Young and Restless! Our Jason Stoffer Named to the 40 Under 40 List at the Puget Sound Business Journal

 

Many of Seattle’s most promising companies — including zulily (link) and Julep (link) — have shared a great ally during their entrepreneurial journey to build a game-changing consumer business: Maveron’s Jason Stoffer.  We have an incredible team at Maveron and  Jason’s a key part of it!  All of us at Maveron are thrilled to congratulate him on being named to the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 2014 40 Under 40.

Jason-Stoffer

Apart from the key requirement for being under 40 (alas I don’t qualify anymore), Jason’s gift in venture capital is a preternatural ability to identify entrepreneurs who are on to the next big consumer brand.  He’s sourced or led several of Maveron’s investments in Seattle, in the Bay Area and in New York — including Everlane, General Assembly, Julep, Red Tricycle and CourseHero.  But he’s so much more than just an investor, working hard as an adviser, consigliere, and friend to entrepreneurs so that their companies can become iconic brands.

For instance, Jane Park, the CEO of Julep – the fast-growing beauty brand, loves to tell me that Jason is the most consumer empathetic, brand-loving data guy in venture capital.  “He cares as much about the emotional consumer engagement we see on Facebook as he does about the cohort data,” says Park. She’s appreciated his deep understanding of consumer buying habits and his extensive network of consumer-focused business connections that have helped to accelerate Julep’s growth. “Not only has Jason been there with me along for the ride from the beginning, Jane says, “but he’s invested time and energy into supporting me and my team personally.  Jason makes sure we know he cares along multiple dimensions.”

In Jason, as in the entrepreneurs we back who then go on to thrive, one can see the abilities make for success in our universe:  curiosity and tenacity, vigor and rigor.  We often work quietly. The headlines don’t focus on what venture capitalists do day in and day out, and startups get attention only when they hit home runs.  We understand that and it’s fine.  But it is gratifying when someone like Jason gets richly deserved kudos, joining other up-and-coming stars in business, health, the arts, and other industries in the 40-Under-40 pantheon.  What a fortunate thing that Jason’s first dream didn’t pan out:  Back in kindergarten, he aspired to be the world’s greatest veterinarian!

maveron 9-5-14It makes me proud to know we have someone such as Jason on our team. In addition to appreciating him being a wonderful man, father, husband, friend and VC, we love his “Jasonisms,” like a recent quote in Re/Code related to our investment in Dolls Kills.  “If it makes 50 white guys uncomfortable,” he quipped, “it usually means you’re onto something.”

When we’re listening to startup pitches from entrepreneurs, when people start to shift in their seats, that’s when exactly Jason leans in more to listen to what exactly is making others uncomfortable. It’s an instinct and a skill gift that makes him a great partner for both Maveron and for the companies who are lucky to have him  from the start of their company and beyond.

Congrats to Jason on being recognized by PSBJ.

—Dan Levitan

 

DOG DAY MORNING!

Congratulations to our friends at Trupanion on your successful IPO this morning!

It’s been an extraordinary ride from the first moment founder and CEO Darryl Rawlings moved his business and family from Canada to the U.S. to partner with us at Maveron. Like a golden retriever going for a Frisbee, he leapt at the chance to tap into our network and leverage our expertise and pattern-recognition working with emerging, category-defining consumer brands. Now that this trailblazing provider of medical insurance for pets is a public company, we look forward to its next phase of growth.

In Darryl’s success and in Trupanion’s ascent, you’re seeing the fruition of Maveron’s consumer-only focus. Darryl embodies the attributes we crave in an entrepreneur: passion, grit, intelligence, rigor, resourcefulness. He aspired to disrupt the status quo, embraced the challenges of a nascent market, and always focused on building an enduring consumer brand. As with zulily — the online retailer than went public late last year — we were Trupanion’s first institutional investor, helping guide the company in its unique approach to offering insurance for your dog and cat. Through our Seed Program, we aspire to meet exceptional entrepreneurs early on as they begin to turn their billion-dollar consumer-brand ambitions into reality.

We’re very grateful to Darryl for making us part of Trupanion’s ride. We’re proud of the team as well as the business they’ve all worked so hard to create. As you can see in our photos here, the Maveron team loves our own furry family members (all of which are of course insured by Trupanion) . With its IPO today, Trupanion has taken a big step toward its goal of being the leading pet insurance company in North America — onward and upward! It’s time to let the big dogs hunt — and as Andra says, Kitty gets to come along, too!

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Congratulations to Newsle!

By Rebecca Kaden and David Wu

imageWe’d like to say a big congratulations to our friends at Newsle, who today announced they were joining LinkedIn!

When we first met Axel Hansen and Jonah Varon almost two years ago, we were incredibly impressed by their drive, talent, and scrappiness as they set out to build the best engine to curate news around your network. We loved how they struck a balance between being technology focused and consumer centric. They were tackling one of the Web’s most intractable engineering problems–disambiguation of people and information—and wrapping it in a carefully curated brand.

Even back then, in those early days, Newsle was doing it better than the big guys. And, most of all, we’ve loved working with Axel and Jonah since our early seed funding as they’ve matured as a team and continued to attack the market with rigor, vigor, and success. Indeed, they’ve turned into some of the best growth hackers we’ve ever seen.

Newsle was founded in 2011 with a simple, vital goal—to deliver important news about the individuals who matter to you. Now, 2 million users later, they are on their way toward achieving that goal. We are exciting about how well Newsle and LinkedIn’s vision and mission for personalized information aligns and thrilled that Newsle will now be able to expand its reach to LinkedIn’s network of more than 300 million members.

The entire team at Maveron, as well as everybody to whom we showed Newsle, has grown to depend on the product and service. We use it every day. Because of today’s acquisition, many more people are about to do so as well. Hearty huzzahs to Axel, Jonah, and the entire Newsle team!

We’re New and Improved!

By David Wu

Maveron LogoActually, it’s the website I’m talking about. Just as before, Maveron still concentrates exclusively on consumer-oriented venture capital. We’ve got a proven track record and we prize our trusted relationships with entrepreneurs. But as we celebrate our 16th anniversary as a firm, today we’re inaugurating a fresh online look that we think better reflects our ethos. The website has been six months in the making–and we’re excited to share it now with our portfolio companies, our investors, the larger VC community, and with you.

The first thing I hope you’ll notice is our new logo. When you see that “M,” you should think “mavericks.” That’s who we are–inspired by Samuel Augustus Maverick, the 19th-century pioneer in old Texas. Challenging prairie convention, he refused to brand his cattle. It was a bold statement, motivated by kindness. It took vision. “Mavericks” plus “vision” defines our aspirations in consumer-oriented venture capital.

Look elsewhere around our website. You’ll see capsule highlights of our portfolio companies over the past 16 years, as well as slightly whimsical bios of our slightly quirky investing team.

This is my own first blog post on the new Maveron site. I’ll be doing many more as we seek to amplify the stories of our cutting-edge, brand-building entrepreneurs–and to tell our own story as well. You’ll hear from other Maveronites, too. We want this website to be a community of ideas, of entrepreneurial energy, of relentless curiosity. In short, we want it to be an essential place to come and visit with us. Please let us hear from you.

Connect with David on Twitter

The role of failure in your life

By Dan Levitan, co-founder Maveron (www.maveron.com) and Forbes Midas List Top Tech Investor

I am really intrigued by the concept of what role failure plays in your success in life, which I recently discussed in an interview with Startup Grind. It’s no secret that I love Duke basketball and coach Krzyzewski (Coach K) has this great quote. “Get comfortable that failure is part of the road to success.”  Here’s a guy, the winningest coach in college basketball history, who’s not afraid to fail. I asked him one day why he wins so much and his response was “I hate losing more than I like winning.”

Most people who aren’t really students of the game don’t remember the challenges that Coach K had health wise in 1996 and how everyone said Duke was done. Then he clawed his way back and low and behold he won the championship in 2001. Coach K has reached just about every coaching milestone there is, but now even at age 67 he still finds a way to win and recently became only the second coach in NCAA Division I history to record 900 wins at one school. This is a man who is comfortable with the fact that his failures have ended up motivating him, which is exactly what we look for when we invest in an entrepreneur.

We look for people who display a similar relentless tenacity of Coach K who don’t see failure as obstacles, but opportunities to pivot and create something wonderful. We’re looking for people who have a DNA that says, “I want to create a different consumer product or service that’s enduring, regardless of how many times someone tells me it can’t be done.”

