Posts Tagged: seattle

New investment: Sparkbuy, the Kayak for consumer electronics

In the same way that e-commerce has not innovated for almost a decade until the recent flood of innovation (flash sales, group buying, mass customization, social commerce), price comparison engines still work very similarly to how they were originally designed during the days of the web 1.0. So it is time to shake things up a bit in this vertical. In comes Sparkbuy, a shopping engine that wants to be a “Kayak for consumer electronics”. The site makes it really easy for consumers to compare laptops based on the criteria which are important to you. The secret sauce: a simple UI and the most complete and comprehensive database of laptops. Sparkbuy is currently in private beta but will open up to the public early in the New Year and plans to soon add televisions as well.

Besides being excited about the space, I am even more excited about working with Dan Shapiro. Dan previously founded Ontela (which merged with Photobucket last year) and is one of the most talented entrepreneurs Seattle has. So let’s go and build a great company!

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New investment: Barcode Hero, a “Foursquare for shopping”

UPC-A barcode
Image via Wikipedia

After the investment in Empire Avenue last week I am very excited to announce another investment today: Barcode Hero‘s mission is to help shoppers in physical stores, through breakthrough mobile technology. Simply put, it is like a “Foursquare for shopping”: Barcode Hero users scan products at home or in a store, build their collection, and share recommendations with friends. Users can follow others to get their recommendations and compete for fun titles based on the products they interact with.

I met the two founders of the company, Blake Scholl and Jason Crawford, back in March in Seattle and decided after one meeting and a few emails exchanges that I wanted to invest. I usually take a bit longer for taking an investment decision but this one just felt right. First of all, there is tons of opportunity at the cross-roads of mobile, social and commerce to come up with the right product to help shoppers in an offline context. Secondly, Blake and Jason had convinced a few A-list angels like Ron Conway, Naval Ravikant and Owen van Natta to participate in the seed round. But most importantly, this just felt like a rock star team of founders with the right vision, background (Amazon, Whrrl) and ambition.

So really excited to be part of the Barcode Hero story forward – you can get the iPhone app here and try the product out yourself (currently only working in the US app store though).

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Where is social gaming headed? Thoughts from attending CasualConnect

Image representing Zynga as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Yesterday I spent a day at CasualConnect in Seattle, one of the largest casual gaming conferences in North-America and took away some interesting thoughts on where social gaming is headed:

  • Social gaming is about to go mainstream as big media / entertainment companies are entering the arena and game principles are being integrated in more and more sites and products (“gamification”) – the sector is probably not yet over-hyped but it definitely does not feel far away.
  • Differentiation matters more than ever: as the space becomes more and more crowded, games developers need to think harder about how they can differentiate in the long run. Focusing on just one vertical and trying to dominate this (like our portfolio company Fitbrains for brain fitness games) is most likely the most viable strategy. New entrants might otherwise not get enough traction with the most likely exit option left being a talent acquisition.
  • Scale matters and Zynga has perfected their “build and run” process – take an interesting gaming concept (and often copying existing ones), apply the Zynga playbook, optimize aggressively. The combination of speed, ruthless metrics focus, significant market share (probably around 60-70% on Facebook that helps drive traffic between properties) and a large capital base makes Zynga a formidable competitor for everybody.
  • Quality will increasingly determine success: given the reduced virality on Facebook, the quality of the games seems to matter more going forward.
  • Multi-platform: game developers will have to produce targeted experiences for all the key platforms (web, Facebook, iPhone / iPad) to maximize their reach and limit the dependence from one single platform. With Facebook still representing the large majority of the revenues for most of the social game developers, diversification to other platforms is high on the list.
  • Better understanding and targeting of users: while a lot of games were built for anybody and everybody in the past, approaches need to get more granular going forward with game design starting by defining a specific audience for the game.
  • The biggest potential for the social gaming vertical is an increased monetization: currently, only 1-2% (RockYou mentioned however already 3-4%) of all gamers pay for virtual goods so there is some significant upside in improving this number to 10-15%.

Social games continue to be an exciting space – it is definitely not early days anymore but it feels that there is some good potential left for game developers that pursue a focused approach.

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4 key points to address in your startup pitch

I met with 10 early-stage startups in Seattle yesterday and it was a good reminder for me what some of the most important messages are that you want to bring across to an investor when you have a limited amount of time to present your company. Here are the 4 key points that I very much care about:

  • Company vision / elevator pitch: I too often get founders that cannot describe in 2-3 sentences what the vision of their startup is and what their company is all about. Make it simple and start the conversation with it. Otherwise, the investor will feel kind of lost as they don’t even know what you really want to build.
  • Team: everybody has a team slide but in an early-stage environment I really want to know who can actually build stuff (and see examples of what they have built) and who are the “suits” (and what concrete value they are bringing to the team). Your team is only 3-4 people strong so you better have the right guys on board to start this company and you need to bring this across to the potential investor.
  • Competitive advantage: think long and hard about how you differentiate from other sites out there. Too often founders overestimate how differentiated their product is when it is actually just a nice evolution of existing products that will have a hard time convincing users to switch.
  • Distribution: distribution often doesn’t get the necessary amount of attention and founders seem to assume that people will just flock to their site so really go through the different marketing channels and come up with a strategy that make the most sense for the product you built.

So keep your pitch short and simple and make sure to address those 4 points – it will sure help to make your pitch more concise!

P.S.: I had a great time in Seattle and am always impressed by the consumer internet scene down there – perhaps this will turn into more investments soon!

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Yapta: first investment in Seattle, third in the travel space

As already announced last week, Seattle-based Yapta just closed a $2 million Series B led by Voyager Capital and I am very happy to announce that W Media participated in this round. Yapta is a online travel shopping service that monitors airfare and hotel prices for travelers. Led by CEO Tom Romary, the company has not only built up some significant traction over the past year but was also very successful in attracting top talent and top investors (the major investor besides Voyager Capital being First Round Capital). I have spent a considerable amount of time in Seattle since the beginning of the year and am really impressed by the consumer Internet scene there so I am hopeful that we will see more Seattle investments by W Media in the next little while. Looking forward to be part of the Yapta story going forward, with now 3 investments in the travel space (Escapio.com and Tripsbytips.com being the other two) this vertical is becoming increasingly important for the company.