Requests for Startups: Alex Lines (Notation Capital)

Alex Lines is an engineer and hacker and has been building products and companies in New York for the last 10 years. Prior to co-founding Notation Capital with Nick Chirls, Alex was an early employee at Betaworks, helping to build and scale many companies that came out of the studio.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

We’re most interested in companies that demonstrate not only capital but operational efficiency — the ability to scale quite far with a small, primarily technical, team. These are companies that can leverage their engineering resources and can achieve exceptionally high user to engineer ratios. These tend to be pure software companies but the business model can take many forms — marketplaces, api-driven businesses, software infrastructure, some consumer apps, etc.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I predict most predictions will be wrong, including this rambling set.

Consumption will continue to be the default way to kill time (for-ev-er), but I think free-form creation canvas apps could be a nice mini-corrective in favor of more creation.

Speaking of wasting time, whoever creates a great time waster app for the Apple watch will not only have a huge hit, but will help rescue the device from the purgatory of “productivity tool” and make the platform attractive to developers again.

I hope and believe that password-based logins will continue to go away.

While there will continue to be some shakeout among on-demand companies, I expect the influence of the model to spread in the sense of seeing more companies where removing choice is a feature. Instead of DeliveryApp providing 200 restaurants and 6,000 menu items, something like Arcade texts you a single lunch menu item at 11am and your choice is limited to yes or no, or instead of browsing and evaluating hundreds of listings and reviews to choose a service provider (lawyer, babysitter, tutor), you get a single match based on your needs and schedule.

I hope and expect the proliferation of new open source databases and stream processors will continue, inspired by interesting work and research in distributed systems.

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

I can’t speak to funding, but there are a few areas. We need more providers of high quality, original mapping / GIS data. I also continually hope for an effective alternative to the slash and burn of the recruiting industry. Security companies that don’t feel like they’re selling snake oil and are actually useful are cool. While we’re just making shit up, maybe even alternatives to the funeral industry.

Generally speaking though, I would love to see more highly technical infrastructure companies being built in New York.


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If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Notation’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Alex directly at alex@notationcapital.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas to share, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan.

Requests for Startups: Leo Polovets (Susa Ventures)

Leo is a software engineer turned venture capitalist. He was the 2nd non-founding engineer at LinkedIn, where he worked on core products like LinkedIn Groups and LinkedIn Jobs. After LinkedIn, Leo spent 3 years working on payment fraud detection at Google, followed by 4 years at Factual working on large scale-data cleaning and entity resolution. In late 2012, Leo left Factual to start Susa Ventures, a 4-partner seed fund that’s focused on companies building valuable datasets. Leo’s writes about startups, data, and investing at www.codingvc.com.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m interested in a lot of verticals. I rarely ask myself, “what verticals do I want to invest in and what are the most exciting companies in those verticals?” Instead, I like to look at companies one by one and think about whether each one looks like a great business model that addresses a large market. I am especially interested in areas that have been relatively untouched by modern software: convenience store management, expense auditing, food sourcing for restaurants, you name it. I think businesses in those areas have a lot of potential because customers are excited about becoming much more efficient with software, but the efficiency play is often a Trojan Horse for building up valuable, proprietary datasets that can be used to create very innovative, defensible products.

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

I’ve seen a lot of products that help you explore and run analyses on large datasets. What’s gotten me really excited is that I’m starting to see companies that are trying to generate predictive insights. That is, instead of giving you tools to explore data, they explore the data for you and give you actionable recommendations. I’ve seen this for specific types of problems, like churn prediction, but I’d love to see a company build a generalized product that can work for many different use cases. I think this is where the future is for a lot of data science: tools that empower non-engineers to figure out what their data is telling them. I’ve been working on a prototype of this on and off for a year or so, but I don’t have the bandwidth to take it as far as I’d like.

If you had to leave VC to start a company, what space would it be in and why?

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how to connect experts to people who want their advice and are willing to pay for it. There are many jobs where experts’ salaries are much lower than what their expertise is worth on a task-by-task basis. For example, a college admission officer might make $20/hour, but I bet there are a lot of high school students that would pay $50 for 30-minute reviews of their college essays. There are obviously some kinks to work out (e.g. it would be a conflict to have a Harvard officer review an essay for your Harvard app), but there’s also a great opportunity to connect experts and clients and take a small fee. I’m interested in the problem because it seems like a great financial opportunity, but also provides a great social benefit by connecting people who want help to experts who can help them.


