A Wearables Startup Playbook

ChalkboardFew sectors have received as much buzz as the wearables market. From fitness bands and anklet baby monitors, to smartwatches and Google Glass, wearables are fun, cool, and cutting-edge.

The rise of mobile broadband, commodity sensors, smartphone-based companion apps, virtualized manufacturing and supply chain, crowdfunding, and nimble design have converged to make wearables mainstream. With the category now validated as a strategic hotspot for all major corporations and platforms, investors are clamoring to fund wearable tech startups.

In 2013, investors poured $458 million into 49 wearable company deals, according to CB Insights. Year-over-year, deal activity in wearable startups rose 158 percent, while funding grew 80 percent. Companies like Thalmic Labs, InteraXon, Soundhawk, Misfit Wearables, Fitbit, Jawbone and Rest Devices have recently raised significant rounds.Continue Reading

Artisanal Cheese, Cocktails … Now the Artisanal VC?

Reno Martin/Shutterstock

Reno Martin/Shutterstock

Most venture investors say they are hands-on, but now some are taking it a step further and calling themselves “artisanal” VCs. What does this term really mean? Is it just a pretentious moniker that fits into today’s world of “handcrafted” $5 coffee and $4 toast? Or is there actually a new movement happening in the venture community?

While the term “artisanal” may be a bit overhyped, I would argue there is a real change afoot in the early-stage venture industry. There is a curiosity on the part of some VCs to focus on being a part of fewer, higher-quality, handcrafted companies. Investors like myself are now applying the same type of “craftsman” passion and care to help nurture companies from their earliest stages.Continue Reading

5 myths about the marketplace that mobile strategies busted

mobile-786x305In the era of mobile, social, and the sharing economy, we’re seeing the emergence of next-gen mobile-enabled marketplaces in every ecommerce category, from fashion (Poshmark), to health (Brighter and HealthTap), lodging (Airbnb and HotelTonight), transportation (Uber and Lyft), and real estate (Zillow).

However, we have noticed that several conventional wisdoms surrounding marketplaces are getting disrupted. It’s important to constantly question traditional assumptions whenever new platforms arise, as it’s these disruptions which incumbents often fail to adopt, leaving room for innovative startups to spring ahead in new land-grab opportunities.

Mayfield recently hosted a Mobile Marketplaces dinner with leading entrepreneurs, which yielded several insights.

Myth #1: Online marketplaces have no offline component

Many of the newer service marketplaces feel more like “movements” rather than “businesses,” and actually require very careful architecture of the end-to-end experience both online and offline, including areas such as culture and workflow.

“Mobile is a foundational part of the Airbnb experience. When you travel, you are constantly on the go, so being connected to your mobile device might be your only digital lens into the world,” says Shaun Modi, designer at Airbnb. “How do we design and build a world-class mobile experience that not only satisfies the needs of our users, but fuels growth and inspires more people to join the Airbnb global community? It all starts with culture.

“By focusing on designing our internal culture, it seamlessly translates to the experience we create, both online and offline. Everything from the layout of our office, design principles, team structures, and interview process definitively reflects who we are.”

Modi also says startups should invest internally to inspire employees to have empathy for each other and for their customers.Continue Reading

A ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ approach to venture capital

Silver liningThe venture capital industry is getting rightsized, with less capital raised and deployed, smaller funds, fewer active venture capital firms, and more regulation. The exit climate has picked up, but is still not at the level required. And valuations are overall more rational, with some exceptions at the later stages or in consumer-facing momentum companies.

However, with the confluence of not one but four big market drivers (discussed below), and the rise of a new technology cycle,  we think this is still a great time to be a venture capitalist or entrepreneur.

Recent VC industry data released by the NVCA confirmed the reality of a welcome flight to quality and rightsizing trend. Key findings include:

  • In 2012, the VC industry raised $20 billion vs. the almost $100 billion in 2000;
  • 92% of this capital went to existing managers (vs. first-time managers) and 48% went to 10 large firms;
  • Overall, about 522 firms are estimated to be active, and some believe this number even lower closer to 100 defined as firms that have made at least 4 investments over the last year;
  • The median fund size for 2012 was $150 million, and the overall deal pace has come down to slightly over 750 investments per quarter;
  • Although some momentum companies are being bid up, valuations are trending lower overall according to Dow Jones Venture Source data.Continue Reading

Rules of the Road for the Era of Simplicity, Mobile and the Social Web


SocialI have been involved in the technology industry for 20 years as a serial entrepreneur, corporate executive and investor. There are some key rules of the road that have guided my journey and these are especially relevant in the current era when the social Web is dominant, mobile platforms are ubiquitous and consumers are demanding simplicity. As an entrepreneur, I believe that living by some core beliefs is key to leading teams and building companies that last. Here are a few of my fundamental beliefs, illustrated with examples from the entrepreneurs that we are working with.

