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Better, Faster Legal Help for Businesses: Our Follow-on Investment in UpCounsel

December 12, 2014

A founder once told us that early stage startups are like “pushing a boulder up a hill” and that their job was to get “more hands on the boulder.” Team members who believe in the mission. Customers who vote with their dollars. Press who will magnify the story. And investors who provide cash and assistance.

Homebrew put our hands on UpCounsel’s boulder in 2013, believing the world’s largest law firm could be a virtual marketplace, helping businesses connect with high quality lawyers for projects or ongoing work. And we’re thrilled with the progress they’ve made, including surpassing 1,000 customers and building a healthy multi-million dollar runrate. So when UpCounsel’s founders decided to raise additional funding and accelerate their growth, we were more than supportive.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Metamorphic Ventures and Crosslink Capital, who led the new round, to the team. We feel very luck to have more hands on the boulder as UpCounsel continues to create a vibrant B2B marketplace that delivers significant value to both lawyers and businesses. On up the mountain, UpCounsel!

Q: Running a Business Is Hard. Running Your Office Shouldn’t Be

November 19, 2014

If you’re a small or medium-sized business, there are more tools than ever to help you manage virtual operations: from payroll and benefits administration to accounting to technical infrastructure. And increasingly, all of those services are available via the cloud, to be monitored and run via PCs or smartphones. Yet somehow managing the physical infrastructure of your office is still a mind-numbing, time-consuming chore. It no longer needs to be. Meet Q. Q provides office cleaning and other smart services to help your office operations run smoothly – all delivered via an iPad that’s installed for free in your office.

WHO: When we met Daniel Teran and Saman Rahmanian, we knew immediately that we had encountered kindred spirits. Product-oriented founders with a vision that embraced the opportunity for business and individuals to benefit from the creation of a service that redefined a painful, existing experience. Daniel and Saman had worked together at Pre-Hype, inventing new products in partnership with larger corporations, before going off on their own. What excited us most about their vision for Q is the belief that blue collar work should provide the same opportunities and benefits as white collar work, making it possible for workers (called Operators at Q) to earn a truly living wage with a liveable life and career. That means giving Operators an exciting career path, predetermined and reasonable work schedules, standard health benefits and more. This perspective has allowed Q to build an incredible early team.

WHAT: Q has built an iPad-based control center that is installed in offices for free. From there, office managers and employees have complete control and visibility over the products and services that make their offices hum. Today, Q provides cleaning services, handymen and basic office supplies. But imagine all of the physical and digital third-party services that an office needs and you can envision the future for Q.

HOW: Since launching early this year in New York, Q already manages over 1 million square feet of office space. Q offers a simple, efficient, cost-effective way to manage the services that are critical for any office environment. Q will be launching in additional markets starting early 2015 and will be adding additional services later in the year.

WHY: Daniel and Saman’s inspiration for Q came from their personal experiences trying to manage cleaning and other services for their apartments. Saman even served on his apartment’s maintenance board and quickly discovered how broken the process is for management of physical space. They both realized that in many ways the process is even more agonizing for commercial offices, and importantly, for Operators. They knew they could build something that was better for everyone – and we couldn’t agree more.

Q lets any business save time and money when it comes to office management, and that’s why it fits squarely within our Bottom Up Economy thesis. We’re proud to have led the seed round financing in Q and support Daniel, Saman and the Q team as they pursue their mission of making office management less expensive, less time-consuming and less unpleasant for everyone involved. Sign up to be notified when Q launched in your city.

Chime: The debit card that works for you

November 4, 2014

Debit cards, not credit cards, are the dominant mass market choice for American consumers. In fact, nearly 65% of card swipe transactions in the US are completed using debit cards. So why does it cost people money to spend with their debit cards when using credit cards earns people rewards? Sometimes a simple question can lead to powerful idea. And a powerful idea combined with a stellar team is investment gold. That’s what Homebrew encountered when we learned about Chime last year. We met an experienced team building a financial services product for the more than 2/3rds of Americans who use debit cards and get stung by monthly account fees, overdraft fees, ATM fees….you get the point. Today, Chime is announcing its Series A financing led by Crosslink Capital, a firm with deep experience in financial services. Here’s why we invested last year during their previously unannounced seed financing and again in the Series A:

WHO: Chime was co-founded by Chris Britt, CEO, and Ryan King, CTO. Chris knows the debit card business cold from his time at Visa, where he led the General Purpose Prepaid business, and Green Dot, where he held Chief Product Officer and SVP Corporate Development positions. Ryan King is an experienced technologist, having served in various engineering roles at Plaxo, including COO and VP Engineering, before leading Comcast Silicon Valley as CTO. Chris and Ryan each has lead and scaled large organizations and as a pair are uniquely suited to build Chime.

