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.

Requests for Startups: Gerald Tan (Scrum Ventures)

Gerald is an analyst at Scrum Ventures where he scouts and evaluates promising early-stage companies. Gerald is a native Singaporean. Before working at Scrum, Gerald was at the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office where he worked on projects to seed the Singaporean startup ecosystem. Aside from work, he is currently taking graduate courses at Stanford studying entrepreneurship.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

I’m really interested in marketplaces, robotics (driverless cars, drones) and the smart home. We are seeing almost every possible service being made available online and on-demand for the sake of convenience — whether it be home cleaning, meal delivery or more recently, grocery shopping. At the same time, more of the appliances in our homes and offices are being connected to the Internet. It will be interesting to see how those two trends converge.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

There’s a good chance that advancements in autonomous robotics would displace the marketplace model’s reliance on contractors. The emergence of the on-demand marketplace economy from companies such as Uber and Handy has largely been underpinned by a large pool of talented contractors. The engine powering those companies has been the contractors. Without them, these companies would simply fail to exist.

With advances in driverless technologies and autonomous drone delivery services, I predict that we will see a major shift from this contractor-based model, to one that displaces the need for human labor.

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

I’m really concerned about the security of the connected home/office. As we increase the number of connected devices in our homes and offices, we generate an increasing amount of data exhaust not just from ourselves but also from the appliances in our homes. This has serious implications as it contains very personal information. And more often than not, when security lapses do occur, it is due to consumers not taking proactive steps in securing their networks. Just recently, a Russian website was able to access thousands of IP cameras over the Internet. Similar to what antivirus and firewall software did to carve out an industry of its own, I’d like to see a simplified security solution that secures all that data being spewed out from smart appliances.

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’d like to see a reinvented Craigslist. Finding a rental apartment in San Francisco is still a very tedious process. My biggest frustration with Craigslist is that it is subject to a tremendous amount of noise in its listings. Often, I encounter scams, duds, and fake listings. I can’t really complain about a free service that has been around since the 2000s, but I am surprised that the long-term rental market has not seen any major developments since then. Although we see rental aggregators such as PadMapper that mines Craigslist’s dataset, it does not solve the fundamental problem of efficiency in the rental market.

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Scrum’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Gerald directly at gerald@scrumventures.co.

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 Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

Requests for Startups: Romain Lavault (Partech Ventures)

Romain is a General Partner at Partech Ventures — a venture capital firm started in 1982 based in San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, with $500M funds currently in active investment phase at seed, early and growth stages. Romain started his career as a rocket scientist (for real!) before launching a machine learning SaaS startup operating in the US and in France (acquired by public company DSY.PA in 2011). He focuses on seed and early stage opportunities and serves on the boards of AlephD, Alkemics, Evergig, ISKN, Kartable, Lima, Lucky Cart, Pleek, Pricing Assistant, Pleek, Sketchfab and Vodkaster.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

  • Connected Health: It always amazes me that in this digital era, Google, your phone carrier and your bank know more about you than your doctor does. Turns out the experience of getting diagnosed (and getting a personalized prescription, if any) still feels very much old school and trial-and-error to me. I am actively looking for startups that can leverage the wealth of information available across our connected devices and put it to use for medical purposes. It doesn’t have to be super high tech as there a lot of things our smartphone already captures, provided we can link it to something meaningful for a doctor (pretty sure that our stress level is directly correlated to how often we check our email). We have seen disruption in the booking/scheduling part of the process but the actual diagnosis can greatly benefit from giving the doctor (and any other sort of intelligence — see next topic) a 360 view on the patient and her/his recent biometric evolution. We now know how much data a phone or a smart watch can collect. Let’s put this to good use!
  • Artificial Intelligence: When I started as an Entrepreneur 15 years ago, AI was an anti-buzzword and total turn-off for VCs (fortunately Partech was bold enough to fund us anyway). Fast forward 15 years later, AI is becoming mainstream but not as a standalone project. The purpose is now more important than the tool. Computing power and commoditization of machine learning / language processing techniques are setting the stage for a new generation of AI-powered apps in Consumer and Enterprise verticals. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a real conversation-grade virtual assistant before year-end, achieving 50% or more through Turing test (HER anyone?).
  • Cybersecurity: This is not a new topic and we have been making investments in this area already but this is now high on the list of governments, CIOs, and even consumers. Getting your phone or computer hacked is very annoying but most of the time not dramatic. Now, getting your Tesla hacked while in autopilot mode can be much more serious. Think also about wearable (or worse implantable) security or the lack of robust protection for your bitcoins. There are threats for which we used to be protected in real life (with locks, alarms, safe, 24/7 monitoring and even guns), but for which we are totally vulnerable in digital life. The race taking place between hackers and white hats to take control of the Internet of Things (and of our lives) creates a new generation of strategies and technologies, from which a number of great startups are emerging.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

