Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Putting My Mouth Where My Money Is

Sorry I’ve been gone so long, but Twitter has raised the bar for bloggers. Who has time for This when you can follow @davidcowan on Twitter? Ideas that would have once qualified as worthy posts can too often be summed up in 140 characters, so it has been nearly two years since I’ve updated this blog on my new investments.

So here's a recap. During the last couple years I looked for startups that (i) protect and promote online reputations, (ii) deliver social network value to enterprises, (iii) migrate enterprise data to the cloud, and (iv) bring Silicon Valley tech capabilities to the federal government. And of course I am always open to learning about exciting startups beyond these themes.

I found what I believe to be the world's Six Most Exciting Startups (excluding a few obvious high flyers whose valuations I couldn’t stomach). I have listed them below in the order in which I funded them. Just to clearly disclose my bias: when I find a great startup I invest, so I now have a material stake in all these companies!

So what does Google say about you -- too much (like your home address or an embarrassing photo)? Too little? Something unkind? Or maybe good things, but you're eclipsed by people with the same name?

As personal information about us migrates online, our prospects for school admission, employment, credit, dates, and professional success increasingly depend upon our online reputations. helps you take control, and the company’s monthly revenue has grown nearly tenfold since I invested (along with Floodgate and Kleiner).

Yesterday CBS Sunday Morning interviewed’s Founder/CEO Michael Fertik about a public school techer who lost her job over a private Facebook photo in which there happened to be a bottle of beer. has kindly extended a huge promotion for my readers: Click here to visit the site and prices you'll see for the My Privacy Annual Plan or the My Reputation Starter Plan will be half the normal rates.
CrowdFlower is the first business process crowdsourcer. Crowdsourcing means tasking individuals on the web with untrained jobs like content moderation, local business listing verification, or transcription. CrowdFlower farms these tasks out to workers across dozens of networks, such as Amazon’s Mechanial Turk.

Compared to internal employees or business process outsourcers, crowdsouring is faster, cheaper and instantly scalable up or down as you need it. Contrary to intuition, CrowdFlower produces higher quality data than in-house or outsourced workers, since Crowdflower can provision the same job to multiple workers, and calibrate each worker’s quality. CrowdFlower promises to transform the nature of employment, unlocking the labor potential of a billion unemployed workers. Since my investment (alongside Trinity), the Company has beaten plan every quarter.

Zoosk is the fastest growing dating service on the web, with more singles’ profiles than any other site (check out the numbers). Zoosk makes dating fun with daily matches and a cool iPhone app. Unfortunately, their latest TV commercial was too much fun for Europe, where it was banned.

I’m going out on a limb here, and predicting that social gaming will be big. So I followed NEA into the last round of the creator of Mobsters and Tiki Resort. My kids were delighted to have a back channel to the designers of Wild Ones (thanks for all those laser cannons!), but the gravy train stopped when Disney picked up the company.

This Stanford team of aerospace jocks is applying the Lean Startup methodology and web APIs to commercial space projects, disrupting an industry characterized by bloated, government-funded projects (as reported by Slate). I can’t disclose exactly what Skybox is building, but here’s how two other entrepreneurs have already forged a cheap path to space…

Twilio provides a web services API for business to build scalabale, reliable, communications apps utilizing voice. With Twilio you can easily embed voice and SMS features into your web site (e.g. for notification, or connecting users by phone). Twilio provides the tools, platform and service. The technology is free to use, and you pay only for the actual voice minutes that your users end up consuming. On this deal I supported my partner Byron Deeter, who joined Twilio’s board.

Meanwhile, fate has mostly ruled on my prior generation of startups. GoodMail and Flock developed the technology they promised, but both their dreams were dashed by the waves of chaos that engulfed their primary business partner Yahoo. Meanwhile others, like Tripwire, Nominum, LinkedIn, GetInsured, Perimeter and Lifelock, forge ahead profitably.

So how do you think the markets will decide the fate of my 6 new picks?

1 comment:

  1. It's still a question whether microblogging (Twitter) will ever replace Word Press or Blogger, because blogging platforms are still at the height of their influence.