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If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Susa’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Leo directly at leo@susaventures.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac MadanShaurya Saluja, and Jeff Morris Jr.

Requests for Startups: Brian Sheng (Fresh VC)

Brian Sheng is a partner with seed stage firm Fresh VC and focuses on consumer technology companies. He is particularly interested in marketplaces, technology-enabled services, and digital healthcare. Previously, Brian worked with China’s largest venture capital firm, Shenzhen Capital Group.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m very interested in the intersection of on-demand, big data and digital healthcare. We have two infrastructure level investments in healthcare (Aptible and Akido Labs) and are looking for more companies making it easier to innovate in the space. There are already companies that are leveraging data to provide more personalized and timely healthcare services, and I think there will be a lot more exciting companies to come. I’m also very interested in companies that are cheaply and widely enabling experiences or services that were not available before (Note: This can be, but often is not simply making an existing service / experience on-demand).

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

2016 will be a big year for cannabis related companies. We are already seeing some investors make bets in the space, but most big investors have still shied away. In fact, it’s a great opportunity for investors because most funds will have LP issues with investing in cannabis related companies. The cannabis industry is a $52B dollar industry of which there is no need to create consumer demand and legislation is rapidly moving towards legalization (Medical is already legal in 23 states). There will be a big need for capital without a mature funding ecosystem in place.

I also think we will start seeing some well funded on-demand companies start to fail. There are a lot of services for which the on-demand model either doesn’t work, or the approach certain companies are taking is unsustainable in the long run. A lot of money is being invested in on-demand companies, and some companies are using too much of that money for marketing pushes and expansion to increase revenue and raise even bigger rounds. Throwing money at expansion doesn’t solve fundamental flaws of operating on-demand companies (unit economics, CAC, stickiness, etc.).

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

Studying abroad is a big opportunity and popular life choice for many students from Asian countries. Yet, there is a tremendous lack of transparent resources and services for consumers (students and parents) to use to facilitate this process. Middle-man agencies charge exorbitant prices (anecdotally, upwards of hundreds of thousands) to facilitate simple processes such as visa applications, school discovery, tours, college applications, etc. It is a highly fragmented market with complete lack of transparency, and there’s room for great businesses to be built along every step of the process.

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?

I often help my mother call service providers (phone company, utility company, credit card company, etc.) and spend hours talking with customer service and getting transferred left and right. With so many human/software combo concierge companies being started, there should be one that targets the aging baby boomers and helps deal with these kind of daily life problems.


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Fresh VC’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brian directly at brian@freshvc.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, Shaurya Saluja, and Andrew Jiang.

Requests for Startups: Christina Bechhold (Samsung GIC)

Christina is a Senior Associate with the Strategic Investment team at Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, focused on early stage investments in software and services startups. Christina is also Co-Founder and Managing Director of Empire Angels, a member led, New York based angel group of young professionals investing in tech enabled startups with a focus on supporting young entrepreneurs. She is a Regular Contributor on the Accelerators, the Wall Street Journal’s startup blog, serves as a Venture for America mentor and is a member of VFA’s Women’s Initiative Committee.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m particularly excited to look at companies focused on taking the vast streams of data coming out of connected and wearable devices and transforming them into actionable insights. We are surrounded by sensors, and all carry a smartphone full of them in our pocket, but what can we do with the data being collected that changes behavior or improves efficiency? I’m also fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, particularly content that moves beyond first person gaming and entertainment into consumer areas like wellness and enterprise applications like design.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I hope to see early stage investors pushing back on valuation and encouraging companies to show real proof of product before taking on outside capital. There’s too much money being poured into non-businesses and most of it will ultimately be lost. The continued shift by enterprise into cloud and BYOD (bring your own device) is creating a lot of opportunity for software and service solutions, particularly with respect to cybersecurity. I’m also keeping an eye on what’s coming out of foreign markets like India, East Asia and Western Europe — the combination of growing, vibrant startup ecosystems and increasingly connected populations is fertile ground.

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

I most love companies that I would never imagine, but make me wonder, “why didn’t I think of that!”

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?

I’ve not yet found a perfect tool or collection of tools for tracking, analyzing and leveraging my personal and professional networks to help myself and others. Apps like Refresh and add-ins like Evercontact are great, but it’s still a disparate process that ultimately requires a lot of searching through emails, calendars and notes.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

You don’t need to live in Silicon Valley or New York to be a successful entrepreneur — there are great, supportive communities all over the country and world that can help you get started.