The Importance of Having a Mentor in Business

By Dan Levitan, co-founder Maveron and Forbes Midas List Top Tech Investor

Dan Levitan, co-founder MaveronI was in my 30’s before someone asked me for the first time why I didn’t have more mentors in my business. The question stuck with me and I realized how important it is. Here are some key reasons why every entrepreneur should have a mentor that I briefly mentioned in an interview with Startup Grind, but here’s a quick summary:

•   You can learn from their experiences. Why settle for “learning the hard way” when you can avoid some key mistakes simply by learning from one who has “been there and done that”?
•   It expands your network. The key to most successful business ventures is networking. Having a mentor, especially one in your line of work, can help you to make connections you might not have been able to make otherwise.
•   They’ll give you honest feedback. When looking for a mentor, find someone who isn’t afraid to be honest with you. Mentoring leads to the fact that failure is a sure thing. One of my mentors has a great quote: “Get comfortable that failure is part of the road to success.” What’s important is that entrepreneurs have a relentless tenacity to succeed no matter how many times you fail.
•   Someone’s “in your corner.” No matter your success or failure, a mentor should be a person who is there for you professionally (and personally depending on the nature of your relationship) no matter what.
•   It’s usually free… but still pay it forward. Of course there are many official mentorship programs out there that you can pay for, but the best type of mentor relationships happen naturally. Once you’re at a point in your career where you feel comfortable in your career, remember to “pay it forward” by being a mentor yourself. Part of mentorship is becoming part of their vision, and you go after your goal together.

Connect with Dan on Twitter

Congrats Julep!

By Jason Stoffer

I first met Julep CEO Jane Park five years ago when Julep was a chain of physical nail salons in Seattle. Jane had the moxie and tenaciousness we look for in a great entrepreneurial CEO but her salon business was off thesis for us. So when Julep pivoted into an online ecommerce product business in 2011, we were excited to make the bet that Jane could turn a small business selling nail polish online into the next big beauty brand. Since then, Julep has launched hundreds of SKUs, built a passionate customer base and social media presence and expanded into offline channels like Sephora and QVC. Jane marked the latest milestone in Julep’s journey today, when Julep announced a new $30 million round of financing, led by Azure, with participation from Madrona, Altimeter and Andreessen Horowitz.

The beauty industry’s history is one of dreamers, of charismatic founders turning new ideas and new channels into billion dollar brands. Jane is building a business that brings a fast fashion mentality to beauty and offers Julep’s customers the latest product innovations at a remarkable value. Julep’s journey to ubiquity is still in its early days and we feel privileged to be along for the ride.

zulily CEO to Maveron: Congrats on the success!

Congratulations to Maveron and Dan for making the Forbes Midas List. It wasn’t that long ago that zulily was just starting out in the back of Maveron’s offices. Dan and his team bet on two guys without a written business plan, a company name, or even a website. The Maveron team supported us from the start, and it’s humbling to see what the zulily team has accomplished over the past four years. I wanted to post a quick note to congratulate Dan and the entire Maveron team on being named to the 2014 Forbes Midas List in recognition of their consumer-only investment strategy.

Maveron and zulily

Dan has been with us on this ride from the start and has always ended every conversation with “what else can I do to help?”.  He has been a cheerleader for our team — even making multiple trips with me to our fulfillment centers in Ohio and Nevada to help inspire the associates as they work to deliver amazing products to mom. In fact, before we had our own fulfillment, he was patient as we turned the back of Maveron’s office into a fulfillment center.

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I also wanted to congratulate some of our other investors who have made the list, Craig Sherman of Meritech Capital and Jeff Jordan of Andreessen Horowitz.

Congrats on the success – and thanks for believing in us.

-Darrell

Congratulations General Assembly

By Jason Stoffer, Maveron Partner
General Assembly logo

Today, General Assembly announced a growth round of financing, led by IVP.  We’ve been privileged to be early investors in the business, and see Jake and his team build GA into what we feel is one of the highest potential private education companies in existence today.

GA is disrupting education in a big way – it essentially eliminates the need for grad school for many millennials who want careers in technology, design and business. And it does so with programs that take significantly less time and money than any master’s degree programs and place over 95 percent of students into jobs after graduation.

At Maveron, our focus is early stage consumer investments. An important indicator for us is the founding teams’ ability to see around corners and expand their addressable market over time. The GA team has been world class at doing so. We first met GA before they opened what was intended to be a co-working space for startups. GA quickly became a nerve center for the NYC entrepreneurial ecosystem and began offering classes in their co-working space. These classes proved so popular, Jake and his co-founders rethought the business and began offering the type of longer form certificate programs that represent the core of the business today.

Since then, Jake and his team have reframed the potential size of the opportunity several more times. First, they proved that a NY based business could expand successfully to eight cities globally…  and they’re just getting started. Next, they found there is a real demand from enterprises for GA-style digital training for employees. Now, they are in the early days of launching a number of potential game changing consumer online education products such as Dash and Front Row.

After watching Jake and his team, we’re convinced the best is yet to come. GA will be a significant education brand that gives millions of consumers globally the chance to get the right skills for the 21st century workforce.

Our heartfelt congratulations to GA on this financing round.

Check out this video with Jake to see what he said about what it takes to start a consumer business at Maveron’s CEO Forum last year.

Connect with Jason on LinkedIn. Follow Maveron on Twitter and Facebook.

Lemon Acquired by LifeLock for $50 Million

By Amy Errett and the Maveron Team

LemonWalletVenture capital is all about backing great people with big and innovative ideas.  We are thrilled to send a huge shout out and congratulations to the Lemon team on the news that the company has been acquired by LifeLockLifeLock Lemon CEO Wences Casares has been solely focused on building an amazing consumer experience in a space that is disrupting consumer finance–exactly what Maveron looks for in an entrepreneur who is building a transformative consumer business. Over the past two years, the Lemon team has worked incredibly hard to provide its customers with the best possible experience. As a result, we’ve seen the Lemon Wallet go from an idea to being downloaded more than 3.6 million lemon-iphonetimes, giving consumers a whole new way to easily replicate and store on their smart device for mobile use and records backup a complete digital copy of the contents of their personal wallet, including credit cards, identification, ATM, insurance, and loyalty cards.

We look forward to watching the team work with LifeLock to bring a new level of protection to the mobile wallet experience, knowing they will continue to experience success.
It has been our sincere privilege to work with Wences and his team. We send our heartfelt appreciation for the insight and hard work that made today’s announcement possible and know the next chapter will be extraordinary!

Koru Thinks the U.S. Needs More Workplace-Ready College Graduates: Maveron Agrees and Leads $4.35 Million Investment

By Clayton Lewis, partner at Maveron

Last March, Kristen Hamilton, a co-founder at Onvia and the former COO of World Learning, joined Maveron as an Entrepreneur in  Residence (EIR). Her passion for entrepreneurship and education resulted in Kristen having a powerful idea: She will transform how college graduates prepare for success in the real world and become impactful contributors at the couKoru Logontry’s most innovative and fastest growing companies.

As a result, Koru was born to create and place workforce-ready college graduates. With Kristen’s equally passionate co-founder Josh Jarrett, most recently the Head of Higher Education Innovation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and formerly McKinsey & Co, the idea could not have come at a more important time.

Over 50 percent of employers complain that they cannot find well-qualified entry-level hires and over 80 percent would pay more for new hires that are more ready to contribute on day one. In addition, only 36 percent of paid internships and 17 percent of unpaid internships resulted in job offers.

In Koru, Kristen and Josh have developed an immersive, experiential learning program Kristen Hamilton and Josh Jarrettdesigned to decrease the staggering—44 percent—underemployment rate among recent college graduates in the U.S. The team has already run successful pilot programs with REI and Trupanion and will kick off 2014 with a Winter Break program at zulily, which has more than 100 open positions. Additional programs and partners will be announced early next year.

The Koru team is supported by investors who are passionate about the sector and we’re proud to lead the $4.35 million investment. Kristen has been a friend to Maveron for many years, and to me for over 15 having hired me as employee number 16 at Onvia. Similar to how other early investments have started within the walls of Maveron, like zulily and most recently Lively, Kristen started working out of Maveron’s office to quickly accelerate the development of the business and the team has hit the ground running.

The $2.5 trillion education market bears the weighty responsibility of educating workers to succeed in today’s global knowledge economy and Maveron is focused on backing great entrepreneurs with scalable business ideas that will drive innovation in this massive market.

To all you college graduates out there concerned that you’ll have to transition from college to part-time under employment before starting the career you want, or employers who are nervous about hiring quality entry-level employees without first-hand experience, look to Koru to transform the college-to-career landscape.

Follow Koru and Maveron on Twitter.

Connect with Clayton Lewis on LinkedIn

Maveron awarded Deal of the Year by Evergreen Venture Capital Association

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Here’s a picture of Dan Levitan humbly accepting Deal of the Year for zulily from the Evergreen Venture Capital Association (EVCA), which is a partnership of Washington state venture capital firms working closely together to nurture a vibrant and healthy venture capital and entrepreneurial community in the region. Once again, congratulations to Zuily on its IPO.

Internet of Things: Maveron Leads $8 Million Investment in Smart Lock-Maker August

By David Wu

There is no lack of lore around the Internet of Things. Cisco’s magic number of 50 billion devices connected to the web by 2020 has plastered the tech blogosphere; at least a half dozen hardware accelerators, incubators, and designated firms have emerged in the last 24 months; and even a quick look at Amazon’s Home Automation store that launched earlier this fall shows that we have officially begun the transformation of our homes and offices into what once was a scene from the Jetsons.

