Category Archives: Investments

ROLI & The Future of Music Making

At FirstMark, we love to back companies that are pursuing differentiated ideas and building entirely new markets. ROLI is a perfect example. The Seaboard is one of the most unique music instruments ever created, and certainly the most ambitious.  It represents the intersection of deep material science, advanced hardware capabilities, high performance firmware and development framework,  an expressive sound engine, and a user facing application to boot — all of which had to satisfy the simple needs of Grammy winning musicians.  Not quite the “MVP” model of startup design.

You can read much more about the products online but please don’t mistake the ROLI for “just another keyboard.” In the place of keys on a traditional keyboard is a soft, pliable, sensor-embedded surface that enables players to shape notes like a stringed instrument. The sounds achievable with the ROLI are like no other.  We have a ROLI Seaboard RISE stationed in the FirstMark office and it’s been incredible to see and hear the reactions it receives from friends who visit FirstMark. It’s truly a product that wows people.  And yet, it is the broader vision to transform all elements of the music creation process in a seamless, elegant way that inspired us to see a different and much larger opportunity.

It’s been nearly two years since FirstMark initially invested in ROLI and I’m very proud of what Founder & CEO Roland Lamb and his amazing team have accomplished. ROLI keyboards and software are used by artists such as A.R. Rahman, Hans Zimmer, and Jamie xx; and in major studios such as Abbey Road Studios, Atlantic, and Interscope. What’s equally exciting is seeing ROLI keyboards used in music education at schools like Central Bucks High School West in Doylestown, Pa.

The keyboards are incredible, but ROLI’s software efforts have been as groundbreaking as its hardware. The free NOISE app transforms the surface of your iPhone into a powerful multidimensional instrument. JUCE is the leading engine for the creation of audio applications on all platforms. And Blend is a unique social network that helps music producers share music projects in source format for remixing, collaborating, and gathering feedback from others in the global community. Ultimately, ROLI’s vision is to build smarter ways to connect people and technology. I believe they are well on their way.

FirstMark has been a proud backer of ROLI and we were happy to re-up with Roland for their new $27MM Series B round of funding led by our friends at the Foundry Group. I couldn’t be more excited for the music that will be made with ROLI for years to come.

 

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Introducing Starry!

I am excited to write about the launch of Starry today!  We’ve had the privilege of working with Starry’s founder, Chet Kanojia, now three times.  His first venture, Navic Networks, put rich, interactive software in tens of millions of cable boxes across America (and had a great exit to Microsoft). His second venture, Aereo, transformed the broadcast TV industry and accelerated OTT video by several years. Aereo’s technology was so disruptive it eventually wound up before the Supreme Court, a journey which I wrote about here.

Today, Starry comes out of stealth, with a mission to redefine how we access the internet. To call this vision “ambitious” is an understatement, and represents exactly the kind of challenge we love to get behind.  The first product is the Starry Station, which is a revolutionary WiFi router with the world’s first ambient touch screen interface.
Starry Station allows you to measure the health of your Internet service, see devices attached to your network, easily create access rules (like managing Screen Time for children), and connect to customer support all through a simple touch screen interface. Anyone that uses Internet based services will love the new platform (not just product) that Starry Station is building.

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The company also announced Starry Internet, a radical new ISP for broadband access using state of the art wireless technologies.  Rather than overbuilding and digging up ground that costs $2500 per home passed, Starry Internet will be able to serve that same home with equivalent (or better) speeds at 1/100th of the cost!  While each product (the router and the ISP) can be used independently, together one can imagine what a seamless end-to-end modern Internet experience will look like.

We’re very excited to partner with Starry and can’t wait to see how they will revolutionize the way consumers connect to the internet.

To learn more about Starry’s products and service, visit https://starry.com/.
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New Investment: Engagio

One of the most important things that we have built at FirstMark Capital is our platform and community.  It is an infrastructure that connects and empowers hundreds of employees across our portfolio companies and tens of thousands of people in the NYC ecosystem to world class content, relationships, customers and expertise.

