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Nuzzel: News From Your Friends Means News That Matters

June 18, 2014

Have you signed up for Nuzzel and downloaded their iOS app? If not please stop reading this post and do so. It’s ok, we’ll wait…there’s a lot of interesting information being shared on Twitter and Facebook. Nuzzel identifies the content most shared by your friends so you can easily read, listen, purchase, and so on. Sounds simple, right? Don’t confuse an intuitive interface with easy to build. Here’s why we invested:

WHO: Nuzzel founder and CEO, Jonathan Abrams, has been a friend of ours since well before we started Homebrew. And although Jonathan did help kick-off the modern social networking by founding Friendster, we mean friend IRL. As a cofounder of Founder’s Den, Jonathan has been someone who both encourages bold entrepreneurs and calls BS within the broader tech community. We also love when a team gets back together - at Nuzzel, Jonathan has reunited with Kent Lindstrom, who previously served as Friendster’s COO.

WHAT: Nuzzel inverts the standard paradigm of social sharing: it puts the content, not the sharer, first. And Nuzzel aggregates from across social products so you don’t need to worry about monitoring all of your different networks to find needles in haystacks. Nuzzel is a needle magnet. And what you see in the product today is just the beginning.

HOW: Your Facebook friends and the accounts you follow on Twitter are constantly sharing links. Nuzzel sums these shares and gives you a list of content, ranked by the number of people who have shared it. You’re in control of the update intervals and alert frequencies from breaking news to stories you might have missed. To do all this, Jonathan and team have focused on a backend that scales with both the growth of its user base and their connection graphs on social networks.

WHY: Here at Homebrew, we were big users of the Nuzzel product before we ever became investors. When Jonathan had the opportunity to raise additional funding, we were appreciative of the chance to participate. Besides our love for the product, we enjoyed seeing Jonathan do “slow tech” - that is, keeping a small team, avoiding the hype, and letting the product win over users. At Netscape, Hot Links and Friendster, Jonathan has seen rocket ships and very easily could create more noise than substance. But anyone who follows him on Twitter knows that his attitude these days is mirrored not only in Nuzzel but in his own critiques of tech culture: pay attention to what matters.

We couldn’t be happier to partner with the Nuzzel team and their other great investors.

Weave Combines Software and Telephony to Deliver Results for Small Businesses

June 13, 2014

A postcard in the mail, with a hand-drawn smiley face if you’re lucky. That’s state of the art for reminding you about your upcoming appointment for most dental practices. Weave is changing all of that – combining the power of customer relationship management software and VoIP-based telephony to enable dental practices to modernize their customer interactions. I t starts with teeth but spreads to many categories of client-service oriented small businesses. Weave’s a perfect fit for our Bottom Up Economy focus and vertical software thesis, here’s why:

WHO: At Homebrew, we get really excited whenever we meet founders who are disrupting their industries with love. And when we met Brandon Rodman, Jared Rodman and Clint Berry, we knew we’d found a team doing just that. Brandon had previously started a business that did appointment scheduling for dentists offices. During that time he saw just how archaic and inefficient dentists offices can be when it comes to managing patient relationships. Hence the inspiration for Weave.

WHAT: Weave combines simple messaging software, VoIP-based telephony service and dental software integration to enable dental practice staff to communicate more easily and efficiently with patients. And it does all of this for the same price as plain old telephony service from the major carriers. Using Weave results in more satisfied and loyal patients, happier staff and improved scheduling for dental practices (i.e., higher utilization). And the dental vertical is just the beginning.

HOW: Weave replaces the old telephony service with its VoIP-based service, including switching out existing telephony hardware. For $300 per month, offices get unlimited lines, text and voice. And with its dental software integration, whenever a patient calls, everything the office knows about him or her automatically pops-up on a staff member’s computer screen. Over 600 offices are live with Weave today and the list of offices waiting to be installed is long and growing fast.

