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!

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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.


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.


In this connected world…we must disconnect every now and then.

May 27, 2013

It is sometimes nice to simply disconnect. It is sometimes nice to be in the woods, by the lake, staring at turtles swimming idly or frogs jumping through puddles. To hear humming birds and to stop and look around when a woodpecker begins its furiously paced pecking. To breathe deep and feel fresh air mixed with wooden scents going through our nasal passages.

I did that today with my two young children. They are 4.5 and 2.5 and we visited the Wellfleet Nature Sanctuary at the Cape Cod. This was their first hike in the woods. We picked up little sticks along the way to move leaves away, recognized poison ivy and learnt to stay away from it, listened to birds chirping/feeding all around us in the trees, ran after butterflies feasting on flowers, stared bullfrogs in their eyes as they came out of the pond, and my daughter is convinced she saw a wolf from far (God bless their imagination!). While we dis this we did not check emails, make calls, answer texts, or worry about what we would do for the rest of the day. And my children didn’t have to call me twice to get my full attention. We walked, talked, laughed, held hands, and held slimy frogs in our hands. All in all just a perfect day! I can’t wait to do more of the same again.


A new chapter in my life – investing in our future.

May 9, 2013

New-BeginningsI spent much of the day yesterday with Salman Khan of Khan Academy, walking around the MIT campus and at events geared towards raising awareness and funds for his amazing effort to democratize education for all people of the world.  It was nice for both of us to walk around the campus where we not only got educated and ‘grew up’, but also found our spouses and some life-long friends. At one point in his talk at MIT Sal said “I am having the time of my life. I am pursuing my passions”. I could not agree with him more. As an entrepreneur and an investor, I have been privileged to be able to do the same for the last 10 years of my life. A new chapter in that life begins today as I announce starting June I will join Lux Capital as a partner in their Palo Alto office to continue to do what I am passionate about: investing in our future.

Lux Capital is a NYC and Palo Alto based venture capital firm focused on founding, seeding and making early stage investments in emerging technologies. I have known Lux for many years, we have co-invested together in the past, and have spent a lot of time learning from each other about ideas, innovations and themes that would be considered extra-ordinary even for our innovative times. My partners at Lux – Josh, Peter, Rob and Adam – are entrepreneurs at heart who share my mission to partner with great entrepreneurs early to help them build great companies. As friends I have found them to be humble and genuinely nice people, and as professional colleagues I find them intellectually curious, rigorous and honest – ready to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to help entrepreneurs achieve their successes. I am excited that with their help, and with the help of the rest of the awesome Lux team, I will be able to focus on identifying and leading early stage investments across Energy, Technology and Healthcare sectors.

We are living in extra-ordinary times where innovation is happening at an unbelievable pace across so many different disciplines. During the last 15 years that I have spent on academic campuses and then in the startup world I have witnessed ground-breaking work happening in areas such as genetics/genomics, synthetic biology, materials science, data analytics, informatics, communication and energy/climate sciences. As stated above, I want to invest in and build our future, utilizing breakthroughs across science/engineering disciplines, and not just software engineering, and coupling with business and marketplace innovations. I want to partner with entrepreneurs that are tackling big problems in commercially interesting ways. New materials, 3D printing, robotics, internet of things, sensing/imaging, big data, genomics, personal health, security, wearable computing, energy/cleantech and other areas…possibilities are endless. And Lux has a proven track record to think differently and invest in unconventional areas. With a new $245m fund, and now with a new partner, we are ready to double-down.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life in Boston and the transition to California will not be easy. But I also know I will keep coming back here to invest time and again. I continue to believe Boston is one of the most fertile grounds for innovation and startup talent. It has some of the world best universities, a self-replenishing student cohort that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world, and a thriving startup ecosystem in IT, energy and healthcare. General Catalyst is a great bi-coastal firm and I am sure we will continue to partner together on ambitious projects in the future as well. I want to thank GC for teaching me what I know of the VC business, and especially Hemant, Joel, David, Larry and others who have been great mentors and friends. Most importantly, I want to thank all the founders, CEOs, CTOs and other people in GC companies that I have invested in and been a part of at GC. You are heroes and no doubt will change the world! I will also stay involved as a co-founder and advisor to the ‘baller’ students at RoughDraft.vc and StartLabs. They make me proud.

I am humbly embarking on this journey of investing in big, bold ideas, and backing great entrepreneurs who are not shy to take on challenges worth committing 10+ years of their lives to. I am not looking to make momentum investments, but as my partners say, we want to invest in spaces where when we win, we win big!  I grew up in a middle class family in a relatively poor country. If anything I do can impact those billions of people who have even less than people around me growing up had, I will feel I did a good job. I have lots to learn and I look forward to this new chapter…


RoughDraft.vc students make their first investment in a student startup

March 5, 2013

Jack McDermottRoughDraft.vc is an initiative that my partners Nitesh Banta, Peter Boyce and I started last year to provide the kind of unhindered financial and other support to student entrepreneurs that we would have wanted when we were students. RoughDraft.vc is a student partnership that invests in brilliant student entrepreneurs in the Greater Boston area colleges and universities.

I am proud that the partnership has announced its first investment. It is in a company called Balbus, founded by a Tufts junior Jack McDermott. John Brennan, one of the student partners at RoughDraft.vc who led the investment along with the rest of the team, has more to say about the investment on RoughDraft.vc blog (and read Jack’s blog post on this announcement here). But it is no doubt exactly the kind of projects that we envisioned backing when all this began.

Over my few years of investing I have come to learn that some of the best entrepreneurs are maniacally product driven. They don’t get into startups because its ‘cool’ or ‘sexy’, but because they simply can’t avoid thinking about a problem they want to solve and then drive hard to bring those products to market. Jack is that kind of an entrepreneur.

He is building a platform to help people with disabilities, learning and developmental disorders. His first set of products focused on speech therapy and already has apps out that thousands of people have downloaded paying him $5-30 per download. He is personally passionate about this space and frankly, would have kept working on this regardless of whether RoughDraft.vc made the investment or not. But with the investment, he can possibly go bigger, better, and faster.

I was lucky to be in the room when Jack pitched the RoughDraft.vc partnership. Most entrepreneurs who pitch generally have demos they show either in the middle or at the end of their presentation. There was this defining moment when Jack started to stutter a bit while speaking and calmly pulled out his phone, turned on an app, put on his ear phones and kept talking, this time without nearly as much stutter. He didn’t flinch for a second while the rest of us went into this deep ‘whoa!’ moment because we noticed how much his speech/stutter improved in real-time as he used his app. There is no better demo than to be the demo yourself.

RoughDraft.vc partnership has high aspirations. They want to help student entrepreneurs in as many ways as they can. I am sure they will soon have other investments to announce as well, but they are also extremely active on campuses across the Greater Boston area. Find them at hackathons bringing pizza or espresso, or at college demo days cheering for you. Nitesh and I, on behalf of General Catalyst, are so proud of the RoughDraft.vc team: John, Ryan, Ned, Delian, Emma, Zach and Peter! Onwards and upwards for this awesome student talent that Boston should be so so proud of.