“More than 50% of our founders still are in their current jobs,” said John Vrionis, co-founder of seed-stage fund Unusual Ventures.
The fund, which closed a $400 million investment vehicle in November 2019, has noticed that more and more startup employees are thinking about entrepreneurship as the pandemic has shown how much room there is for new innovation. To gain a competitive advantage, Unusual is investing small checks into founders before they’re full-time.
Unusual, which cuts an average of eight checks per year into seed-stage companies, isn’t doling out millions to every employee who decides to leave Stripe. The firm is conservative with its spending and takes a more focused approach, often embedding a member from the firm into a portfolio company. It’s not meant to scale to dozens of portfolio companies a year, but instead requires a methodical approach.
One with a healthy pipeline of companies to choose from.
In an Extra Crunch Live chat, Vrionis and Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor and the firm’s newest partner, said lightweight investing matters in the early days of a company.
“There were a lot of teams that needed capital to start the journey, but frankly, it would have been over burdensome if they took on $2 or $3 million,” Leary said. “[New founders] want to be in a place where they have enough money to get going but not too much money that they get locked into a ladder in terms of expectations that they’re not ready to take advantage of.” The checks that Unusual cuts in pre-seed often range between $100,000 to half a million dollars.
Leary chalks up the boom to the disruption in consumer behavior, which opens up the opportunity for new companies to win.
The Unusual Ventures team has investments spanning the consumer and enterprise space, including Robinhood, AppDynamics, Mulesoft, Winnie and more. That short list could be the basis for a fascinating chat, but I also want to hear their thoughts on the democratization of venture capital, their appetite ahead of the election and the future of remote work. A big goal of mine is to squash some of the buzzwords we hear on tech Twitter so we can get an honest take on where one VC firm is sitting right now in a chaotic year.
As we wrote last week, this year has been everything but business as usual for the venture and tech community. And we still have an election ahead of us! I’ll ask Leary and Vrionis to share their framework for working through a looming event such as a presidential election and get their ideas on how early-stage is working more broadly.
Thanks to all of you who have joined us for our ongoing live chat series, which has brought on big names in tech such as Sydney Sykes, Alexia von Tobel, Mark Cuban and more (all recordings are still accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers to watch and learn from).
If you’re new, welcome! You’ll be able to ask our experts questions live as long as you’re an EC member (sign up for Extra Crunch here).
Come hang, bring snacks and prep some good questions. We’d love to have you.
Below are links so you can make it:
This year has been everything but business as usual for the venture and tech community. And we still have a presidential election ahead of us.
So, why not listen to the aptly-named experts over at Unusual Ventures? Partners Sarah Leary (co-founder of Nextdoor) and John Vrionis, formerly of Lightspeed Ventures Partners, will join us on Tuesday, October 20 on the Extra Crunch Live virtual stage.
Thanks to all of you who have joined us for our series of live discussions that has included tech leaders like Sydney Sykes, Alexia von Tobel, Mark Cuban and many others (all recordings are still accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers to watch and learn from).
If you’re new, welcome! You’ll have a chance to participate in the live discussion if you have an Extra Crunch subscription.
Unusual Ventures’ investments span the consumer and enterprise space, including companies like Robinhood, AppDynamics, Mulesoft and Winnie.
For this chat, I plan to spend some time talking to Leary and Vrionis about how early-stage venture capital has changed with the rise of rolling funds, community funds and syndicates. Unusual Ventures claims “there’s an enormous opportunity to raise the bar on what seed-stage investors provide for early-stage founders,” so we’ll get into that opportunity as well.
And if we have time, we’ll discuss remote work, building in public and the U.S. presidential election.
So, what are you waiting for? Add the deets to your calendar (below the jump!) and join me next Tuesday.
Grid AI, a startup founded by the inventor of the popular open-source PyTorch Lightning project, William Falcon, that aims to help machine learning engineers more efficiently, today announced that it has raised an $18.6 million Series A funding round, which closed earlier this summer. The round was led by Index Ventures, with participation from Bain Capital Ventures and firstminute.
