Registering an out of state leased vehicle in California when you move here.

September 7, 2013

This is just a quick post to hopefully help others who also find themselves in a similar situation as I did, and have to register a car they leased in another state in CA when they move here.

I very recently moved from Boston, MA to Palo Alto, CA. My family moved with me and we brought our leased car(s) with us.

I knew that I would need to register my car in California, get new license plates and change my license. I spent a lot of time on the phone with the leasing companies, their finance departments, on CA DMV website, and even showed up at the DMV during a CA trip to see if I could get some arty around the process. Unfortunately there is scarily little available online (at least my experience) on how to register a car, that you may have leased in another state and hence are not the owner and title-holder, in CA.

Car lease companies actually gave me some if the most confusing information. They kept telling me to go to the DMV and ask them to contact the car lease company and request a copy of the original title. They told me there is a special firm for this at the Dmv but didn’t know its name/number, and i searched the DMV website but didn’t find any such form. I was told by the lease company that somehow once the DMV gets that information I will need to go back to the DMV and fill out the application forms etc. That process didn’t make enough sense to me – I just didn’t see how I could just show up and say “Hi Mr/Ms DMV: can you please, ummm, call my leasing company on this number and get whatever you need?” I didn’t want to waste a day at the DMV.

Anyways – I asked friends on FB and Twitter if they had any advice, and lo and behold, social media came to the rescue. A friend had gone through this process herself and guided me. It is actually quite simple. And it worked for me today. Here’s how it goes…

1. Have your out of state car registration document with you.
2. Make sure you get a smog check done and have the report with you. Cost me $34.99.
3. Ask your lease company to send a “limited power of attorney for registering car in another state” and a copy of the original title to your home address. Bring those with you.
4. Bring your out of state drivers license (and your passport if you also want your CA drivers license). By the way: you need to do all this within a few weeks of arriving in CA so start the process with your lease company even before you move.
5. Get an appointment in advance with the DMV by going online. It can be a zoo if you don’t have an appointment.

Once you get to the DMV, look for window that says “By Appointment”, and let them know you have arrived. They will give you applications to fill out and make you go outside to bring your car to the appropriate place for “Verification Check”. Basically somebody will walk around your car, peek under the hood, take mileage information etc and give you a filled out verification form.

Fill out the application for registering a car that you will be given (don’t worry about price of car, just guess, and write in “lease” since there is no option for that).

You will be given a ticket number, wait for your turn, go up to the designated window/desk, hand over the documents with the filled-in application form and you will soon have new number plates and registration documents in your hands. Fee is $241 and you can only pay in cash, check or Debit/ATM card. No credit card.

I also filled out my driver’s license application on the spot and paid the $32 fee. They needed to see my passport as a second form of ID. I didn’t have to take a driving test but did take a written exam. I had not prepared but thankfully I only got 3 answers wrong when I was allowed to have 6 wrong answers out of 36. I didn’t know better, but you would be better off grabbing a CA driver’s handbook (copies lying around DMV) and reviewing it for 30 minutes before the test. Smile for your photo as you will be stuck with it for a while.

Good luck!


Metamaterials and Computational Imaging: Our latest investment in Evolv Technologies

August 29, 2013

At Lux Capital we pride ourselves in backing great entrepreneurs working on important and relevant problems. I’ve written before that great entrepreneurs pursue problems they can relate to, and build great companies in those spaces.

Security and safety have become an increasingly important consideration in our daily lives. Against formidable foes, individual and organized, that sadly seek to harm innocent people, technology remains our friend—to identify those people and catch them before they can carry out their nefarious plans.

Today we announce our latest investment in Evolv Technologies ($11.8m Series A) to help keep people safe everywhere. And I am proud to join its Board of Directors and partner again with a longtime friend, serial entrepreneur and industry veteran Mike Ellenbogen.

metamaterials

After achieving success with Reveal Imaging and staying abreast of both real-time threats and the evolution of cutting-edge technologies to address them, Evolv was formed by Mike, based on intellectual property from Duke University and Intellectual Ventures.

Evolv is commercializing breakthrough security & imaging solutions based on technical innovations in the field of metamaterials and compressive sensing/imaging.