WHAT: Most of us in Silicon Valley use credit cards that earn us points, cash back, miles or any number of other rewards. Yet debit cards are still the preferred form of non-cash payment for most Americans, with over 283 million active debit cards in circulation today and each card used an average of 18 times per month. Unfortunately, debit cards actually cost the people who use them because of the various fees that banks charge. Chime has created a card with all of the advantages of debit combined with the benefits typically associated with credit cards. And it’s tied to a mobile app that puts all of the rewards and account functionality at the user’s fingertips.

HOW: By recognizing and jumping on recent regulatory changes and integrating deeply into the transaction process, Chime has created a more cost effective debit card with a rewards experience that is completely seamless. Just swipe the Chime card at a partner merchant for instant cash back and a mobile notification of savings. In addition, the Chime mobile app allows consumers to manage their accounts, track where and how their money is spent and better understand their financial situation.

WHY: One of the fundamental beliefs we have at Homebrew is that technology will increasingly save people time and money. This belief is core to our Bottom Up Economy thesis. Chris and Ryan founded Chime because they share this belief and know that current debit card products are hindering rather than helping consumers. They saw the opportunity to put a better product in the wallets and on the phones of tens of millions of consumers. People often think of “smart payments cards” as pieces of plastic packed with technological wizardry. But the smartest card is one that solves a real mass market problems - helping consumers get more with their money.

We’re thrilled to partner with Crosslink and our prior co-investors, PivotNorth and Forerunner Ventures, to support Chime as it continues to build financial products that make shopping for yourself and your family less painful. You can get your own Chime card by signing up here or by downloading the iOS or Android mobile apps.

Abacus: Say goodbye to expense reports

November 3, 2014

Who doesn’t hate expense reports? And after the agony of filling out a report, why does it take weeks to get reimbursed for your expenses? Enter Abacus. Abacus turns the process of expense reimbursement into something as simple as taking a picture and hitting send. And it can be used by businesses and teams of every size without any administrative overhead. A perfect example of a Bottom Up Economy startup enabling individuals and businesses to get more done in less time and with less pain. We got to know Omar Qari, Ted Power and Josh Halickman over the course of a year and during that time they continually impressed us with their insights and execution. When Bessemer and General Catalyst agreed to lead a large seed round it was a no-brainer for us to join the syndicate in a supporting role. We’re really excited to be partnering with one of the up and coming companies in the New York City technology ecosystem.

Reserve: Reimagining the dining experience

November 3, 2014

Reserve is a new mobile application that focuses on making every part of the dining experience better for both restaurants and diners. Too many companies in this space exploit one side to service the other. Restaurant margins, already thin, are cut deeper. Or consumers struggle to find the dining experience they desire. Reserve is different. It integrates reservations, loyalty and payment into a single, well-designed system which stops making technology a bitter appetizer for the hospitality industry. At Homebrew, we’re excited to play a supporting role in their recently announced financing. We’ve known Garrett Camp, Joe Marchese and Greg Hong for many years. Along with their incredible team, they blend ideas, design, and hustle into an unstoppable combination. We’re proud to support them as they make the dining experience as memorable as the food. Reserve is available today in New York, Boston and Los Angeles with additional markets coming online shortly. You can download the free Reserve iOS app here. Fast, Easy Setup of Engineering Development Environments

October 21, 2014

Engineering development environments set up in 30 seconds or less. That’s the initial product promise from the team behind Working with the team was an easy decision for us because it was clear that this was a group of people that we will want to work with many times over the coming decades. In addition, given our belief that technology is increasingly allowing individual developers to accomplish tasks that were historically the domain of specialists or that required significant monetary resources, it was easy to get excited about the vision. Lastly, the fact that we get also get to partner with a strong technical team based in New York City, our second core geography, was the cherry on top. We’re excited to lend our support alongside a long list of notable investors in Bowery’s seed round.

