Palantir Acquires Kimono Labs

Excited to announce that Palantir Technologies acquired Kimono Labs on February 15th. Palantir is a data analytics platform that is widely used across the business and intelligence community. It is backed by over $2.5 billion in venture capital at a 2016 valuation of over $20 billion. For more information on the acquisition and next steps for the Kimono Labs team:



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The full investor list, including Founders Fund, Cowboy Ventures, Facebook co-founder Adam D'Angelo, Y Combinator, Zynga founder Mark Pincus, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, Ram Shriram, Winklevoss Capital, and others accounting for the $5 million, can be found on Crunchbase

Time: The Original "Quantified Self"

In Nicholas Carr's Pulitzer Prize-finalist book "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains," he refers to another book by David Landes called "Revolution in Time." Landes talks about how the history of timekeeping began to influence human behavior. Bells sounded to wake us up, to start work days, to open and close gates and markets, and many other things. As the costs of keeping time came down, the clock went personal. Everyone had one. This became, as Landes wrote, an "ever-visible, ever-audible companion and monitor." By reminding the watch or clock owner of time used and spent, it also intimated time lost, time that was now gone forever. This personalization of time, of precisely measured time, was both a boon to productivity and individual control, and a means of controlling how humans measured, and monitored themselves and others. It was, in essence, the very original version of "Quantified Self." Today quantified self is a movement we often associate with step counting FitBits and JawboneUps, Nike Fuel Bands and iPhone health apps telling us how much we've moved or sat on a daily basis. In "Technics and Civilization," a 1934 book on technology's impact on the human condition, author Lewis Mumford talked about how the clock "helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences." This change from abstract time to highly measured time, he argues, made the way for the opening of the more rigorous, scientific mind. Perhaps as we next look at our FitBit we can realize that this is nothing new. 

WY "SAY" IWYG... What you say is what you get

Steve Jobs famously created the "What you see is what you get" interface, taking users from command lines and black terminal screens to visual interfaces with fonts, colors, and the ability to manipulate programming by point-and-click mice. It was a radical departure from the then-status quo, and it changed the face of human computer interaction. 

Today we are on the cusp of the next version of human computer interaction. Today, however, it's not the point-and-click visual interface, it's the say-in-English conversational interface. 

Today chat based AI, with either a text or auditory input, is changing how we issue commands to machines. It's no longer command lines in a terminal that drive computing, but often a verbal or conversational text statement that dictate. Whereas Jobs created the WYSIWYG interface, today it's more of the WY-"SAY"-IWIG interface. It's what you "Say"–rather than "See"– is what you get.

As I wrote in Inc. Magazine yesterday, the future James Bond villain won't be a headset-wearing hacker in a basement, typing feverishly into a terminal. Instead, he'll calmly command Siri or a Chat AI. The new highest abstraction programming language will be English. And it's coming soon...

Spire Raises $40 million Series B

This week Spire Global announced that it has raised a $40 million Series B investment, bringing the total raised by the three-year old startup to ~$80 million. Spire will now begin to more aggressively commercialize its nano-satellite constellation, putting 100 nano-sats into Low-Earth Orbit by 2017. These remote sensing satellites will power a big data company that seeks to revolutionize how commercial weather data is collected using GPS-RO, the frequency with which ships and assets are tracked on open ocean, and more. Whereas the rest of the world is focused on land and imagery, Spire is focused on the other 70 percent of the globe that is covered by water, and is focused on all the other remote senses outside of imagery. The constellation of 100 satellites by 2017 will have material impact on the size and scope of weather raw data collection, allowing models to synthesize more data, therefore improving forecasts and helping mitigate cost associated with lack of accuracy in weather data.