  • The Uber of Ubers: now that Uber has opened its api and the app can be summoned by 3rd party apps, we will see a new flurry of startups encapsulating Uber (or any other Uber for X) inside new services, such as last-minute hotel/restaurant/show reservation with Uber transportation included. That will allow us to repackage online services with optional/included on-demand services.
  • First mainstream blockchain-powered marketplaces emerge. The Ubers and AirBnBs of the world have recreated monopolies by forcing all transactions to go through their platform (allowing them to take a 20% cut in the process). Blockchain marketplaces will be by nature decentralized and may have to invent new business models where transactions are free but users pay for extra services.
  • A new video streaming compression technique emerges and becomes the norm for mobiles (given how fast the bandwidth demand is rising, I would add that this is also desperately needed).

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

I’d be pretty excited if someone could re-invent the model of paid software in the Enterprise. Google is an extremely powerful piece of software that you don’t have to pay for. There are a number of Enterprise apps that could follow the same model. Targeting has become extremely powerful and Enterprise users represent a premium audience advertisers could pay for. Most software don’t cost more than $1 per day per user. This is much less than what advertisers would pay to access this premium audience (could be highly targeted pre-roll and display campaigns). Of course, this would totally be based on opt-in but could be highly tailored.

This has been tried a long time ago, before SaaS and before programmatic advertisement. I’d say this is worth a new try now: let’s call that software-as-a-media!

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?

Sometimes I wish I could pause time whenever I want, whether this is to better apprehend a true moment of happiness with my family or just to catch up on work at the 25th hour.

This is why all innovations that buy us or save us time are so successful.

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Partech’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Romain’s team directly atanalysts@partechventures.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 Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

Requests for Startups: Nicole Glaros (Techstars)

Nicole is a Managing Director at Techstars, a startup accelerator based out of Boulder, Colorado. She’s been with Techstars since its early days in 2009, has run 8 programs and has close to 90 companies in her portfolio. She’s on the Board of Directors for the Application Developer’s Alliance and theEntrepreneur’s Foundation of Colorado. She’s on the advisory board for the University of Colorado’s Venture Fund, The Global Accelerator Network, andKangu.org. She was named one of the “Coolest People in New York Tech” and an Extraordinary Woman in New York Tech by Business Insider in 2013, Marie Claire named her one of the “NewGuard”, and Entrepreneur Magazine named her One of the Most 7 Powerful Women to Watch.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Agriculture, security, human powered AI (meaning using AI to help people do their jobs better), and products/services targeting the babyboomers. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about what the world looks like when self-driving cars take over the roads and it becomes illegal to drive. It’s a fun exercise and will happen in our lifetime! Lastly infrastructure is always interesting — and areas I’m focused on are how apps can work together in intelligent ways. There’s a great article by Jonathan Libov on The Futures of Text that highlights this. I’m not sure I agree that text messaging is the future of apps (personally, I hate typing on the screen and think it is awkward and time consuming) but completely agree that some universal interface like text that communicates with apps in an intelligent way will power the next generation.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I’m seeing a lot of companies raise Series A with very high valuations. I think a lot of companies are not going to be able to make enough traction before their next financing in order to justify and increase in valuation. So we’ll see a lot of downrounds, unhappy investors, and unhappy entrepreneurs as the market corrects. Entrepreneurs who keep valuations modest, raise enough capital to show a significant uptick in traction/sales, and focus on growth of revenue will be in a great place to weather the coming storm.

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

One area that I’d love to see improved is personal finance. There are a couple of great companies out there making strides here (like Learnvest), but helping middle and lower income families plan, save, and understand more about their finances will be critical. I’m worried for future generations because debt is rising, income isn’t keeping up, parents won’t have enough to retire on, causing them to lean on their kids who will already be in debt from college. I’m not talking about budgeting tools, those exist (although they aren’t great). I’m talking about financial coaching and planning.