This is Lux Capital’s second investment in the metamaterials space (we are also founding investors in Kymeta (joined by Bill Gates and Liberty Global)– utilizing metamaterials for satellite communications) and another investment for us in the exciting theme of computational imaging. We believe tremendous opportunities lie at the intersection of hardware innovation combined with the power of computation and networking.

ellenbogenI have had the pleasure of knowing Mike for the past several years as a friend and a colleague. Mike, and his co-founder Anil Chitkara, represent the kind of focused, thoughtful, and patient entrepreneur teams that I am attracted to. Evolv will seek to provide security and imaging solutions to a range of markets and applications around the world, and to win they will need to execute on multiple fronts: hardware/software product innovation, manufacturing, international marketing and sales, regulatory processes, customer training and support . Their experience in building great teams around them to solve similar problems in the past will come in handy.

Adding to my joy of backing a great team working on an important problem is the strong investment syndicate that came together for Evolv, including General Catalyst, Bill Gates and Osage University Partners. I also look forward to working with my former colleague Joel Cutler on Evolv’s Board. This journey begins…and oh, Evolv’s hiring! Join us.


Women founders of hardware/software startups.

August 28, 2013

A few days ago I caught up with my friend Helen Greiner who is a world-class engineer and a successful entrepreneur. Helen is an amazing person, a fellow MIT engineer, co-founder of iRobot, and now founder/CEO of CyPhy Works. I was proud to have been an investor and a member of her Board until earlier this year. My conversation with her motivated me to think of other women founders of hardware/software startups. I was embarrassed that only a few names immediately popped into my mind. But I knew there were many more. So I asked the twitterverse if they could think of some other awesome women hardware entrepreneurs and several names were added to my list.

Here are some such entrepreneurs I know, and some others that I would love to know better:

  • Limor Fried – Limor is an MIT alum and founder of Adafruit Industries, a pioneer in bringing electronics and maker philosophy to people of all ages. Limor founded Adafruit in 2005 and was the first woman engineer on the cover of Wired magazine.
  • Ayah Bdeir – Ayah is also an MIT alum and I was introduced to her by the current MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito. She is the founder and CEO of Little Bits – an open-source kit of pre-assembled electronics parts that are plug and play into gadgets, devices, toys, etc. Think of it as the legos for the 21st century. Parents and kids love her gadgetry equally.
  • Kegan Fisher Schouwenburg – Kegan is the founder and CEO of Sols, an awesome new solution bringing 3D scanning and 3D printing together. Everyone I know who has met Kegan describes her as a force of nature. She was an early member of the Shapeways team (disclosure: Shapeways is my firm, Lux Capital’s, 3D printing portfolio company), and helped them build The Factory of the Future.
  • Lenore Edman – Lenore is a co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, designing and producing “DIY and open source hardware for art, education, and world domination.
  • Meredith Perry – Meredith is the founder and CEO of uBeam – a wireless electricity company. I really find what she is working on fascinating as (a) I hate carrying all kinds of wires and charging devices with me, and (b) wireless charging might be critical for an internet of things that some of us imagine in the not so distant future.
  • Jeri Ellsworth – Jeri is famous for building Commodore 64 emulator within a joystick. I would love to own one! She is a hacker/builder extraordinaire and seems to be developing a new company called Technical Illusions to commercialize a projected augmented reality game system.
  • Amanda Bynes – Amanda and her co-founder met at UC Irvine and created Fabule to build smart domestic devices, i.e. internet of things for the home, with personality. At Haxlr8r, she developed the first product, Clyde, which is a smart lamp.
  • Alice Brooks – Alice is an MIT/Stanford alum and founder of Roominate. She is determined to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education fun, esp for girls aged 6-10, via a series of building toys.
  • Erin, aka RobotGrrl – Erin loves robots with a personality. She is a great role model for young women in robotics. She is also the designer behind Robobrrd which checked in at 151% of its funding target on IndieGogo.
  • Vanessa Green – Vanessa is an MIT alum and co-founder/CEO of Finsix which is developing a very high frequency power converter (transformer). Vanessa is also a board member of Community Water Solutions, a non-profit she co-founded in 2008.
  • Heidi Lubin – Heidi is the founder and CEO of Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies (HEVT). She is building high efficiency motors that are free of rare earth materials by utilizing innovations in hardware and software.
  • Mary Huang – Mary seems to be doing some very interesting work at the cross-section of hardware/software/design and fashion. Check out her 3D printed products at Continuumfashion.com.
  • Nancy Liang – Nancy is the force behind Mixeelabs, a platform for designers to create customizable products and sell them online. She is a Shapeways alum, now utilizing the 3D printing manufacturing capabilities of Shapeways to enable distributed product development and e-commerce.
  • Star Simpson – Star was the genius behind the TacoCopter. She is a maker and equally comfortable with electronics and robots as she is with code. Check her out at starsimpson.com.
  • Samantha Snabes – Samantha is a co-founder of re:3d, a 3D printing company based in Austin utilizing large format 3D printers to maximize production.
  • Dorian Ferlauto – Dorian is founder and CEO of Elihuu, a company that connects designers with the appropriate manufacturers so the product ideas can be turned into delivered goods in customers’ hands. I find the community they are building, of designers and manufacturers to be quite interesting.