Every journey has its start, and ours began shortly after we launched FirstMark Capital in 2008 and held our inaugural Marketing Summit.  The idea was simple: marketing was evolving rapidly, the channels through which customers and consumers engaged were changing, and those that moved to take advantage could build unfair scale ahead of others.  If we could get the best minds talking about leading technologies and their approaches, the entire portfolio could benefit.

One of the earliest speakers at our Marketing Summit was Jon Miller, the co-founder of Marketo, who evangelized a new way of thinking about customers, content, and marketing automation.  Jon and I stayed in touch over the years, becoming an advisor and friend to several of our portfolio companies.  Marketo, of course, went on to become a powerhouse in marketing automation and is a $1B+ public company today.

Fast forward 6 years and I’m delighted to announce that we are leading a $10MM Series A financing for Engagio, a new company created by Jon Miller and his co-founder Brian Babcock.  I have gotten to know Brian more recently, but he has a fantastic and very relevant background for what Engagio is doing from both the ad tech and big data worlds, having been an early engineer at successful companies like RocketFuel and Platfora.  Jon and Brian in fact worked together at Epiphany in the 90s, which was one of the early pioneers in the world of marketing software.

Engagio is at the start of its mission but is building a new software platform focused on Account Based Marketing.  Jon has written an entire post dedicated to the topic here.  Said simply, Engagio provides one place for B2B marketers to understand all the campaigns, touch points, and interactions a company has with a target customer and plan the optimal ways to engage them over time.

We are excited to be joined by many of Marketo’s prior investors, including Storm Ventures and Bruce Cleveland/Doug Pepper, alongside First Round Capital and Amplify.  Stay tuned for much, much more!

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New Investment: ROLI

I am excited to announce our investment in ROLI, the inventor of the Seaboard.

The Seaboard is a beautiful redesign of one of the world’s most iconic instruments – the piano – for the modern digital world we live in.  It is the first in a line of digitally programmable, highly interactive, connected music products for ROLI that combine novel design aesthetics, proprietary touch interfaces, and powerful social elements.

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The degree of difficulty on executing a product like this is extraordinarily high.  It requires expertise in material design, fabrication, manufacturing, hardware, and software.  It has to satisfy the demands of the world’s leading artists, while incorporating social elements that appeal to the masses.  Getting to a shipping product was no small feat, and we believe ROLI is at the forefront of a transformation in the music creation, collaboration and consumption process.

We are delighted to partner with Roland Lamb, the founder/CEO of  ROLI, and welcome him to the FirstMark family!

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New Investment: Gravie

Well, we foreshadowed we’d be doing more around the intersection of healthcare and technology.  On the heels of our BioDigital and Recombine announcements, I’m excited to publicly announce our newest investment in Gravie.

Gravie sits at the intersection of some profound changes in healthcare.  Consumers are becoming empowered (or forced) to take control of their healthcare decisions more than ever before.  Employers are struggling with the increasing cost curves in healthcare, and in many cases, as disinterested parties, are phasing out coverage.  Insurers and insurance remain incredibly complex to navigate and difficult for the lay person to understand, often times only figuring things out in their moment of greatest need.  And finally a regulatory backdrop that is forcing major change on the system in the form of the ACA (“Obamacare”). 

Gravie emerged to bring simplicity and transparency to this new world order.  An intelligent, easy to use platform to navigate all the complex decisions in terms people can understand and a single place to consolidate all the information around health in one’s lives.  Gravie also offers advocacy to consumers, acting as a voice for individuals and offering help when questions or problems arise.  In short, Gravie is one place to go for peace of mind around your family’s health. 

The company was founded by three fantastic entrepreneurs who have a long history together and in the space.  Abir Sen, Jill Prevost and Marek Ciolko all worked together at Bloom Health, a company they started to bring Private Exchanges to employers, and successfully acquired by Wellpoint.  Abir has also been part of the founding team at Definity (acquired by United) and Red Brick Health (pioneer of corporate health & wellness plans).