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Samsung’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Christina directly atc.bechhold@samsung.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, Shaurya Saluja, and Andrew Jiang.

The Future of Work with Jonathan Matus of Zendrive

Jonathan Matus is CEO of Zendrive, a venture-backed startup focused on re-imagining transportation through mobile driver analytics. Previously, Jonathan was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Redpoint Ventures, a top Silicon Valley VC. Prior to Redpoint, Jonathan spent six years at Facebook and Google, focused on various mobile and speech-recognition projects. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University with an Honors thesis on Artificial Intelligence. Jonathan lives in San Francisco.

What does the future of work look like?

When you think about the future of work, what is clear is that we are at the beginning of a massive disruption of the way people will work, of the types of jobs that will drive our economy and the type of workers needed for that new economy. This disruption will occur at every level of the workforce, from blue collar workers to physicians. It’s both exciting and daunting. This change is happening in stages. Let’s start with the far future — 15 years and further — because it’s really interesting and perhaps controversial.

Moore’s Law predicts exponential growth for the output of computing power per dollar spent or per inch of microchip. Many futurists, technologists and scientists see similar exponential growth curves for other technologies — for instance solar power, nanotechnology, the cost of energy, and so forth.

When you think about the last 6 or 7 years with the rapid rise of mobile, we see how this one technology and new paradigms resulting from it can disrupt the world and very quickly changed the way we do many things. The on-demand economy, advanced Robotics and AI are all increasingly important to how we think of jobs and the workforce. So when you ask about the future of work, Ray Kurzweil and other futurists are predicting that human labor is going to be less and less common. As a result, there’s going to be massive job destruction in most roles that can be well defined. For instance, being a driver or being a burger flipper or even a doctor — jobs that can be well defined and then picked up by artificial intelligence — will start being disrupted 15 years hence. When you think of the future of work in the long distance future — 15–20 years and beyond — the concept of the traditional working class will change radically.

In the near future, 3–5 years out, I think there are two segments you want to think about that’ll pop up and play an interesting role. The first one is the rise of the “1099 workers” of the on-demand economy, and the second one is proliferation of the “1099 entrepreneurs”. I’m intentionally creating a distinction here between 1099 entrepreneurs and the 1099 workers of the on-demand economy. Think of the first category as the “blue collar” 1099 worker — this is the fastest growing 1099 segment right now. The Uber partner drivers, for instance. The reason it’s growing very quickly is because these jobs are immediately available, highly flexible, and there’s a low hiring bar — people out of college, people between jobs, people with low levels of education — can pick up these jobs and immediately start making money. Consequently, the blue collar 1099 worker is a segment that will grow quickly and become an increasingly large population in the world. These are also the workers who are going to be replaced by AI later on. Thinking of the Uber example as a case study — they’ll be replaced by the autonomous vehicle. Of course, the 1099 economy extends beyond driving — a lot more people will be doing on-demand work; this is just an example of how disruption over the longer term will play out.

The second type of on-demand economy workers is the 1099 entrepreneur. These workers are more like what we traditionally think of as entrepreneurs — they own their customer relationships and they own their business, they are using enabling platforms and technologies to solve problems that previously required them to have a small business office operation. For example, they’re using the App Store, Kickstarter, Shopify, and Square to replace marketing costs and enabling them to focus on the things they do well — their craft, art, service, and passion. I think this segment is going to continue growing, and it’s much less likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence until much later on.

These are the two large segments I think are growing — both are part of the on-demand economy — and in the short term both will grow very quickly, but blue collar segment will grow more quickly. In the longer term the 1099 entrepreneurs are the ones who will survive the introduction of AI.

What are some of the big challenges in the near 3–5 year future for both aspects of the workforce — the blue collar segment and the 1099 segment?

The blue collar segment and the 1099 segment have similar challenges, for the most part. I’m going to focus on the things that are common to both of them. The first thing is, this is a new type of employment structure, so most of these workers are new to 1099 work. The entrepreneur class has not been as lively and fast growing as it is now, ever. So, they’ll need to deal with issues such as filing taxes, if they’re contractors, calculating their costs, creating budgets. They’re going to need to deal with all of those things for the first time. There are a variety of services that are now popping up to help. Some of our customers, like SherpaShare or Zen99, are dedicated to helping the 1099 drivers deal with the financial aspects and analytics of running a small business.