This page of Lady Ada Lovelace Day also includes names of several other women entrepreneurs who are building awesome hardware/software products and solutions. There are obviously many many others who are doing amazing work. Please feel free to add other names in your comments. I am excited my daughter will have great role-models to look up to in STEM, hacker/maker culture, and engineering entrepreneurship.


How big is your market? Is it big enough?

August 23, 2013

One of my partners and I were discussing our need to invest time and money in companies building solutions for large market opportunities. He paraphrased someone important: “Are we sitting at the right poker table?”. How do we know a particular industry or space is large enough that if our hard work eventually leads to success, it has a chance to be a super success?

How big is your market size is a question VCs often ask entrepreneurs. The answer they are generally looking for varies primarily by the size of their funds and the kinds of spaces they invest in. Typical VC firms like to fund startups that can some day be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars. If an addressable market is too small, it can’t support a large company. The math they are likely doing in their mind is: (a) if market size is $1B, this company can likely capture 5-10% market share, (b) if the industry can support 5-7x revenue multiple then $50-100m of revenue will result in a $250-700m in exit value, (c) if a VC owns 20% of the company, they get $50-140m back to their fund.

So how big is big enough? Is a market size of $1B big enough? $10B? While a $10B market opportunity is almost always better than $1B one, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, in my (humble) opinion there are few things that can be helpful for entrepreneurs to keep in mind when thinking about market size for their offering:

  1. Products are not built for markets, they are built for customers. It is important to focus on solving real problems. Staying close to the customers and hearing what they are saying and building a product that at least your core customer base really really wants, likes to use, and agrees to pay for the use. Many entrepreneurs are unfortunately also often too optimistic about the difficulty they will face in acquiring and retaining customers, and get caught up in how awesome their technology or product is. While the tech world has come to glorify visionary founders, we haven’t done enough to promote this focus on execution chops.
  2. Proliferating on product roadmap too early to increase available market opportunity can result in a loss of focus that can be lethal to a company. I have seen quite a few companies find themselves lost in large markets because they ended up building too many products too early, or tried to stretch across several steps in the value chain.
  3. Initial market size for the core product should be large enough to sustain fast growth for at least a few years. Once a company is able to build strong momentum, revenues and profitability with product finding traction, then the company can start thinking of itself as a platform for further products as well.  Additionally, if you are selling over $100m+ in revenue with 20%+ ebitda margins you are doing something right. And will find yourself with access to currency to diversify in related spaces via new development or acquisition.
  4. What may be too small a market size for a large VC fund may still be an incredibly exciting market to build product(s) for, and may result in great financial success entrepreneurs and investors. Besides, what might appear small-ish today could be a much bigger opportunity tomorrow as more people come to realize the potential and build on top or around your offering. It is no surprise that some of the biggest tech companies today were addressing much smaller (but still interesting) problems when they first began (e.g. Amazon, Ebay, Facebook, Twitter). How big do you think the market size was for personal computers when Apple was founded? Did Rovio think they would be making more than 50% of their revenues by selling merchandise around the world based around characters of a mobile game?
  5. When pitching VCs it can be helpful to describe what your competitors and incumbents have been able to achieve in the market you are planning to enter, but don’t let them walk away thinking of your product as just a replacement product for an existing one. That hardly ever ends well. Help them understand how this is your wedge into the market to wow your initial customer base and to build a strong business with a core audience, and then you plan to expand your offering from a position of commercial strength.
  6. Visionary entrepreneurs don’t just look 10 years out and imagine how the world could look in the future. They also try to imagine, and then create, a path leading to that future. So don’t just focus on “one day we will change the world”, but start solving problems that actually change the world one shipped product at a time.

Solve real problems. Hire great teams. Build to scale. Win.