WHY: Brandon and Jared grew up with a dental hygienist mother and Brandon always wanted to be a dentist, but he wasn’t keen on the clinical side of dentistry. But his passion for the industry led him to build a scheduling business, which further exposed him to the inner workings of dental practices. Importantly, Brandon and the team see that technology can provide incredible benefits not just to dentist offices, but to all small businesses that want to have better customer interactions. We’re big believers in this mission and the overarching trend of technology becoming more affordable, accessible and flexible, allowing businesses of any size to reap the same benefits that larger enterprises have for many years now.

We couldn’t be happier to partner with the entire Weave team and to support them in the coming years as they build a stellar SaaS business.

Communications Infrastructure for Mobile and the Web: Who Doesn’t Need That?

May 13, 2014

Sometimes VC math is easy. Take an enormous, complex and lucrative problem. Add an experienced entrepreneur, top technical minds and a talented go-to-market team. Shake well. And DEFINITELY fund!

We’re excited to share Homebrew’s investment in Layer, the open communications platform for the internet. Layer’s founder, Ron Palmeri, announced the financing last week when passing the TechCrunch Disrupt Winner’s Cup to its next recipient (Layer having won it in 2013). Software and services becoming APIs is one key pillar of our Bottom Up Economy thesis, and it’s clear to us that Layer is building an incredibly valuable business in this category. Here’s why we invested in Layer:

WHO: We’ve known Ron since prior to Layer’s founding. In fact, we’re of such similar principles that we even considered sharing office space at one point last year. In all of Ron’s earlier ventures, including Grand Central Communications and OpenDNS, he’s been able to combine an intuitive sense of market opportunity and talent with an incredible work ethic to create innovative solutions to huge problems. That’s why it doesn’t surprise us that Layer has built one of the strongest technical teams in their industry. One of the most recent high profile additions is Andrew Vyrros, who led development of iMessage and FaceTime while at Apple. By the way, they’re hiring.

WHAT: Layer is building an API-based platform that allows any application developer to build voice, messaging and video into his or her product within minutes. As we’ve seen with companies such as Stripe in the transaction space, when you take previously complex, expensive and largely custom infrastructure and reduce it down to a set of reliable and flexible API calls, well, magic can happen. It’s not especially contrarian to bet that app developers will gravitate towards the best tools to power essential, but non-proprietary, aspects of their platforms. We believe communications is one of these fundamental application building blocks, enabling every mobile developer to build app:user and user:user interactions into their products.

HOW: For a company just barely over a year old, Layer has achieved many milestones: assembling a stellar team, launching with an enthusiastic group of beta users and generating an unimaginably long waiting list of people lined up to use their platform. You’ll be hearing much more from the Layer team in the near future.

WHY: Ron has been betting on foundational web technology for almost a decade, having played a founding role in OpenDNS and Grand Central. He has a fundamental believe in the power of technology to enable communication seamlessly and inexpensively for everyone, everywhere. We share his vision and have deep respect for Layer’s mission. Astute observers might note that this was a Series A financing, unusual for Homebrew as our standard operating practice is to invest pre-A. But given our longstanding relationship with Ron and our strong alignment with Layer’s mission, we knew that this was an opportunity we had to pursue. We certainly feel like there’s still tremendous upside for Layer.

It’s with great joy that we are partnering with Ron and team to build an incredible platform company. We can’t wait to see what the world’s developers create with Layer!

Building the “Home” in Homebrew

November 5, 2013

A place where things are being built. That’s what we want Homebrew HQ to feel like, to be. The environment in which teams work is vital to morale, energy and productivity. AirBnB, Google, Square and Twitter are examples of companies that have invested heavily in their office spaces so that employees are comfortable and productive. Importantly, those spaces also reflect the culture of the companies and the products that they are trying to bring to the world.

We think of Homebrew as our startup, currently in the “establishing product/market fit” phase. We’re guided by building the type of firm that we would have wanted to have as investors when we were entrepreneurs and by always asking the question, “Is this the type of fund we would have wanted to take money from?” Accordingly, when we were thinking about office space, we wanted that home to reflect our goals, primarily to create unique value for our partner companies.

