Same Companies, Different Impressions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVenture capitalists are a lucky lot. Their work is prestigious, the pay can be exceptional, and they’re educated daily by smart entrepreneurs.

One job hazard, however, is missed opportunities. For example, many in Silicon Valley passed on Uber, one of the fastest-growing companies on the planet. (To his credit, Uber’s hard-charging CEO, Travis Kalanick, appears to have talked to everyone before the company raised its first round.)

You might wonder now how so many investors missed Uber’s potential, but the reality is that finding the Next New Thing is a lot harder than it looks. Indeed, last week at the “demo day” of the incubator program AngelPad in San Francisco, one could find many savvy investors making radically different calculations about the same companies.

PeopleGoal, a New York-based startup whose performance management software aims to wring the best out of employees, captured the attention of Josh Breinlinger, a venture partner at Sigma West who was among the earliest employees of the freelance marketplace ODesk. “That’s one of two that really stood out to me,” he said after the companies’ presentations.

Hiveary, an infrastructure monitoring platform, and TapFwd, a big data mobile ad platform, were more interesting to Niko Bonatsos, a principal at General Catalyst Partners who said he liked the technology behind both, as well as that both seemed like they were addressing “real problems in hot markets.” Of Hiveary, in particular, Bonatsos said, “If you talk to enterprise [software developers and IT departments who collaborate to speed the deployment of new applications and services], they will describe that they need a solution for this problem.”

Meanwhile, Paintzen, a marketplace for home and office painting, stood out the most to Manu Kumar, the founder of the seed-stage venture firm K9 Ventures, one of the earliest investors in the ride-share service Lyft. “It just feels like an industry that’s ripe for disruption,” said Kumar, who especially liked the team’s argument that it can eventually expand into other verticals, including flooring, cabinets, and windows. “If they can go after those other areas, they can scale,” said Kumar.

Breinlinger made the same point separately. “If Paintzen can do the same thing they’ve done for painting for other home services, I think it becomes really interesting,” he said.

But Bonatsos was less impressed with Paintzen. “It sounds interesting. They make [arranging a paint job] very easy. I don’t know how big the market is, though. It’s one and done; it’s not frequency. How often do you paint your house?”

Asked about the other verticals that Paintzen wants to pursue, Bonatsos said that “to me, that’s not a good sign” that Paintzen is pursuing a big-enough market from the get-go. “The numbers [the founders] gave out – [a] $10 billion [market] for painting in the top metro areas. Well, let’s say they capture $1 billion out of the $10 billion, and their piece is 30 percent. It’s a $300 million market for them. That’s interesting,” said Bonatsos, “But it’s not like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

(For a full tearsheet of AngelPad’s newest batch of startups, click here.)

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