Metamorphic Ventures

I'm excited to announce that over the coming months I will be working closely with the Metamorphic Ventures team, and their amazing set of portfolio companies. I'll be focused on supporting new investments and diligence, and as an Operator-in-Residence, I'll also be working closely with a number of the portfolio companies around the world. Metamorphic is a $70 million seed and early stage venture capital firm based in New York City focused on great entrepreneurs, big ideas predicated on technology as an enabler, and leveraging a deep network in New York industry verticals to help startups, wherever they may be based in the world, achieve scale through access to distribution networks at many of the Fortune 500. The next wave of tech-driven commercialization is upon us, and impacting verticals such as media, fashion, finance, and real estate. The powerhouse players in all of these industries center in New York.


Event-Driven PR & Narrative Capital

Last August I spent an evening at the Supreme Court at an event honoring Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Between suits and small talk amongst other Presidential Innovation Fellows from the White House, I approached the bar and a contributor to Fast Company, and before finishing a glass of Sauvignon Blanc I placed three articles about companies I worked with.

Narrative is a form of capital, and I knew the stories of the founders I invest in and work with. Story isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a must have. Story and narrative determine brand, and knowing the angles meant I could pique the interest of a writer over one glass of wine.

One was about Kimono Labs, the Y-Combinator-company mapping the structured web by democratizing the ability to write APIs, and how they had recently taken the team from San Francisco to Tokyo for three weeks to isolate and bond the team.  The next was about Klink, and how founder Iñaki Berenguer sourced global talent by sponsoring visas for his recruits. The third was about Spire, a big data company powered by small satellites, and how the CEO Peter Platzer had architected roles around passions, and never fired an employee.

Evan Baehr, the founder and CEO of the collaborative small-business lending platform, Able Lending, talks about story as a form of capital, “Narrative Capital,” as he calls it. Startups succeed by selling a solution to a problem. Deft startups don’t just react to a perceived problem in the market; they shape and manipulate that problem to sound bigger and more pronounced than one might have previously realized.  They know how to tell a story that leaves you feeling a deeper pain point, and they leave you desiring their solution.

Operating in a constrained environment, startups must think outside the box, beyond the traditional forms of human and financial capital, and intellectual property.  Increasingly, design has become a necessary, though not sufficient driver of startup success, but human-centered design and brand have yet to fully embrace story, and narrative.

Today’s public relations are largely product-driven, and self-centered. Agencies push press releases across news wires based on launch timelines, product road maps and new feature releases, rather than relevance to the macro environment. Press releases are product-centric, rather than problem-centric, and companies are left trying to place stories in content-poor corners of the web, rather than crafting a narrative response to crises that call for solutions.

Crafting a story, and a narrative response, is what I call event-driven PR. It’s not pushing PR to news wires in a vacuum.  It’s cogently articulating responses to geopolitical events that highlight the salience of the problem, and the differentiated components of the solution.

By being informed about world events, startups can architect their stories to fit a narrative of need. They can responsively highlight their solutions in a highly relevant context, pulling in sales and business development opportunities rather than pushing marketing.  In many ways, this is content driving commerce. But more than that, it’s content with context driving commerce. It’s deductive strategy based on global trends rather than inductive strategy driven by internal roadmaps and market expectations. By following thought leaders, and responding with solutions-based narratives, Silicon Valley startups can come across as having less hubris, and being more conciliatory in their approach to helping solve global problems.

Spire, based in San Francisco, has a network of small satellites focused on providing higher frequency commercial weather data, asset tracking and maritime domain awareness. Many of their potential clients in international container shipping care deeply about geopolitical issues such as Chinese positioning in the South China Sea. By monitoring these trends, and placing strategic, responsive Op-Eds that highlight Spire’s capabilities, we’ve crafted a solutions-based narrative, and event-driven PR strategy. Within 24 hours of placing an Op-Ed in The Diplomat, a publication in Japan, I was sitting face-to-face with the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan discussing opportunities to plug Spire into the Japanese public and private sector. I had highlighted a global pain point in real-time, and offered a unique solution from Silicon Valley that came from outside the The Diplomat’s readership.