The other aspect is the rapid growth in both the number of drivers and the companies that are offering jobs for 1099 employees. There are literally hundreds of on-demand companies now that you can work with. Choosing which company to work with is becoming more and more complex. If you like working with kids, for example, you can work with Shuddle; if you like pets, DogVacay; if you like meeting new people, you prefer Lyft versus Uber. There are thousands of these decisions you need to make. Navigating this for the 1099 employee is really difficult. First of all, there needs to be a way for those new employees to search for those type of jobs and understand the differences between them. Right now, the job search websites are not optimized for the 1099 employee. Secondly, these workers need to be able to differentiate themselves to be more competitive. They’ll need to show they have certain skills, or they’ll need to have certain backgrounds or tendencies in order to unlock better paying gigs that fit their aspirations or interests. They may also need to be better certified. For instance, in the 1099 driving economy, drivers who have a good Zendrive score will eventually be able to earn more. Why? Because companies that move people around (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Shuddle) are willing to pay a premium for safety.

Related to that, there’s going to be all sorts of training as well as training programs required for the best paying gigs. Workers won’t be able to just go and pick up any gig when they have the time — they’ll need to prove how they are different from millions of others that are looking for these types of roles.

How is Zendrive adapting to the needs of the 1099 workforce?

Our vision is to enable the 1099 workforce. The on-demand economy represents the biggest disruption to the traditional fleet economy and to personal car ownership. We are helping those fleets ensure that their drivers are as safe as possible. We believe that using the data that we collect and the insights that we extract from the data those drivers won’t just improve their driving, but also improve their earning power. So in the future, drivers will be able to use their Zendrive scores to get more opportunities and better pay.

If you think about it, while everyone cares about safety and wants to cut down insurance costs, some services will inherently want the safest of drivers on board. So if you’re moving people, then you really care about speeding, aggressiveness and distracting phone use of your drivers . We directly help monitor and mitigate that and we help drivers improve their driving and earnings.

Another aspect of the 1099 economy, and particularly for the driving subset, relates to the regulatory issues around risk and safety. Regulators around the states and around the globe are basically saying: ‘Hold on a second, you’re growing so fast, we’re not sure how this thing will work out in the long term, and we’re not sure if all these drivers, who aren’t professionals, are safe.’ So, there’s a real need for a reliable third party to prove, without bias and without doubt, that 1099 drivers are as safe, if not safer, than other drivers.

We ran a study — comparing driving safety for a rideshare ride versus a taxi ride — and data shows that in SF rideshare drivers are not as likely to speed and use their phone while driving, making them safer. While we don’t take sides and simply report the data we collect, we hope that our technology can be an enabler for safer roads and can help on-demand companies make a data-based argument when challenged by regulators.

Any insights people might miss when thinking about the 1099 workforce?

I think there are a couple of things here. First of all, just based on my own personal experience — not based on Zendrive’s data — as a consumer of these services — I ride a lot with Uber, Lyft, etc. I meet people from all walks of life: I meet students, new immigrants, retirees, ex-taxi drivers, musicians. It’s just amazing what kind of enablement and mobility this allows. This mobility is really a phenomenal social benefit for these type of jobs and for communities that host them. They allow people to follow their passions — if you’re an artist or musician, you can go and drive for Uber a few hours each day and at night build the rock band that you dreamt of. You wouldn’t be able to do that with a traditional job — this flexibility is unique and makes for a better world.

The second thing, which is a little more related to the insights and technology that we pull, is that insurance is actually a big issue in the on-demand economy, and it might be something that regulators step in and try to fix. At the moment, specifically in the driving vertical, there’s a gap, where insurance doesn’t cover some of the time when drivers are seeking to pick up someone but do not have a passenger yet in the car. There’s a blind spot there, and it’s unclear how to best fix it. Insurance companies, for the most part, are relatively slow to adopt new technologies and business models, so they’re slow to react to this new reality. We believe that insurance companies will over time reconsider how they do business with the on-demand economy. And we believe that driving data will be key in making this transition.

There’s a need for both regulators and on-demand companies to require or request that insurance policies for on-demand fleets be priced based upon data. Our data shows drivers for rideshare companies happen to be as good or safer than most drivers, whether professional or personal. It makes no sense for them to pay more for insurance. But that’s what happening now. In the future those decisions and business models will be data driven. Helping make this transition is a part of our mission and business model.

