for the past year, many of the smartest investors and pundits i follow have claimed some variant of the following: the mobile market for apps is maturing. they’re probably mostly right, as it’s hard to drive distribution on either platform (for different reasons), the venture appetite to take on such risk has been satiated, so much of the echo chamber has moved on to new exciting platforms like virtual reality, automobiles, space, and beyond.
don’t get me wrong, vr, cars, and space are all fascinating areas — but, as a long-time software engineer dating back to palm all the way to twitter, to me mobile hasn’t yet matured. it may never mature, what with billions of people worldwide who will come online over the next decade, new features (as recent as google instant apps), and interesting overseas forks of android, especially in asia. put another way, one investor’s maturing market is another investor’s contrarian gold.
it is with that backdrop that i’m thrilled to announce that kleiner perkins is leading a $7.6m series a investment in buddybuild. in my role as a gp with kleiner, I’ll be joining dennis pilarinos, the ceo, on the bod of the company.
to perhaps (oversimplify) the pitch, buddybuild is both innovative and demonstrably useful in that it empowers developers with a unified process for building, testing, deploying, and collecting feedback on their mobile apps. in a pre-buddybuild world, developers had to cobble together and maintain disparate environments for each function, causing fragmentation which compounded at scale. to generate the positive response they have so far, buddybuild is of course fast, easy to use, and has simplified the development lifecycle. the proof is in the customer base, both big and small companies, which have found this platform to be their best buddy — sorry @buddybuild– in their quest for a seamless, iterative development environment at scale.
i’m excited to head back to vancouver more often now and reconnect with old friends. the founder of buddybuild, dennis, & i worked together many years ago at microsoft, and it is a rare pleasure to be able to so effortlessly support a colleague and friend again. we’re lucky to have that opportunity at kleiner perkins, and thanks to our new friends at buddybuild for making it a reality. vancouver, here we come!
mobile devices have eclipsed desktops, laptops and other devices, becoming our primary method for engaging with the digital world. for the first time, smartphones in 2015 accounted for over half of all hours US adults spent viewing digital media. not only have smartphones become central to our daily lives, they are our most intimate devices. recent surveys show that for the vast majority of millennials their smartphone never leaves their side, day or night; and it’s the first thing they reach for in the morning (87% and 80% respectively). it’s no surprise then that businesses need to reach their customers on mobile, where they’re spending most of their time. and with smartphone users spending 4-8x more time in mobile apps than mobile web, their preference for apps is clear.
while being at the center of our digital lives presents unmatched opportunities for businesses – and the customers that patronize them – there are also challenges. mobile devices present a smaller form factor, vertical vs. horizontal orientation, and different input methods. any design or user experience (ux) detriment is amplified; thus mobile apps must be well-designed. If a user can’t quickly access the information they’re seeking or accomplish their intended task, they will find another app that can. businesses’ mobile apps must deliver the right, well-designed experience to the right user at the right time.
at the same time, marketers are faced with mastering this new platform. mobile’s appeal extends beyond being the place where their customers spend most of their digital time. the ever-present, constantly-connected nature of mobile devices allows businesses to reach customers nearly anytime, but requires a different mindset. it’s no longer about keeping eyeballs on your site. rather marketers must understand and then engage customers at opportune times to help them satisfy their need. this distills down to getting the right message to the right customer at the right time. when you put all of this together, a new type of solution is needed that works across the entire lifecycle of mobile users. design and ux options must be tested and their tradeoffs understood. personalized experiences within the app are needed to delight users and help them quickly accomplish what they need to. users receive tailored messages at their time of need, instilling additional delight and illustrating how businesses can satisfy their need. lastly, advanced analytics are required to drive all of these – because you can’t optimize what you can’t measure. we found a remarkable team delivering such a solution to their customers. this is why we invested in Leanplum.
Leanplum provides an enterprise saas platform for mobile lifecycle marketing, driving engagement and results across the full customer journey. it spans personalized messaging, ux optimization, a/b testing and analytics. in web, each of these areas has given rise to material companies, so you would expect a startup tackling them all would face quite a challenge. to our surprise we found Leanplum excelled in each, even compared to other solutions focused on only one. it turns out there is a reason for this: there is a synergy between the functional pillars. to optimize user experience – both in determining the best approach (a/b testing) and ongoing personalization – you need a robust analytical ability to understand users and tradeoffs among different approaches. armed with this analytical ability, a natural extension is to use this information to optimize the user experience outside of the app – to inform and engage users through targeted, personalized messages.
we’re all delighted by quicker, easier mobile experiences and expect such from the products and services we consume. businesses offering these products and services need to get the right message – and well-designed experience – to the right customer at the right time. an outstanding team at Leanplum is empowering businesses to engage and delight mobile users across the entire customer journey. this is marketing reimagined for our most used and personal device.
mike abbott and creighton hicks – partners@kpcb
i’m excited to announce Edge, a new seed stage initiative backed by KPCB that is launching today. at its core, Edge is attempting to redefine seed investing through software, where product, engineering and design have the same status as investing. it’s the way i wish my early investors had approached venture capital when I founded Composite and Passenger, and i can’t think of a team better suited to tackling this problem.
each of them has built, backed or managed products used by thousands of people, while remaining grounded to the core mission of helping founders working on the earliest stages of company building.