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?

As someone without an administrative assistant, my two biggest areas of pain are travel and scheduling. However, I’m using two great services that are helping with this, both involve people AND artificial intelligence. X.ai is a scheduling tool that uses AI, but is backed by humans to quality check the appointments. It’s cut down on an amazing amount of email and time I spend scheduling. Nativeapp.com (disclaimer, I’m an investor in Native) is a human that is backed by artificial intelligence to help me book my travel and solve problems when I’m traveling (like cancelled flights, lost luggage, etc). Using both of these services has showed that AI + humans are a killer combination.

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Techstars’ portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Nicole directly at nicole@techstars.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 Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

Requests for Startups: Aditi Maliwal (Crosslink Capital)

Aditi joined Crosslink in 2014, focusing on Mobile, Fintech and Internet Services investments. Prior to joining Crosslink, Aditi was an analyst in the technology, media & telecom investment banking group at Deutsche Bank in San Francisco providing M&A advisory and capital raising services for Internet & digital media and software clients. She has prior experience working at Allen & Overy LLP in Singapore and J.P. Morgan Private Bank in Hong Kong. Aditi holds a BA in Psychology from Stanford University, where she cultivated her interest in the human aspect of technology and the way it impacts lives.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

Companies disrupting our current financial services infrastructure:changing the way we think about banks as financial institutions to technology companies enabling higher efficiency for financial services applications. There is a new crop of startups rebuilding consumer and wholesale banks, allowing users and developers to interact with financial institutions, developing account monitoring software, banking APIs and more.

Deep linking: it is going to change the way advertisers engage with mobile users and the evolution of mCommerce. The challenge is no longer around marketing, but rather around engagement, retention and finding the right target audience. Social apps are turning into portals for experiences through communication with other applications, creating a standardized way of accessing or finding functions within apps.

Applications that are device agnostic: with the new era of Apple watches, Skully Helmets, to the Samsung S6, and plethora of tablets, consumers will constantly be interacting with some kind of screen. Applications that create a seamless design and interaction experience for users are driving engagement in classrooms, workplaces, retail and various other spaces. Today users are simultaneously screening and want to be able to interact with applications across all devices seamlessly.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

I think mHealth is going to undergo a revolution this year. Apps in comprehensive diagnostics, caring and monitoring will increase accessibility to healthcare professionals, reduce costs and give patients a more personalized experience. From 3D food printing, home farming and connected home devices to mobile coaching and concierge medical services, there will be disruption in traditional health distribution channels thus broadening mHealth business models.

I also think that marketers will get a big boost from an upcoming set of ambient products and services such as Amazon’s Echo, Wit.AI, IBM Watson’s virtual store assistant etc, to derive further insights on consumers and enterprises.

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

I think there’s a big opportunity in women’s empowerment in emerging markets. There’s a large untapped market — for both social and economic gain. I would love to see more mobile companies focused on transforming women’s livelihoods, literacy and education levels through: mobile store fronts, mobile education platforms, business tools, social communication applications for learning and helpline or medical applications for their daily lives.

I also think 2015 will be Bitcoin’s year. I am specifically interested in block applications focused on increasing security and trust through decentralized smart contracts, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and distributed applications as a whole, and having real world use cases for these applications. Eg. Blockchain based risk management models for insurance or blockchain-based identity ledgers rivaling government-run databases utilizing biometric authentication.

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?

A faster plane or transit system for long-distance international travel. My immediate family lives in Singapore and extended family is in India and other parts of the world, and I would love to have a faster way to reach them and see them more regularly. Currently it takes me between 16–22 hours to get to Singapore / India. Whether this is a change in the airline industry or through something like Hyperloop, it would be great to see a faster, more efficient solution here.

