farming, the future looks good. At least eight startups developing plant-based and alternative proteins closed rounds in the past year, focused on everything from lab meat to fishless fish to fast-food nuggets.

New investments add momentum to what was already a pretty hot space. To date, more than $600 million in known funding has gone to what we’ve dubbed the “alt-meat” sector, according to Crunchbase data. Actual investment levels may be quite a bit higher since strategic investors don’t always reveal round size.

In recent months, we’ve seen particularly strong interest in the lab-grown meat space. At least three startups in this area — Memphis Meats, SuperMeat and Wild Type — raised multi-million dollar rounds this year. That could be a signal that investors have grown comfortable with the concept, and now it’s more a matter of who will be early to market with a tasty and affordable finished product.

Makers of meatless versions of common meat dishes are also attracting capital. Two of the top funding recipients in our data set include Seattle Food Tech, which is working to cost-effectively mass-produce meatless chicken nuggets, and Good Catch, which wants to hook consumers on fishless seafoods. While we haven’t sampled their wares, it does seem like they have chosen some suitable dishes to riff on. After all, in terms of taste, both chicken nuggets and tuna salad are somewhat removed from their original animal protein sources, making it seemingly easier to sneak in a veggie substitute.

Robot chefs

Another trend we saw catching on with investors is robot chefs. Modern cooking is already a gadget-driven process, so it’s not surprising investors see this as an area ripe for broad adoption.

Pizza, the perennial takeout favorite, seems to be a popular area for future takeover by robots, with at least two companies securing rounds in recent months. Silicon Valley-based Zume, which raised $48 million last year, uses robots for tasks like spreading sauce and moving pies in and out of the oven. France’s EKIM, meanwhile, recently opened what it describes as a fully autonomous restaurant staffed by pizza robots cooking as customers watch.

Salad, pizza’s healthier companion side dish, is also getting roboticized. Just this week, Chowbotics, a developer of robots for food service whose lineup includes Sally the salad robot, announced an $11 million Series A round.

Those aren’t the only players. We’ve put together a more complete list of recently launched or funded robot food startups here.

Beyond sugar

Sugar substitutes aren’t exactly a new area of innovation. Diet Rite, often credited as the original diet soda, hit the market in 1958. Since then, we’ve had 60 years of mass-marketing for low-calorie sweeteners, from aspartame to stevia.

It’s not over. In recent quarters, we’ve seen a raft of funding rounds for startups developing new ways to reduce or eliminate sugar in many of the foods we’ve come to love. On the dessert and candy front, Siren Snacks and SmartSweets are looking to turn favorite indulgences like brownies and gummy bears into healthy snack options.

The quest for good-for-you sugar also continues. The latest funding recipient in this space appears to be Bonumuse, which is working to commercialize two rare sugars, Tagatose and Allulose, as lower-calorie and potentially healthier substitutes for table sugar. We’ve compiled a list of more sugar-reduction-related startups here.

Where is it all headed?

It’s tough to tell which early-stage food startups will take off and which will wind up in the scrap bin. But looking in aggregate at what they’re cooking up, it looks like the meal of the future will be high in protein, low in sugar and prepared by a robot.

Ashton Kutcher and Effie Epstein to talk Sound Ventures at TC Disrupt SF

While many celebrities try to invest in the world of tech, very few do so successfully. And no one has proved their worth as celebrity-turned-VC more than Ashton Kutcher .

That’s why we’re absolutely thrilled to host Ashton Kutcher and Sound Ventures partner Effie Epstein at TC Disrupt SF in September.

Kutcher first got into investing in 2011 with the launch of A-Grade Investments. The firm invested in big-name companies like DuoLingo, FlexPort, ProductHunt, Airbnb, and Uber. In 2014, Kutcher, alongside his longtime friend and partner Guy Oseary, started a new VC firm called Sound Ventures.

Since launch, Sound Ventures has made 53 investments and led six rounds of financing, with portfolio companies including Gusto, Vicarious, Robinhood, Lemonade, and Acorns.

And in 2017, Sound made another investment in the form of Effie Epstein. The firm brought on Epstein as managing partner and COO, with Kutcher telling TechCrunch: “Effie has a deep understanding of business and fiduciary responsibilities. She also has a multidisciplinary background which makes her a home run for venture. The bottom line is she is someone I want to work for.”

Before joining Sound, Epstein led global strategy at Marsh & McLennan subsidiary Marsh. Prior to Marsh, she served as SVP of planning and head of Investor Relations at iHeartMedia, and before that she worked in business development at Clear. Epstein also worked in investment banking in the energy sector and has an MBA from Harvard Business School.

In other words, Epstein brings a multi-disciplinary approach to Sound, which is venturing beyond consumer tech into financial services, insurance tech, enterprise, govtech and medtech sectors.

This won’t be Kutcher’s first go-around at Disrupt. He spoke at Disrupt NY in 2013, right as the world was first hearing about Bitcoin. We’re excited to revisit the topic of cryptocurrencies and so much more with Kutcher and Epstein, and discuss their investment thesis moving forward.