Curbside Zigs to Pickup While Others Zag to Delivery

October 7, 2014

You know how at college you earn a degree by committing to and excelling in a small number of classes per semester that are required for your major? But sometimes there’s a class or professor that’s really compelling but your schedule is too busy or the class is at capacity so you just decide to audit it on the side?

Well, if you followed that potentially confusing metaphor then you may understand why we’re excited to share that Homebrew played a small supporting role in Curbside’s recent financing. After getting wind of its business earlier this year, we met with Curbside CEO, Jaron Waldman, to learn more. We were impressed by his vision and the strength of the team, a group of entrepreneurs that had sold their previous companies to Apple. With Curbside, they were getting together to pursue a unique take on the on-demand economy: pickup, not delivery.

Alas, Homebrew writes its checks at the seed stage and Curbside was already raising a larger A round that was almost fully closed. So we did what all opportunistic, scrappy VCs do. We asked to participate in a small way and made a case as to why both Curbside and Homebrew would benefit from the relationship. Jaron agreed and today we join Index and other investors in celebrating the team’s Series A milestone.

Welcoming our newest Homebrew Advisors, Tracy Chou and Roy Sehgal

September 23, 2014

When advising startups, we preach “Teach, don’t just tell” and in building our initial group of Homebrew Advisors we focused on people who haven’t just achieved, but also instructed, mentored, managed and inspired. Technologists who aren’t just comfortable on stage, but most importantly love, being shoulder to shoulder with coworkers and entrepreneurs. Since we started the fund early last year, these advisors have voted with their time and energy to assist Homebrew founders in building their startups.

Our plan is to add new advisors over time based on our evolving relationships and the needs of the teams we back. We’re excited to add two more wonderful, accomplished and talented friends to the Homebrew family.

  • Tracy Chou - Tracy is a tech lead at Pinterest and previously the second engineering hire at Quora. She has also been at the forefront of cultural issues, helping to push large tech companies to start reporting their metrics around workplace diversity. We first got to know Tracy via Code2040, a Bay Area nonprofit helping to close the access gap for Black and Latino/a engineering students in the Valley.
  • Roy Sehgal - Roy’s career spans significant operating roles in the digital and mobile entertainment industries, most recently as a VP at Zynga. In addition to advising our founders on a range of growth, business development and monetization questions, Roy is going to be another pair of eyes and ears for Homebrew in the New York market. When we started Homebrew, we hypothesized that New York would be our second core geography and we’ve validated that hypothesis by backing a number of “best built in NYC” startups. Roy and Satya went to Penn together and were reconnected via the Zynga mafia.

Thanks Tracy and Roy for taking the leap with us and to our current Advisors for their continued support!

Homebrew Advisors

TrueAccord: Saving the World from Seedy Debt Collectors

September 2, 2014

Investors alway preach ‘persistence’ to founders but it’s a quality that is required of VCs as well and one which earned us a supporting spot in TrueAccord’s seed round. Homebrew was introduced to CEO Ohad Samet late in their financing process. In fact, it was already pretty much complete given Ohad’s previous relationships with Khosla Ventures, Max Levchin and others. But we quickly became fast friends and were excited to play a small role in backing Ohad and team.

Who: Ohad is an impressive guy when it comes to financial technology, having previously held founding and leadership roles at a host of companies such Fraud Sciences (acquired by PayPal), Signifyd and Klarna. It’s this experience, along with his team, that gave us confidence in the audacious vision he had to transform the historically insidious world of consumer debt collection.

What: As Wired magazine proclaimed, “This Startup’s on a Mission to Save Us From Seedy Debt Collectors.” The TrueAccord team believes there’s an opportunity to help both consumers and merchants by creating a more friendly, efficient debt collection system, one which uses data and personalization to collect owed monies rather than abrasive dinner time phone calls. TrueAccord provides debt collection as a service so, for example, a large online marketplace can contract with TrueAccord to collect on its behalf in exchange for TrueAccord keeping a small percentage of what it recovers.