After looking at nearly 75 spaces, Homebrew’s, well, home, came online this July. We decided very early on that we wanted our space to be full of like-minded founders. As a result, we offer free desks to not just Homebrew partner companies, but to entrepreneur friends for up to six months. HQ currently houses two partner companies (10 people total) and five other teams with founders previously at Google, YouTube, Twitter and Zynga. That leaves one or two desks open for friends who happen to be visiting San Francisco from exotic places like Berlin or Palo Alto. We’ve already had one “friend of Homebrew” company graduate from the space into their own office. As thanks they made a capital improvement: a wall-mounted Homebrew bottle opener.

Unlike many VC firms, we don’t have offices or lots of staff around. Our space is communal and we sit alongside the entrepreneurs and founders that we host. We try to spend a bit of time each week with the non-partner companies to help them with their startups. We order lunch in for everyone on Mondays and we host Happy Hour on Fridays. We let everyone play DJ on the Sonos. Why? Because we want to create an entrepreneur-friendly startup environment and a place that’s fun for us to come to work everyday. Our days wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without the energy, humor and intelligence of the people we host at Homebrew. And the best thing to see is the meaningful interactions amongst the entrepreneurs. They help each other solve coding problems. They test and provide feedback on beta products. They trade jokes and pop culture references. And they raise a glass every once in a while. We’re grateful to have them as part of our family.

If you’re an investor, you by definition enjoy spending time with entrepreneurs. Think about creating and sharing vibrant spaces to support them. Personally, we’re still hoping one of the larger funds builds a coffee bar-like office with small tables, wifi and a barista! If you’re a startup, consider the benefits of sharing space with other entrepreneurs in your formative stages. If you’re a larger company, think about letting startups use any excess space you have. Physical space matters but proximity to like-minded people matters even more.

We couldn’t be happier with the community that’s been created within our physical space. It’s a special feeling when an entrepreneur walks in, stops, looks around and smiles.

Sunrise, Coffee, theSkimm: How to Start Your Day Right

November 4, 2013

There just isn’t enough time in the day. Between brushing nighttime grit off of your teeth in the morning, sitting through countless, mind-numbing strategic planning sessions all day and squeezing in a late night, caffeine-powered workout, how can you keep up with what’s important and happening in the world right now? If only professional journalists would write helpful summaries of the news you need to know and deliver them to you every morning. You may think it’s a dream, but it’s actually theSkimm, Homebrew’s newest investment. As part of Homebrew’s Bottom Up Economy focus, we love startups that are making information, technology and revenue more accessible to individuals. theSkimm has started with a compelling daily email newsletter, but it will be doing all of those things and much more over time. Here is why we invested in theSkimm:

Who: “Have they really built this enormous audience with just the two of them?” That was the question we asked ourselves after first meeting Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin. The brand, the voice and the audience that they had built in only a year with pure blood, sweat and tears truly took us by surprise. What was even more impressive was the vision that they had for how theSkimm would be a new kind of information services company, brand and habit. Coming from hard news backgrounds at NBC News, Danielle and Carly knew that people were craving news but were having a hard time digesting and engaging it in its current forms. While many had attacked old media by creating new, but more, media, these women saw an opportunity to create a better experience that helped people more easily be better informed.

What: theSkimm is a daily email newsletter that is delivered to your inbox each morning. It simplifies the day’s news headlines in a fun, fresh way so that you’re better informed (and entertained!) when you start your day. But what theSkimm will be is a new kind of information service that will help you begin each day in a more informed, efficient and delightful way while tapping into the routines you already have. If you’ve ever been part of a conversation about some current event and didn’t know what people were talking about, if you’re short on time but still want to be informed or if you just pride yourself on being on top of the news, theSkimm is for you.

How: Carly and Danielle are the editorial (and entire!) team at theSkimm. They’ve developed a voice and brand that clearly resonates with a large audience and they’ve done it while staying true to their hard news roots and fact checking training to develop their own rigorous editorial process. But they’ve done it without bylines, in a way that allows them to add writers while maintaining a single voice and brand. The result of this process is content that entertains, informs and saves you time each and every day.