 

At Maveron, we’re excited, too. Beyond the $14.4 trillion market size, connected devices sit squarely in the center of the opportunity to bridge our offline and online lives, allowing the possibilities software has created on the web to extend to the physical world as well. There is huge potential not only to create massive, meaningful businesses, but also to build them off of innovative products that customers love, depend on, and integrate into their daily lives. But as sensors, robots, devices, wearables, gizmos, and gadgets emerge in rapid succession, what early indicators can differentiate cool products from potentially standout, category-defining consumer brands?

 

AugustLogoSmall

We believe August, the connected home company started by CEO Jason Johnson and award winning industrial designer Yves Behar, is in the latter camp, and our thesis behind our recent investment outlines our current ideas on making this distinction.

 

1) It’s not only a product, but also a brand—and that brand tells a story:

August smart lockWe’re big believers at Maveron that the difference between a cool product and a consumer brand is often not differentiated technology or even functionality, at least not on their own. Instead, the best consumer entrepreneurs are experts at wrapping those capabilities in a narrative that captures their customers’ hearts and minds to generate extreme excitement—something that flicks an emotional switch so consumers not only use it, but love it; not only install it, but talk about it to their friends.

From our first meeting with Jason, we saw that he was crafting that kind of brand we look for. August is launching with a line of smart locks. The lock, which can be installed on a door in less than 5 minutes, allows the user to control access to their home from their smartphone, both for themselves and guests to which they can grant virtual keys. They can designate the time period the key is valid for, receive notifications upon exit and entry, and unlock their door when they approach it–without even removing their phone from their pocket–through the power of Bluetooth low energy. But while that’s August’s product, the brand isn’t about locks, but, instead, about a combination of safety and convenience. August allows people to worry less about anyone entering and exiting their home. It’s that brand promise—and our conviction in Jason and his team to deliver it–that got us even more excited than the lock itself.

 

2) The product is an object of desire—which means it leads with design.

We believe that the best consumer brands delight their customers, and delight starts with standout design. Two primary schools of thought seem to have emerged surrounding connected devices. The first involves prioritizing speed to market and rapid manufacturing to reach early adopters quickly and wow them with an ability to do something new. The second involves a potentially slower product release, but prioritizes perfect design and shipping only beautiful devices. As soon as we met the August team it was clear they shared our conviction in the latter. Designer Yves Behar is the lauded mastermind behind products like the Jambox and Jawbone UP, and brought that level of detail, care, and craft to the August lock. Basically, the device looks awesome and you’ll be proud to show it off in your home—and we think that matters a lot.

 

3) You interact with the brand in your daily life—and do so in a way that’s meaningful and often.

The winning brands in the connected device category are likely to create not just one product but a series, moving from a solving a single problem (how I monitor my daily activity, for example) to an entire problem set (how I think about my health as a whole.)  We think the more personal, important, and recurring the first problem can be, the greater the chance the brand has to develop loyalty that will let it transcend beyond that first product or device. Our home—and the people who come in and out of it–is among the most personal, cherished parts of our lives. We love that that’s where August is beginning.

 

4) It has the chance to be a significant part of an ecosystem.

A key element of the connected world is not just individual devices but the dialogue between them—the Jetson’s scenario when you pull up to your driveway, the door unlocks, the lights go on, the temperature sets, the music plays. One step back, your home talks to your office and car, and interacts with data about your health and activity levels. We believe that for this category to succeed at the anticipated scale, the ecosystem has to develop along with the individual players. As a hub to the rest of the home, August is positioned to be an important voice in the conversation between devices.

 

We’re thrilled to announce our investment in Jason and be part of the August story as they create a standout consumer brand in the connected home category.

 

David Wu is a partner at Maveron and is an active investor and entrepreneur. Connect with David on Twitter or LinkedIn.

 

 

Congratulations zulily!

 

indexCongratulations team zulily on your IPO this morning!   We are forever grateful to Mark and Darrell for letting us be a part of the journey as zulily has grown from an idea in the back of our offices to serving millions of Moms. Thanks for the memories! Onward to the next phase of your growth as a public company!

Rebecca Kaden Talks Wearables at the Seattle Interactive Conference

Rebecca Kaden, principal of Maveron and Michelle Goldberg, partner at Ignition, sit down with David Shing at the Seattle Interactive Conference to discuss wearables during the AT&T Wearables Hackathon.

Watch the video to see some of the highlights as David Shing inquires about the state of investing in wearable technologies and find out where the two VCs see the physical device space heading. Check out Rebecca’s take on Maveron’s interest in investing in wearables and transformative consumer companies that can attack big and growing categories, bridge the gap between online and offline worlds, and capture the hearts and minds of consumers.

Link to article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-shing/sic-shingerview-michelle_b_4220380.html

Learn more about Rebecca or connect with her directly on LinkedIn.

Potbelly CEO: We’re About Our People, Our Product and Our Place (Video)

Congratulations again to Potbelly for the IPO. Make sure you listen to Aylwin Lewis, President and CEO of Potbelly. Watching him speak in this video makes us hungry!

 

 

Guest Post: “Internet of Things” Brings Connections Into All Our Everyday Devices

Hardware is hard but it’s not stopping entrepreneurs from jumping in

By Iggy Fanlo and David Glickman, co-founders of Lively

David and IggyAs sensors get smarter and smaller, it opens up a new world of connected hardware otherwise referred to the “Internet of Things,” or IoT. We have been excited to see how a new breed of smart sensors is transforming average, everyday devices into something more meaningful to the people who use them – even being embedded in the everyday life of older adults, providing a new safety net and enabling a whole new level of connection for them and their families.

As former software guys, we have been amazed to see the transformations taking place in hardware as internal system components get smarter, smaller and cheaper. So after working in the world of electrons, we decided to make the transition to work in the world of protons. We jumped in to successfully build and launched Lively, a smart system designed to keep older adults safe, independent and connected to loved ones.

Now looking back 13 months later, our belief that hardware is the new software is even more bullish. Software developers can move into the world of hardware, but first they need to know that design is everything!

From our experience, we recommend that entrepreneurs building businesses for the Internet of Things plan on spending more development time upfront with a specific focus on design, design, design. Hardware is not yet iterative (though 3D printers hold promise to bring hardware fixes and updates to all.) For now, entrepreneurs need to be very thoughtful about every design and functionality detail whereas in software, we plan out dot releases to buy more time. For hardware, entrepreneurs don’t have that same luxury, which means they need to do more homework to launch a device with a nearly perfect design. So, more than ever, there’s an incredible importance of having a clear vision to reach critical mass from hardware design, to development to distribution

When we built Lively, we did more consumer research and QA analysis than we had ever done. We studied every curve, angle, fonts, edging, colors and finishes before successfully launching one of many devices ushering in the Internet of Things. Our sleek white hub and multiple sensors should tell you that our research showed when it comes to hardware, looks matter – a lot.

Getting design right, requires hiring the right people with specific hardware experience who believe in the vision as well as have the capacity to help push things forward. For us, at times it felt like we needed an army to get things done, but the fact is, we had to keep things as lean as possible.

Of the 13 months that we started working together on Lively, it was just four of us for the first six months. To keep lean, we hired best of breed consultants with serious hardware experience, something that should be on the checklist for any entrepreneur looking to develop hardware. It’s a great way to quickly bring on an A-team with the right expertise in mechanical and electrical engineering, industrial design, and packaging design. There’s no way we could get the industrial designer of the Nest Learning Thermostat to come on board full-time, but instead of looking for an employee or co-founder we hired him as a consultant, something we will never regret. We also brought on a hardware aficionado, someone who knows manufacturing and gave us great advice based on personal experience and drove us to embrace things we would have never thought of. These consultants became part of our team and we all carried on an unwavering belief that we could make this happen against all the odds, and against all the constraints.

And in the end, only three metrics matter: how many units are sold, the cost of customer acquisition, and customer churn. However, simply focusing on these metrics doesn’t lead an amazing product. When it comes to the Internet of Things, it truly comes down to a team who knows the importance of design, a clear vision for building it, and an insane amount of passion for building a sustainable business. Now with a product in the market, we can continue our charge to rapidly grow our business knowing that we have the right people at the table to help us get Lively in front of the right consumers.

Connect with Lively on Facebook and Twitter.

Potbelly IPO: Congratulations

By Dan Levitan, Maveron co-founder and partner

An IPO in the middle of a government shutdown? Absolutely!

Maveron invested in Potbelly in 2001. This morning, the company went public and I could not be happier for everyone involved.

Potbelly is well known for its toasted sandwiches, great shakes and awesome cookies. I have also had the privilege of getting to know the Potbelly team on a more personal level. Their consistent emphasis on integrity, teamwork, accountability, positive energy and coaching is not only remarkable, but also a great foundation on which to build an enduring, game-changing consumer brand.

We look forward to watching (and cheering) their continued success in building the next household restaurant name.