Impressive Entrepreneurs

August 9, 2013

Reading Paul Graham’s wonderful post on How to Convince Investors prompted me think back over my last 5 years in venture capital and what traits stood out among entrepreneurs that I was most impressed by.

Of course this is a subjective view, and based on a cohort of a few thousand people. There will always be many exceptions but I still find it helpful as a reference list. As an investor in early stage companies, across a broad range of technologies and industries, backing great entrepreneurs is the easiest way for me to increases my odds of success.

Entrepreneurs who have impressed me most tend to be:

  1. soft spoken and amazingly calm, even under stress. They don’t appear to be easily over-excited by success or failure.
  2. extremely product oriented. They are not enamored by technology, creativity of their idea, or their past laurels. It’s all about the product for them.
  3. resourceful with time and money. They are somehow able to get so much done with so little.
  4. surround themselves with top talent and network, and shun mediocrity at all times.
  5. convinced they will eventually win even if they don’t yet know how. Their attitude gets reflected in the culture of companies they build.
  6. extremely knowledgable about their space. It doesn’t matter their age or complexity of industry they are tackling. They can explain their vision in starkly simple ways, but if I want to double-click on any topic, they come prepared to be challenged.
  7. unashamed if they don’t have all the answers. They don’t try to BS their way out of a question and get back to me later if it was a relevant question.
  8. charismatic and pull me into their conversation. They don’t just deliver facts and business models, but help me see what’s going on in their mind.
  9. genuine in their answer to: “what are you looking for in an investor?”
  10. understand the motivations of professional investors. Without letting it interfere with their vision, they are able to help investors see what success could look like.

It is the greatest privilege of my job to meet amazing entrepreneurs and company builders on a regular basis. When I am lucky I am able to back some great entrepreneurs. At other times I may have let my own smartness get in the way of success. Either way, I know I will succeed mostly because amazing entrepreneurs will find ways to solve int’g and relevant problems in creative ways, and will allow me to partner with them.


The Hardware Tsunami Is Here. Know What It Takes To Build A Great Hardware Company.

August 8, 2013

One of my partners often quotes Henry Truman: “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” And this quote is more true in the history of venture capital than perhaps anywhere else.

The year is 2013…and hardware is cool again. Software might be eating the world, but its finishing dessert. Creative entrepreneurs are flocking to the hardware sector en masse, with hardware accelerators and incubators popping up all over the country and overflowing with eager applicants. The mainstream media is brimming with videos of cool new gadgets, and VCs are taking off their hoodies to blog about hardware (myself included). Hipsters are now proud to show off not the coolest app they downloaded, but the latest gizmo they backed on Kickstarter, or the newest bracelet that emerged from a 3D printer.

But that’s just noise. Here’s what important: (a) solving most interesting problems is what drives the best entrepreneurs, (b) a hardware component is often the most important element to solving meaningful problems in the world, and (c) investors flock to sectors where the best entrepreneurs go. The emerging hardware revolution is partly based on a realization by entrepreneurs (not investors) that we can’t just tweet our way out of the important problems that face humanity (with all due respect to Twitter).

KymetaHaving been involved in hardware startups as an entrepreneur and an investor for 10+ years, it is fantastic to see this attention return to the sector. VCs have made bushels of profits in the past from investing in hardware startups (from Apple to the semiconductor revolution and the telecom bubble of late ‘90s), and the future should not be any different. I welcome and love the focus on this sector and think it will result in major breakthroughs and great, lasting companies getting built over the next 5-10 years. This sector has felt a bit deprived of attention, especially since 2008. But now with some of the smartest people in the startup world focused on the space, many companies will reach bigger milestones faster.

Hardware startups can be both enterprise focused or consumer oriented. Major infrastructure, electromechanical tools, power generation/transmission/storage devices, robotics, medical devices, etc would all be classified as hardware companies. The renewed interest from today’s entrepreneurs comes from the belief that the confluence of distributed computing power, open source hardware and additive manufacturing have reduced the cost of building hardware so much that industrial grade solutions can now be built with consumer quality aesthetics and UI. What was once deemed possible only with expensive custom built machinery, can now be done with much simpler devices by taking advantage of the available computational resources. And not only that, when the hardware/software resurgence meets a socially connected and networked ecosystem, new solutions emerge that otherwise were not possible.

Excitement aside, in the world of building and backing companies, there is such a thing as being too early – or bringing too little to the party. Investors often want to be cheerleaders, but we can be more valuable pointing out challenges that others faced in advance so you can avoid them.