We seeded the company in the summer of 2013, and have witnessed swift execution on both product, launch and adoption.  We are delighted to announce the close of a $10.5MM Series A, in which we participated heavily.  We are quite excited to continue our partnership with the team at Gravie and welcome in Mo Kaushal and the Aberdare team!

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New Investment: BioDigital

I am excited to announce one of our latest investments, BioDigital.  BioDigital is one of several investments we have made at the intersection of healthcare and technology.  I laid out our rationale at a high level here.

BioDigital is based in NYC and has built a powerful platform around 3D visualization and immersion of the human body.  Our short hand for BioDigital is “Google Earth for the human body”.  Their team sits at the intersection of 3D / CAD software, web technologies (HTML5/WebGL), human anatomy and physiology, bio mechanics and high scale back end infrastructure.  A rich, deep, powerful service made simply available via APIs.  If you want a wicked engineering challenge, apply here.

The team has been working on complex 3D human modeling for the last several years, but with the introduction of WebGL and HTML5, saw a profound opportunity to instantiate all of their models into a Web based platform called the Human.  In the brief period of time since launch, the company has surpassed over 1 million registrants.  Even more exciting to us was the breath of use cases for the product.   Frank Sculli, founder and CEO, details some of them here.

There will be a number of ways to access the Human.  Their web, mobile and tablet apps will appeal to the millions of consumers interested in learning what’s inside our body and how it works.  Consumer health sites will be able to easily use our widgets to offer much richer representations of health conditions that afflict us.  Search engines can embed physiology and conditions directly into rich snippets.  Content publishers can enrich the learning experiences for students across the globe.  Doctor offices and hospitals can use the Human as their front end UI, with patient records mapped to the Human’s ontology.  And more exciting are the ways we cannot think of via our APIs.

In addition, we also can’t predict the ways in which individual consumers will add to the platform  People will be able to append all sorts of information into the Human to improve it in a Wikipedia like model – MRIs, content, interactions, etc.  People will also be able to personalize the human to the things they care about and share them out to the people they love or groups they interact with.  It will be exciting to see how people engage with an experience that was never possible before.

We believe this will be a transformative project and we are at the very beginning.  We are delighted to partner with Frank Sculli, John Qualter, Aaron Oliker and the entire BioDigital team!  Frank’s announcement on the BioDigital blog is here.

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Excited to Announce Artisan!

Sometimes the best journeys are the ones into the unknown.  I remember catching up with Bob Moul after he had left Dell late last year.  He had spent a lot of time focusing on Philadelphia’s startup tech scene, passionately working with the Mayor’s offices and programs like DreamIt.  The one area Bob kept coming back to was mobile – as a new frontier, a new challenge, and potentially a new opportunity.

He met Scott Wasserman, founder/CTO of AppRenaissance, and joined on as CEO.  It was a talented team of mobile developers building custom mobile apps for companies.  While the apps they built were really solid, to say it’s not an obvious venture investment was an understatement.  But we loved Bob and the great work he had done at Boomi (sold to DELL in November 2010), and were going to partner with him in whatever area he found interesting.  “Don’t worry, by working closely with customers we’ll find the product opportunity in here,” he said.  That was a few months ago.

Well, today I am thrilled to announce they found that product far more quickly than I anticipated.  Artisan aims to bring to the mobile app world the deep set of tools and infrastructure that exist on the web today.  The initial product is an A/B/n testing software, which allows companies to target specific users with a different look and feel, without requiring coding changes and resubmission to the app store.  Simple examples could be showing a Platinum color app for holders of an American Express Platinum card, while Gold for others, and Blue for those on that product.  One could test how button placements affect conversion.  Or explore user flows within an app.  Again, all areas marketers understand well, have done on the web, now available on mobile!

The best thing is that the platform will extend to a lot of different areas, ranging from advertising to personalization.  Lots more to come here, but I think Bob’s vision of building a large public software company out of Philadelphia is much closer to reality.  I’m delighted to partner with the team and sure as heck we took that journey into the unknown!

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