The final point I’d like to share with you is this: You often hear in the media and even some regulators say that 1099 companies are exploiting their workers, or they’re being draconian, or they’re using 1099 status because they don’t want to pay for benefits. I just came from the Collision Conference in Las Vegas. Both the Handy CEO and Postmates CEO were asked about this onstage. They said that this is far from true. The rules defining who is a 1099 and who is a full-time worker are pretty old and strict. So these startups are in a situation where if they gave workers/drivers some additional benefits, it would force-trigger a shift from 1099 to full-time employee status, which would make it very difficult for them to run their business.

They said there needs to be a third way — a new definition of what it means to be 1099 worker — so companies can give them better terms and benefits, but still allow these 1099 workers to be the entrepreneurs and have the flexibility that’s so attractive. On-demand companies would like to give more benefits, but they’re afraid to do so because the rules will then trigger transformation of the status of their workers.

My hope is that regulators and legislators will consider creating a new model for 1099 workers that is more in line with today’s on-demand economy. If you think about the competition between all these new on-demand companies, it just makes good business sense for these companies to want to attract the best workers. But their hands are tied because of outdated work models that create a binary decision between a 1099 or W2 workforce. We need new models that give workers the flexibility they want, give companies options for creating benefits that attract the best workers, and provide the protections and fairness that regulators and legislators are concerned about.

The people in the 1099 economy actually love their jobs. They can use 1099 work in a clever way to grow their businesses. There’s an interesting story about a guy who has built a diamond distribution business on top of his Uber gig. You’re going to see more of this. You meet 10–20 people a day and you make small talk with them. This allows for a lot of entrepreneurial endeavors, and we’ll see more of that in the future.


If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, Shaurya Saluja, Andrew Jiang, and David Choi.

Requests for Startups: Julian Counihan (Red Sea Ventures)

Julian is an Associate with Red Sea Ventures. He started a career in technology at Fortna, a logistics firm, where he helped develop distribution & supply chain CAD software that is still in use today. After leaving, Julian joined Citigroup where he designed portfolio analysis systems and later transitioned to advising technology companies on M&A and capital market transactions. While at Citi, Julian continued as a freelance developer specializing in web programming, internet security and site design. Julian holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BSc in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia, where he graduated with High Distinction.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m really excited about the infrastructure needed for long-term viability of the on-demand ecosystem. A lot of great companies have launched different on-demand verticals to enthusiastic market reception over the past two years. However there’s a natural limit to how much the consumer is willing or able to pay for convenience. To operate under price constraints while maintaining unit economic profitability, on-demand companies are going to have to employ more advanced optimization of their delivery systems, employment strategies and resources.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

The next twelve months will bring exciting developments in the virtual reality space which has recently become somewhat of an arms race for large technology companies with limitless research budgets. Each month over the past year brought huge leaps in hardware technology and a consumer friendly device is definitely on the near-term horizon. When that device arrives, it will open up an ecosystem for new social environments in the virtual world.

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

My favorite part of the movie Minority Report has got to be the gesture control computer. I’d like to see a company seamlessly embed audio and gesture controls into the home and partner with one of the many new, powerful AIs currently on the market. That would be an incredible system. All of the necessary components exist at relatively approachable price points today; it’s just going to take a talented team with a vision for seamless integration and great user experience to put it all together. As “push for [x]” lowered the friction for many tasks, I can only imagine how audio or gesture commands could remove friction altogether.

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?

This is a boring answer but scheduling / time management is my biggest pain point on a daily basis. We take a lot of meetings and a typical scheduling process can involve up to as many as six emails. I’ve tried a few automated assistants and scheduling tools but am still on the hunt for a process that both saves time and leaves a positive social impression. There are a lot of smart people tackling this problem so I’m hoping we’ll see a solution soon.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Just to spread the word about Red Sea Ventures. We’re an early stage opportunistic fund that invests across all sectors focused on the seed stage. Since our launch, we’ve built an awesome portfolio led by a group of insanely talented founders and are hoping to continue that momentum this year. If you’re a driven entrepreneur considering outside capital, we’d love to meet you!