Why: theSkimm began because as news junkies, Carly and Danielle knew how hard they worked to keep up with the world’s events and how difficult it was for their friends to stay in the know. They also saw that existing media companies were only making it harder to stay informed as they created ever more content and distributed it in ever more places. Although they could have stayed within their traditional roles, rising through their industry’s ranks, Carly and Danielle wanted to build a product that would grow more relevant to its audience each day; a product for their friends – smart, busy people on the go. They quickly proved that it’s possible to creating a more efficiently, informed world. And that’s their ongoing mission.

The Who, What, How and Why of theSkimm are exciting and inspiring to us. We couldn’t be happier to begin living theSkimm life with Carly and Danielle.

UpCounsel Connects Businesses With the Best Lawyers For the Job

October 2, 2013

If you Google “lawyer jokes” you’ll be told there are roughly 18.4 million results, of which we’re guessing very few are complimentary. What UpCounsel realized is that it’s not lawyers who should be the butt of those jokes but the process of finding and working with one. Quality and pricing are traditionally very opaque for a business looking to contract for legal services. The result? The likelihood of higher costs and lower quality work. But use UpCounsel to find legal support and you’ve got expert, affordable assistance and not another “did you hear the one about the lawyer…” UpCounsel help independent lawyers manage their practices and connects them with small businesses seeking legal advice. As part of Homebrew’s Bottom Up Economy focus, we love startups that use technology to help small and medium-sized businesses access resources that were previously expensive and largely available only to larger companies. Here’s why we invested in UpCounsel:

Who: UpCounsel CEO Matthew Faustman was a lawyer at a prestigious firm when he realized that the traditional structure was undergoing disruption. No longer would clients pay for overpriced work from associates. And no longer would the smartest young lawyers want to wait around 20 years to make partner, obsessing over billable hours and not delivering the client service or completing the variety of work which drew them to the profession in the first place. So Matt decided to do something about it and teamed up with his friend (and CTO) Mason Blake to offer an alternative. Not Faustman, Blake & Associates, but UpCounsel.

What: UpCounsel helps top independent lawyers run their businesses and identify new small business client opportunities. Matt and Mason saw the end of the brick & mortar firm, foretold by lawyers who were already striking out on their own. At the same, small and medium-sized businesses were struggling to find, research and request bids from top quality lawyers. Instead of calling their accountant, brother-in-law or college buddy for recommendations, why couldn’t they just go to one place online to connect with the best professional for the job?

How: UpCounsel begins with an expanding suite of software services for independent lawyers, including invoicing and billing management. This “virtual backoffice” helps UpCounsel attorneys replace some of the infrastructure they left behind when they struck out on their own. Businesses looking to hire these lawyers visit UpCounsel and submit details of their legal needs. Lawyers respond, usually within 24 hours, and the hiring business can review ratings, costs and expertise to pick the best professional for the job.

To test this approach, UpCounsel bootstrapped to a California launch of its services. After serving more than 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses over the past 14 months, they’ve established a deep understanding of the marketplace’s needs and are beginning national expansion.

Why: Matt left behind the “safe” path to disrupt his own industry. That perked our ears - sometimes the most disruptive forces come from within. However, this disruption wasn’t tinged with contempt or disdain. We saw that UpCounsel believed lawyers could be heroes to their clients if there were simply better ways to connect to and service them. If you’re going to create the world’s largest on-demand legal workforce, you need to understand the legal profession. Matt and Mason combine an entrepreneur’s willingness to take big risks with a personal commitment to the market they service ─ a killer combination.

We’re excited to support many years of UpCounsel growth and to contribute to the decline in those unfair lawyer jokes!

