Pillar 2016: 8 Months. 10 Unstoppable Founders.
We launched Pillar on May 2, 2016 with a clean slate and a new idea: to build a firm that truly aligns interests and gives entrepreneurs the support they need to build the next generation of big technology companies — “pillar” companies.
Clean slate, blank page, ground zero…any way you slice it, we had a lot to build. Our first eight months have been filled with a flurry of activity. Sarah Hodges joined as a Partner to help connect our founders with the mentorship and capabilities they need to scale. We welcomed Rob May, CEO of Talla, as a Venture Partner, deepening our focus on AI. We partnered with MIT to host Boston’s first Machine Intelligence Summit, bringing together a group of leading researchers, innovators and investors to explore the next frontier in machine learning.
But most importantly, we’ve made ten investments in ten unstoppable founders: Desktop Metal (Ric Fulop), Edgewise (Peter Smith), Simbe (Brad Bogolea), Kite (Adam Smith), Rekener (Alex Laats), LBRY (Jeremy Kauffman), Talla (Rob May), Pill Pack (TJ Parker), Kuebix (Dan Clark) and Path AI (Andy Beck).
We haven’t made these investments alone; in founding Pillar, we joined forces with 16 world-class executives as our co-founders. We wanted to do more than just invest together, we wanted to leverage their their insight and experience for our portfolio companies. Eight months in, we’ve been delighted by their involvement (most are busy running their own companies!), and we’re seeing the strength of this model at work.
Jeremy Hitchcock, founder of Dyn, helped us fuel an exciting opportunity with our portfolio company, LBRY. He joined as a board member and strategic advisor, and now meets with the company’s CEO, Jeremy Kauffman, on a weekly basis. Corey Thomas, CEO of Rapid7, joined cyber security startup, Edgewise, as an advisor, working closely with the company’s founder, Peter Smith. We’re seeing results across the board, as our co-founders partner with our portfolio founders as mentors, board members, strategic advisors, and customers.
In most cases, we’ve been the first capital in for each investment — not the first institutional capital, the first capital. We know we can make the biggest impact by aligning with founders from the very beginning, helping them flesh out the story, validate concepts with customers, recruit additional key team members and build the right syndicate. We’re not just focused on getting to the next round; we’re focused on building market leading companies — from day zero.
Rekener, a new startup created by serial entrepreneur Alex Laats, is a great example. Alex worked with us throughout the summer, fine tuned the proposition through conversations with prospective customers — many of whom are run by Pillar Founding CEOs — and closed a successful seed round of $3M (with co-investors Accomplice and Founder Collective). The team is already gaining impressive traction with enterprise customers and in creating a BizOps movement.
Meeting with hundreds of dedicated founders over the last few months has only served to strengthen our belief that machine intelligence could be as revolutionary over the next 20 years as the creation of the internet has been over the last 20. Machine learning has already begun to disrupt healthcare, finance, education, manufacturing and transportation. Robots, autonomous vehicles, IoT and bots are transforming how we live, work and create. That’s why we’re so passionate about how Kite is using machine learning to connect developers with real-time programming knowledge. Why we’re so bullish on the robots Simbe deploys in retail stores to take inventory and provide analytical insights to both retailers and consumer packaged goods companies. It’s why we believe Talla will use bots to transform the way enterprise companies manage workflows. And why we couldn’t pass up the chance to get involved with PillPack, a company using robotics to sort and deliver medications to your door, and one of Boston’s up and coming “pillars”.
As we reflect back on our first few months, the experience has helped us fine tune who we are, and who we are not.
We are deeply invested in our community, and believe Boston has the talent, resources, and experience to lead the next wave of innovation. We aim to align with our companies, our founders, our investors in everything we do. We aspire to be the partner of choice for ambitious founders building world-changing companies. From the very beginning.
It may sound corny, but we really are grateful to those who have joined us on this journey — to our 16 co-founders, our Limited Partners, our portfolio founders, and to the community around us for having the conviction to join us in paving a new way. We have much yet to prove, but 2016 couldn’t have been a better start.