The Customer is Queen:

Actively listening to your customers and rapidly iterating to reflect customer needs has never been so important. From a vendor of cloud-integrated storage appliances to a mobile fashion marketplace, Mayfield Fund entrepreneurs like Ursheet Parikh and Guru Pangal of StorSimple and Manish Chandra of Poshmark, who constantly listen, react and respond to customer feedback, are finding a quick path to customer engagement.Continue Reading

Navin Chaddha Shares Mayfield View on Marketplaces

SocialThe U.S. e-commerce market is estimated at $200 billion and is still projected to account for only 9 percent of total retail by 2016 (source: Forrester Research Feb. 2012 U.S. Online Retail forecast). We believe there is ample room for growth, and much of it will come from marketplaces. The metaphor of online marketplaces, established by Amazon and eBay starting in 1995, has endured and is flourishing once again – but in a different way than in the past. From an investor point of view, four things have changed:

The Rise of Vertical: The e-commerce market is large enough to support vertical marketplaces that super-serve consumer needs and are defying the “winner take all” theory that eBay or Amazon will be the only game in town. These vertical marketplaces have tuned the user experience to very specific needs by vertical and are easier to achieve liquidity due to their focus. Examples include Homeaway (vacation rentals), Etsy (niche artisan goods), and OpenTable (restaurant reservations).Continue Reading

Non-gamers, here’s why you should care about games

gaming1As an early investor in social gaming, I’m often speaking on panels to audiences of gamers, investors, and game company execs. At one such event —  the Future of Media conference hosted by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business — the opening question was why gaming is relevant to people who are not gamers. The panelists — folks from IGN, Activision, GaiKai, and Riot Games as well as myself — gave some interesting reasons for why non-gamers should care about the game market:

Gaming has gone mainstream: Many sub-two-year-olds have played with a touch screen, and games are the No. 1 form of entertainment for the under-25 crowd.

Discoverability is still elusive: There is at least one game that is relevant to each of us, whether Call of Duty, League of Legends, Words with Friends, or whatever your taste might be. And many of the hidden gems on platforms like social, browser, and mobile are still hard to find. Continue Reading

We Are Our Scores: The Aspirational Self

I left off last time talking about how gamification and the Quantified Self — the use of sensors and devices to gather and analyze as much personal numeric data as possible for new insights into the self–can help us have fun while getting closer to our ideal selves. It’s time to explore how that last idea has evolved in the past few years and how savvy entrepreneurs are putting it to work.

Each of us has that picture of who we want to be and where we want to go. This is the version of ourselves we want the world to see. Convincing others that there is no gap between that image and our real selves used to be the domain of public relations professionals and doting parents. But in this era of social networks and constant connectivity, we all take the reins of our own reputations.

This brings up what I refer to as the “Aspirational Self.” It’s what we do when we post to Facebook or Twitter — constructing and branding the person we want to be seen as, by portraying our most desirable qualities. You tweet on the Saturday night when you’re at the club with Kanye, not the following Saturday when your date cancels and you wind up doing the laundry you’ve put off for two weeks. (In many ways, social media itself is an implicit “game,” in which failed status updates and tweets are the ones which attract no comments or likes…) Continue Reading

The ‘So What’ Of The Quantified Self

Assuming that each of us has a picture of the “real world superhero” we want to become someday, then the optimal way to level up and reach that goal begins with the ability to measure and score our lives. Thankfully, new technologies in mainstream gadgets like iPhones and the Nike+ enable this kind of measurement, and are fueling the so-called Quantified Self movement, starting with the continuous tracking of various aspects of our physical bodies.

Using sensors in our smartphones and other wearable devices, we can chart how many calories we burn, our body fat percentage, how many steps we take in a day, how long we sleep — even how many hours a week we spend commuting or sitting at a desk. Soon we’ll be able to access the same kind of statistics on our digital selves: Social reach and influence; tastes and preferences; achievements; credibility and reputation; habits; expertise.

All that information at your fingertips at all times theoretically allows you to carefully chart a path for improvement—and share your winning strategy and stats with others. On a grand scale, that makes for an interconnected world of healthier, happier people making much more informed decisions. Continue Reading

All The World’s A Game

dungeons-dragonsAs a lifelong gamer, I grew up fascinated with role-playing games, from pen-and-paper fantasy worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, to computer-based RPGs like Ultima and Wizardry. I’ve spent thousands of hours crafting and “leveling up” dozens of alternate personas, tuning their stats and experience point allocations across various character traits, and charting their virtual careers. I’ve always loved exploring all the different possible attributes and powers to minimize or maximize, and then mapping out how to achieve the optimal configuration for my style of play.

Several years ago I started wondering, “What if real life were the ultimate role-playing game? What character class would I be, and what would my current level be? Which skills would I go deep in and master?”

What started out as a fun thought experiment grew into a bit of an obsession — not only in how I approach life personally, but also in my job as a venture capitalist. Having been an early investor in social gaming and backing companies like Playdom, ngmoco, Lumos Labs, and Badgeville, I’ve witnessed the interplay between “real world” social media and “in game” behaviors generate tremendous value (Playdom was acquired by Disney for $763M, and ngmoco was bought by DeNA for $403M; Lumos Labs and Badgeville continue to grow like weeds). Now Gamification (the application of game mechanics to non-game fields) influences much of my ongoing thinking and investment.Continue Reading