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Congratulations to Lively for Shipping an Amazing Product to Help Older Adults Remain Independent

Lively started last year with a passion and commitment to deliver a delightful, loving, and empowering experience for older adults to live independently longer and we’re thrilled to watch them start taking orders today. We were excited to have Lively as part of our seed program and are happy to participate with Cambia Health Solutions in the Series A Financing.

Here’s what Iggy Fanlo, CEO and co-founder of Lively had to say recently about Lively and leadership at our CEO Forum earlier this year.

College accreditation and government regulation fail students and entrepreneurs

By Jason Stoffer, Maveron Partner

(Syndicated from PandoDailyStudents)

In 2009, I flew to Washington DC to meet Paul Freedman, an audacious young entrepreneur building what he hoped would be the world’s best community college.

As the son of UC-Berkeley professors, Paul wanted to give the higher risk students who typically attend community college the same educational opportunities he himself had accessed. He envisioned a school that provides individualized student support, gives students the skill set to transfer to the 4-year school of their dreams and incorporates the latest innovations in education technology. We invested in Paul’s company, Altius Education, which aimed to realize Paul’s dream through Ivy Bridge College (IBC), a partnership he launched with Tiffin University, a strong regional school in Ohio.

Since then, Ivy Bridge has changed the lives of thousands of students. Within three years of enrolling at IBC, 64 percent of IBC students graduate or transfer, a rate at least 50 percent better than the national average for other 2-year schools, according to industry-standard benchmarks published by CollegeMeasures and Complete College America.

IBC students have gone on to study at 4-year schools including USC, Penn State, Texas A&M, Pepperdine and Ohio State. We also built a competency-based learning platform called Helix, which uses assessment to understand what a student knows and then serves up course material to fill in the gaps. EDUCAUSE and The Gates Foundation awarded us a Next Generation Learning Challenge grant, to further develop the platform’s features.

In 2010, based on Ivy Bridge’s track record of helping a high-risk student body succeed in their goals, we became more public in our desire to spin out IBC into a separate stand-alone institution. We hoped to parlay our early success into building the most innovative community college in America.

As we began to apply for the necessary approvals, the regulators at the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the body that regulates colleges in the Midwest, acted to stymie our plans. They forced us into a change of control process when all we wanted was approval for a branch campus in California. In non-regulatory parlance, that means they created additional layers and processes to achieve independent accreditation, in a clear effort to prevent us from ever becoming a standalone university. The regulator’s hostility came to a head in late July, when HLC ordered the Ivy Bridge program to be terminated by mid-October.

In every industry, new entrants, funded by private capital, drive innovation and shake up existing markets. General Motors never could have created Tesla and Motorola couldn’t invent the iPhone. In post-secondary education, new for-profit entrants into the system are just not allowed. Since 2010, HLC has only approved candidacy for accreditation of a single for-profit school that has been started in the past decade – Rocky Vista University. At the same time, it has placed two of the biggest for-profit education organizations in the country, University of Phoenix and Bridgepoint, under regulatory sanctions.

We wanted to make sweeping changes to how colleges are run, changes that would rock the existing system to its core.

These include:

  • A $5,000 degree program
  • A competency-based instructional approach where degrees are granted based on achievement of learning outcomes rather than time in class
  • Separation of instructors and graders, so instructors are vested in helping the students vs. having to both help them and grade them
  • Compensation of instructors based on how well they affect student outcomes

The regulators represent legacy constituents that appear ready to do anything to prevent these changes. These hidebound incumbents want to maintain their ability to teach students the same way they did a hundred years ago. This is at a time when new technologies and approaches can truly improve how students learn.

Investors are excited about the potential: $600 million in venture capital was invested in education in 2012, five times more than 2002. However, this investment is largely going into technology tools, services and supplemental education. Regulators have stifled those investment dollars from going to where they could have the most impact – reinventing the core of what happens in the K12 and college classroom.

These regulatory actions are clinging to outdated practices and causing the US post-secondary system to fall behind global competitors. In 1995, the U.S. ranked 2nd after New Zealand in terms of the higher education graduation rate among 19 OECD countries with comparable data. In 2010, its ranking dropped to 13th among 25 countries with comparable data.

Our society is in a place where our government and the regulators they enable are counting on incumbent non-profit schools to transform education in the US. New schools cannot be started because for-profits are collectively demonized as capricious actors who do not have the students’ best interest in mind.

I’d ask where we would be as a society if the legacy AT&T monopoly was in charge of mobile innovation and bringing the Internet to the masses or if agriculture was viewed as a vital national interest like in Cuba and we could only get bread at government stores?

We are allowing the government to behave this way in post-secondary education and, in doing so, delivering a poor legacy product to students while our international competitors are leaving us in the dust.

Decide.com Acquired by eBay

By Dan Levitan, Co-Founder and Partner at Maveron

Mike Fridgen, CEO of Decide.com

Mike Fridgen, CEO of Decide.com

On the heels of Maveron portfolio company SeatMe being acquired by Yelp, we’d like to congratulate another Maveron portfolio company Decide.com on the news today that the company has been acquired by eBay. When we met Mike Fridgen and Oren Etzioni in 2011, we were already impressed by their track record of value creation at Farecast. Moreover, we were immediately impressed by their passion to build an exceptional team, laser-focused on helping consumers navigate the confusing world of prices for consumer products.

Throughout the Maveron portfolio, we’ve consistently seen the power of a standout team, a big market, and a differentiated approach to building a brand change the way we engage in daily life—how we shop for our kids (zulily); pursue education (General Assembly); protect our pets (Trupanion); and make sure our parents and grandparents are safe (Lively). In fact, Maveron’s first investment ever was eBay in 1998, which used those three elements to reinvent marketplaces for used goods. In that spirit of the pursuit of excellence, we enjoyed being part of Decide.com’s journey as Mike, Oren and their team obsessively focused on helping consumers shop with no regrets. We agree with the folks from San Jose- the Decide Team will make a significant contribution in helping eBay create an even better shopping experience for their buyers and sellers. It will be exciting to watch eBay develop more of a Seattle presence.

While other VCs have turned away from consumer brands recently in favor of the enterprise, we remain more certain than ever around Maveron’s core belief: great entrepreneurs can use technology to disrupt markets and build great consumer brands more thoughtfully and inexpensively than ever before. We are committed and excited to find and partner early with the next wave of great entrepreneurs building the services, products, and platforms we soon won’t be able to live without.

We’d also like to thank Madrona for bringing us this opportunity. It was a pleasure to work with you Greg. We enjoyed this Seattle-based VC collaboration (working with Madrona and more recently Vulcan) and look forward to partnering on future deals.

Three Tips for Brand Building in the Digital Age

By Jane Park, founder and CEO of Julep

JulepBlogImage

Many of today’s marketers are like a bad date at a dance. Sure, they are dancing with you right now, but they keep looking over your shoulder to see if there is anyone hotter. In the new digital world, more than ever before, marketers need to be hyper focused on existing customers (the person you are dancing with right now), which can result in a beautifully choreographed word of mouth phenomenon and brand loyalty.

 

We’ve watched traditional beauty brands spend millions of dollars developing and marketing new products without ever truly getting to know their customers. John Wanamaker once quipped, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”  To me, it’s clear that any dollar that is spent without an intimate knowledge of your customers is wasted.  What’s exciting is that today, startups don’t have to spend much to gather information about their customers and engage directly with them through social media.  Building an enduring and valuable consumer brand always starts with a genuine conversation, and it’s easier than ever to reach customers this way. Here are three things we’ve incorporated into our playbook for using social media to build a brand in the digital age.

1.     Crowdsource Product Development

Now more than ever, customers can help determine your next best selling product. Companies have always relied on customer feedback to help develop products, but now, you can instantly use social media as a 24X7 focus group to solicit ideas from customers and make them part of the product development process. Using social media to help crowdsource products has helped us produce more products in an 18-month span than any other beauty company. If you’re ready to actively listen and respond to customers, they will happily tell you what they want. As you proactively feed their wish lists into the development process, you’ll not only create proprietary products faster than the competition that people actually want to buy, but you’ll also build a loyal and enduring customer base.

 2.     “Dance” with Customers Every Day

You can’t just talk to customers when you want to have a conversation; you have to be committed to constantly engaging in authentic two-way conversations in order to create previously impossible connections. Not only will this give you access to customers’ feedback and the opportunity to email them with new offers, but it will also create opportunities for you to respond to their needs as they are discovering them.  I appreciate any opportunity to anticipate and respond to our customers needs, bringing them closer into the circle of intimacy.  But you can’t fake authenticity – you have to always be there, in good times and especially in the bad.  I go onto our Julep Facebook page regularly to connect directly to the women who are making an effort to connect with us.  I have sent “thank you’s” and apologies from my personal email account.  The technical mechanics of social media don’t change the dynamics of an engaging in two way conversations – talking is talking regardless of the vehicle.

