Image via the boston globe

United We Stand

Announcing Rough Draft Ventures’ investment in Mark43

This isn’t your average investment announcement in so many ways.

On April 15th—exactly three months ago to the day—the city of Boston stood together against one of the most gruesome attacks in the city’s history.

It’s hard to imagine an entire city on lockdown. It’s hard to imagine a citywide manhunt that ends in a shootout with police on a normally quiet residential street. And yet the Boston community dealt with all of this with valor and poise.

When I first saw the photo above, I stared at it for minutes. In the seconds after the attack, with smoke in the air and runners on the ground, Boston police went into crisis mode. They ran towards the noise and shrapnel to help rescue hundreds of people. It’s a terrifying thought, overruling human instinct. And yet every day, thousands of police officers run towards gunshots to keep communities safe.

It is those same police officers that Mark43 helps each day.

Image courtesy of Salon Magazine

I first met Scott Crouch in my freshman summer. He was heading up mobile development for Rover and I was working on my own startup, so we shared an office space. From the first time we played Mario Kart together late at night, it was clear Scott was going places. He was one of the most helpful mentors I had as I tried to navigate the Harvard engineering scene, telling me what classes would be helpful and giving me career advice. But he was even more helpful when I showed him what I was working on—it was clear he had foresight and product vision that was uniquely advanced for a college student.

Over time, Scott and I saw more of each other. I was placed into Leverett House, one of Harvard’s 12 undergraduate houses, which Scott also lived in. We both helped the Harvard Innovation Lab in its early days, helping to build its website and a lot of its technical infrastructure.

A demo of Mark43's software filmed by 60 Minutes.

Fast forward to this year, when Scott and his co-founders Matt Polega and Florian Mayr were prominently featured in a 60 Minutes special for their work in a Harvard design seminar. (Go ahead, watch it now—it’s a far better primer on Scott’s company than I could ever give. Scott’s part goes from about 07:30 to 09:30.)

Mark43 makes mobile software for police officers that helps departments communicate and spot trends in criminal activity, especially gangs.Their systems organizes disparate data sources to help law enforcement officers reduce gang violence and other violent crime. When it was used by the Special Projects Team of the Massachusetts State Police in Springfield, it reduced the time spent on paperwork by 90%.

Seeing the 60 Minutes special on the company had to be one of the proudest moments I had for Harvard engineering. College campuses are inundated with clones of small ideas—new social networks or blogs that are fun side projects but can’t really scale to the point of impact.

Scott was working on something with huge impact. Police officers were thanking him for the code he was writing.

That’s impact.

A few months ago I ran into Scott on the way back to my dorm. When I asked him how his work was going, he mentioned the three-person team would be expanding quickly over the summer to multiple cities. I asked if he was raising money and he mentioned he would need to soon. He wasn’t out on the street looking for money, but he realized that to create the company he wanted and to expand to as many cities over the summer as he wanted, he would need further funding.

(In case you’re reading this and still question the need for student-run VCs, I hope the above convinces you that other students can be huge assets for student founders.)

I immediately emailed Peter Boyce and Nitesh Banta, also at Rough Draft, and told them if there were any startup we needed to fund this year, it was Scott’s. Even before they were on 60 Minutes or won the Harvard President’s Challenge, Peter and I knew how hard Scott worked and how much of a leader he is. The following week, we brought Scott in to pitch to Rough Draft.

Today, I’m proud to announce Rough Draft’s investment in Mark43. We invested back in May to help support Scott and his team as they moved to 3 new cities this summer to roll out their software in police precincts and on the field.

But I’m not just announcing Rough Draft’s investment. I’m also announcing Mark43's hugely successful seed round, co-led by General Catalyst and Spark Capital with participation from Lowercase Capital, SV Angel, Launchpad LA, and a handful of angels from the Boston community.

Mark43 was founded in a Harvard design seminar. It was a class project. Harvard engineering is on par with all the conventional “engineering schools.” Three students created a company that hundreds of police officers now use every day.

And they’re just getting started. Scott, congrats bud. You’re making a real difference, and I can’t see what you do next.

You can visit Mark43 at their website, and learn more about Rough Draft Ventures here.