Not knowing where items are located, what’s in stock, or if they are properly priced cost the global retail industry more than a trillion dollars. Venrock partner David Pakman speaks with Brad Bogolea, co-founder and CEO of Simbe Robotics, about how Simbe’s robot Tally is solving these major blind spots. Bogolea delves into how robotic solutions can keep up with rapid changes without overhauling infrastructure and provide greater optical data than traditional solutions. Bogolea discusses the competitive and consumer pressures prompting retailers to embrace robotic solutions and how the pandemic exposed the need for autonomy and better data. Bogolea also touches on the challenges of financing in the robotics sector, and how being customer-oriented is key to Simbe’s success.
Back in 2018, we speculated that NFTs (non-fungible tokens) would be the product category to take crypto mainstream. So far, we aren’t right, but are likely on our way to being correct.
There are well more than 100 million crypto wallets in the world. According to the Gemini 2021 State of Crypto report, there are about 21 million US adults who own crypto. The first major wave of crypto, the creation and purchase of cryptotoken assets, has created about $1.5 trillion of value for these >100 million people. In the second wave of crypto, those cryptoasset holders have “locked” more than $60 billion of those assets into DeFi (decentralized finance) contracts to borrow against them or gain yield, etc.
NFTs are the third wave of crypto, and thus far, more than $1 billion has been spent by more than one million people. Dapper Labs’ NBA TopShot has more than 1.2 million users, of which at least 500,000 have spent more than $600 million on the leading NFT collectibles. The table below tracks the larger collectible projects.
Beyond these wonderful collectibles, there is an emerging movement of NFT digital art from influencers, digital artists, brands and celebs, and these sales are equally as impressive. Sales estimates range from $500M — $1B so far.
As consumer appetite for NFTs increase, trusted marketplaces and partners must emerge to provide great consumer experiences, curate collections, cultivate communities and act as reliable partners to creators. Given our close connection to Dapper Labs (we led the Series A round and I sit on the board), the inventors of the NFT standard and the creators of the largest and most successful NFT ecosystem NBA TopShot, we have had a front row seat to the stunning growth of the NFT space. And from that, we are proud to announce our investment in the leading NFT Marketplace and Protocol, Rarible.
Like Dapper Labs, Rarible is passionate about bringing NFTs mainstream through stunning user experiences, the best UI in the space, and deep connections to and appreciation for the most authentic NFT creators. In the last year, they have grown 3000x to more than $150M in sales. In addition to their marketplace, they offer the open Rarible protocol, which allows for decentralized order books, downstream royalties built into the smart contracts, and easy minting of NFTs across different blockchains.
Unlike other NFT marketplaces, Rarible is a cryptonative marketplace utilizing the $RARI token as an incentive for continued community participation. They are committed to long term decentralization of their protocol, ultimately governed by the community itself through the Rarible DAO (decentralized autonomous organization). The founders, Alexei Falin and Alex Salnikov have deep and relevant experience in crypto, consumer services, marketplaces and most importantly, in the NFT community itself.
So far, the market is rewarding them for this great progress. Many of the world’s most important brands and authentic creators are choosing Rarible for their drops: Sean Lennon, Taco Bell, Mark Cuban, Lindsay Lohan, Ted Williams, Flosstradamus, MEGADETH and Floyd Mayweather are just a few examples. Their momentum continues with forthcoming drops from Prodigy frontman Maxim; rapper, songwriter and actor Ghostface; celebrity photographer Johnny Nunez; and painter Xeo Chu.
The team is also announcing a partnership with Dapper Labs and their Flow blockchain. Rarible will leverage Flow’s scalability and usability and launch as a primary and secondary marketplace on the platform, providing additional options for users to buy and sell NFTs. NFTs minted on Flow will also find a home on Rarible.
The Rarible team has assembled a fantastic investor syndicate to help massively accelerate the business. Joining us in this round are Dick Costolo and Adam Bain from 01 Advisors, CoinFund, Republic Labs, and Collab+Currency. We couldn’t be happier to be doubling down on the NFT space and are excited to work with this wonderful team.
For our fifth annual survey, we once again tapped our network of pundits to weigh in on the healthcare industry’s news, trends and challenges. With the global pandemic, 2020’s survey results offered insights into the sentiment elicited by Covid-19, as well as predictions and questions about its impact on the presidential election, return to work and vaccines. It was the first year we conducted multiple surveys, and dramatic changes in opinion were captured as the country locked down and we slowly came to understand what we were up against. We were SO, SO wrong about the stock market as it quickly recovered from March lows and soon reached new heights, and less than 50% predicted that an effective vaccine would be available by the end of 2021. But we got more right than wrong as the election did swing to Biden, the GDP dropped more than 2% for 2020, and telemedicine broke-through, emerging as a lasting component of patient care.