3.     Don’t Rely on Marketing Titles to Get the Job Done

At Julep, no one has a marketing title because I want everyone thinking about a strategy for satisfying existing customers, acquiring new customers and building products with longevity, which is what marketing is all about. In the digital age of marketing, we want the entire company to be inspired to learn more about customers. Whether it’s engaging personally in the conversations taking place on Facebook, following the excitement on Pinterest, or taking the time to research personal ways to surprise and delight our most loyal customers, we want every employee thinking of new ideas to harness the power of data to find, target, and delight customers in unprecedented ways.

 

Jane Park is the CEO and founder of Julep. Jane and her team have used social media to grow Julep into the fastest growing beauty brand in the U.S. You can follow Jane on Twitter @janeparkjulep

MOOCs: We’ve seen this movie before and it didn’t have a happy ending – PandoDaily

By Jason Stoffer, Maveron Partner

 

pandodailyimagesThe recent $43 million round of financing for Coursera fuels the growing hype, much of which has been sparked by VCs and industry pundits, around the “death” of traditional education. In theory, massively open online course (MOOC) platforms like Coursera should radically reduce educational costs, give students universal access to the best teachers, and enable better student outcomes. Results to date, however, have not yet lived up to the promise. Completion rates remain low, and there are significant obstacles in the way of MOOCs fully integrating into K-12 and post-secondary education.

Distance education has a 100-year history and has yet to live up to the hype. In fact, the “MOOC movie” has been played before – with the great promise of education delivered through radio and TV. From 1910-1920, the federal government granted 202 radio broadcasting licenses to educational institutions for course credits, yet only one remained by 1940.Then, in 1948, the University of Iowa offered the first correspondence course by TV. Dozens of schools followed, but with limited success.

So how can we make the sequel — the emerging MOOC — more successful than its predecessors? The deck is stacked in the MOOCs’ favor; the Internet, with its global reach and ability to foster community, is a superior platform to TV or radio to deliver and engage students in course content. And there is great value in easy access to content from some of the world’s best practitioners and professors.

Where MOOCs have seen early success is with highly self-motivated students. Open courses offer a brilliant young software engineer or mathematician in a poor village in the developing world the ability to be measured side by side with Stanford students. So that young prodigy on a MOOC is now discoverable by big employers like IBM or Google. These employers are beginning to buy into the promise – with Udacity featuring more than 400 global employers interested in employing their students.

That use case is narrow, though. Only a small slice of students are self-motivated enough to sit alone at home and complete a course in a self-directed way. Completion rates for MOOCS often range from 3 to 5 percent. These low passage rates cannot be compared apples to apples with traditional schools, given the cost of signing up for MOOC class is zero. Even when students pay tuition, MOOCs have lagged in retention and, just recently, San Jose State ended a pilot with Udacity due to extremely low pass rates.

For MOOCs to be more broadly applicable, three things need to happen:

First, best of breed MOOC content should be integrated into existing K-12 and college courses. Recent research from the US Department of Education shows that blended learning leads to stronger results than 100 percent in-person or online environments. To do this requires “flipping the classroom” — with students watching MOOC lectures at home and engaging in more experiential and team-based work in class. However, training teachers to integrate some standardized content and flip the classroom is a huge institutional challenge.

Second, for those students taking MOOCs on a standalone basis. MOOCs need to focus on ways to better replicate the campus environment. Fostering more engagement may take the form of physical meetups, where students connect and study together. These are happening today, but only sporadically. In my hometown of Seattle, there are only two Coursera meet-ups in the next two weeks.  Another approach to deeper engagement is through building more robust collaboration tools into the platform. These might take the form of streaming video, better group and team driven activities within courses or creating immersive online game-like simulations.

Finally, MOOCs can’t lose sight of the fact that many people on the platform are there to learn skills of value to real world employers. Employers may have been content to hire raw college graduates in the past, but today they want workers prepared for the modern workforce. One course that does this is Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad, which teaches potential employees about the customer development process and launching a product. But courses like this teach hard skills in a lecture format where learning is typically self-driven. These courses don’t teach employees how to work in teams, communicate upwards and downwards, take initiative and drive decisions with incomplete data.

These workforce skills can be taught using courses that include experiential learning replicating real life employment situations. Novo Ed, a new platform spun out from Stanford, is designed specifically for team projects and collaboration (disclosure: Maveron is a seed investor in NovoEd). In courses such as “Design Thinking Action Lab,” students are grouped together with others with similar skill levels and motivation and work together in projects. We’ll see more team-based courses like this across platforms and we’ll likely see game-like simulations introduced as well that replicate real world situations.

We need to collectively stop thinking about education technology and its latest incarnation, MOOCs, as the holy-grail in solving our nation’s education woes. Instead, we should accept MOOCs for what they are – a vehicle to get great content into learners’ hands but one that is nowhere close to maturing into its full potential.

Today’s MOOCs are at the beginning of a long and exciting journey to change education but one that will need to involve better online courses, more blended learning and destroying the “not invented here” complex that prevents professors and universities from using best of breed content created elsewhere.

 

Article originally posted on PandoDaily. Also, connect with Jason Stoffer on Twitter or LinkedIn.

SeatMe Acquired by Yelp

By David Wu

SeatmeCongratulations to the SeatMe team on the news today that the company has been acquired by Yelp. Like many entrepreneurial journeys, SeatMe started as an idea jotted on a notes app in early February of 2011. The idea was to make restaurant reservations better — both for members of the hungry public and members of the hard-working restaurant community. I loved the concept when I first met Alexander Kvamme in 2011 and enjoyed getting to know him and the team in a meaningful way, which led to Maveron investing in SeatMe’s Series A in April 2012. Alexander and his team have done an amazing job working day and night to help local restaurants and bars manage their restaurants, while also allowing customers to book reservations online. Now with SeatMe’s solution, more local restaurants and bars can provide an easy way for customers to book online reservations, enhancing the consumer experience for those who discover a great local business on Yelp.

Whether it’s getting to know founders earlier through our seed program or through core investments in startups during Series A, we are committed to passionate entrepreneurs like Alexander who are obsessively driven and strive for perfection. Congratulations to the team!

Connect with David on Twitter or on LinkedIn. Or welcome SeatMe to the @Yelp community on Twitter!

 

Tred Changes Car Shopping with Home Delivery Test Drives

By Jason Stoffer, Maveron partner

Tred Home Page

Congratulations to Grant Feek and the Tred (www.tred.com) team on their official launch and unique approach to simplifying new car purchases with the first home delivery test drive and no haggle buying service. I’m buying a car later this year and can’t wait to have the cars come to my house on the weekend, where my wife and I can drive them without having to bring our two little kids to the dealer.

 

I first met Grant as a Techstars mentor. I was immediately struck by his absolute obsession with changing the experience many consumers dread – the act of buying a car. The best consumer businesses are driven by extraordinarily motivated founders like Grant, entrepreneurs who are insanely driven to delight the end consumer.

 

In the automotive industry, you have to work within the confines of a complex distribution system and satisfy the needs of automakers and dealers, in addition to end consumers. In building the product and navigating toward launch, Grant has successfully navigated these difficult waters. Automakers love TRED as they are able to get more customers behind the wheel of their vehicles. Dealers love Tred’s conversion rates from test drives to sales are 40%, and because they’re converting more than 80% of shoppers to purchases. That’s much higher conversion and much lower leakage than other lead generators.  Consumers care because Tred cuts the time in a dealership substantially and eliminates all the pressures of making car buying decisions on the showroom floor by bringing cars directly to where busy families and professionals are comfortable — on their own terms, during their schedule, and at the best possible price.

 

 

As we continue to aggressively focus on planting more seed investments in game-changing ideas, we look forward to supporting Grant whenever and wherever needed in the early stages of his journey toward building a successful consumer business.

 

Five Tips for College Students to Get the Job of Their Dreams

Students

High school graduates take note: when you graduate college in four years you will face one of two paths. Depending on the choices you make, you may have multiple high paying job offers and an exciting career in your grasp. Or you may be moving back in with mom and dad as  of the 42% of college graduates from the past two years working in a job that doesn’t require a college degree.

What path you take is up to you. As a venture capitalist, I see dozens of companies hiring workers with varying degrees of experience and, when I speak to CEOs about what they want in a college graduate, they all have a few common words of wisdom.

1. Think About Your Career Early. College is a time for exploration but too many college students fly blind. Companies want students with a tangible set of skills. But many students don’t know which courses of study lead to professions with job openings, good placement rates, and good wage levels.

2. Know Which Fields of Study Lead to High Potential Career Paths. Every company in our portfolio needs great software developers, great designers and a cadre of analysts who understand how to derive insight from value. You . Don’t need to choose these fields if they do not inspire you but know you are a leg up career-wise if you do.

3. Experience is as (Or More) Important Than the Classroom. Employers used to hire smart graduates and train them on the job. Today, they want employees who are ready to go on day one. Explore career options throughout college by interning at companies in potential career areas of interest. Take advantage of your college’s experiential curriculum and any courses or programs that enable you to get real exposure to the workplace.