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Crosslink’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Aditi directly at amaliwal@crosslinkcapital.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 Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

Requests for Startups: Jonathan Struhl (Indicator Ventures)

Jonathan is Co-Founder and General Partner at Indicator Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund that backs founders leveraging digital to drive efficiencies for businesses and consumers. Indicator’s investments includeLob, Circa, Nimble, Edyn, Bond, and Unikrn, among others. Prior to Indicator Ventures, Jonathan was an active investor, mentor and advisor to a number of different early-stage companies. Jon’s experience is deeply rooted in digital marketing having founded a Digital Marketing Agency that worked with complex global brands, athletes and celebrities to help connect them with startups. Jonathan is a graduate of Yeshiva University, Sy Syms Business School.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

The “Internet of Things” space is very exciting, and that should come as no surprise. It plays perfectly into Indicator Ventures’ core focus: digital efficiencies. We have a great example in our current portfolio: Edyn — think Nest for your home garden. The IoT will bring many conveniences and comforts to both consumers and businesses alike. But with it will also come security concerns, infrastructure challenges and likely implications we haven’t yet considered. However, we see this transformation as a massive opportunity.

I also love anything that facilitates curation. I call it “CoE”, the Curation of Everything. There is so much bullsh*t out there — everything from content to data to apps — that it’s impossible to sort through all the clutter. That’s why I love companies like Product Hunt that are building specific and lightweight curation solutions.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

Now that crowdfunding has started to reach the masses and has become socially acceptable, there is a huge opportunity to apply the model to different industries. One of our portfolio companies, Inkshares, did just that, and is shaking up the antiquated and volatile book publishing industry. Think about all of the archaic industries that can greatly benefit from crowdfunding. I like to think of crowdfunding as the new age survival of the fittest.

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

Over the past few years, I’ve been obsessed with creating a platform where people can donate unwanted items with ease and efficiency. In our busy and cluttered lives, we find ourselves accumulating more and more things. Right now, the Salvation Army or a dropbox on the side of the road are your best options to give these things away, but you have no clue where those items are going. I want to see Seamless Web for donating. It matches a charity with specific items they need. I’ve got a business plan and own a great domain name (DontWasteDonate.com), but would love for someone roll with it!

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?

No one has addressed sleep. About 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, but most of the innovation today is meant for when we are awake, (meanwhile we spend half our lives asleep). Products available today (pills, a sleep app or a comfortable mattress, for instance) do not address the root of the problem. I’m talking about a game-changing innovation that can help millions of people.

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Indicator’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Jonathan directly at jon@indicatorventures.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 Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

Requests for Startups: Bucky Moore (Costanoa Venture Capital)

Bucky joined Costanoa after 4+ years investing and working in and around technology companies. Prior to joining Costanoa, Bucky was an investor at Battery Ventures, where he focused on early stage investments in enterprise software and infrastructure. During his time at Battery, he invested in companies such as Veradocs and Lightcyber. Bucky graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.S. in Finance. He serves as a mentor for the Alchemist Accelerator program.

What start up verticals interest you most right now?

While we have witnessed innovative enterprise SaaS platforms like Workday, Box, and most recently Slack emerge, I believe the most exciting future opportunity will be applying the key principals (cloud-native, mobile, data-driven) that led to these successes within verticals that have been historically underserved by good software. Manufacturing, Construction, Oil & Gas, and Logistics are good examples of verticals that spend billions on software annually, yet have been using the same products for the past 10–15 years. These products are almost always installed on-premise, poorly designed from a UX standpoint, lacking mobile support, and far from data-driven. I believe the next five years in enterprise software are going to be defined by companies who can find innovative ways to disrupt legacy vendors in these markets.

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

  1. Mobile-first, SaaS-based workforce management platform targeting industrial verticals
  2. Maintenance and Insurance platform for commercial-grade UAVs

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

  1. More $1B+ SaaS companies emerge this year than the last 2 combined
  2. Machine Learning / Deep Learning transition from emerging technologies to “table stakes” in software; every new product will incorporate one or both in some way

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 I know there are many great products out there that are solving (part) of this issue, I am still searching for the perfect solution to manage my email, calendar and notes together in a cohesive manner; if anyone is building something for this, I would love to talk.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am always looking to meet great people in sales, marketing, product, and of course, engineering. If you are passionate about b2b technology / infrastructure and ever want to trade notes or chat, email me!

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Costanoa’s portfolio companies, feel free to email us directly and we will send Bucky your note.

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 Madan and Shaurya Saluja.

Requests for Startups: Rebecca Kaden (Maveron)

Rebecca joined Maveron in 2011, back when she was earning her MBA at Stanford, studying leadership and entrepreneurship. She joined full-time when she graduated the following year.