Anjney, who is leading Edge, joined kpcb as our youngest partner in late 2013, working closely on our investments in RelateIQ, Ayasdi, Magic Leap, Enjoy and TrueCaller, where he’s a board observer. before that, he led the Dorm Room Fund at stanford, backing seed stage founders in the bay area, while juggling a full undergraduate and graduate course load in bio medical informatics. during his time at KPCB, Anjney played a key role in helping companies with their data science infrastructure, and launched Connect, our internal platform for founders.
Ruby joins Edge out of google, as the fund’s Product Partner, and is focused on shipping cutting edge tools for the founders that Edge is investing in. Ruby helped launch Project Fi at Google as an APM, and worked on the Google Chrome team before that. Ruby has undergraduate and graduate degrees in bio engineering and computer science, both from stanford, where she was a partner at the Dorm Room Fund, and helped run the 150K Challenge for seed stage companies as the president of BASES.
Roneil, who is Edge’s first Engineering Partner comes to the firm from Backslash, a mobile bitcoin payments company he started straight out of stanford, where he completed his undergraduate degree in computer science in three years. Roneil has held several full stack engineering roles before at companies like Nebula and AeroFS, and leads the architecture for all of the products Edge is building for founders.
you can read more about their investment terms, theses, and products here.
recently i had the honor of delivering the commencement speech to the students graduating from the usc viterbi school of engineering in 2015. this was a momentous day for the students – and the fact that it rained in southern california during their comments only made it that much more novel
complacency is the enemy of achievement – so get comfortable being uncomfortable
- seek mentors to help you navigate through uncomfortable situations
- in general, people want to help and pay it forward.
- spend time with and talk with non-engineers. build understanding and empathy of others that are not like you
- as a ceo of composite software, i built empathy around the challenges of sales and the importance of understanding the difference in a sales culture vs eng culture.
- seek diverse perspectives – unlearn what you have learned
- building a mobile operating system (webOS) is very different that rebuilding an online service like twitter
- keep building regardless of your age or experience – once a builder – always a builder
- i always have had a side project that i am building…
your biggest risk is pursuing a journey whereby you are too comfortable
thanks for listening!
i loved my time in school but it wasn’t until i left graduate school at the university of washington that my real education began (beyond having learned how to learn). looking back at it, i’ve had a great career founding and then selling my own company, working on microsoft’s early cloud-computing efforts, leading software development of webOS at Palm, then engineering at Twitter, and now, investing and advising young start-ups. in each and every experience, i made mistakes, fixed them, and made some more. i may have even notched a few wins along the way.
in school, we are often taught how to find solutions to problems. but in the “real world,” no one’s there to walk you through a problem step by step. my experiences allowed me to carve my own path and figure out solutions on my own. the best education that I ever received was outside of the classroom. i can recall working at SRI for Carol Green (head o toxicology) doing informatics works on human liver enzymes – and having to figure out, on my own, the right approach and attributes that we would need to analyze to get the information that we would need to report a result that would impact the research in the area (if interesting). beyond the specific experience, dr. green provided guidance professionally that I still apply to this day – “try again, we will eventually figure this out”.
that’s what i like about the KPCB Fellows Program: it gives students a chance to experience working in the real world and more importantly, at a fast-paced startup in silicon valley for the summer. this is the fourth year that KPCB has sponsored students interested in engineering, design and product management at some of the hottest start-ups around. this summer we’ve matched our fellows to companies like Uber, Flipboard, Nest, Betterworks, Spruce, Jawbone and Square. last summer, i watched as our fellows built relationships with my partners, learned from executives at the companies they worked at, contributed to world-changing products, and had fun while doing it. after the program, our fellows have gone on to work for our companies full-time or as interns, leaped over to other functional areas, moved over to venture investing, joined notable big tech firms, and even started companies themselves. these students are silicon valley’s next generation of leaders and innovators.
this year, we received more than 2,500 applications from hundreds of the top engineering, design and MBA programs. what makes our program special is the exceptional talent we attract from all over the country. our 2015 class is made up of individuals from Harvard, RISD, Carleton College, CU Boulder, University of Washington, CalTech, Marist College, Arizona State, Bryn Mawr, NYU’s ITP program and more. we’ve seen interest grow every year for engineering fellowships as industry demand for engineering talent increases. we’ve also seen rising interest in design and product management, part of the emerging trend of designing easy-to-use technology for the masses. and this is why I am excited to welcome our 2015 class of fellows to the kpcb family. welcome to ground zero for changing the world.