4. Don’t Count on Grad School to Figure it Out. Two years of grad school may cost $30,000 to over $100,000 and offers a dubious return on investment. Outside of specialized fields like medicine and law, you can often avoid this investment by being more deliberate in career planning during your undergraduate years.
5. Think about augmenting your college experience with other vocational training. Businesses like Lynda.com, General Assembly, Codeacademy and CreativeLive offer the ability to learn practical skills that may not be available in the college classroom. You can major in French Literature while teaching yourself skills as wide ranging as photography, computer programming and data science through these alternative education providers.

If high schools grads could take one thing away from this article, I’d want them to walk away knowing that a college degree is not a ticket to financial prosperity and a career of your dreams. The only way to make that happen is to be deliberate in choosing a path and taking your destiny into your own hands.

JasonStoffer

By Jason Stoffer

Equity Crowdfunding is the 21st Century Investment Banker

By Dan Levitan, co-founder of Maveron

 

Dan Levitan, co-founder MaveronConsidered one of the greatest investors of all time, Peter Lynch had a simple investment principle - “invest in what you know.” This straightforward investment philosophy helped him find good undervalued consumer-oriented stocks and achieve an annual average return of 29 percent while managing the Fidelity Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, which grew from $20 million to $14 billion during that time.

 

We appreciate Lynch’s simple, yet adaptive, investment style, which focused on the basics of good management, exceptional businesses, and quality consumer products. However, in today’s Sarbanes-Oxley world, for lots of logical reasons, investors are increasingly unable to realize this type of return or get in early enough to see that magnitude of returns. For example, a single share of Starbucks bought at the 1992 IPO is now worth almost 100x its original price. Even if one invested at Facebook’s public nadir of $50 billion in value, and it reaches $350 billion market capitalization, it would only be a 7x return.

 

The JOBS Act has relieved some of the restrictions that were put into place by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, with the most notable innovation being crowdfunding. As the investment banker who had the privilege to take storied retail brands like Starbucks public, I see the crowdfunding marketplace improving upon the investment banking franchises of yesteryear by allowing retail investors to once again gain early access to high-risk growth investment opportunities.

 

Providing that opportunity early to investors inspired us to invest in CircleUp, a great equity-based crowdfunding site focused on consumer and retail.  In our minds,  CircleUp’s equity-based crowdfunding approach will become the 21st century investment banker.

 

Rather than shying away from what some consider to be competition, we were the first institutional investors to back Ryan Caldbeck and Rory Eakin, the co-founders of CircleUp, and embrace the value that crowdfunding can bring to early-stage startups. Two years later, CircleUp is on its way to making their vision a reality with a game-changing approach and marketplace that matches promising consumer companies with the right investors. This week, the company successfully closed new funding of $7.5 million led by Union Square Ventures and Google Ventures, with participation from my firm, Maveron. The financing marks the next step for Caldbeck and Eakin in making CircleUp the investment platform for the next generation of consumer brands. Early evidence shows that there is a good chance the next Chobani, Vitamin Water, or Under Armor will start by raising capital on CircleUp.

 

In his Forbes article on the one-year old “Jumpstart Our Business Startups” (JOBS) Act, Caldbeck says “Equity crowd funding is the most disruptive thing to happen to the financial services industry in a very long time.” As a former investor at consumer private equity funds, Ryan saw a hole in the market – early stage consumer businesses with great potential struggling to find capital and not a head on fit with normalized fundraising models paired with investors who couldn’t gain early access to these high quality businesses.

 

I couldn’t agree more. Not only is crowdfunding great for investors, but it’s even better for entrepreneurs, opening up untraditional sources of capital and creating a network previously unavailable to early stage companies. While we know as well as any the value great institutional investors can bring to the table, we also know that institutional capital is not right for every type or stage of promising business. Raising capital from individuals rather than institutions, can provide entrepreneurs with benefits such as more internal control, or more flexible liquidity timelines. Unlike investment banking, crowdfunding gives independent investors complete transparency and visibility into where other smart investors, frequently their peers, are investing. Rather than a junior banker calling dozens of institutional clients and retail investors with research and analysis on potential investment opportunities, CircleUp offers individual investors direct access to opportunities. It provides a format where they can find the relevant information, receive sample products, and connect directly with the company and management team. This new approach allows influential private investors to speak with their pocketbooks, a signal that is vastly superior to the investment banking research analyst reports in today’s hyper connected world.

 

Lets face it, crowdfunding is the new investment banker and, in many ways, a new important player in the venture capital ecosystem. Maveron has been one of the few VC firms that have made bets on equity crowdfunding.  Just like all our investments, we’re looking for incredible entrepreneurs like Ryan and Rory and for businesses that are ready to disrupt industries, displace incumbents, and establish market leadership. We love the idea of investing behind disruptive companies like CircleUp, and relish in the fact they might end up being our competition for certain investments. With crowdfunding, more entrepreneurs with the next big idea will access capital and that’s a good thing for the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.

 

 

CircleUp, Disrupting The Financial Services Industry

Congratulations to Ryan Caldbeck and Rory Eakin, the co-founders of CircleUp, for closing new funding of $7.5 million led by Union Square Ventures and Google Ventures, with participation from Maveron. Rather than shying away from what some consider to be competition, we were the first institutional investors to invest in CircleUp and embrace the value that crowdfunding can bring to early-stage startups. The new financing marks the next step for Caldbeck and Eakin in making CircleUp the investment platform for the next generation of consumer brands and early evidence shows that there is a good chance the next Chobani, Vitamin Water, or Under Armor will start by raising capital on CircleUp.

In his Forbes article on the one-year old “Jumpstart Our Business Startups” (JOBS) Act, Caldeck says “Equity crowd funding is the most disruptive thing to happen to the financial services industry in a very long time.”

We couldn’t agree more! Congratulations to the team.

Maveron’s latest seed investment, Panna

By Rebecca Kaden, Maveron Associate

 

Last week, as the New York Times labeled the food industry “the next big thing in tech,” Maveron announced its latest seed investment, Panna, a young company already making big moves in transforming the way we follow recipes at home. Launched by media industry veteran and cooking enthusiast, David Ellner, Panna is the first digital cooking magazine, bringing high quality video recipes to mobile devices and allowing amateur chefs to cook and create alongside some of the world’s best and most renowned.

 

So why do we agree with the Times? At Maveron, we invest with the thesis that the next generation of consumer brands will harness technology to reach more people, faster, and in more meaningful, personal ways. We believe the difference between a cool product and a massive brand and business stems from fanatical consumer passion, and the ability to seamlessly improve and integrate into a user’s daily life—to be their lifeline for how they accomplish what they want to do, whether it’s book a vacation home for their family (AirBnB), share moments with their friends and family (Instagram), or purchase clothes for their children (zulily). And the more personal the more problem, the more passionate consumers become around the solution. Yet, while there are few moments more intimate than dinners prepared and shared in our own homes, technology hasn’t yet disrupted the cooking experience.

 

Panna takes on this challenge with a mobile app featuring beautiful videos of star chefs such as Jonathan Waxman, Rick Bayless, and Anito Lo in a format that harnesses technology to make life easier and more enjoyable for food enthusiasts through bite size step-by-step clips. It uniquely unites the editorial curation of recipes, chefs, tips, and tricks formerly only found in offline food magazines with the ease, personalization, and freedom that mobile video allows to help the amateur cook execute like a pro.

 

Most importantly, Panna combines the things we love most at Maveron: a standout, all-star entrepreneur uniquely positioned to take a fresh look and create disruptive models for a big, stale market. Integrating new digital solutions into old industries isn’t a new task for David—in fact, he’s been doing it his whole career and is responsible for some of the most innovative initiatives in the entertainment world from his time at Universal Music and 19 Entertainment. He has that “A” entrepreneur ability to disregard even the deepest set standards and, instead, begin with an empty canvas. “Panna started with a blank sheet of paper and the customer in mind. We have no pre-existing models and we’ve built a vehicle to transmit the recipes, passion and expertise of master chefs to the home cook through video technology.” Even better, it’s a business model we can get behind. David’s taken the hard to monetize content category and created a quickly scaling product people are already paying for, the value proposition of the mouthwatering recipes and easy to follow format deliciously clear.

 

We’re thrilled to welcome Panna to the Maveron family and excited to work with David to reimagine the ingredients of the cooking industry. But, first, we’re busy boasting about our homemade tarte aux pommes.

NovoEd Creates A New Collaborative Learning Experience

By Jason Stoffer, Partner at Maveron

 

The most recent innovators in education have been companies such as Udacity, EdX and Coursera, which offer free massive open online courses (MOOCs) from top tier university professors to students globally. MOOCs have massive potential and hold the promise of disrupting the traditional university experience by offering a better education at a radically lower cost.

While these first generation open course providers hold great promise, their Achilles heel has been abysmal completion rates. These platforms target a specific type of self-driven learner, who have the patience, persistence and drive to complete a difficult online course independently. While the self-learner represents a minority of students, most students value and thrive in environments where they can collaborate with each other. Until now, learners on open course platforms who value a collaborative course experience have had to organize their own offline meetups or online groups. We believe the better solution is to build collaboration into the platform.