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Red Sea’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Julian directly atjulian@redseaventures.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

The Future of the On-Demand Economy with Pascal Levy-Garboua (Checkr)

Pascal is Head of Business at Checkr, the co-founder of the upcoming On-Demand (Economy) Conference, and an angel investor at Weave Capital. He invests at the angel or seed stage, primarily in marketplaces, networks and the “On-Demand Economy” stack (Shyp, Sprig, Checkr, and Caviar). A native French, Pascal was the co-founder of VirtuOz (acquired by Nuance) and the now defunct on-demand gift delivery platform, SixDoors. He started his career at eBay in France.

What verticals interest you most right now within the on-demand economy?

I see two interesting open areas within the on-demand economy. The first one is the intersection of on-demand services and the Internet of Things. Breather, GetAround can exist because of new lock systems. But beyond locks, what new services can emerge from new possibilities created by IoT?

The second one is around B2B applications of on-demand services. I am convinced we are just scratching the surface there, both in the corporate and in the industrial world and we want to see more.

Actually, we are running a contest for the On-Demand Conference — we encourage all companies that are working on a B2B on-demand service to apply here. The winner will be announced on stage and will be invited to the speaker dinner at Shervin Pishevar’s house. The 5 best will get free tickets to the conference.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

Here are a few. If I am lucky, one of them will be true!

I think there is going to be some consolidation in the on-demand space (since I wrote this, Fitmob got acquired by ClassPass) — scale is key in these types of businesses, there is a shortage of drivers/delivery people across the board (especially in the Bay Area), and too many teams are building the same things in different cities/US regions. When software is all you sell, mergers of startup does not make sense because merging engineering team is really hard. I think this might be a little different.

Some numbers from Uber will leak and everybody will be shocked at how amazing their numbers are and how huge they have become so fast. Uber will be this generation of eCommerce’s Amazon.

I also believe that this is a year where Google is going to have their Microsoft moment — the European Commission is going after them, they thought they had won mobile with Android, but it seems to me that Android is more like Internet Explorer was in 2000. Important in the short term to protect a legacy business but not moving the needle for the things that will really matter in the long run.

On the other hand, Facebook Messenger will emerge as an incredible platform for content and commerce — and possibly damage Google’s foothold on transactional intent more so than everybody thought.

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund (within the on-demand economy or otherwise)?

To be honest, if there was one, I would build it myself! When it comes to investment, I rarely look for a specific idea — but I have found that I am more successful when the idea comes in an area that I know well.

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?

If I had a magic wand, I would overhaul the health system in the US. Getting a high quality health plan is way too costly and difficult for most people who don’t work at a fast growing startup or a large company. Obamacare is a positive thing, but so many doctors refuse patients that have a plan from a state marketplace. I wish there was a solution, and I don’t have the feeling at all that current winners (Zenefits, Oscar) are actually tackling the most contentious issues. The whole incentive system for doctors is upside down, and I believe everybody is worse off — except the current players.

The current system does not provide any incentive for doctors to treat patients thoroughly. In that sense, I hope we are going to see more direct primary care providers in the Bay Area and throughout the US soon.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would encourage all entrepreneurs, professionals, curious minds, and investors to join us at the On-Demand (Economy) Conference, on May 19th in San Francisco. If you are interested in the space, you HAVE to come. More info here and tickets can be purchased here.

There’s going to be an amazing lineup with founders and executives fromUber, Lyft, Shyp, HomeJoy, Sprig, Munchery, Postmates, Caviar, DoorDash, Instacart, and many others, as well as VCs from Greylock, Homebrew and RRE Ventures, with a fireside chat by Shervin Pishevar (Founding Partner at Sherpa Ventures) interviewed by Semil Shah from Haystack. Join us!

And if you have a B2B on-demand startup, apply here. If selected as the winner, you’ll get to present your business on-stage, and the top 5 submissions will be given free tickets to the conference.


If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan, Shaurya Saluja, and Andrew Jiang.