last november, i served as a judge for the bayes impact hackathon. like other hackathons, this 24-hour event tested the technical skill and creativity of the participants. but unlike other hackathons, this event embraced an additional dimension: social impact.
in the last few years, people have noticed how data science can drive critical insights in the business world. now, people are turning their attention to the social importance of data science. and they are seeing that the programming skills that are in such demand in silicon valley can also help solve some of our biggest public problems.
i’ve seen this in my own work, including helping to fix healthcare.gov last year and serving as an adviser to the u.s. digital service. today, with the rise of public data sets and new ways of combining the data, there are great openings for skilled engineers who want to make a difference.
the team that won the hackathon, for example, built software to detect hidden child prostitution rings. the team was working on behalf of thorn, a non-profit with the mission of becoming “digital defenders of children.” one of the runner-up teams created an algorithm to more efficiently position police cars to respond to 911 calls. others went to work on problems that ranged from water conservation to workplace safety.
what was amazing about the hackathon was how undeterred all of the participants were. they didn’t mind if the problem they were taking on seemed intractable or was in a field that is highly regulated. they simply went to work, bringing to bear all of the persistence and creativity they could muster. and as we know from hackathons, a great team – even in the course of a single weekend – can accomplish a lot.
we’re all busy – but even the busiest among us has spare cycles. one of the members of that winning team at the hackathon? none other than peter reinhardt, who in his day job is ceo of segment.io, a customer analytics company that has raised more than $15m in venture capital funding. so you don’t need to give up your day job to change the world. just get started and you’ll find a way. this event has inspired me to focus my next sw project in the area of ‘hacking for social impact’ and hope to post my project soon!
from my early work in bioinformatics as a phd student to my involvement in rock health to helping fix healthcare.gov, the opportunity for software to reshape the healthcare industry has been a longstanding area of interest. ‘digital health’ is now hotter than ever, and for good reasons:
1/ consumerization of healthcare. we as consumers bear more of the cost of our healthcare than ever before (the avg deductible is now $1200, up 2x from 5 yrs ago). as we navigate the healthcare system on our own paying out of pocket, we will vote with our $ for good experiences at affordable prices. this creates an enormous opportunity for innovation.
2/ software finally making inroads in healthcare. nowhere is this more obvious than with the ubiquity of mobile for both patients and doctors. mobile sw stands to improve access to care and improve inefficient workflows.
3/ opportunity for impact. healthcare is one of the largest sectors of our economy ($2.7 trillion!), and yet one of the most inefficient. great entrepreneurs and software teams are increasingly attracted to the opportunity to do things better/faster/cheaper in healthcare and have a real impact on human lives.
it’s against that backdrop that i’m excited to share kpcb’s series a investment in spruce health, where i’ll be taking a board seat. spruce is re-inventing healthcare delivery in a mobile world.
‘telemedicine’ (connecting patients with care providers for remote diagnosis and treatment) is finally taking off, but is still in its infancy relative to the opportunity. spruce’s approach is distinctive, and i think it’s reflective of where the industry will go — moving beyond access to focus on quality and innovation. not content to be simply a communication channel paired with a md network, spruce wants to be a better way to see the doctor. they work with top medical advisors to build out — one medical condition at a time — comprehensive care experiences that use software to innovate upon everything from how you visit with the doctor, to how you get your rx, to how you follow your treatment regimen, to how follow-up care occurs.
building out high-quality, comprehensive experiences uniquely tailored to each medical condition requires focus. so while the team at spruce have broad ambitions, they launched last fall supporting a single condition – the treatment of acne by board-certified dermatologists. both patients and dermatologists loved the product, and today they are announcing support for a broad set of dermatological concerns beyond acne. the product solves a big problem: skin concerns are the #1 reasons for visits to the doctor in the US, and yet the wait time to see a dermatologist is 29 days and both patients & their doctors complain about communication and adherence in traditional care settings.
i’m excited to be along for the ride with the spruce team as they continue to build out their vision. this is a uniquely strong product, design, and engineering team who built highly successful products at aws, fb, twitter, and other top engineering orgs. i look forward to seeing more teams like them tackle healthcare head on – as a country we need it.
we live in a world awash in media, from music to photos to home videos to tv to movies. we may download the media, or stream it, or create it ourselves. it’s a world of unparalleled choice, in our living room and on the go. but accessing and enjoying all of this media is not always easy. the amount of content keeps growing, stored in different formats and across devices. it’s difficult to remember where we’ve stored our media – and even if we do remember, often we have to take the time to move content from one device to another, especially when we share it with family and friends. we all want to access our content in a beautiful, elegant, intuitive way, at any time and on any screen.
last year, kpcb invested in Plex, which developed a software-based home media server platform for consumers to manage their personal media. when we invested, the company was already profitable, seeking venture funding to accelerate growth and introduce Plex into even more households. since then, Plex has continued to take off. millions of users joined the service last year, as Plex more than doubled its revenue. much of the growth, like many of its employees, are from around the world. and Plex keeps adding features and partnerships, from its new apps for xbox and playStation to its integration with vevo to its state-of-the-art recognition software to help users organize their music files. and it has done so while seamlessly syncing thousands of terabytes of consumer media to mobile devices.