Shyp Makes Shipping Stuff Simple

September 27, 2013

Styrofoam peanuts. Bubble wrap. Searching for the starting point on the roll of packing tape. Losing time from your business to drop off packages or coordinate pickups. How miserable is the shipping experience? Shyp is more like a teleportation device than a mobile app. You just press a button and poof! Whatever you want to send will be picked up, packaged and delivered. Across town or country. Now consumers, makers and small businesses don’t need a third party fulfillment or logistics service. They just need Shyp, which is why we’re proud to lead the financing round announced today. As part of Homebrew’s Bottom Up Economy focus, we love startups that use technology to disrupt long established markets. Shyp is dramatically reducing friction in shipping and logistics. Here’s why we invested in Shyp:

Who: “These guys are just going to find a way to do it.” That’s what we kept feeling after every conversation with the Shyp team. Early on, Kevin Gibbon and Joshua Scott talked about their quiet customer development work in the Bay Area. But soon they were also telling us about bringing on Jack Smith as the Hustler they needed to complete their Hacker and Designer founding team, hiring a great Operations manager and bringing together an incredible syndicate for the financing round, which we’re thrilled to lead. Homebrew looks for a combination of attitude and aptitude in founding teams. Kevin, Joshua and Jack have both in spades.

What: Solving the First Mile shipping problem for consumers and small businesses is an enormous opportunity. Pickup, packaging and delivery to the appropriate carrier (USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc) is unnecessarily painful. Yet, the First Mile has been an underexamined friction in commerce. Countless hours spent waiting in line or on the phone to coordinate shipping; ecommerce items unordered because returning them is cumbersome; overpaying for yet another roll of packaging tape to seal a box. Large corporations can set up shipping departments or contract out to third party logistics services, but consumers and small-medium sized businesses are left holding the bag (or box). That’s where Shyp comes in.

How: Shyp elegantly solves the three major painpoints of small-batch shipping:

  • Pickup - Using the Shyp mobile app, you can easily request pickup at your home, office or any other location.
  • Packing - Your Shyp Hero arrives promptly, transports your item temporarily in a Shyp container and then offsite, professionally packages your item for shipping.
  • Shipping - Based on where your package is going and how fast you want it to arrive, Shyp will select the best option from a number of national carriers, and off your item goes.

There are some other bells and whistles behind the scenes that make Shyp work, but at the end of the day, they’re taking a frustration and turning it into something you no longer have to worry about. Whether you’re mailing a birthday gift, a dozen eBay items or 25 items a day for your Shopify store, Shyp can help.

Why: Sometimes great companies are built from the scars of previous experience. Kevin and Jack were eBay powersellers who knew all about the challenges of running what was effectively a small business from their homes. When this international trio came together (two Canadians and a Brit), they saw the problem had only increased in magnitude over the years. Combining personal history with keen market insights and a “get it done” mentality, we saw mission-driven founders with a long roadmap in their heads.

As Shyp’s Who, What, How and Why unfolded we were increasingly excited about what Kevin, Joshua and Jack can accomplish. We’re looking forward to many years of success and shipping delight.

Plaid Launches the “Modern API for Banking Data”

September 19, 2013

Homebrew has made several investments since the fund’s inception earlier this year and we’re excited that is the first to publicly announce its financing. Software/service as an API is a key component of the Bottom Up Economy, our fund’s focus. Putting data or unbundled functionality in the hands of developers results in new types of services, faster innovation and more affordable applications. We’ve seen this firsthand via Jeff Lawson, CEO and founder of Twilio, who is an active advisor to Homebrew and its companies. Here’s an overview of our investment thesis for Plaid:

Who: Plaid founders Zach Perret and William Hockey kicked off our first meeting with a question: “What is a transaction?” They then proceeded to dissect this seemingly simple inquiry into a number of arcane and nuanced components. Working together at Bain, both founders spent time in the plumbing of financial services systems. Today, those experiences help them navigate the mishmash of financial data upon which they have developed Plaid.

What: Plaid is the first modern API for banking and credit card data, providing developers with a clean, categorized view of user transactions and account balances. Simple, right? Only in the final output. The input is a hodgepodge of siloed data, bank-specific data formats and a host of other legacy structural issues that make data inputs messy.

A world without Plaid leaves merchants, consumers and marketers fumbling around in the dark to access, structure and match financial data from many different sources.

A world with Plaid enables:

  • A B2B lending application that helps identify early spending indicators for when businesses may default on their loans.
  • Accounting software that does a business’s books for them ‘on-the-fly’ as expenses and income are generated.
  • A nonprofit marketing tool that allows donors to track and understand where their donations go.
  • A tax application that scans historical purchases to identify deductible expenses.