Story as narrative capital is as important as human or financial capital, design and intellectual property. Shrewd startups should take an external solutions-based approach, architecting event-driven PR around geopolitical events, rather than an internal product-led approach.

By taking an event-driven approach to PR, startups can create contextualized content to drive commerce, and leverage press for both marketing and sales. 

The Rise of Pretailing

In 2012 I wrote a Forbes article entitled "Pre-Tail, E-Tail, to Retail: The New Commerce Pipeline," in which I highlighted trends around online platforms allowing merchants to test consumer demand prior to large-scale manufacturing. Companies like Quirky, Kickstarter, ModaOperandi, and others allow manufacturers, big-box and long-tail, to pre-test demand through pre-sales. I called this part of the commerce pipeline the "Pre-Tailing" that came before online retailing, known as "E-Tailing," and then traditional offline "Retail." Companies like Storefront, the Airbnb for commercial real estate that allows online-first merchants to A/B test physical real estate before entering into long-term leases, is also a form of "Pre-Tailing." Pre-Tailing is data driven commerce, using early demand to kick the tires on the scalability of a product or an idea. 

Based on this article and concept, the Financial Times has officially recognized this term, "Pretail," as part of the new Lexicon


Klink Acquired by ThinkingPhones

Today we are incredibly excited to announce that Klink has been acquired by ThinkingPhones, one of the fastest growing companies in Boston, and backed by nearly $90 million in venture capital from Bessemer Ventures and Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV). Although we have smart phones in our pockets, our desktop enterprise phone systems remain largely disconnected from our needs and our workflows. When we receive a call we don't know who it is. When we need information, we have to go hunt for it across browsers and tabs. Over the past year Klink has built a patent-pending "Identity Graph," that –across roughly 600 million phone numbers– can assemble a real-time profile for the caller before you pick up. By looking across public and enterprise data sources, it assembles information records into an actionable look at who's calling. Who are they publicly, via their Twitter and LinkedIn, and who are they related to your business, as they're stored in Zendesk and Salesforce. ThinkingPhones has acquired Klink to bring this functionality deeper inside its Unified Communication offering, something that will make your desktop phone as smart as the one in your pocket. We're extremely excited for that next step.

Articles about the Klink acquisition by ThinkingPhones:

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El Pais

El Mundo

Tech Cocktail

Beta Boston

Boston Business Journal

Spire Debuts Big Data Weather Platform

Spire has debuted their capability in Global Positioning Satellite Radio Occultation (GPS-RO) aboard each of their nano-satellites, 20 of which are going up in 2015. Many markets, from shipping to global trade to insurance to financial markets to agriculture, are heavily influenced by climate and weather. In fact, weather impacts $5.7 trillion in US gross domestic product (GDP). Spire has maintained a vision toward the weather market since its debut, but as they launch 20 satellites, this vision is becoming reality. 

In December 2014 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued two reports to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology highlighting coming gaps in the weather data market. Temperature, pressure, and other raw weather data provided to make nearly all forecasts, are powered by very few government satellites that command massive budgets, and utilize legacy technology. These programs are set to expire, and replacement strategies are protracted in timeline, bloated in budget.

SpaceX is a private company that offered its services to the federal government. They would focus on commercial orbital transportation, and NASA could focus on the hard science. Similarly, companies like Spire are beginning to offer commercial alternatives to government weather data, providing thousands of GPS-RO weather data profiles gathered by the nano-satellites daily. This data need not replace public sector data, but ought to augment it. After all, this data is commercially available, privately funded, lower-cost, and higher-frequency weather data. Whether as secondary, redundant data that helps scientists model better weather predictions, or a replacement strategy over time, weather impacts over 30 percent, or $5.7 trillion dollars, of the US economy.

Spire's weather data debut was highlighted in publications such as The Atlantic, GigaOm, Forbes, Fast Company, and Gizmodo.