For this reason, we are thrilled to announce our participation in the financing of NovoEd, previously known as Venture Lab. NovoEd is a new MOOC, which was spun out of Stanford University after it launched its platform last fall and attracted over 100,000 enrolled students to its first set of classes. NovoEd’s talented CEO, Amin Saberi, is a tenured Stanford engineering professor who built the platform around the philosophy that teamwork and collaboration should be part of the learning platform and an integral element of each course. NovoEd’s approach uses team-based and cooperative learning to help students in courses including entrepreneurship, leadership, negotiations and communication. This team-based approach led to course completion percentages significantly higher than those achieved by the first generation of MOOC providers.

As part of the financing, NovoEd announced that it is expanding beyond its initial program at Stanford University, and aims to partner with other Universities to offer courses on campus and globally. Already, the online learning startup offers seven Stanford University courses to the public and 10 private courses only available for current Stanford students.

NovoEd addresses two macro trends that are fundamentally changing education. First is that student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt and continued cost inflation in higher education is unsustainable. As a result, students will inevitably take some courses online that offer credit and bring the weighted cost of education downwards. Secondly, today’s fast pace of economic change means that working adults will need to be educated multiple times through their life as their careers evolve or change. These working adults will need access to flexible and low cost online alternatives to learn new skills. NovoEd’s collaborative platform will offer both traditional college students and working adults a new and more effective way to learn. I am thrilled to invest in NovoEd and am excited about the company’s potential to help catalyze the disruption that lies ahead in the next decade in higher education.

Our Faith In Consumer Investments

 

Already, 2013’s been marked as the enterprise revolution. Angel investors and venture capitalists, many of whom have spent recent years dabbling in consumer investing, are turning to enterprise as the better investment decision and the focus of the next great wave of innovation. At Maveron, we’re happy to wish them well on their way.

While others turn their heads, we remain more certain than ever around Maveron’s core belief: that great entrepreneurs can use technology to disrupt markets and build billion-dollar consumer brands. And that a committed investment partner with experience, knowledge, and passion around this kind of company building from a business’s earliest days can make a huge difference on a brand’s journey towards ubiquity.

As part of continuously reevaluating and reinvigorating our commitment to investing in early stage consumer businesses, we are doubling down on both sector and stage with a new seed program designed to fund high potential businesses and build lasting relationships with the next generation of world-class entrepreneurs.

Consumer startups are requiring increasingly less capital to get off the ground as technology and tools evolve. The boom of crowd-funding platforms such as Angellist and Kickstarter are illustrations not only of consumer interest in innovation and desire to be a part of invention that will change our daily lives, but also that a relatively little bit of cash and an indication of market interest can be an incredible springboard for turning big ideas into tangible businesses.

However, from working with our diverse portfolio across our funds, we know that entrepreneurs need more than money to launch transformative consumer brands in today’s market. Instead, they require thoughtful partners that can provide the expertise, mentorship, access, resources, and mindshare that businesses and builders need to get great companies off the ground.

To be as valuable of a partner as we can be throughout a company’s lifecycle, we’ve designed our early-stage investment program to provide entrepreneurs with seed funding ranging from $100,000-$250,000, as reported by GeekWire. We will focus on consumer businesses with technology-enabled products and services in commerce, education and health and wellness, and partner with them to help navigate the early terrain and establish product market fit. Maveron has already completed three seed investments in 2013 and more than 15 in the last two years, including Everlane, CircleUp, CourseHero and Julep.

Julep, in fact, has become one of the fastest growing beauty brands in the U.S. and recently announced $10.3 million in Series B financing led by Andreessen Horowitz, with Maveron’s participation. The company’s unparalleled product innovation and speed-to-market, coupled with vocal social media engagement instead of traditional marketing, have enabled Julep to produce more products in an 18-month span than any other beauty company.

Through the Maveron portfolio, we’ve seen the power of a standout team, a big market, and innovative technology to change the way we engage in daily life—how we shop for our kids (Zulily), pursue education (General Assembly), protect our pets (trupanion), and make sure our parents and grandparents are safe (Lively). We look forward to our new seed program spurring increased opportunity to partner with the next wave of great entrepreneurs who will build the services, products, and platforms we soon won’t be able to live without.

Successful Entrepreneurs Start with a Passion and Obsessively Focus on Exceeding Customer Expectations

By Dan Levitan, Maveron co-founder

Dan Levitan, co-founder MaveronIn my 30 years working with consumer companies, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the world’s most respected entrepreneurs who have created enduring consumer businesses. During that time, whether it was Starbucks, eBay or hopefully the next billion-dollar brand zulily, I have learned that when a passionate entrepreneur is obsessively driven by a vision to seamlessly integrate their product or service into the every day lives of consumers, they can accomplish anything.

Yet, great accomplishments are measured differently by different people – sometimes by respect, power or money, or by a combination of many other traits. At Maveron, we value a balanced quantitative and qualitative approach when measuring one’s success. We also recognize the media’s interest in placing a spotlight on an entrepreneur’s economic riches, which is why this year’s new record for the billionaire club reported by Forbes makes for interesting reading.

However, in all our great successes at Maveron, money has clearly been the result of creating a transformative consumer business, not the objective. So, while it’s interesting that Forbes crowned 200 more billionaires in 2013 than 2012, I was more intrigued by the distinguished list of notable consumer business newcomers, including fashion icon Tory Burch, the second youngest self-made female billionaire in America; GoPro CEO Nick Woodman; and Manoj Bhargava, the creator of 5-Hour Energy and many more. I guarantee that these entrepreneur’s  new billionaire status was the byproduct of the perfect mix of enormous passion and obsessing over execution, rather than making the Forbes 400 billionaire list.

For example, starting with only a $35K loan from his mother and money raised selling seashell belts,  GoPro CEO Woodman built the first camera prototypes in his bedroom with his mom’s sewing machine and a drill.  He manically focused on creating an amazing product that his consumers love. Today, GoPro has become America’s fastest-growing digital imaging company. I don’t know Woodman personally, but would guess his wealth is the result of focusing his resources on what matters most: developing a groundbreaking consumer-facing product experience that ultimately led to a market leading business.

We’ve been privileged to see this same level of focus from Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon, two highly successful dads of small children who turned to the Web like many parents to shop for merchandise, diapers and more.  They couldn’t find great deals on children’s boutique brands for their kids. So, in late 2009 they created zulily. From the moment they started working out of our offices, Darrell and Mark were obsessively dedicated to not only delivering a phenomenal website with the most unique and sought after children’s boutique brands, but also to strive for perfection when it came to the overall zulily shopping experience and customer service. zulily has now rocketed to an estimated billion dollar valuation in less than three years after it launched in January of 2010 and is every day is earning the right to sell moms an even broader array of goods across new categories.

With new technology enabling consumer-facing businesses to spread their message to consumers faster than ever, there couldn’t be a better time to build the next big billion-dollar consumer business. This is why Maveron remains very bullish on investing in early stage consumer businesses. We believe the technological innovation that began transforming consumer businesses more than a decade ago, will continue apace, if not accelerate, the creation of vastly disruptive new businesses.

As entrepreneurs strive to build the next big billion dollar consumer business, just remember, your ultimate success or failure will depend on building a great team around you.  That team needs to execute a vision that obsessively focuses on integrating your product or service directly into the lives of your consumers. It will not depend on technology or you joining Forbes’ billion-dollar club, but on your companies’ ability to build disruptive and defensible attributes that create emotional connectivity—a powerful psychological contract–with your end consumers.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see your name on a Forbes List. For example, I’m happy to make a case for being on this year’s Forbes Midas list; but,  seeing your name in print matters far less than obsessing over delivering great value to your customers.

The Truth About Becoming A Contagious Company

Author Jonah Berger talks to entrepreneurs at last week’s Maveron conference about his latest book, Contagious – Why Things Catch On

By Jason Stoffer, Partner of Maveron

 

The Harlem Shake is yet another cultural phenomenon that has hit the internet racking up more than 700 million views around the world in just one month. The awkward display of flailing arms and wriggling torsos has spark newscasters, the Norwegian army and even everyone’s favorite TV family – The Simpsons to join the digital dance craze.

So what does the Harlem Shake have to do with starting a new consumer company?

At the Maveron conference last week, Prof. Jonah Berger talked to C-level executives and entrepreneurs about why things go viral – both online and offline. The Wharton professor and author of the bright orange book Contagious – Why Things Catch On, Berger, described the real value of social currency and the triggers that make things go from ordinary, even mundane, to remarkable.

Berger claims that word of mouth is more important and more effective than advertising, because it creates trust with consumers and is more targeted than traditional ads. People, as Berger points out, tend to have friends with people who have similar lifestyles and interests. So by igniting viral programs, consumer companies can leverage existing customers do the targeting for you.

To help us understand how viral works, Berger looks at the science behind social networks and developed a “recipe” to engineer content to help increase its odds of become contagious. He provides six key steps that consumer companies can use to become more viral. These include: social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value and stories.

