What we’re looking for in 2018 as an early stage venture fund
This year feels like a seminal year for the technology industry. As we face issues around diversity, impropriety and controlled access, we also stand on the precipice of major breakthroughs in a whole range of often overlapping areas, from machine learning and artificial intelligence to cryptocurrencies and decentralised financial and legal infrastructure, right through to the mechanisms of capital raising and funding itself.
Every new development creates major opportunities — solving new problems, or using new technologies to better solve old problems.
Since launching in 2013 we’ve invested in so many great teams across a range of industries, from fintechs such as Assembly and Spaceship, to wearables, saas to IoT security. We are unapologetically broad in our focus, but one thing ties all the companies together — we back outstanding and ambitious teams solving genuine problems that enhance the way we, as a society live and work.
As we head into 2018, there are a few themes we are particularly excited which we thought were worth sharing. Having said that, it’s our job to back you’re vision (not vice versa) so this is by no means an exhaustive list.
1: Communication and collaboration
- Enhancements to how people, organisations and machines interact and communicate. This includes mixed reality, as well as communications protocols, tools and devices.
We’ve never lived in a noisier time. There’s an never-ending flood of news, emails, social media updates and app notifications. Cutting through this noise effectively is a huge challenge.
We’re also encountering a growing communication challenge as automation and intelligent softwares become more powerful and prominent in our day-to-day work. So we’re very interested in anything that makes communications easier between people, between people and machines/software, as well as enabling different softwares and machines communicate more effectively.
It’s an area we know well, through my time at Jajah, as well as investments in Stackla and TigerPistol.
2: The future of work
- To be successful, businesses of the future will organise very differently, and embrace new tools and practices to attract and retain the best talent, drive and deliver innovation and operate with greater efficiency.
The future of work is constantly evolving, but it’s about to get a jolt as automation and AI software really start to make their impact felt. This means every organisation will be defined by two critical factors — the quality of their technology or automation, and the quality of their people.
As workplaces become more high-tech and standard AI ubiquitous, it will be the humans who sit over the top that are the powerful differentiator. This includes the people who design the software and bridge the gaps in between its output, those who provide the front line servicing, those with the strategic and creative insights to define new industries and service models.
This also provides news challenges and opportunities for individuals to carve out their own careers and ventures like never before.
This is a theme we’ve been investing in for a long time, as the first fund to invest in Expert360 and also in Mentorloop. Work is draining and disappointing for so many people, and even the best workplaces need to constantly improve, so companies in this space are only just getting started.
3: Automation and intelligence
- Platforms that enable/deliver better, faster/automated decisions and actions
We’re at an inflection point in AI development, but there is a lot of misuse of the term and the hype. The risk for AI and ML startups right now is what is clever, backable AI today can easily become hard to defend in a few years, given the pace at which the sector is moving.
We suspect first mover advantage in this space (like many) is vastly overrated. So our particular interest is in the AI or ML startups that can acquire and wrangle proprietary data early, as these can build very interesting and highly sustainable moats around their business. That’s the early mover advantage we’re interested in seeing.
Our interest in intelligence and automation covers both software or hardware. PredictiveHire and PredictHQ are both great examples of companies we have invested in that are building powerful intelligence-driven platforms.
4: Logistics and transportation
- People and goods will still need to be moved. Current solutions remain archaic and inefficient so we’re interested in the next modalities and systems.
We’re actively seeking startups that will transform logistics and transport, two massive industries ripe for a shake up and already rippling as tech-enabled disruptors enter their space.
This space in particular poses big questions about what the future of human life looks and feels like. How cities will look, how we move around, what impact drones and autonomous vehicles will have (on transport and life), how infrastructure will need to change and what new approaches to it could produce.
There is a lot of exciting work already happening in this space. One company already in our portfolio is Sendle, which is finally providing Australians an alternative to an inefficient monopoly.
5: Trust and fidelity
- Beyond crypto, blockchain and decentralisation in general, platforms that enhance trust. Trust (human and digital) will be a major new frontier.
There is a lot going on but we’re only at the beginning of Crypto, blockchain and decentralized trust systems: 10 to 15 years means very little in the rise of revolutionising tech, such as railways, electricity and as well as telegrams and then telephones.
Decentralisation and distributed ledgers are relatively new, and already generating a lot of interest in how they could transform trust and fidelity. We’re particularly interested in startups that are exploring how tech could enable these fundamental human values, whether it’s through confirming providence, enabling verification or validation or identity management.
- Bringing meaning and usability layers to technology and the blending of digital and physical
The rise of the internet and connected devices has been a massive and boisterous transformation, and one in which almost everyone lent into making everything as systematic and technical as possible.
But people are still humans, and the more meaningful and usable a technology is, the better it will fare. And this is a space we’re really excited about. There is a growing body of technology companies focused on better connecting people and growing empathy.
In our own portfolio, one such company is Mentorloop. It’s a great example of how technology companies can have transformative impact on how people work and operate by encouraging genuine connection, empathy and shared purpose.
7: Efficiency and utilisation
- Improvements to how we generate and use our resources. This includes energy as well as well as agriculture and food production, right through to the sharing economy and building automation
The world is not just changing in a digital and technical sense. The planet is also undergoing enormous and escalating change as climate change continues. These changes will redefine many of our longest surviving technologies, such as those around energy, food production and agriculture.
8: Connectivity and security
- The world will become more connected than ever and there are real opportunities and security concerns inherent in this.
Cybersecurity will never stop being a challenge for the world, and it will remain a fascinating area for technology founders (and investors). It’s a key area of ours, especially as the way the internet is used and accessed evolves beyond computers and phones and into everyday devices and even our own bodies.
The internet of things segment of the technology industry has been pumping out exciting innovations for years now, but the industry and systems that will lead to an even more hyperconnected world is still in its infancy and full of exciting opportunities.
We’ve already backed one exceptional company in this space with Cog Systems, which secures IoT. But the security and connectivity space is enormous, and we’re looking forward to backing many more companies in this sphere.
9: The picks and shovels
- Everything that helps all this be built better, higher quality, tools and systems (with credit to Matt Allen who has helped popularise the expression)
We are excited about those companies building the tools that enable people to build, quickly, efficiently, accurately, intelligently.
We’re in the middle of a human capacity revolution, powered by internet enabled technologies, its scope unseen since humans became unique in our ability to store information outside of our bodies.
Over the next ten years we’re going to encounter an already rising wave of unprecedented changes. We’re looking to back the companies that will be at the front of this, either directly or by enabling it to happen by building the infrastructure, networks or communications tools to make it work.
- VC funds and founders need to take active steps to create a more diverse and inclusive community of companies.
This isn’t an industry so much as an industry-wide problem in the world of technology and business that we believe needs to be addressed if any business — and humanity — wants to achieve its full potential.
Last year, we were particularly focused on seeking out more founders who are women, and have put in place a number of processes and solutions to ensure we are part of the movement to open the technology ecosystem up more broadly. These efforts will continue this year, but diversity and inclusion include so much more than gender.
This year we’ve made a commitment to seeking out and amplifying the companies that come to us that aren’t launched by straight white guys. We’re working hard to ensure we’re as open and inclusive as possible to people from every gender, cultural background, class, able-bodied or those with disability, and sexuality.
As I said earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive list. So if you’re working on any of these areas, or solving other major problems that impact how we live, work and interact, we’d love to hear from you. It’s never too early to start the conversation with us.