StrictlyVC: July 21, 2016

Happy Thursday! Our good friend Semil Shah brings you today’s interview as Connie spends some time offline. (This afternoon’s project has to do with sea glass. We try not to ask too many questions.)


Top News in the A.M.

The Department of Justice just shut down the biggest torrent site in the U.S.


Ludlow Ventures’s Jonathon Triest on the Importance of Being Nice

By now, you may well have heard of Ludlow Ventures, a young, early-stage venture firm in Detroit that seems to punch above its weight. Indeed, the firm’s first fund closed with just $15.5 million in late 2014, yet its investing team — partners Jonathon Triest and Brett Brett deMarrais — have managed to make an array of interesting bets, in Detroit, New York, L.A., and elsewhere. Among them: the organic meal delivery service Sprig, the product discovery service Product Hunt, the wireless power startup uBeam, and the heads-up display maker Navdy.

We caught up with Triest recently to talk about Ludlow’s approach.

You’re based in Detroit. What’s the advantage of living outside of the Bay Area? What’s the disadvantage, and how do you address it?

My job depends on getting to know the most talented entrepreneurs; first. Most of the founders we work with live thousands of miles from Detroit, which makes my job interesting. It forces me to be creative, find unique ways to get founders’ attention, and stay on top of who’s building what/where. In our early days at Ludlow, offense was our only access to deal flow. While we’re now fortunate to have substantial inbound deals, though we’re [still] at our best when on the hunt.

You and your team have built a reputation for finding interesting founders and deals in the consumer space well before investors who are physically closer to those young teams. Without revealing state secrets . . . actually, please reveal them!

Super simple. Be a really good friend to the people you invest in. I’m shocked at how many VCs cannot, for the life of them, personally connect with the founders they invest in. C’mon VC dudes and dudettes; get your S%^$ together. The best deals are referrals from people you’re working with or have worked with in the past.

It also doesn’t hurt to scour Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook, etc., for people expressing unhappiness at their current job [and shoot them a note]. “You’re awesome. Here’s my phone number when you decide to start your own company!”

What’s a particular space within consumer tech or networks that excites you?

I scour the Steam store every day to see what new VR games/software were released. I download nearly all of them and take them for a ride. As a consumer, I’m having a blast losing myself in poorly rendered environments. We have a small office, so I’ve nearly broken my arm dozens of times while trying to bash zombies’ heads in.

As an investor, I’m scared out of my mind at how slow I believe the consumer uptake will be.

In the context of early-stage investing, what’s something that you believe that isn’t necessarily a popularly held point of view?

Two things, actually. That social intuition and empathy are the strongest qualities of early-stage founders. And that a founder’s ability to hire his/her first employees is the best predictor of success. If you have enough smarts and passion for what you’re building, you’ll likely be able to attract and retain others. If you can’t effectively communicate why you’re doing what you’re doing, others won’t be able to either. You might as well go spend your time f’ing up zombies in VR.


New Fundings

Brandcast, a four-year-old, San Francisco-based startup that enables marketers and designers to build mobile-friendly sites without having to write code, has raised $13.9 million in Series A funding led by Shasta Ventures, with participation from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Correlation Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

Deposit Solutions, a five-year-old, Hamburg, Germany-based fintech startup that’s focused on the European retail deposit market, has raised €15 million ($16.5 million) in new funding, including from Valar Ventures, FinLab and Greycroft Partners. Business Insider has more here.

Doppler Labs, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based wearable tech company that makes a wireless listening system, has raised $24 million in fresh funding led by The Chernin Group. VentureBeat has more here.

Indigo, a two-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based ag-tech startup that leverages genomic sequencing and computational bioinformatics to identify microbes vital to a plant’s health, increase nutrient intake, and improve water use efficiency, has raised $100 million in new funding led by the Alaska Permanent Fund, with participation from Flagship Ventures and other numerous other, unnamed investors. Fortune has more here.

Inkbox, a year-old, Toronto-based company whose tattoos last two weeks, has raised $1 million in seed funding from a list of angel investors that includes actress Alison Sweeney and reality TV show host Jeff Probst. TechCrunch has more here.

MyWish Marketplaces, a seven-year-old, New Delhi, India-based online financial product marketplace, has raised $15 million in fresh funding from Franklin Templeton. TechCrunch has more here.

N-of-One, an eight-year-old, Lexington, Ma.-based precision medicine oncology decision support company, has raised $7 million in Series B funding from Providence Ventures and Excel Venture Management. TechCrunch has more here.

Omise, a three-old, Bangkok, Thailand-based payment enabler much like Stripe, has raised $17.5 million in Series B funding led by SBI Investment of Japan, with participation from Sinar Mas Digital Ventures in Indonesia, Thailand’s Ascend Money, and earlier backer Golden Gate Ventures. Omise has now raised more than $25 million. TechCrunch has more here.

Redis Labs, a five-year-old, Mountain View, Ca.-based open-source data structure store, has raised $14 million in Series C funding co-led by Bain Capital Ventures and Carmel Ventures, with participation from earlier backers Silicon Valley Bank and Tamar Ventures. TechCrunch has more here.

ReviewTrackers, a four-year-old Chicago-based customer feedback platform, has raised $4 million in fresh funding led by American Family Ventures. The company also secured a $2.1 million debt facility from Square 1 Bank. FinSMEs has more here.

Stardog, an 11-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based enterprise data unification platform, has raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Core Capital and Boulder Ventures. More here.



Seattle-based technology company Impinj priced its IPO of stock last night at $14 per share, the high end of its expected range. The company, which provides radio frequency identification technology, sold 4.8 million shares, raising $67 million before expenses. The stock began trading today on Nasdaq under the ticker “PI”. Those shares are currently trading above $16 apiece.



Online travel agency Expedia has acquired Trover, a six-year-old, Seattle-based app and site where people share their travel photos. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. According to CrunchBase, Trover had raised $2.5 million in seed funding, including from Benchmark, Concur Technologies andGeneral Catalyst Partners. TechCrunch has more here.

MasterCard is acquiring roughly 92 percent of VocaLink, the tech giant behind the UK’s ATM, direct debit, and major mobile payments networks, for $1.14 billion in an all-cash deal. TechCrunch has more here.



Airbnb has brought aboard former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to help curb discrimination on the platform.

Elon Musk plans to steer Tesla towards fully autonomous driving, car sharing, and cargo transport, according to a company post about its “master plan.”

Snapchat cofounder and CEO Evan Spiegel is now engaged to Australian model Miranda Kerr.

Reminder: renowned investor Peter Thiel is addressing the Republican convention tonight. Here is why reporter Kara Swisher predicts his speech will be about himself, not Silicon Valley.



Goldman Sachs Investment Partners is looking to hire an analyst. The job is in New York.


Essential Reads

America wants to believe China can’t innovate. Tech tells a different story.



The best fast foods, picked by the world’s top chefs.

How tennis balls are made. (Video.)


Retail Therapy

Quench your thirst and meet your local SWAT team at the same time(?).


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