Below are some observations from my experience with hardware startups. Successful founders have been aware of that and managed through them artfully:

Teams – The heart and soul of any startup. Hardware startups tend to be highly interdisciplinary. A single MBA won’t cut it. More than likely you need to hire a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, a design engineer, and production specialist on your team to get even the most simple electromechanical devices off the ground. Hardware engineers don’t jump from firm to firm easily and hence top talent can be more difficult to recruit. The best teams I’ve seen in action usually had a handful of people with backgrounds in industry on the core team. Great CEOs surround themselves with amazing people, and that is especially true in hardware startups. It is a lesser known fact that scientific advisors can also play an important role in attracting strong talent. Entrepreneurs can use all the help they get. For example Naimish Patel at Gridco (disclosure: a Lux Capital portfolio company) has assembled a veteran team that boasts the credibility but not the culture from a multi-billion dollar electric grid industry that hasn’t changed much in 100 years.

Technologies – Hardware technologies are hard, interdisciplinary, and often filled with surprises. Hiccups, delays, and supply chain challenges are fairly common, and mistakes can be costly. Unless the hardware is really just a simple widget, an investor will be carrying technical risk in the company alongside any business vulnerabilities that always exist. New ventures need to remove technical risks upfront so the task of building a business becomes unhinged from “will this even work?”.

MatterportDesign – People have come to expect brilliant and well thought through design not just in software, but also in hardware. Maybe Steve Jobs is to blame for raising the bar so high, but it’s a fantastic thing to have happened in the hardware world. Even a mass spectrometer designer now has to remember that the user is likely carrying a beautifully design smart phone in his/her pocket. Design philosophies can be fundamental to how a hardware product is engineered, built, manufactured, and expected to be used by customers. And design is very hard to get right, and extremely hard to change when the gears are already in motion. Design for the right customer, with the right usage patterns in mind, and plan refresh cycles that make sense for the industry. Tesla, Nest, Fitbit are some examples of hardware products where design was a key factor in early customer purchase decisions. For the upstarts, hardware accelerators like Lemnos Labs, GreenStart, Highway 1, Bolt.io, Lab IX, Y-Combinator and others are providing much needed design advice to hardware engineers.

Data – Barely a day goes by without meeting a hardware entrepreneur who is convinced they are building a big data company and the hardware is just necessary evil to be dealt with. While I could not emphasize the importance of data and analytics to drive actionable intelligence for long term value creation in a business, such a negative attitude towards hardware development can hurt the design and development of world class products. Hardware products tend to lead with one or a very select few killer apps, and data/analytics often enable evolution of a product into a platform for future revenue streams. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, but be a perfect solution for your target customer.

Incumbents – In many sectors, incumbents have deployed Porter’s Five Forces excessively to build fences to keep entrants out. Hardware incumbents move slowly, but are self-aware, often building protective provisions in customer engagements to also reduce the pace of change. Longer term contracts, supply chain bottlenecks, technology cross-licenses, and global salesforces allow them to “own” middle management in large corporations. In such situations, seek out  customers looking for an edge to differentiate themselves in the field, and working with them to bring innovations to market faster. For example Toyota, Ford, GM may be big customers, but I would look towards smaller manufacturers from developing countries if I wanted to introduce new automotive-related technologies.

Intellectual property – Perhaps unlike software, hardware IP is not only easier to identify, but it’s built in multiple layers which can get quite confusing (often by design) quite fast. Large companies often cross-license hundreds (if not thousands) of patents and can frequently use IP to prevent innovation from taking their cheese. The best recourse is to take IP seriously, protect it aggressively, and to provide your customer with such a great and unique product that they are motivated to help protect you. For example Kymeta (disclosure: a Lux Capital portfolio company) is aggressively protecting its IP in novel satellite communications hardware because their technical innovation is a fundamental disruption in the market.