Requests for Startups: Matt Bradley (Forward Partners)

Matt is an investor at Forward Partners — a B2C eCommerce fund based in London that invests in and provides support to entrepreneurs at the idea and seed stage. He did an undergrad BA in Politics and International Relations. An atypical background for a VC, Matt worked in Trading, Structuring and Sales at Barclays Capital and Lloyds for 5 years developing a deep understanding of risk (and reward!) solutions. He did an MBA at SDA Bocconi and spent a couple of semesters at Duke Fuqua to do his finance concentrations. Matt joined Forward Partners in 2014.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

More than verticals, I’m always on the look out for ideas where there is the potential to build a really strong brand that resonates with customers whilst using new technology. For example, Nasty Gal has a really strong bond with its customers through the quality and the ‘voice’ of its content. Thread use AI to deliver a unique customer experience whilst enabling a huge increase in productivity. LostMy.Name is using software to deliver true personalization to customers and revolutionizing publishing. Verticals that are well suited to capital-light business models such as marketplaces are always high on the list too.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

Cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. Having seen the fundraising for 21 Inc I’m more and more convinced about Bitcoin. Perhaps not bitcoin, but certainly blockchain architecture will be a game changer. From cryptocurrencies to election ballots, the system has real transformative potential and I think that within the next year I think that we’ll see a huge spread in cryptocurrency usage and blockchain tech adoption.

Video production products. The last few years have seen an explosion in products and apps which increase the production value of amateur photography — Instagram’s new Layout app was recently released for example. This year we’ll see the same type of thing for video-production. Snapchat, Vine, Meerkat — mobile video — and YouTube will probably enjoy a similar time in the sun.

Surge pricing. There are so many “Uber for X” start-ups referring to “On demand service for X.” It’s no surprise that people want things on demand. What’s really interesting, I think, is that digitally engaged consumers are now comfortable with surge pricing in their daily lives. It’s going to be fascinating to see how people take this ball and where they run with it.

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

In the UK we don’t really have an equivalent for Motif. The UK government gives us a generous ~£10k personal allowance to invest in stocks and shares tax-free and I think that people here would love it.

I also remain convinced that there is something amazing to be built in the wedding space; perhaps a marketplace with some value added services. I think that there’s an average of 40 suppliers per wedding and look at the stress that people go through! There MUST be a better way and tech should be able to help with that.

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?

Ha! I’ve seen some of my contemporaries answer this question with the hyperloop for travel. That’s a bit like answering “world peace” at a beauty pageant — clearly I’m well up for that too. The Large Hadron Collider is back up and running at CERN. CERN is the birthplace of the Internet. Just imagine if the new experiments yielded step changes in our understanding of the ability to harness and deliver energy. Think proper wireless power, desalination by electrolysis, things which are as far fetched as the Internet seemed pre-Tim Berners-Lee.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes. One thing which frustrates me is when founders talk about me being “on the other side of the table.” I see it in a totally different way, in fact I often sit on the same side of the table to make the point and have an open discussion. I want to be given the reason to be on the same team and, failing that, I want founders to do well and to do the right thing — even if it isn’t something that I’d invest in.


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Forward Partners’ portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Matt directly at matthew@forwardpartners.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

What Do the Founding Teams of Billion Dollar Companies Look Like?

Tod Francis and Nikhil Basu Trivedi of Shasta Ventures recently published a great analysis on what 25 B2C billion-dollar Unicorns and 7 likely soon-to-be Unicorns looked like at the time of their Series A. We were interested in unpacking more of the data around these companies, and specifically learning more about their founding teams — what did the founders look like and what can we learn from their backgrounds?

Caveats to note up front:

  • Our data are from publicly available sources like LinkedIn and CrunchBase, thus they’re neither 100% accurate nor comprehensive.
  • Data are current as of April 19, 2015.

The Companies

We looked at the same 32 companies that Nikhil and Tod looked at in their research (shown below). Via CrunchBase and LinkedIn, we identified 78 founders across these companies.

Image by Tod Francis and Nikhil Basu Trivedi of Shasta Ventures

We were initially curious to see which investors took early bets on these companies.

Seed investors

The following 12 investors had invested in 2 or more of these 32 companies in their seed/angel rounds.

Y Combinator
Ali Partovi
Amidzad Partners
Andrew Boszhardt, Jr.
Cyan Banister
First Round
Fritz Lanman
FundersClub
Hadi Partovi
Jason Calacanis
Scott Banister
Sequoia Capital

Series A investors

The following 18 investors had invested in 2 or more of these 32 companies in their Series A rounds.

SV Angel
First Round
Benchmark
Sequoia Capital
Accel Partners
Bessemer Venture Partners
Canaan Partners
Greg Yaitanes
Greylock Partners
Keith Rabois
Kevin Hartz
Lowercase Capital
Michael Birch
Shasta Ventures
Spark Capital
Union Square Ventures

Board Members

The following 14 people have 2 or more board seats across these 32 companies.

