• True Ventures Just Led a $12 Million Investment in Still-Stealth Brava

    team_portraitIf you’re curious to learn about the latest investment out of San Francisco-based True Ventures, you’ll have to be patient. Though the firm is disclosing that it has led a whopping $12 million Series A round in new startup Brava, details about the startup are scarce.

    What we do know: Brava is a new IoT company that plans to create a suite of domestic hardware and software products, beginning with a kitchen appliance that aims to make cooking easier. It also just brought aboard John Pleasants as CEO.

    If that name is familiar, it’s because Pleasants has led a number of digital media companies over the last couple of decades, including as co-president of Disney Interactive Media Group, COO of Electronic Arts, CEO of Ticketmaster, and most recently as an EVP at Samsung.

    Pleasants also spent a year as the CEO of Playdom, a social gaming company that was acquired for $563 million by Disney in 2010 (thus Pleasants’s role there). It was at Playdom where he met Brava cofounder Dan Yue, who went to high school with Brava’s other cofounder, Thomas Cheng.

    Yue was Playdom’s chief product officer and headed to Disney with Pleasants after the sale, logging a couple of years with the entertainment giant as an SVP of product. Cheng meanwhile cofounded the smart parking company Streetline and recently spent a year as the head of hardware at August, the smart lock company.

    Oh, and if you’re wondering where True Ventures fits into all of this, the firm sold an earlier portfolio company, social gaming startup Hive7, to Playdom back in 2010 and got to know Pleasants then.

    We had the chance to talk with Pleasants yesterday about Brava, which quietly came together about a year ago.

    More here.

  • How Many Tech Companies Break Out Each Year? And Where?

    breakout cosIn recent years, it’s become the conventional wisdom that roughly 15 companies each year go on to produce all the returns in venture capital. Marc Andreessen was the first to make a very public case for the approach, citing the research of Andy Rachleff, who cofounded the venture firm Benchmark and who today teaches at Stanford and is the executive chairman of the investment firm Wealthfront.

    “Basically, between roughly the mid-‘80s and the mid-2000s—a good cross-section of time across a couple of different cycles—what [Rachleff] found is that there are about 15 companies a year that are founded in the tech industry that will eventually get to $100 million in annual revenue,” Andreessen told me when Andreessen Horowitz was closing its first fund in 2009. “His data show that they [account for] 97 percent of all public returns, which is a good proxy for all returns. So those are the companies that matter.”

    Rachleff’s reasoning explains much about how Andreessen Horowitz has operated from the start. Persuaded by the rise of Andreessen Horowitz, Rachleff’s research has also found its way into the thinking of every other top and second-tier venture firm (not to mention many hedge funds and mutual funds).

    Interestingly, it’s hard to prove whether or not Rachleff’s findings still apply to today’s market. He never published the research, which he’d prepared for a speech. And he lost all of the data when his computer’s hard disk crashed in 2006, he once told me. When earlier this month, I asked him if he thinks today’s winner’s circle has changed in size, given falling startup costs and more ubiquitous broadband penetration (among other factors), Rachleff politely offered that he didn’t have time to explore the topic.

    There is, of course, the oft-cited research of Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures, who looked at breakout companies last year and concluded that just four “unicorns” — or tech companies that go on to be valued at $1 billion or more — are founded each year. But Lee’s much newer dataset centered on U.S.-based tech companies that were launched in January 2003 and afterward. And comparing “unicorns” to tech companies that produce at least $100 million in revenue isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison.

    Unfortunately, Lee didn’t respond to a recent request to discuss whether her findings and those of Rachleff are complementary or at odds. More recent research suggests that Rachleff’s research holds up, though. In an 11-page paper written last year, economist Paul Kedrosky found “there are there are, on average, fifteen to twenty technology companies founded per year in the United States that one day get to $100 million in revenues.” He added that the “pace at which the United States produces $100-million companies has been surprisingly stable over time, despite changes in the nature of the U.S. economy.” (It’s highly remarkable, in our opinion.)

    Kedrosky added that the biggest “hidden changes” in the way U.S. tech giants are created is where they are founded, suggesting that if investors with big funds are going to chase after breakout companies, they’d be smart to cast a net far beyond Silicon Valley. Indeed, according to him, of the 15 to 20 tech companies to break out each year, just four, or 20 percent, are now founded in California, “usually.” In the 1990s, meanwhile, California’s share of $100-million technology companies was roughly 35 percent.

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  • A Young VC Resurfaces with His Year-Old Startup: Spruce

    RayBradfordEvery month, a few startups that enable patients to consult with doctors without visiting their offices seem to emerge from nowhere. It’s no wonder. According to the research firm IHS, revenue from these so-called telemedicine companies could hit $1.9 billion in 2018, up from $240 million last year. That shift owes largely to the Affordable Care Act, which is pressuring doctors to help drive down costs, but it’s also easy to imagine that a growing number of doctors likes the prospect of practicing medicine from anywhere, at any time.

    Some companies, like Teladoc — which just raised $100 million from investors — have begun partnering with insurance companies like Aetna and Blue Shield of California to offer subscribers telemedicine services as an added benefit in their coverage. Others like venture-backed HealthTap and Doctor on Demand, both of which offer live videoconferences with doctors, are going straight to consumers.

    A year-old company, Spruce — founded by former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Ray Bradford and launching publicly today — has a slight twist on the latter model. The 11-person, San Francisco-based company is debuting a mobile app that enables patients to pay $40 to consult with doctor but doesn’t give them instant care. Instead, users log on to the app, provide details about their specific condition, and receive a response from a board-certified physician within a day. (If a prescription is required, that information gets forwarded on to the pharmacy of the user’s choice.)

    It doesn’t sound terribly revolutionary, but as Bradford explains it, the market opportunity makes up for a lot. “The majority of healthcare will be tech enabled and delivered via mobile devices. If you think about size of market and volume of doctors, you start to appreciate what a massive shift this will be, and we think the trend is just getting started.”

    Earlier this week, we chatted briefly about Spruce, which is first targeting patients with acne problems but plans to expand into other ailments once it nails down its act.

    Why acne first?

    Fifty million Americans have acne. It’s not just a teenage problem. Most doctors visits are by adults. Meanwhile, the average wait time to see a dermatologist in the U.S. is 30 days, so the majority of people settle for over-the-counter solutions.

    Why not employ videoconferencing, as are many other telemedicine startups?

    It’s more convenient. Both the patient and doctor are doing things on their own time. If you’re on the clock with a doctor [Doctor on Demand customers pay $40 for 10 minutes or so with a physician, for example], maybe I can’t share everything I want to share. Likewise, the [offline] doctor is answering my questions, rather than going through the motions of collecting information in a rote way.

    You left Kleiner to start this company in August of 2013. How much have you raised and will you be in the market again soon?

    We raised $2 million in seed funding from Kleiner, with participation from Baseline Ventures and Cowboy Ventures. We raised it later last year [so we’re not raising again just yet].

    You spent a couple of years as a VC and you worked previously in product development at Amazon Web Services. How do those experiences inform what you’re doing now?

    The biggest way is seeing the importance of picking a big market, and you don’t get a much bigger market than healthcare.

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