Regulatory barriers – Depending on the product, this could be a major issue to be dealt with even before your product’s beta-launch. I have seen at least one promising company’s life come to an early end because they mismanaged a nuanced regulatory landscape. Hire experts, drill them to get them outside of their comfort zone, and while remaining willing to bend rules, proceed with caution. Again, some of the most successful CEOs have always shown me a Plan B, C, and D when it came to regulatory matters. For example, as an investor Board member at UAV innovator CyPhy, I kept a very close eye on the regulatory changes affecting UAVs and flying robots, because they had a major impact on commercial opportunities available to the company. Of course, taking calculated risks on the regulatory landscape changing a particular way can sometimes be a very successful strategy. Or you can hope to be very lucky.

shapewaysManufacturing – A few decades ago the buzzword was “economies of scale”. You produced something once and replicated millions of times at scale to continuously squeeze inefficiencies out of the system and reduce costs. A former colleague termed the current phenomenon we see around us as “economies of un-scale”. Things can be produced at small quantities (using 3D printing for example) and then scaled in lower cost manufacturing centers. That said, manufacturing remains a major barrier to most hardware companies. Its expensive, mistakes are costly, doing it abroad could compromise technology and IP. While design cycles can be rapid, manufacturing supply chains are not as agile as we want them to be. I am not aware of successful hardware companies that did not have a credible plan of developing manufacturing capabilities close to home before embarking on a foreign adventure. Shapeways (disclosure: a Lux Capital portfolio company) is serving a global market for 3D printed products with distributed manufacturing centers. A single low-cost manufacturing plant wasn’t the right answer.

Value-chain/Distribution – Before making a hardware-related investment, I always lay out the value chain to understand who controls pinch points and can capture margin. In hardware startups, distribution is tricky and hard to do right when you have little leverage. Are there vendors in the supply chain who can truly obliterate a company’s best laid plans? One of my portfolio companies once burned through 3 months of cash (millions of dollars) because a certain specialized testing facility was just not available to test and certify their product. Whether the hardware is enterprise or consumer focused, direct marketing and direct contact with the end customer is incredibly important. A company must be able to identify exactly who benefits from their product and get buy-in at the highest levels. Fortunately for consumer devices, new channels are becoming available to provide initial customer feedback, quickly. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Etsy, Ebay, others provide unique opportunities for early customer engagement that did not exist a few years ago.

Margins – Hardware margins are generally lower than those found in software. Sometimes these margins can be incredibly low, especially when producing in low volumes. Managing capital requirements through the optimal scale-up plans is critical to survive the growth phase. Not to mention the increased cash needs if you start getting returns and building up inventory. Hardware businesses must have strong VPs of Engineering and CFOs who are not just winging it.

Fundraising – Hardware startups may be in vogue now, but times and preferences change. Investors will need to have more patience and a stronger gut to deal with the ebbs and flows of the hardware business. These are not “bets” and “plays” – hardware startups need investors who understand why and how a company can manage through difficult circumstances, and bring strategic relationships to help in the process. VCs of all shape and sizes are right now seeding and investing hardware startups, but smart investors would be wise to partner with investors who live and breathe the hardware ecosystem. I advise hardware startups to always be ready to raise capital, if it is available at a good price – not only to prepare for hard times, but to also be prepared to run fast when opportunity presents itself. At Lux Capital, we focus primarily on hard technologies, but frequently partner with non-hardware firms that bring complimentary knowledge and networks to the table.

Exits – While entrepreneurs get teary-eyed thinking of the success Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Tony Fadell have had in the hardware world, the cold, hard reality is that exits take longer, are more often evaluated on EBITDA multiples, and typical buyers lack the equity currency to pay Instagram-like premiums. Expect to hear the infamous “exit” question from investors. Even when they don’t ask, you should assume it’s something they’re considering. So you might as well give it some thought. Know the comps, understand what drove value creation, and be on top of relevant metrics that to your company. The upside? Because hardware startups in any space are harder to build, there is less competition and fewer me-too products. If your product solves a meaningful problem, expect a valuable return on time and capital for financial investors and entrepreneurs.

Looking at my notes from the last few weeks alone, I have met companies in following spaces: UAVs, satellites, high throughput DNA production, terrestrial robotics, hardware for retail analytics, personal health, quantified self, smart phone accessories, hardware/software toys for 21st century children, Internet of Things, computational imaging, 3D scanning and printing, virtual reality hardware, hardware for retail analytics, healthcare accessories, low cost diagnostics, remote sensing, portable medical devices/analyzers, open source hardware and others…this is just the beginning. The hardware tsunami is now upon us. My partners and I at Lux Capital are eager to help great entrepreneurs build their visions into successful companies.


Some thoughts on VCs hiring journalists/PR/media staffers on their teams

July 18, 2013

Dan Primack wrote an int’g article yesterday on Fortune titled “VCs and entrepreneurial ego“, to discuss his views on why a growing numbers of VCs are getting so active in the media/PR/journalism game, and in fact spending millions of dollars (over the life of a fund) to bring on-board specialists hired to do the same for them.

