I find myself struggling with the question of whether Deep Tech must always be a long-term prospect, by definition.
Sure, creating meaningful innovation takes time. Deep Tech means that a lot of research and development is going into this new product or service. And as an early-stage investor this would lend itself to a long-term investment strategy.
Accordingly, most of the companies that we invest in require significant R&D before they can go to market. We focus on these companies because that is where we can roll up our sleeves and lend a hand. We find ourselves mentoring them as they navigate early customer engagements to bring the voice of the customer into the R&D process. This helps create truly game-changing innovation and strong product-market fit. And the next round of funding to continue their growth.
But then I meet a deep-tech-driven company that believes they are market ready. They are usually wrong. If so, then we can still add a lot of value and they are just placed later on the spectrum of early-stage, a little closer to a Series A than to a Seed round. Still well within our wheelhouse. However, if they are right, should we even be considering them as an investment opportunity?
From a portfolio construction perspective it makes a lot of sense to have some “later stage” companies which may generate earlier returns. It also balances the levels of engagement required from our team amongst the portfolio companies, as far as the time we spend with each.
Despite these considerations, I find myself second-guessing myself. Am I too just being anxious instead of practicing the patience I preach to my LPs? Or can Deep-Tech be engaged with the market and still be considered Early-Stage?
We have now been in our second lockdown for 2 weeks and we have at least another two weeks to go. While our work is being done differently, it has not slowed down. On the contrary, we are finding ourselves busier than ever with even more to juggle. Despite no need to commute.
Since we are at the mid-way point of this lockdown period (we hope!), I thought it might be a good time to stop and reflect. Here are some observations and musings from my mind wandering. I welcome your feedback and perspective.
Deals are getting done in the VC world. Valuations are down but some may say this is just a “correction”. That is ok as long as we aren’t slashing valuations just because we can. Rather it should reflect companies adjusting to COVID and understanding the long-term impact on their market. In some industries that might actually raise a company’s valuation (Amazon? Zoom?).
As long as the players continue to act in good faith then good deals should get done. Founders need to be a little more modest and investors need to be a little less greedy. Don’t forget, this is a repeated game and long-term brand matters.
Real estate is going to change. Across the board and across geographies. I should have bought into many of the deals I have seen the past couple of years but passed on because “I wasn’t doing real estate…” – invest early and often. The secret of compounding.
Remote work will remain significant, but I don’t think we will eliminate offices entirely. The adoption of tools and new practices was accelerated but so are the downsides to it. We will not all just work from home going forward. But more of us will, even if just part of the time.
EdTech is more complicated. Thank God I am married to a licensed teacher who wasn’t actually practicing that craft when COVID hit. She is home shepherding our kids through classes and assignments while not actually needing to teach a class remotely herself. Teachers and students need to be back in a classroom. That is, until we can actually bring a virtual classroom experience to the home (pick your futuristic pop-culture reference). Not all learning needs to be done in a classroom – I am glad to see more assignments and work done virtually – but this Zoom thing isn’t working for us.
Digital Health is also a different story. Here I think we will see the longest and greatest impact as technologies enabling telemedicine, health operations efficiency, discovery and diagnostics are all being rapidly adopted by an industry which has been reluctant to change. There are many more elements here that I think will stick around once we get past this pandemic. If only for the fear of the next one.
As I have written before, for me personally and for my “job”, the lack of in-person meetings has made things more complicated. Sure, I hate sitting in traffic like everyone else. And air-travel gets old quick too. But I miss being able to spend time with people and get to know them. To pick up on the non-verbal cues and body language. See them in their element and in other settings beyond their Zoom-background-of-the-day. I look forward to walking through the labs and “feeling” the team/science/product/culture of each company. I’m even ready to got back to coffee-shop meetings which I had become bored with. Please make my latte soy. Thanks!
In Israel we are on our way into lock-down. Again. Just as the Jewish High Holidays are upon us. A time of coming together to bring in the new year with prayer – giving our thanks for the previous year and sharing hopes for the new one – with family and friends, in synagogues and around our tables… Well, that is not going to happen this year.
While some may argue that this is most fitting considering the past 6 months, it is still frustrating. Frankly, I think we could have done better.
It is easy to blame the government (now that we finally have one!), and some might even say that they prefer this approach as the easy way out. It seems to me that the timing of the lock-down actually makes sense. Besides it limiting the masses customarily coming together, it also takes advantage of the numerous vacation days already built into the Israeli calendar during this time of the year. In their defense, I do realize that this is the first pandemic they have been called on to lead us through. But the numbers are rising quickly and every delay creates a sense of “too little, too late”.
The period leading up to Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year – is a period of introspection. Taking stock of where we are and who we are. Compare these with what and who we want to be. Make commitments to do better in the new year… Take personal responsibility for making the world a better place by each doing our part.
I look around and I know that we can do better. We must take personal responsibility to adhere to the social-distancing guidelines, while creating personal accountability for the health of others in our communities.
That is the only way we can contain the pandemic, as we continue the search for a vaccine… May it arrive swiftly in the new year so we can start to rebuild – emotionally, economically and, most importantly, together.
Shana Tova! May it truly be a good year of health and prosperity for us all.
The food-tech space has gotten hot over the past few years. Industry specific funds and accelerators have sprouted to advance these companies and lots of $$$ are pouring in to revolutionize an industry we consider outdated but in reality has always been innovating.
The food industry has thin margins. Consider the many interested parties involved by the time it reaches the shelves in your local grocery store, all looking to make a $1. Each link in the chain has been innovating to optimize their slice of the pie to capture more profit. From the raw materials to manufacturing to shipping and stocking the aisles – all have seen significant progress over the years.
This need to optimize is especially true for the producers for two reasons. The first is economical as mentioned above. Aggregating the raw materials and creating a product that needs to hit the shelf at a price point the consumer is willing to pay while allowing for everyone in the chain to make money. Otherwise it just does not work.
The second is health. We have been learning just how bad our eating habits have been for our bodies and the search for healthier food is no longer reserved for the do-good-health-nuts of yesteryear.
All this comes to play in the alternative meat industry. We already have major players in Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, with many start-ups at various stages of development following quickly behind them. It has been fascinating to learn about this industry and I have come to a key observation. The food industry is all about marketing. Brand recognition is critical and differentiation is not just by taste, health attributes or cost. Those become secondary as brands compete for your love. But first they need to get you to pick them up off the shelf.
On a recommendation from Ben Wiener, I have been reading Billion Dollar Burger by Chase Purdy. The sub title says it all: Inside Big Tech’s Race for the Future of Food. So far it has been a great read providing the insights above and more.
If I were to define it a little differently than I originally stated above: The food industry has always required innovation. They are changing how they innovate, adopting tools and practices from high-tech and start-ups. Is this really different than industries that had little to no-innovation till the past few years such as prop-tech?