Roelof Botha, Sequoia Capital
Mary Meeker, KPCB
Alfred Lin, Sequoia Capital
Bijan Sabet, Spark Capital
Bill Gurley, Benchmark
Bryan Schreier, Sequoia Capital
Craig Sherman, Meritech
David Lawee, Google Capital
Gary Little, Morgenthaler
John Lilly, Greylock
Larry Summers, Harvard
Mark Bailey, DFJ
Matt Cohler, Benchmark
Randy Glein, DFJ

The Founders

We next took a look at the founders of these companies.

Number of Founders

Founding teams of 2 or 3 founders account for the vast majority.

Undergraduate Schools

Founders attended a broad spectrum of colleges & universities. Stanford stood out from the pack, with 6 founders. The remainder of the schools with multiple founders, listed below, are mainly representative of full founding teams that went to school together. For example, the 4 people from Wharton are the four founders of Warby Parker. Notably, New Roads High School in Santa Monica makes the list — two of the Lyft (then Zimride) co-founders were classmates there.

Fields of Study

The top 6 college majors, each represented by at least 2 or more founders, were Computer Science, Economics, Business, History, Electrical Engineering, and Product/Industrial Design. Of the undergraduate majors recorded, we found that the majority were in non-technical fields.

Degrees Received

Founders of these B2C unicorns did not typically pursue advanced degrees. Instead, it appears that they opted for work experience, which we look at next.

Age & Work Experience

We extrapolated each founder’s number of years of work experience and their age by looking at their work & education history on LinkedIn. This method was only applicable to those who had reported the years associated with their work & education history on their LinkedIn profiles, and is of course an imperfect proxy. Using this method, we could also extrapolate the founder’s age at the time of founding their company.

The mean number of years of work experience was 6 years, with a standard deviation of 6 years. The mean age at the time of founding was 29, with a standard deviation of 6 years.

The graph below shows the distribution of number of years of work experience. Note that these values are rounded to the nearest year, and a negative value reflects that the founder started their company while in school. Note also that outliers were not removed.

Our data highlight 4 founders who started their companies while in school (corresponding to -1 and 0 years of work experience, based on rounding, as seen on the graph below). This doesn’t necessarily suggest they dropped out though.

Prior Industry Experience

A large portion of founders historically worked at tech companies prior to founding their own companies, while other prominent industries were VC, management consulting, and finance. Below are the industries represented each by 2 or more founders.

Skills

Founders have keen product skills & instincts — with most frequent LinkedIn endorsements for user experience and product management — alongside skills in technology and business. Below are the top 15 skills, each represented by more than 12 founders.

First Names

For fun, we looked at the frequency of first names across the founders of these 32 Unicorns. Here are the first names shared by 2 or more founders.

Conclusion

Here are some of the things we learned about this group of founders:

  • 2 or 3 person founding teams are the norm
  • They attended a broad array of schools, with concentration among top US colleges & universities, and Stanford is most common
  • Non-technical degrees are more common than technical degrees, and most didn’t attend advanced degree programs
  • They have on average 6 years of prior work experience, most often in the Software & IT space
  • They most commonly demonstrate skills in user experience, product management, e-commerce, and strategic partnerships

Written by Isaac Madan and Shaurya Saluja. All charts were created with Visage.

Requests for Startups: Andy Weissman (Union Square Ventures)

Andy Weissman is a partner at Union Square Ventures. Prior to joining
USV, he co-founded betaworks.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

One, obviously, is blockchain related technologies. Second, is networks in the healthcare and medicine related industries. We’ve made two investments in that area (Human DX and Figure 1) — looking for networks of people, of data, anywhere there are network effects.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I saw Emily White mentioned on Twitter the other day that 40M people were tuning into Coachella via Snapchat, which is a bigger amount than the Oscars or the Grammys have. I believe by the year end there will finally be mass media agreement that there is no longer any old media, or even new media — instead, it’s all Internet media.

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

I don’t usually think about specific ideas for business or services, more areas or concepts. I am curious if right now another large platform for media sharing can emerge, or will the next future be marked by fragmented, specific ones.

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?

1 in every 12 or 13 kids under 18 have food allergies, including mine. I’d use my magic wand to solve that.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Whenever I get dizzy from the pace of change, I always think about Buckaroo Banzai: “Remember: no matter where you go… there you are.”


If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of USV’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Andy directly at andy@usv.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. New readers can subscribe here. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan and Shaurya Saluja.