Below are my ramblings on the topic. Obviously opinions don’t hold true for all investors, all entrepreneurs, or all media as well. There will always be exceptions, quite a few of them actually, in a highly dynamic ecosystem.

VCs sometimes think entrepreneurs know a lot about fundraising and investors, or that they spend a lot of time thinking about investors. I somehow doubt that.

Reality is that entrepreneurs, esp first time entrepreneurs  and those that we consider to be awesome product guys starting companies, are often too busy thinking about their own ideas, the spaces they want to build businesses in, competition, next generation technologies, recruitment/hiring etc; and spend little time thinking about VCs, angels, investment dynamics and the like on a day to day basis. In my humble opinion when time comes for them to raise capital, their thought process likely goes as follows:

Priority 1: I want the most connected investors to invest in my company. After all, I want people who can connect me to customers, partners, buyers at the highest levels

Priority 2: I want the smartest people on my Board. Those who can help me with strategy, and also educate me about trends they are observing because I will likely have have less time for that

Priority 3: I want people who can help attract great talent. How can I hire that SVP out of Ebay or Google or Facebook

Priority 4: I want people whose name being associated with me, and whose networks, can prevent dilution for me in future rounds by getting me higher pre- money valuations (at least in early rounds where cost of capital remains high)

For many entrepreneurs some names are no-brainers, e.g. Mike Moritz, John Doer, Vinod Khosla etc. But that elite list is relatively short because those guys have consistently delivered billion dollar companies over decades (and in recognition some also sit on big public company boards they didn’t even invest in). After that elite list, there is a relatively sharp drop off after that. There are investors I know who may have returned hundreds of millions of dollars to their LPs in the past few years but young student entrepreneurs building the next Facebook have never really heard of them – unless of course they hover around TechCrunch all the time, and even then its doubtful.

So how do VCs get entrepreneurs to believe that we can do all of the above for them? There are a few ways:

  1. Do great deals so you get coronated as a king in the spaces you invest in. Unfortunately a bit of a chicken and egg problem for most new investors, though some get lucky early in their careers.
  2. Be a part of an already super well-known firm so your biz card goes further than you. This might be one reason why some big name firms have revolving doors for great people going in and out as investors.
  3. Be so present in media that you have the equivalent of a high SEO/SEM/Klout score (choose your favorite – you know what I mean). And we know how much harder it is to get attention now than it was in 2000. Just as an example, banner ads may have worked well to advertise your company in circa 2000 but have much less impact now. Occasional appearances in major publications like WSJ/Forbes etc may have worked 5-10 years ago but don’t have as much impact any more given how much noise exists in the media. Sensing above, VCs started occasional blogging in the middle of last decade to share their views a bit more publicly but now even that gets lost in the clutter. So now, in order to create a large enough (and persistent) signal amidst all the media clutter/noise, you have to be more social, subtle, indirect, personable, etc. You have to use Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, Snapchat, show up in news feeds, get on Hackernews etc. But all that takes a lot of work and while 140 chars on twitter may be easy to write a few times a week, the rest starts to look like a lot of work. Hence, IMHO, VCs are increasingly bringing on-board full-time media folk to create more and higher frequency signal, to get themselves placed at the center of every article written about spaces they invest in, and to have their companies listed as examples whenever a space gets discussed. It is to do work that many VCs are actually not very good at, and probably don’t really find very interesting, but needs to be done to win at their actual day jobs. Result: they outsource it to the best person they can find for the job.

Anyways…at least thats what I think. And I also think there is nothing wrong with it. Its good for the entrepreneurs and for the startup ecosystem to have more thoughtful views out there, to have more transparency, and for investors to be more ‘approachable’. Entrepreneurs will hopefully develop a nose to sniff out the truth from the bullshit that aggressive PR sometimes brings with it.

Reality is that at least for now VCs are as much in the marketing/sales business as any other business. Several ex-VCs tell me what they were most surprised by (and often hated) most about their jobs was that sales-y aspect of it. I actually don’t mind that part of my job. In fact, I like it. Marketing to entrepreneurs, marketing to other VCs & potential investors for our portfolio companies, marketing to corporate partners & buyers of our companies, marketing to LPs, even marketing to our families/friends when we are less present than ideal. If it helps my portfolio companies, I am game. That’s just how it goes, and we all roll with it. And compete.


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