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Requests for Startups: John Melas-Kyriazi (Spark Capital)

John is an Associate at Spark Capital, where he focuses on investing in early-stage technology companies and works closely with a number of Spark’s portfolio companies, including Freight Farms, Academia, and Orchard. Previously, John served as CFO and Head of Business Development at StartX, which runs an accelerator program for the Stanford community. He also co-founded the Stanford-StartX Fund. John holds a BS in physics and MS in engineering from Stanford.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m highly interested in food and agriculture technology. From farm to table, our food ecosystem is rapidly changing. Startups have a huge opportunity to disrupt the food and agriculture supply chain by leveraging new technologies: think low-cost LEDs for indoor farming, drones for imaging, bioengineered and alternative foods, ubiquitous smartphones, etc.
At Spark, we’re an investor in several companies that are focused on improving the consumer dining experience, including Postmates, Kitchensurfing, and Cover. We’re also interested in the infrastructure that will enable our food system to scale sustainably. My first investment at Spark (sponsored by my partner Todd Dagres) was in a company called Freight Farms, which is powering water-efficient urban agriculture through modular hydroponic farms.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

2014 was the year when Uber became a household name across the US and much of the world. When I talk to Uber drivers (and Postmates and Lyft drivers), the #1 reason they like their job is flexibility. The ability to “plug in and plug out” of the workforce when it’s convenient is incredibly empowering. It enables folks to realize their full potential: to pursue side projects and other part time jobs, manage their family life, and go to school.
In 2015, I think tech-enabled labor marketplaces like Uber will continue to scale quickly and touch more and more parts of our workforce. Companies like Work Market (one of ours at Spark) that help corporations to manage contingent workforces will benefit from this trend, as well as companies building services for the independent contractor, such as Stride Health and Zen99.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

I would love to fund a company that has made a fundamental breakthrough in producing nutritious, delicious, and cheap food with a low environmental footprint. Along these lines, one trend that’s fascinating to me is the use of insects to make high-protein food that’s actually quite tasty and requires a fraction of the resources (feed, water) of traditional animal meat. The problem right now is that it’s still much more expensive to grow insects than chicken.

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

While flights are expensive, I think that the UX for commercial air travel is fundamentally broken. The airline business is a tough one — it’s highly regulated, capital intensive, and sensitive to macroeconomic issues and weather. Flights are often delayed or canceled at the last minute. Going through security is a pain. Getting onto the plane is difficult and there’s never enough room for luggage (cue the dreaded “sir, the bins are full, and we’re going to gate check your bag…”). Seats are cramped and airplanes are always too hot or too cold.
I wonder if there’s a better way to get from point A to point B. Maybe we should pray for the hyperloop or a teleportation device?

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Spark’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to John directly at john@sparkcapital.com.

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