Plex may transform the media landscape because it is developing a novel solution just as the problem is exploding. according to cisco, there will be more than 11 billion mobile-connected devices within the next five years – more devices than people. youtube users upload more than 300 hours of video every minute, three times the level two years ago. digital video sales are projected to exceed physical video sales next year. even mainstays of entertainment like espn and cbs are unbundling video. so it’s more important than ever that we develop technology enabling us to combine our files into our own personal media hub that we can explore and manage with the touch of a finger. with new funding, a first-rate team, and hundreds of thousands of new customers per month, Plex is taking the lead.
it always pains me to say ‘big data’ – especially as someone who started companies in the space before the label and worked with companies who have long dealt with massive amounts of data – but i also know that i am not a marketer
big data keeps getting bigger. last year, VC firms invested $3.6B – 75 percent of what they invested in the previous five years combined. the pace has continued this year, with several firms announcing new funding rounds in the tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars.
for aspiring big data entrepreneurs, it’s exciting – and intimidating. i meet a lot of smart, talented engineers who want to work in big data but don’t know where to start.
i tell them to focus on an area where you can have a big impact, including feature engineering, mining email for B2B, applications for CRM, data governance, vertical integration, health care solutions – big data can drive health care savings of $300B according to a recent study – and tying into existing consumer properties such as facebook or linkedin to drive sales leads.
other areas, like data visualization or databases, are important but saturated, though there may be an opportunity to build next-generation databases using time series data. still others, like personalization technology, are better for established companies like google and facebook that have the data to train their image and voice recognition models.
once you focus and develop your big data idea, how do you turn that idea into a company?
turning your big data idea into a company
my advice in brief: be a painkiller rather than a vitamin, build and sell for enterprise customers, and remember that even with big data, less can be more.
be a painkiller, not a vitamin
like so many entrepreneurs, i love the technical challenge of programming. i started coding in fourth grade and have never stopped. so i understand how founders can be enchanted by the technical wizardry behind their products, especially in fields like data and machine learning.
but the corporate customers who are deciding whether to buy the product will be asking a set of questions with a very different focus. questions like: what’s the ROI here? will your proposed solution integrate well with our business culture? will it help move my production workloads?
one way to stay focused is to remind yourself to be a painkiller, not a vitamin. vitamins are great, but painkillers are vital. use technology to build a product that customers need – now.
i always ask founders in our first meeting why they made certain technical decisions. if you don’t know why you selected a particular technology and how your decision helps the customer, i would be hard-pressed to back your company.
build and sell for the enterprise
startups need to sell. in big data and machine learning, most customers will be enterprise customers. and most startups greatly underestimate what it means to be enterprise-ready.
my two bits of advice: first, if you’re an engineer, be sure to work closely with a product person, business person, or CIO so that you understand what it really means to sell to the enterprise. as a venture investor, i often introduce people to one another for precisely this purpose.
second, manage the gap between perception and reality. there are so many possibilities for big data, but there is also a lot of hype. manage the expectations of CMOs and CIOs so that you do not under-deliver at the start of what may otherwise be a lucrative long-term relationship.
understand the “why” of data storage
we all know how easy and efficient it is to store data today. in three decades, the cost of storing a gigabyte has gone from thousands of dollars to a few pennies. but now people have a tendency to store data without knowing how they want to use it. at some point, you enter a “data obesity” state where data storage, maintenance, and upkeep cost too much and slow you down.
even in a data-driven world, you shouldn’t default to storing every bit of data. instead, stop and ask yourself: do i have an idea of how i or somebody else in my company wants to use this data in the future? data storage still consumes energy and resources. before you store data, consider whether it will ever help you make a decision or deliver a product or service.
whether it is the onrush of data from sensors, advances in machine learning and deep-belief nets, or new modes of virtual reality, we are swimming in new information and need to imagine what will create the next wave of extracting knowledge and insights from all of it.
as i learned at twitter/cloudera/composite software/microsoft, building tools that allow more people to access and ask questions of the data enables everyone to make better decisions more quickly. as an investor, i often wonder: what are the new opportunities that will be created that we haven’t even thought of?