Entrepreneurs often recognize the value of social currency or the idea that consumers can attain status by association to things they consume or say. Experiences or products can make consumers feel like an insider, or special and it’s a powerful driver for brands. But companies also need to identify triggers that give people something remarkable and timely to talk about.

For instance, Berger explains how the song called Friday by Rebecca Black became an internet craze immediately after it launch on YouTube. He found that one reason it garnered so much public attention, especially on Fridays, was a result of association to that given day. Other brands have taken similar approaches associate itself with breakfast, weekends or beach vacations. It’s these triggers that help keep brands top of mind for consumers.

What I found to be the real magic of Berger’s talk centered on social proof, and the idea that people imitate others if they can see what they are doing. He talks about how when we don’t know what to do, we look to others for information. This is a powerful concept that has worked extremely well for Apple and other consumer brands that have master the art of social proof. Whether it’s the placement of logos, the color of products, or crowds, it’s valuable to recognize that people tend to follow others when they can see what they are doing.

Berger pushes entrepreneurs to not only turn consumers into advocates, but into social proof through design, color and experiences. These visual can be a signal for their peers to follow suit, thus turning social currency into social proof that influences others. This isn’t about turning consumers into walking billboards, but finding how they can share their deeper connection with a brand with others.

For startups, that’s real magic.

Welcome Kristen Hamilton to the Maveron Team

By Jason Stoffer, Maveron PartnerKristen

We’re excited to have Kristen Hamilton join Maveron as an Entrepreneur in Residence. Education is undergoing fundamental changes but it’s hard to figure out how these tectonic shifts will open opportunities to create billion dollar brands. Doing so requires entrepreneurs with one foot in education – with enough expertise to understand how this nuanced industry works – and one foot out – with the mindset to challenge the status quo.  Kristen fits this profile to a T – she founded an ecommerce business, OnVia that went public and has since spent the past decade in operating roles within education. Kristen hired my partner Clayton Lewis as President and COO at OnVia and she has been a friend to the firm for many years. We are thrilled she has decided to let us be a part of her next entrepreneurial journey.

In addition to looking for new businesses to start, Kristen will help us identify and support new emerging for-profit education investments, offering hands-on guidance to entrepreneurs on their journey to disrupt the education industry, displace status quo incumbents and grow their companies into market leading consumer businesses.

From Capella University (Nasdaq: CPLA) to recent investments in General Assembly, Altius Education, CourseHero and Study Edge, Maveron has a strong track record of investing in disruptive consumer-facing education businesses. Our deep network of executives and angel investors understand underlying trends, and can unearth new opportunities in the education sector. As technology continues to change the paradigm of a single teacher acting as a “sage on the stage” towards integrated technology-enabled products and services that foster learning both inside and outside the classroom, Maveron will invest early and often in disruptive consumer education businesses.

The $2.5 trillion education market bears the weighty responsibility of educating workers to succeed in today’s global knowledge economy and Maveron is one of the few firms with expertise in scalable for-profit education — a massive segment whose time has come for disruptive innovation. Kristen adds tremendous expertise to our focus on education and we’re thrilled to have her on board.

Make sure to reach out to Kristen on LinkedIn and say hello!

 

 

Julep Disrupts Beauty Market Using Social Media

By Jason Stoffer, Maveron, Partner

 

Beauty is a $160 billion offline category, which has experienced virtually no share shift online. Jane Park, MaveronSo when we first invested in Julep in 2011, we were excited about the potential to build the first great vertically integrated online-first beauty brand. Since our first seed investment, Julep CEO Jane Park has built a multi-channel beauty business we believe has the opportunity to be the first beauty company to truly leverage social media and big data to build an enduring and valuable brand. We’re thrilled to participate in Julep’s $10.3 million Series B financing announced today, which was led by Andreessen Horowitz

The beauty business has a long line history of charismatic CEOs building billion dollar brands – including Leslie Blodgett of Bare Escentuals, Cristina Carlino of Philosophy and Anita Roddick of Body Shop. We believe Jane has the ability to join this rarified group.  She has the consumer business entrepreneurial qualities we look for at Maveron: she is a child of entrepreneurs, with a maniacal focus on consumer experience, formal brand building experience at The Boston Consulting Group and Starbucks and has an infectious passion for wanting to build a game-changing consumer company.

We first met Jane when she started Julep as a chain of nail salons in Seattle. We loved Jane, but did not think the early business model was suited to venture capital. As she was contemplating pivoting the Julep business online, Jane spent time with Darrell Cavens, CEO of zulily, the leading daily deals site for moms and an early stage Maveron portfolio company. Darrell called us thereafter and suggested that Julep had a great deal of potential. As we reconnected with Jane we immediately recognized that if given the chance, and connections to the right people with relevant consumer business experience, Jane would take the company to new levels and she did. My partners at Maveron and I worked with Jane as she brought on a strong team and a Board of Directors that included the former head of Sephora.com and the Chairman of Skullcandy. We led a Series A round of financing in the business.

Julep_HomePageJulep has ignited a cultural beauty phenomenon that uses social media to spread the brand like wildfire. In fact, much of Julep’s online growth has been fueled by social media, which we believe will be the catalyst for launching any great multi-channel consumer brand, especially in the beauty category.  With over 100,000 Facebook fans, 26,000 Twitter followers and 12,000 Pinterest followers highly engaged in swapping nail art designs and “nail swatches,” Julep’s social media community has been a strong substitute for brand building via traditional print marketing.  Julep is a pioneer in using Facebook, Pinterest and the social web to deeply engage its community of beauty lovers around color and its line of fashion forward beauty products. They don’t have to spend millions of dollars launching a new product – their social media fans help them get the word out.

Julep has produced more products in an 18-month span than any other beauty company. Within the past 18 months, Julep has launched 52 new beauty products including mascara, lip-glosses, glycolic scrubs, and 186 nail colors – a feat that no other beauty brand can do. The number of products launched each month is so vast because of Julep’s one-of-a-kind marketing blueprint: the freedom to operate without the limits of physical shelf space and to produce limited run SKUs that bring an inventory of lightening fast fashion business model to beauty.

It’s an honor to be part of Julep’s early and rapidly growing success and we intend to be there every step of the way for Jane.

IF I ONLY HAD A HAMMER . . . WAIT, NOW WE DO!

Earlier today, Pro.com announced a $14 million Series A investment co-led by Maveron and our friends over at Madrona. With apologies to Tim Allen (even in his glory days on ABC), I think the home-improvement market has never been hotter.

Pro.com_vectorHowever, it’s not just a promising market opportunity that determines the next billion-dollar consumer brand. It’s the entrepreneur’s drive, passion and commitment to solve specific, granular problems that consumers face every day. Anybody who’s had work done on their house—plumbing, painting, installations, whatever—knows it can be an ordeal. CEO Matt Williams and the team at Pro.com are offering an entirely new, yet simple approach that removes the nightmare for both customers and home-improvement professionals. In short, Pro.com has one of the best kinds of venture backed businesses—ones that solve a pain point in a way where the choice to use the product is simply a no-brainer.

In our view, three things make for a great investment in the consumer space: a superb team, a huge market, and a differentiated product. Pro.com, which launched just a few months ago, has all three attributes:

People

williams-matt-263x300Matt and his team are rock stars: serial entrepreneurs with deep expertise in consumer

marketplaces. Matt was the founder and CEO of Livebid in the late 1990s. The company was sold to Amazon in 1999 and Matt then became director of Amazon Auctions, going on to executive positions within Amazon that allowed him to develop breadth and range in solving consumer problems. In 2010, Matt become CEO of Digg, at a time when the social news site required a turnaround. He achieved it and the company was sold in three parts in 2012. Thereafter, in 2013, he started Pro.com, while an entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz. Along with his colleagues, Matt has what Maveron seeks in entrepreneurs: relentless focus, contagious passion, a data-driven orientation, and a demonstrated ability to build a great team.

 

Market

The market for home improvement is enormous: overall U.S. spending on it is more than $300 billion—and growing, post-recession, at 5-10% a year. Average spending per home is between $4,000 and $8,000 a year, thereby representing about a third of discretionary spending per household. Remarkably, a quarter of all homes undergo some form of improvement every year—and most are paid, rather than do-it-yourself, projects. And the marketplace is ripe for dramatic changes. It is a surprisingly opaque market. When taking on a project, consumers have no idea if they’re getting a fair price or if they’re likely to receive quality work product. To capture sales leads, traditional retail companies, as well as technology platforms, will be looking for innovative consuming-facing tech solutions that give more transparency to consumers. Those teams who can pioneer marketplaces that work for consumers, as well as service providers, will flourish.

 

Product

What Pro.com does well and transparently is help homeowners actually find a local pro they can trust to take a project, on a reliable schedule, and at a price agreed on in advance. They may have one of the largest databases of Pros nationwide, but that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they know how to match and recommend the best 2-3 pros nationwide for every type of project in every locale.

 

We’re all in on Pro.com and it’s a privilege for us to join them on their entrepreneurial journey!

 

Dan Levitan @Levitan@maveron