Falcon co-founded the company with Luis Capelo, who was previously the head of machine learning at Glossier. Unsurprisingly, the idea here is to take PyTorch Lightning, which launched about a year ago, and turn that into the core of Grid’s service. The main idea behind Lightning is to decouple the data science from the engineering.
The time argues that a few years ago, when data scientists tried to get started with deep learning, they didn’t always have the right expertise and it was hard for them to get everything right.
“Now the industry has an unhealthy aversion to deep learning because of this,” Falcon noted. “Lightning and Grid embed all those tricks into the workflow so you no longer need to be a PhD in AI nor [have] the resources of the major AI companies to get these things to work. This makes the opportunity cost of putting a simple model against a sophisticated neural network a few hours’ worth of effort instead of the months it used to take. When you use Lightning and Grid it’s hard to make mistakes. It’s like if you take a bad photo with your phone but we are the phone and make that photo look super professional AND teach you how to get there on your own.”
As Falcon noted, Grid is meant to help data scientists and other ML professionals “scale to match the workloads required for enterprise use cases.” Lightning itself can get them partially there, but Grid is meant to provide all of the services its users need to scale up their models to solve real-world problems.
What exactly that looks like isn’t quite clear yet, though. “Imagine you can find any GitHub repository out there. You get a local copy on your laptop and without making any code changes you spin up 400 GPUs on AWS — all from your laptop using either a web app or command-line-interface. That’s the Lightning “magic” applied to training and building models at scale,” Falcon said. “It is what we are already known for and has proven to be such a successful paradigm shift that all the other frameworks like Keras or TensorFlow, and companies have taken notice and have started to modify what they do to try to match what we do.”
The service is now in private beta.
With this new funding, Grid, which currently has 25 employees, plans to expand its team and strengthen its corporate offering via both Grid AI and through the open-source project. Falcon tells me that he aims to build a diverse team, not in the least because he himself is an immigrant, born in Venezuela, and a U.S. military veteran.
“I have first-hand knowledge of the extent that unethical AI can have,” he said. “As a result, we have approached hiring our current 25 employees across many backgrounds and experiences. We might be the first AI company that is not all the same Silicon Valley prototype tech-bro.”
“Lightning’s open-source traction piqued my interest when I first learned about it a year ago,” Index Ventures’ Sarah Cannon told me. “So intrigued in fact I remember rushing into a closet in Helsinki while at a conference to have the privacy needed to hear exactly what Will and Luis had built. I promptly called my colleague Bryan Offutt who met Will and Luis in SF and was impressed by the ‘elegance’ of their code. We swiftly decided to participate in their seed round, days later. We feel very privileged to be part of Grid’s journey. After investing in seed, we spent a significant amount with the team, and the more time we spent with them the more conviction we developed. Less than a year later and pre-launch, we knew we wanted to lead their Series A.”
The venture capital world is rapidly changing, and thank heavens we have two of the smartest VCs on the future of investing, productivity tools and remote work joining us today to make sense of all the noise.
On Extra Crunch Live today, Sarah Cannon and Nina Achadjian, two VC partners based in Index Ventures’ SF office, will talk about these subjects and more. Plus, we will be taking questions from the audience, so come prepared. Login details are below the fold for EC members, and if you don’t have an Extra Crunch membership, click through to sign up.
As I wrote when we announced the slate last week:
First, we have Nina Achadjian, who officially joined Index Ventures several years ago out of the firm’s SF office and was promoted to partner earlier this year. Achadjian has been searching for and investing into some of the most interesting new collaborative companies that are rebuilding the enterprise from the ground up (which happens to have been a brilliant move given our remote-work world this year). Her investments include such companies as product-management service productboard, sales performance platform Gong, executive assistant marketplace Double and real estate services platform ServiceTitan.
Second, we have Sarah Cannon, who joined Index in 2018 from CapitalG, and who is also based officially out of SF. Cannon made a splash earlier this year with her bullish bet on note-taking and team productivity wunderkind Notion, and has also invested in productivity tools like collaborative presentation software Pitch and smart team messaging app Quill.
Join us today at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT/6 p.m. GMT.