This year, respondents weighed in on the impact of Covid-19, vaccine rollouts and passports, how the Biden administration will shape the future of healthcare, and the outlook for health IT startups in 2021 and beyond.
Our commentary on the most interesting findings can be found here, including the full results. Thank you to the hundreds of people who took the time to share their views and opinions with us this year.
Vlad Coric, M.D., CEO of Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, joins Venrock partner Nimish Shah to speak about the significance of innovation and creativity across all aspects of a business. Coric dives into the challenges of launching Biohaven’s drug, Nurtec ODT, during the pandemic and why he believed it was their moral duty to continue the drug supply chain, despite the lockdown. Still seeing patients today, Coric discusses how his patient-centric approach positively guided him as a drug developer. Coric touches on Biohaven’s collaboration with Khloe Kardashian for Nurtec’s launch and his excitement for the digital transformation occurring in biotech. Coric also advises other biotech CEOs raising a cross-over round or going public to be selective with the investors they invite in, as they become an extension of the team.
Want more? Here’s the latest on Running Through Walls.
Venrock partner Nick Beim speaks with Jason Wenk, founder and CEO of Altruist, about his mission to increase the accessibility of great financial advice. Wenk walks through his early entrepreneurial endeavors and explains how they’ve contributed to the creation of Altruist. As his leadership style has evolved over the years, Wenk shares the biggest lesson he’s learned while building Altruist and how he’s embraced the fact that it’s okay to not know everything.
Want more? Here’s the latest on Running Through Walls.
Cyrus Harmon, co-founder and CTO of Olema Oncology, joins Venrock partner Alex Rosen to discuss the history of Olema. Olema had a successful IPO last year and Harmon sheds light on what biotech companies should look for when selecting banks for an IPO and how to build momentum for financing rounds. He also dives into the factors that led to the founding of Olema and how the company evolved to develop their OP-1250 drug, used for the treatment of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. Harmon shares the biggest challenges he encountered, things he would have done differently, and the importance of perseverance as a leader. Harmon also touches on the biotech trends he’s most excited about, including mRNA vaccines, gene therapy, and AI in computational drug discovery.
Want more? Here’s the latest on Running Through Walls.
Finance and Accounting departments have a scaling problem. Engineering, Product, and Operations often have economies of scale, network effects, and operating leverage. Sales and Marketing benefit from growing brand awareness, category leadership, and expanded distribution. Thus, as companies mature, you usually see these departmental expenses decline as a percentage of revenue.
Finance and Accounting, however, can often exhibit diseconomies of scale, becoming more complicated and costly as more customers need to be “known” and collected from, more suppliers need to be vetted and paid, more complex payrolls calculated, taxes filed across innumerable jurisdictions, more regulations adhered to, more internal and external reports generated, and so on. The net result is finance teams having to expand linearly with revenue growth, often with contingent workers, making company-specific knowledge harder to transfer and recapture.
And… lots of late nights and burnt out finance employees.
So why has technology not solved this problem? We’ve had ERP software for nearly 40 years, and for the past decade, we’ve had some truly terrific cloud-native innovators like Intacct, NetSuite, and Workday. The problem is that, though these Systems Of Record are great at storing data and doing calculations, there are still myriad financial processes that require person-to-person communication, as well as human judgment and exception handling.
For example, “sorry we are late on our payment, but I have a question on the latest invoice you sent”; “thanks for responding to our request for an updated W9, but it appears that there may be a typo in your EIN”; and “this invoice seems to have missed a volume discount specified in our MSA.”
It turns out that it takes a lot of email and spreadsheets to run a modern ERP.
The above examples are not particularly challenging for a human to handle individually (the problem is the volume), but quite difficult for computers to automate given the unstructured data sources and natural language involved. Until very recently, AI/ML was simply not accurate enough to solve the problem effectively. This is especially true when trying to convince hard-nosed CFOs, skeptical and conservative by nature, who are often more willing to spend on other departments than their own.
Fortunately, advances in natural language understanding and machine learning over the past few years have crossed a similar threshold to computer vision and speech recognition in that they are now robust enough for vital operations, especially when combined with thoughtful humans-in-the-loop to handle escalations and exceptions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst for financial operations automation as office closures challenged business continuity, raised security and compliance concerns (the thought of payables being processed on an insecure home network is enough to keep any CFO up at night), and made hiring and training entry-level headcount that much harder. Lastly, the SaaS revolution, which was already in high gear before the pandemic, has now “gone to 11”, which means that Finance and Accounting must automate to keep up with the rest of the digital enterprise.