How: Plaid works with banks and other transaction data providers to support consumer-authenticated access to spending data. Next they perform *magic* - scrubbing, standardizing, and adding contextual metadata to the transaction. Data can’t be big or valuable if it’s dirty and siloed. Clean data is then made accessible to developers via a simple RESTful API.

Why: The story of Plaid began with the founders brainstorming a new type of local consumer app. At the design stage, they realized that the data they wanted wasn’t readily accessible. So after acquiring and cleaning up the data that is now contained within Plaid they thought that it might also be exceptionally valuable to other companies. They asked other startups. They asked the largest social local apps. They asked financial services companies. Everyone said “Yes, but where do we get that data? We’d absolutely love to use it.” So Zach and William decided to turn Plaid from an app into an API.

At Homebrew we love companies where the Who, What, How and Why all tell a cogent story. We are thrilled to be a part of the Plaid story and look forward to helping William and Zach build the company that they envision.

Hello from Homebrew

July 17, 2013

At Homebrew we believe in the Bottom Up Economy, the idea that as technology keeps getting cheaper, more flexible, more accessible, it can be increasingly leveraged by customers and industries that historically haven’t been able to take advantage of it. And it’s clear this adoption of technology is happening faster and more broadly than ever before.

Our investment philosophy draws us towards products and platforms are supporting the Bottom Up Economy. This includes, for example, new types of commerce, productivity tools, financial services, labor marketplaces and the future of work. The Bottom Up Economy holds great promise for industries old and new. We’ve made investments in companies that are representative of this trend. They operate across a diverse set of markets, including financial technology, AI-driven software, marketplaces, autonomy, agriculture and aerospace. The common thread is the Bottom Up Economy - technology democratizing access to information, products and service, customers and revenue without requiring the specialized skills, substantial resources and significant time needed in the past. These companies also have key characteristics that we look for in our investments: strong network effects, rich data assets, scalable go-to-market strategies and long-term defensibility.

Homebrew’s Focus

Why does Homebrew have a focus on the Bottom Up Economy? It’s a combination of our personal experiences, a conviction about the investment potential of the theme and the nature of Bottom Up founders.

  • Personal Experience: We’ve each spent nearly 25 years working on and investing in these concepts. For Hunter, Second Life, AdSense and YouTube were all about putting tools in the hands of people to help them build audience, community and economic returns from their creativity. And as both an operator and venture capitalist, Satya helped bring products that empowered individuals and small businesses to the mainstream, including AdSense and Twitter. We voted with our feet even before we started voting with Homebrew dollars.
  • Investment Thesis: Growing, profitable companies control their own destinies, and that’s what we hope to help founders build. The transition from a Top Down to Bottom Up Economy will create many innovative companies that will lead their industries for years to come. We also believe that as software eats the world, leaders in every business vertical find themselves facing “buy, build or partner” decisions with innovative upstarts. This dynamic creates fantastic strategic opportunities for founders in countless industries - retail, financial services, transportation, business software, media, etc. - as every leader and company will be paying attention to new companies disrupting their markets.
  • Founder Mentality: We’ve observed that Bottom Up founders are disproportionately mission-driven in their work. Their business models rely on creating real, tangible value for their customers. They believe the problems they solve are empowering people. We believe that being mission-driven is a competitive advantage for an entrepreneur. Mission-driven founders are better recruiters - they can explain the “why” not just the “what” and “how” of their vision. Their convictions make them better leaders, and their employees more loyal, through the ups and downs of startup life. Their passion adds energy to every room and every team and carries them through the ups and downs of building a company. And we just plain like hanging out with them.

Come Talk to Us

If you’re building a startup for the Bottom Up Economy please come chat with us. If you want to work at a Bottom Up Economy, let us know. Want to discuss how the Bottom Up Economy is going to change your existing successful company? Yup, contact us. Interested in debating our thinking - actually, especially if you want to debate - please get a hold of us.

Homebrew is open for business.

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