How: Data science! Machine learning! Behavioral economics! Basically, TrueAccord utilizes a combination of data intelligence and behavioral psychology to provide debt collection as a service to merchants, banks and any holder of consumer debt. They use a variety of information to solve two problems. First, what’s the right offer and message to deliver to a consumer to help them pay their debt. Second, which of these consumers should the merchant continue to service. Too often one episode of indebtedness can cause a business to completely write off a customer. If you think this sounds interesting, they’re hiring.

Why: At Homebrew we believe the entire financial services industry is especially fertile ground for improvement via software. In the case of TrueAccord, the debt collection industry is one in which both sides of the transaction - the consumer and the merchant - can benefit. The only people who suffer from TrueAccord’s success are the increasingly outdated debt collectors who buy their inventory for pennies on the dollar and then employ a wealth of old-fashioned (and sometimes illegal) tactics for collection.

Congratulations to Ohad and team for the momentum to date. We’re excited to support this mission!

Chain: Scalable, Secure Blockchain Infrastructure for Everyone

August 28, 2014

There’s no question that Bitcoin has captured the imagination of many, including technologists, investors and increasingly, the general public. People are also growing more aware that Bitcoin is “just” an application of the blockchain, a transaction ledger utilized by all participants using the Bitcoin protocol. The startup Chain makes it easier to build Bitcoin applications, including non-financial applications, on top of the blockchain. Here’s why we invested:

Who: Chain Co-founder and CEO, Adam Ludwin, is an investor and entrepreneur who we’ve known for several years. When Adam left his job as an investor to start the company that would later become Chain, Homebrew had not yet been created. But when Adam decided to focus the company on a new opportunity related to the blockchain, we knew we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to work with Adam and the Chain team.

What: Chain is building an API-based platform that makes it easy to build Bitcoin applications and not worry about the underlying infrastructure. These applications can go far beyond the cryptocurrencies that have been developed to date. The Chain API will enable innovation in identity, contracts, reservations, physical asset distribution and many other applications. We believe that providing the tools and infrastructure to democratize development of Bitcoin applications is fundamental to supporting the burgeoning Bottom Up ecosystem that is evolving around the protocol.

How: Chain already supports various Bitcoin applications and has built a robust platform that quickly, securely and scalably interacts with blockchain data. If you’re interested in the challenging engineering problems that Chain is tackling, they’re hiring in San Francisco.

Why: At Homebrew, we believe in a Bottom Up economy, one which gives developers increasing ability to build applications in a distributed fashion. API platforms that allow software engineers to focus on adding unique value, not recreating infrastructure, are a key efficiency. Adam and the Chain team certainly believe this to be true and we’re thrilled to be a part of helping them build a transformative company that will enable even greater innovation by financial institutions, governments, enterprises and developers. Bitcoin as a currency is only the beginning. We’re eager to see what else can be developed with the underlying protocol and the blockchain.

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Packages: Our Follow-On Investment in Shyp, the Easiest Way To Ship Anything

July 16, 2014

Founding a startup is like starting to push a boulder up a hill. First the founder’s hands on are it. Pushing hard. Then you get a team, customers, partners. You’re convincing more and more people to push with you. Our early investment Shyp is announcing they’ve added some skilled new investors to help them push. Last September we led their seed round financing and now we’re excited to continue our support in their $10 million Series A round. The boulder is moving up the hill.

What is Shyp? They’re the best way to send anything - whether you’re a consumer returning that pair of shoes you didn’t like; an eBay seller or Etsy maker avoiding hours spent dealing with packaging; a small ecommerce retailer who can’t afford to dedicate time and energy to become a logistics specialist; or an office manager, marketing rep or salesperson that has more important work to do than find the start of the packaging tape roll. Today Shyp is available in San Francisco and next up is New York City (sign up here to be notified of their east coast launch).

Shyp’s announcement details some of the fantastic growth they’ve seen in the product and business this year, which are large parts of this momentum, but honestly when we reflect on the last 10 months of working with Joshua and Kevin, there’s something else which has impressed us even more: the quality of the team. Having started with a core group at the time of funding, Shyp has since attracted engineers, designers and operations talent from companies like Airbnb, Groupon, and TaskRabbit. They’ve done this not by creating a lot of noise in the press or trying to tout cutesy perks, but by offering a killer combination of a great mission, great work, great culture and great career and economic upside. By the way, they’re still hiring.

So congratulations to Team Shyp on this milestone and to Sherpa Ventures for leading the A Round!

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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