Forest for the Trees

Last night I had the fun honor of speaking to 40-odd startup founders on the 46th floor of the Cooley LLP office over Manhattan's Bryant Park. Along with Charlie O'Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, and Kanyi Maqubela of Collaborative Fund, we walked through a mock term sheet negotiation, and provided guidance on the mechanics of venture capital. Term sheets create the baselines for negotiation. What's important is to see the forest for the trees. Rather than get caught up in negotiating dividend rates, think about what's important: Investment, implied valuation, control, liquidation preference, option pool to hire employees, etc. Generally term sheets are pretty vanilla –meaning non-participating, non-punitive liquidation preference, four year vesting, etc– but the details do matter, especially in downside scenarios. Big money and high valuations may give pop to a TechCrunch article, but forward valuations usually come with hidden gems in the term sheet, ways the investor is protecting their downside. When market dynamics change, flat or down rounds hit, or the company has to sell, liquidation preferences and participating preferred stock can often eliminate founder and employee gains. Term sheets matter, but should be viewed from 60,000 feet as a way to align incentives between investors, founders, and future employees. 

Kimono Labs Making "Data Lib" Sexy

Kimono Labs is making Data Liberalization sexy. By empowering any domain expert the ability to also be a data scientist, Kimono is putting developer tools into the hands of non-techies. ReadWrite just named Kimono Labs as one of the best companies of 2014, alongside multi-billion dollar valuation companies such as Slack, highlighting its ability to democratize the ability to glean insights from data. Concurrently, Sergio Monsalve, a Partner at Norwest Venture Partners, articulated five predictions for 2015. Key among articulated trends was the notion that Internet of Things will move away from commoditized hardware devices, and toward software. It will be companies like IFTTT and Kimono Labs that will stitch together data flows that emanate from a plurality of commoditized IoT devices, making actionable the insights from data. 

CNET and Yahoo Reviews of Klink and CNET have given Klink an "Excellent" rating, describing it well. "Integrating Salesforce and social data into your call screen, Klink reveals which customer is calling, even if they aren't in your address book. What's more, it lets you access insights and notes to review your customer data more quickly." 

It's not Caller ID on steroids, it's structuring enterprise data in real time, and making that data actionable on the voice channel, the highest productivity channel. 

Additionally, Yahoo reviewed the product, citing that by connecting your CRM and enterprise data with public Internet context, Klink enables users to better build, strengthen, and manage relationships and close deals faster. Not bad.

Unified Communication as a Platform

Everyone recalls the images of switchboards, cables, and elegant 1950s women routing calls by physically unplugging and re-wiring calls. Switchboards became phone branch exchanges (PBX) and then those systems moved off-premise, and into the Cloud. Today, systems like ShoreTel Sky offer Cloud-based PBX systems that route and transfer calls. When you call a large organization, you actually first call a PBX. 

Talking more holistically about calls in the enterprise, namely inbound and outbound calls, as well as workflows and productivity tools to enhance employee efficiency, these systems are called Unified Communication platforms, or UC for short. While many UC players exist, roughly four –Cisco, Avaya, Broadsoft, and Microsoft Lync– account for more than 80 percent market penetration, and between them, they connect to over 250 million endpoints. Cisco alone has more than 60,000,000 endpoints managed by its UC, which means that if you can plug into Cisco's UC, via APIs, then you have access to over 60,000,000 connected desktops. That's a lot of business phones, and one pretty painless integration to get there. UC platforms offer a path to enterprise scalability. 

Klink structures and surfaces enterprise data in real time, and does so using the UC platform as its path to scale. By integrating with four partners, Klink will provide real-time data intelligence across these 250 million UC end-points, so that Fortune 1000 companies get more out of their business data, and harness it when it matters most – when employees are on the phone, interacting with live clients. 