Amidst this backdrop, Venrock is thrilled to have led Auditoria.ai’s Series A funding round. We think their focus on growing mid-market businesses is spot on, given that these businesses are large enough to feel the pinch of complexity and high transaction volumes, but not resource-rich enough to have built custom solutions or require their business partners to adopt specialized means of interaction.
We love Auditoria’s breadth of vision and product approach centered around discrete SmartFlow Skills, which have already been certified by the top cloud ERP vendors. Additionally, leading mid-market accounting and audit firms, including RSM and Armanino, have already committed to supporting Auditoria’s efforts in their ERP installed bases.
But most of all, we are enamored with this team. Finance and accounting requires specialized knowledge, which relatively few technologists possess, but the Auditoria team is comprised of highly experienced alumni of Oracle, Netsuite, Intacct, and Intuit, who have successfully scaled products and startups in the past. They are also really good people, committed to enriching F&A roles by automating the drudgery, thus saving time for humans to tackle the more interesting and fulfilling work. Auditoria is pioneering FinOps Automation, and we are grateful to be their partners for the journey.
This article was first published in Business Insider.
Disruptive commerce founders want to revolutionize what we buy, how we buy, or who we buy from. But commerce is a notoriously competitive space with unique hurdles. Standing large against that backdrop is Amazon.
It’s safe to say that Amazon is the Goliath in the arena. Spurred by the pandemic, US online sales grew +30% year-over-year and the biggest beneficiary was Amazon. By the end of 2020, close to $4 out of every $10 spent online by the US consumer went to Amazon.
And yet, opportunities to capture consumer attention still exist. One only has to look toward Shopify’s $170 billion market cap and its strategy to arm the Davids entering the field.
In this David vs Goliath situation, where and how can startups compete to win?
As a starting point, here are five observations on what it takes to significantly improve your chance of winning in an Amazon-first world.
1. Know your customer and what matters to them
This seems so silly and basic at first, but you’d be surprised. Oftentimes, we get mired in feature sets and forget to answer the critical starting question, “Who is our customer, what do they want, and what’s critically lacking for them today?”
Where I see startups frequently go amiss: Tackling perceived pain points that aren’t critical for their customer.
How do you know it’s critical? Customers open up their wallets. Better yet, they sing your endless praises, driving significant revenue through word-of-mouth.
2. Provide unique inventory that can’t be found on Amazon
Etsy provides handcrafted, artisanal goods. The RealReal provides authenticated resale luxury. Dapper Lab’s NBA Top Shot (a Venrock portfolio company) sells unique moments in sports history.
What do they all have in common? They sell products that can’t be found on Amazon. If your inventory can easily be found on Amazon, what’s your competitive edge?
This is an area where founder creativity never ceases to amaze me. Five years ago, most of us wouldn’t have imagined paying for Cameo’s celebrity shout outs, or for Dapper Lab’s NBA digital collectibles. With the rise of creator-led experiences and newly emerging metaverses, we’re seeing a whole new set of discrete, digital-first goods that can’t be indexed and served up by Amazon’s existing taxonomy and marketplace.
3. Support repeatable purchase behavior
If you have a large captive audience (eg Facebook, Instagram) with multiple monetization streams, you can afford to focus on novelty, impulse items where purchase frequency is low. But if you’re a commerce-focused startup, it’s imperative that you’re driving stickiness as evidenced by repeat purchase behavior. We’re looking for customers who are willing to commit, not one-night stands.
Dollar Shave Club (a Venrock portfolio company) sells razors that are needed with such regularity that customers are willing to sign up for a subscription. Wish may feature novelty goods, but they also sell household goods that need regular replenishment. For the sneaker aficionados on StockX, collecting is an ongoing passion that requires replenishment of new finds.
The key is to support a pattern of repeat behavior that already exists in the offline world.
4. Leverage data to inform a continuously improving, personalized experience
We’re still in the early innings of personalization. The old days of guessing your customers’ preferences a year out are over. But compare the personalization of your TikTok feed to the personalization of your Amazon feed. One is clearly superior.
Just remember, it’s as simple and as hard as delivering the right product at the right time at the right price.