In her collaborative role at Maveron, Rebecca identifies emerging consumer-focused entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Southern California, and her hometown of New York City. She also plays a leading role in Maveron’s seed program. She’s a Board Observer at Aria, August, Darby Smart, Dolls Kill and General Assembly.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

  • Consumer financial services — there’s never been a better time to intercept an old school, opaque market and build a new generation of trusted brands. Great entrepreneurs are leveraging technology to bring increased distribution, better pricing, standout service, and personalization to an arena that has long been without, where trust has been lost, and are structurally disadvantaged to make big, monumental changes to the way they do business. In doing so, they are bringing much needed financial products to new markets and leveraging a mobile economy in new ways.
  • Consumer health — Awareness is at a height, responsibility for our health and healthcare is on the rise, and data is being collected like never before. Now we need to see what amazing entrepreneurs can do with that data to turn around how we live healthier lives and determine our choices around care and services.
  • Careers and career services — what it means to have a career is rapidly changing, moving away from long time veterans at institutional companies to the gig economy and shorter cycles. What products and services are out there to help upcoming and recent grads navigate this landscape and thrive inside of it?

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

  • We’re going to begin to see cracks emerge in the current funding environment. Valuations will start to become more grounded on data and up-rounds will be harder to raise on promise rather than measurable results. This bubble may not pop with a bang but I think, in the course of the next year, we’ll start to see some of the air release.
  • I think we’ll start to see some more significant ecommerce exits that lay the groundwork for how online-first transactional brands will be valued and benchmarked against in the future.

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

  • I’ve been waiting for someone to use technology to re-do pricing, access, and branding around travel insurance. It’s an old broken product with an old broken model that everyone passes by when booking travel. But we’re all moving around more and with increased need for flexibility — where’s the model that allows for that?
  • Financial services products for the US underbanked that harness technology to offer better, more accurate pricing and pair it with a brand that can build trust and will resonate.
  • Consumer services that customers will find enough value to pay for that lead to better health — preventative not reactive care.

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?

Teleportation. Definitely.

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Maveron’s portfolio companies, feel free to email us directly and we will send Rebecca your note.

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.

Requests for Startups: Nikhil Basu Trivedi (Shasta Ventures)

As a senior associate at Shasta Ventures and advisor to The Thiel Fellowship’s 20 Under 20 program, Nikhil focuses on discovering and mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs. He is a board observer at Bloc and ClassDojo in San Francisco, and Hinge and Timehop in New York City and was named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list for Venture Capital in 2015.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?
Mobile services that deliver better real-world consumer experiences; Consumer hardware that gets better over time because of software; Companies that are pushing boundaries of tech to define the “next” platform (eg. Virtual Reality, Robots/Drones, Wearables).

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

  1. Mobile app that tells me where I stand with my healthcare — both the health and financial aspects — something like Mint.com for health.
  2. SoulCycle, or a similar fitness class movement, focused on India.

Already working on a company that matches Nikhil’s RFS? Want to pursue one of his requests? Feel free to email us directly and we will send him your note.

Other inspiring ideas:

Digital money accounting
The problem is these digital money services are a “black hole” when it comes to accounting for all the transactions. I know that I put $500 into my Venmo account last month and I know its all gone. But where did it all go. How much came in and why? And how much went out and why? I want Mint.com for digital money services, starting with the Venmo and Coinbasemobile apps. That would be super helpful for me and, I suspect, for everyone using these digital money services. I bet it exists or that it is being built. I just haven’t see it yet. And I want it. Badly.
Fred Wilson, Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures

Combined ebook/audiobook product
I read most of my books on my iPhone 6 plus now. Before that was an iPad. I also listen to audio books in the car and on walks. But sometimes it takes me months to finish a book in the car @ 13–20 hours of audio, and whatever book I’m listening to there in the car is of course a different book than the one I’m reading on my iPhone. I’d pay a big premium for a combined book format that had both text and audio and allowed me to switch back and forth while reading/listening. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Michael Arrington, Partner at CrunchFund

Requests for Startups is a hand-curated daily newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. If you like it, we’d love for you to forward it along to friends & colleagues. New readers can subscribe here.

Created by Isaac Madan, Jeff Morris Jr, and Shaurya Saluja.