Klink is a Cisco certified solution

Klink: The Best Enterprise App at DEMO 2014

The reduction in startup costs and the flattening of information have democratized the ability to create. Consequently, entrepreneurship has become one of the most common paths, with every graduate aiming for Zuckerberg fame. This glut of entrepreneurs has led some investors like Ben Horowitz of A16Z, and Peter Thiel of Founders Fund, to sound alarm bells. Horowitz writes about the hard times of starting and running a company in his book, "The Hard Thing about Hard Things." Peter Thiel talks about the need to refocus entrepreneurs on the biggest problems in his book, "Zero to One," about radical innovation that departs the mainstream. 

There are more companies and tools than ever before.

For any discerning CEO, it's difficult to know which tools are best, and how to piece them together. Companies end up adopting laggard, proven technologies, paying top dollar for those services, and then under-utilizing those tools. One of the most common disparities between tools and workflows is related to the telephone. We all understand mobile computers in our pockets, but we forget that phone calls are also growing.

Companies pay hundreds of dollars per seat per month for platforms like Salesforce, the dominant customer relationship management (CRM) software. Yet this customer data is not surfaced and contextualized in real-time when employees need it. Three billion phone calls are made by businesses in the US each day. While call centers have optimization solutions to surface account data and context, billions of these calls are not consumers calling businesses. These are enterprises trying to execute the daily challenges of business such as selling solutions, building partnerships, signing deals.

Last week, Klink, a productivity tool that structures enterprise data in real time and displays caller and company profile information across devices on inbound and outbound calls, launched at DEMO in California. This week, CIO Magazine heralded its launch, naming it one of the top enterprise apps of the year at DEMO.  

As tools proliferate, it becomes imperative that others stitch together the data, and bring us back to the point of technology in the first place – to make our lives easier. 

Satellites in Bollywood

Today, an Indian new media company, ran a great article entitled, "A Silicon Valley Startup wants to Launch 20 Satellites to Keep India Safe," about the partnership between Silicon Valley startups, such as Spire, and the Indian Space Agency (ISRO). Over the coming year, Spire will launch a constellation of nearly 20 satellites into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) to improve maritime domain awareness (MDA) around India, help stem piracy and illegal fishing, and provide better GPS-RO weather data to help protect nations from food and agricultural shocks by having better weather and climate information. It's an amazing world when commercial off-the-shelf products can be constructed into nano-satellites that can piggyback up into LEO on board rockets from Japan to Russia to India to SpaceX in the United States. 

The Comeback of the Telephone

Mobile ubiquity is something we all take for granted. In a few years, virtually every human on the planet will be connected online, from their pocket. In the 1990s, roughly 100 million people went online. In the 2000s, over one billion people joined the Internet. In the next decade, by 2020, we'll not only see the number of connected devices go to over 20 billion, but we'll see a proliferation of channels of communication. Already over the top communication happens via a multitude of networks, from Facebook and Twitter, to communication-by-image platforms like Instagram or Snapchat, to communication-by-video startups like Edit on the Fly.

Because of the plurality of digital channels, because of the fragmentation of message, we will see a boomerang resurgence of the voice channel – the telephone. The telephone is not going away. Three billion phone calls are made every day in the United States alone, and this number is growing by 14 percent year over year. 

The telephone is making a come-back. 

Today, at the renowned DEMO conference in Santa Clara, California, Klink took the stage only hours after Peter Thiel, to unveil its big data platform. Klink is aiming to sort, structure, and display enterprise information in real time on every inbound or outbound business call. Despite 3 billion business phone calls made per day in the US, enterprise data and workflows are not brought to the voice channel. Rather, when you make or receive a business call –unless you're in a call center– you likely have to pull up your own data, account info, CRM, ticketing system, or spreadsheet. 

Klink has unveiled a big data enterprise solution for the voice channel.

Visas are Cheaper than Recruiters

Inaki Berenguer, the Spanish founder of Klink, a big data startup that structures enterprise, public, and personal data and makes it available in real-time across devices, understands the meaning of "bootstrap." For most entrepreneurs that means being scrappy about first product iterations and sources of investment. For serial entrepreneurs like Inaki, who sold his first company, Pixable, to SingTel for $30 million, bootstrapping also meant sponsoring his own visa. The O-1 visa requires that a person have extraordinary ability. They need to be the best of the best. When your own CV includes a PhD from Cambridge, an MBA from MIT, and a Fulbright at Columbia, not to mention McKinsey and advising Bill Gates, the O-1 seems pretty rational. 