5. Harness technology to support newly emerging consumer preferences
I get the most excited when I see the intersection of two things — new technology or applications thereof with newly emerging consumer preferences. Here are two examples:
One, the emergence of iPhone enabled services just a click away from your couch. At the same time, we work more than ever before, putting an ever increasing premium on convenience. You put the two together, and you get the on-demand economy.
Two, the increasing sophistication of fertility treatments afforded parents-to-be with expanded options for growing their families. At the same time, women are having children later in life than before, due to a number of factors including career expectations, economic stability, and changing cultural norms. This represented an opportunity and unmet need across women’s health and fertility.
We’ll look back on 2020 and 2021 as a messy cauldron of new realities and ideas, many of which feel overwhelming at the moment, but I predict will birth a groundswell of marked innovation. It’s in this messiness that new opportunities abound.
If you’re a founder that’s passionate about re-imaging the future of commerce, I’d love to hear from you! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
David vs Goliath: 5 Strategies for Commerce Startups to Succeed in an Amazon World was first published in Substack.
Venrock partner Camille Samuels speaks with Angie You, CEO of Amunix, and Rich Heyman, Chairman of the Board, about the dynamics between a CEO and a Chairperson that foster a successful company. You and Heyman dive into the importance of mutual trust and respect between a CEO and the Board, and You shares her passion for people that makes her such a great talent hunter. You shares her experience as an Asian female CEO that has busted through multiple ceilings, and how her supportive friends and network help to make the CEO’s role less lonely. They also discuss how they’ve built an incredibly diverse management team at Amunix and why diversity of thought is so important.
Want more? Here’s the latest on Running Through Walls.
In China, livestream commerce is a $60B market and growing. Think QVC but interactive, mobile, and highly entertaining. Ever since Connie Chan’s illuminating post on China’s livestreaming boom, there’s been ongoing debate as to whether or not livestream commerce will catch on with the US consumer. Will she or won’t she buy? It’s the perpetual question.
Let’s put this debate to rest.
Most folks haven’t yet heard of CommentSold. It’s based in Huntsville, Alabama. Its founder, Brandon Kruse, is quiet on social media. And yet, he’s quietly built a powerhouse supporting over $1Billion of livestream GMV. Yes, you heard that right.
I first ran across CommentSold over the winter holidays. I was on my couch doomscrolling through Facebook when I noticed a particular trend: Small boutique owners and resellers, mainly women, hosting livestreams across a wide range of categories from candles to jewelry to clothing. And their audiences were tuning in daily to engage, interact, and shop – often after dinner or after the kids were asleep.
Southernangelsllc.com | Accessorizewithstyle.com | Simplyobsessed.com
In the left corner of these livestreams, I noticed the same “Comment” callout. Having worked at FB, I knew this wasn’t a FB call to action. Intrigued, I tracked down the origins of “comment selling”, and came upon CommentSold.
Simply put, CommentSold provides custom checkout and unified invoicing and order management to allow small business owners to easily sell across multiple platforms, whether that’s social channels (FB Live, FB Groups, and IG), an eCommerce webstore or their own branded mobile app through CommentSold.
Having been raised in the south and midwest, I recognize these small business owners. They may have started their boutiques as side-hustles to supplement their family income, but many are now running full-time businesses. And with stores closed and everyone cooped up at home, it was clear why they’d jumped online and brought their audiences with them.
Their livestreams feel intriguingly personal – sometimes a husband or the kids pops by to say hello. There are inside jokes starting to form amongst the members. Judging by the comments, you sense the audience is decompressing with some wine on tap. Or maybe that’s just me.
So what can we learn from CommentSold and Brandon’s success?
1/ Livestream commerce fulfills an emotional need for American consumers. Let’s put that debate to rest. And instead move on to the more interesting question of how it’ll morph and expand in the US, whether as standalone entities or as part of broader social platforms.
2/ Small businesses are increasingly savvy, and in some cases leapfrogging larger brands in discovering and mining new channels. They are multi-platform sellers and they’re not going back. They’re no longer content to rely on their physical stores – they’re quickly spreading their presence across multiple platforms and multiple mediums.
3/ Fantastic founders aren’t bound by geography. They don’t need to live in SF, NY, Austin or even Miami. Let’s find them and fund them. I grew up in Nashville and Peoria. My friends and neighbors were just as smart & interesting with unique viewpoints as the folks I met later in life in New York and San Francisco.
If you’re like Brandon and quietly building against an audacious goal with seeds of momentum, I’d love to hear from you! You can reach me email@example.com
The $1BN GMV Livestreaming Startup You’ve Never Heard Of was originally published on Substack.