Tickets to Disrupt SF are available here.

Reid Hoffman to talk ‘blitzscaling’ at Disrupt SF 2018

When it comes to scaling startups, few people are as accomplished or consistently successful as Reid Hoffman .

While the rest of us consider scaling a startup to market domination a daunting task, Hoffman has continued to make it look easy.

In September, Hoffman will join us at TC Disrupt SF to share his strategies on “blitzscaling,” which also happens to be the title of his forthcoming book.

Hoffman started out his Silicon Valley career at PayPal, serving as EVP and a founding board member. In 2003, Hoffman founded LinkedIn from his living room. LinkedIn now has more than 500 million members across 200 countries and territories across the world, effectively becoming a necessity to the professional marketplace.

Hoffman left LinkedIn in 2007, but his contributions to the company certainly helped turn it into the behemoth it is today, going public in 2011 and selling to Microsoft for a whopping $26.2 billion in 2016.

At Disrupt, he’ll outline some of the methodology behind going from startup to scale up that is outlined in his new book, Blitzscaling, co-authored with Chris Yeh:

Blitzscaling is a specific set of practices for igniting and managing dizzying growth; an accelerated path to the stage in a startup’s life-cycle where the most value is created. It prioritizes speed over efficiency in an environment of uncertainty, and allows a company to go from “startup” to “scaleup” at a furious pace that captures the market.

Drawing on their experiences scaling startups into billion-dollar businesses, Hoffman and Yeh offer a framework for blitzscaling that can be replicated in any region or industry. Readers will learn how to design business models that support lightning-fast growth, navigate necessary shifts in strategy at each level of scale, and weather the management challenges that arise as their company grows.

Today, Hoffman leads Greylock Partners’ Discovery Fund, where he invests in seed-stage entrepreneurs and companies. He currently serves on the boards of Airbnb, Convoy, Edmodo and Microsoft. Hoffman’s place in the VC world is a natural continuation of his angel investing. His angel portfolio includes companies like Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm, and Zynga.

Hoffman has also invested in tech that affects positive change, serving on the non-profit boards of Biohub, Kiva, Endeavor, and DoSomething.org.

Blitzscaling marks Hoffman’s third book (others include The Startup of You and The Alliance) and we’re absolutely thrilled to have him teach us a thing or two at Disrupt SF.

Tickets to Disrupt SF are available now right here.

Primary Venture Partners raises $100M to invest in NYC startups

Primary Venture Partners, a seed firm that invests exclusively in New York City startups, has raised a second fund of $100 million.

That focus is unusual — even Lerer Hippeau, a firm that’s closely associated with New York, makes some investments outside the region.

Primary’s Ben Sun (pictured above with his co-founder Brad Svrluga) said he’s betting, in part, on the New York workforce, particularly “the talent that came into the tech ecosystem post-financial crisis” — a shift that gave the city more talented entrepreneurs, plus a talent pool that they could draw from to build their companies.

After all, Sun noted that employment in New York’s tech sector grew by 57 percent between 2010 and 2016.

He also said that Primary (formerly known as High Peaks Venture Partners) offers more support and services than many seed firms — for example, Cat Hernandez, Primary’s partner focused on “human capital,” has been directly involved in hiring nearly 200 employees at the firm’s portfolio companies. Primary is able to offer that level of support with a team of 13 people, Sun said, by leveraging local connections and expertise.

Primary Venture Partners

The investment team has also grown, with the addition of Steve Schlafman as venture partner last month — Sun described him as “a super highly networked guy who has a really good nose for talent.” (When we talked to Schlafman prior to today’s announcement, he managed to dodge a question about the firm’s fundraising.)

“With a singular focus on this market, we were able to build an operating and portfolio impact model that provides concentrated, on-site support to our portfolio companies in a way that wouldn’t be possible across geographies,” Svrluga said in an emailed statement. “Raising this second fund not only gives us the capital to continue to be a high-conviction seed round leader, but to continue to expand our Portfolio Impact team so that we can be an even better partner to our founders on their journey from Seed to Series A.”

Primary’s approach has resulted in some big successes already, like Jet.com (acquired by Walmart for $3.3 billion) and Coupang (valued at $5 billion). Even beyond the most attention-grabbing deals, Sun pointed to the fact that of the 15 companies in the Primary portfolio that have tried to raise Series A rounds, 13 of them have succeeded.

As part of this announcement, VCs that Primary has worked with in the past also offered their praise, with Spark Capital’s Kevin Thau describing the firm as a team that “knows the New York Seed market better than anyone,” and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ Eric Feng saying it’s “one of the top partners to startups in the city, providing true value guiding their portfolio companies from seed to Series A.”

While the firm raised significantly more this time around (Primary’s first fund was $60 million), Sun said it will remain focused on seed deals — with the occasional incubated startup, like dog food company Ollie. It will, however, be able to write slightly larger checks, say in the $1.5 million to $2 million range, with additional funding reserved for follow-on rounds.

“What we’re going to do with this $100 million is follow the same strategy,” Sun said.