Requests for Startups: Romain Lavault (Partech Ventures)

Romain is a General Partner at Partech Ventures — a venture capital firm started in 1982 based in San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, with $500M funds currently in active investment phase at seed, early and growth stages. Romain started his career as a rocket scientist (for real!) before launching a machine learning SaaS startup operating in the US and in France (acquired by public company DSY.PA in 2011). He focuses on seed and early stage opportunities and serves on the boards of AlephD, Alkemics, Evergig, ISKN, Kartable, Lima, Lucky Cart, Pleek, Pricing Assistant, Pleek, Sketchfab and Vodkaster.

What startup verticals interest you most right now?

  • Connected Health: It always amazes me that in this digital era, Google, your phone carrier and your bank know more about you than your doctor does. Turns out the experience of getting diagnosed (and getting a personalized prescription, if any) still feels very much old school and trial-and-error to me. I am actively looking for startups that can leverage the wealth of information available across our connected devices and put it to use for medical purposes. It doesn’t have to be super high tech as there a lot of things our smartphone already captures, provided we can link it to something meaningful for a doctor (pretty sure that our stress level is directly correlated to how often we check our email). We have seen disruption in the booking/scheduling part of the process but the actual diagnosis can greatly benefit from giving the doctor (and any other sort of intelligence — see next topic) a 360 view on the patient and her/his recent biometric evolution. We now know how much data a phone or a smart watch can collect. Let’s put this to good use!
  • Artificial Intelligence: When I started as an Entrepreneur 15 years ago, AI was an anti-buzzword and total turn-off for VCs (fortunately Partech was bold enough to fund us anyway). Fast forward 15 years later, AI is becoming mainstream but not as a standalone project. The purpose is now more important than the tool. Computing power and commoditization of machine learning / language processing techniques are setting the stage for a new generation of AI-powered apps in Consumer and Enterprise verticals. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a real conversation-grade virtual assistant before year-end, achieving 50% or more through Turing test (HER anyone?).
  • Cybersecurity: This is not a new topic and we have been making investments in this area already but this is now high on the list of governments, CIOs, and even consumers. Getting your phone or computer hacked is very annoying but most of the time not dramatic. Now, getting your Tesla hacked while in autopilot mode can be much more serious. Think also about wearable (or worse implantable) security or the lack of robust protection for your bitcoins. There are threats for which we used to be protected in real life (with locks, alarms, safe, 24/7 monitoring and even guns), but for which we are totally vulnerable in digital life. The race taking place between hackers and white hats to take control of the Internet of Things (and of our lives) creates a new generation of strategies and technologies, from which a number of great startups are emerging.

What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?

  • The Uber of Ubers: now that Uber has opened its api and the app can be summoned by 3rd party apps, we will see a new flurry of startups encapsulating Uber (or any other Uber for X) inside new services, such as last-minute hotel/restaurant/show reservation with Uber transportation included. That will allow us to repackage online services with optional/included on-demand services.
  • First mainstream blockchain-powered marketplaces emerge. The Ubers and AirBnBs of the world have recreated monopolies by forcing all transactions to go through their platform (allowing them to take a 20% cut in the process). Blockchain marketplaces will be by nature decentralized and may have to invent new business models where transactions are free but users pay for extra services.
  • A new video streaming compression technique emerges and becomes the norm for mobiles (given how fast the bandwidth demand is rising, I would add that this is also desperately needed).

Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?

I’d be pretty excited if someone could re-invent the model of paid software in the Enterprise. Google is an extremely powerful piece of software that you don’t have to pay for. There are a number of Enterprise apps that could follow the same model. Targeting has become extremely powerful and Enterprise users represent a premium audience advertisers could pay for. Most software don’t cost more than $1 per day per user. This is much less than what advertisers would pay to access this premium audience (could be highly targeted pre-roll and display campaigns). Of course, this would totally be based on opt-in but could be highly tailored.

This has been tried a long time ago, before SaaS and before programmatic advertisement. I’d say this is worth a new try now: let’s call that software-as-a-media!

If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?

Sometimes I wish I could pause time whenever I want, whether this is to better apprehend a true moment of happiness with my family or just to catch up on work at the 25th hour.

This is why all innovations that buy us or save us time are so successful.

If you have a startup or you’re interested in any of Partech’s portfolio companies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Romain’s team directly at analysts@partechventures.com.

If you think there’s someone we should feature in an upcoming issue, nominate them by sending us an email or tweet. Alternatively, if you have startup ideas, submit them here.

Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund. This issue was curated by Isaac Madan and Shaurya Saluja.