In a recent article by Fast Company, "The One Question You Want to Ask If You Want to Recruit The Best Talent Globally,"  Inaki describes how he's hacked US immigration policy. When the visa requirement states that individuals be "extraordinary," well then that just better informs your hiring needs. For Inaki and Klink, they've scoured the globe for the best of the best. Front end, back end, iOS and Android developers from Bulgaria, Colombia, Venezuela, Portugal, Spain, and other countries. In fact, one of the only drawbacks to hiring people so extraordinary, are the calls upon their time when dignitaries come to town. During UN Week in New York, there were a flurry of OOO notices. Even though half the team slipped out to dine with the King of Spain one evening, they still launched product on-time. 

Why pay a recruiter a $20,000 referral fee when you can take the O-1 visa requirements at face value, and simply go hire the smartest people in the world. It's an extraordinary idea, and when visas are cheaper than recruiters, the world just got a bit more global.

Kimono Labs and Spire are Fast Companies

In the past week Fast Company has featured two companies I work with, namely Kimono Labs and Spire. Both are big data companies that do things differently. FastCo tells the story of Pratap Ranade and Ryan Rowe taking their company of a dozen people to Japan for a month to team build, and act as a forcing function for focus. In the article "What Happens When you Move your Company Overseas for a Month," author Jen Liberto highlights how enabling both extroverts and introverts is important, as is going to a foreign locale with language differentiation. The experience acts as a forcing function to really drive team engagement around a set of problems. 

In a second article, Fast Company author Liberto talks about Spire CEO Peter Platzer, and how he's perfected the ability to coach smart employees through down times, rather than letting them go. In the article, "Meet the CEO Who's Never Fired Anyone," she discusses how in two years Platzer has launched satellites, raised $25 million dollars, and never fired anyone. Spire is building its big data platform using nano-satellites, and applying the raw data and analysis to problems as wide as financial services, international logistics, weather data, and asset tracking.

Silicon Valley to the South China Sea

Silicon Valley has long been disruptive, but now it's applying third-party data and analytics to address issues such as maritime domain awareness and maritime security. In this piece I wrote for The Diplomat, companies like Spire could open access to information that empowers countries in the region like Vietnam and the Philippines to respond to growing naval aggression by China. 

Could Silicon Valley Change the Calculus in the South China Sea? 

Telephone... it's the New Snapchat

When Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in the mid 19th century, he never could have imagined that it would one day become more popular than Snapchat. But today, that's a true statement, and an uncommonly observed reality. Sometimes we get caught up in the new new thing. Sometimes it's the old thing that's the stalwart, the underdog. 

People make over 12 billion phone calls each day, and just over 700 million snapchats. That's why the telephone, as an actual calling device, is novel. Mobile search is outpacing desktop search, and more people are accessing the Internet from their mobile device. What this means in practice is that we click to call. We search for something, and then we act as lazily as possible. While we could fill out a form on a tiny keypad, most people prefer to talk to a person. 

Phone calls are en vogue to the tune of 12 billion per day, but few solutions work to track calls with the same level of analytic detail as we can with clicks. Companies like Invoca, backed by Accel Partners, are scaling quickly to provide analytics on inbound caller data. Solutions like Klink are applying big data to bring CRM and real time data to the mobile device so that inbound calls are understood in context, and so data on outbound calls can be logged in CRM systems. 

Klink is a new sales productivity platform that uses data science to enhance customer interactions and simplify the tedious process of updating a CRM system. Klink provides unified communication across your phone system, desktop, and suite of mobile devices.

For the 12 billion calls per day, we need real time data. The answer is in Google Play.