WEVR, still going big after 15 years — why we invested
At boldstart, we are enterprise seed investors. Given that, you may ask, why WEVR? Simply put WEVR is a SaaS platform for VR, similar to many platform plays in the enterprise space, write once, run anywhere, portability, etc. However, there is much more to our investment, one that goes unseen but important to know. When we led the seed in WEVR in early 2014, it was all about the founders, Scott Yara, Neville Spiteri, and Anthony Batt and our relationship with them. Working with and backing great founders going big has been core to the boldstart ethos from day one and continues to be a driving force in what we do today.
Act I — Metapa
I first backed the team in 2000 when they were first time entrepreneurs and started a company called Metapa (media to all places). It was a platform play and their vision was to be an infrastructure layer to help large media companies turn their physical assets (music, books, movies) to digital ones, serving as a layer to distribute those assets to any device in any format. Sound familiar??? The company came out of the gate strongly but one year later in 2001, we hit the wall — financing went dry and the company had to reinvent itself. They had a huge vision but unfortunately it was not to be.
Unfortunately Neville and Anthony left as they felt the future direction was not a fit and they went off to do some amazing things! Neville led teams on the forefront of digital effects, real time graphics and animation at great companies like Wave Front, Digital Domain, Square and Electronic Arts. Anthony stayed true to his passion of working with community and art going to found BuzzMedia and working with Ashton Kutcher on the Katalyst Network. Scott stuck with Metapa and turned it into Greenplum, one of the first big data infrastructure companies. We continued working with him throughout and ended up selling for a healthy exit to EMC (now Pivotal — read here for an in-depth view on Greenplum).
Through the tough times we all learned a ton about each other, startups, and the importance of timing, being too early is painful and being too late is a nonstarter. I vividly remember 9/11/01 as we were in our board meeting and just stopped and more importantly focused on the television to understand what was happening. I ended up spending the week in LA, unable to return back to NYC, and we had lots of time to hang out. We became lifelong friends that week even though we were about to pivot the company and go in different directions.
Act Two — Enter WEVR, 14 years later
I remember the day in March 2014 that Scott reached out and said he was in the city and wanted to come by with Neville. They walked in with a suitcase, metallic silver, quite reminiscent of what someone from the CIA or a James Bond movie would carry. They opened it up and out came the oculus. All along I am thinking what is this????
And then boom, theblu — the aha moment, an insane virtual scuba diving experience. And then the vision of the future…platform, network, fragmented market and Neville saying not just for the big boys but in a few years for creators too. And of course nothing was built :-) yet. And then, the one slide that got our team excited:
Yes, looking at that landscape was daunting — it was an ambitious vision and nothing was built, except for theblu where they understood the pain that creators would have in delivering their content on VR. In addition, it was unclear how many different devices or operating systems there would be since Oculus was just bought by Facebook only days before our meeting. On the surface, it would be easy to dismiss that slide as a wild-ass dream and impossible to pull off. However, I felt as if it was a continuation of their initial vision for Metapa of platform agnostic delivery of amazing content for anyone morphed for the new era. Given my history with the founders, there was no doubt in mind that if this world would come to be, there would be no better team to back than these guys.
My partner Eliot thought I was nuts!
“There is no code, its in Venice Beach — what are you thinking.”
“Trust me, these guys know what they are doing,” I said.
Eliot went to Venice Beach a few days later and was wowed, there were tons of engineers writing compiler code and that was that — he was convinced they could build it but it would take awhile. Abatt riffed with Eliot on the importance of VR, and why a platform was important not just for the professional content creators but also for the user generated world (early for that but will come). That is when VR will truly be unleashed.
So we dove in head first and led their first institutional round and brought in Sang Ahn and Samsung as co-investors and strategic partners. (Sang worked closely with me back in the Greenplum days so it was awesome to bring the band back together to finish what we started!)
2 Years Later — Why I love Seed VC
Well done guys (Scott Yara, Neville Spiteri, and Anthony Batt)! New markets, VR Network, Platform = transport — this is why I love what i do. $25mm closed from HTC, Samsung and other amazing investors. Dreaming big. Ideas become reality. Working with founders like you — for 15 years. Keeping us young. Having fun. Changing the world or at least trying to…Just hope we aren’t too early like last time :-)