News & Views


AI’s Dirty Little Secret: It’s Powered by People

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Madrona Venture Group Doubles Seattle Office Space for New Co-working Operation

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How a Sports Jersey Subscription Service was Born

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Spruce Up, A Madrona Venture Labs Spinout For AI+Home Designer Service

Pictured in photo:  Spruce Up + Madrona Venture Labs Team

At Madrona Venture Labs we know it’s all about the founders and we could not be more confident in Spruce Up co-founders Mia Lewin CEO and Mike Dierken CTO. Today, they announced $1.5M in funding from backers known for picking winners in marketplaces, AI, ecommerce and consumer — Two Sigma Ventures, Madrona Venture Group, Maveron, Female Founders Fund, and Petersen Ventures.

Mia is everything we dream of in a founder CEO and it is more than the fact she is a three-time founder, has design domain expertise and holds a Stanford GSB degree. Mia is deeply passionate about design at the core and it stems from her Scandinavian roots. Mike Dierken is an incredible complement to Mia with his background at Amazon and McKinsey & Co. and the full-spectrum startup experience. His hands-on experience building ecommerce platforms and machine-learning recommendation systems could not be more relevant. We love this team.

Spruce Up is the smarter way to design your home. By applying data science to the designer workflow, the shopping service bridges the gap between design inspiration to low-cost, highly personalized design implementation. Thematically, the Spruce Up concept fell right into our focus on vertical ML/AI and early on we collectively identified a unique opportunity to do for home design what StitchFix has done for apparel. The DIWM (do it with me) segment of the home design space is a massive $75B+ market and although there are competitors, most are positioned upmarket in the DIFM (do it for me) category.

Our journey with Mia started back in June of last year after a chance meeting at Madrona resulted in her accepting a CEO-in-residence role with MVL. We agreed to explore a nascent concept we were researching in the garden design space which was inspired by Ben Zulauf, engineering partner at MVL. Given Mia’s deep domain and founder experience in design and ecommerce, we quickly realized that if we are going to do anything in this category it should be with her. So we formed a strong team with design and engineering expertise, including Ben Zulauf, Ejiro Akporobaro, and Jason Flateboe (founding designer of two consumer ML, ecommerce startups). Over the course of eight months we interviewed dozens of designers and hundreds of target customers, built several light-weight prototypes to test concepts and on-boarding flows, and pivoted along the way. Jay Bartot, MVL CTO and serial ML startup CTO, rode shotgun on the investor roadshow and outlined the technical vision for the company. Early exposure to the MVL investor network resulted in a lead investor term sheet from our partner Two Sigma Ventures and an investment from Maveron and access to our talent network resulted in co-founder CTO Mike Dierken joining the team. It has been an honor to be part of the earliest of formation days with Mia and Mike and we look forward to supporting them in the future.

This is just the beginning and we invite you to be a part of the Spruce Up movement — sign up now and get a free Spruce Up (personalized interior design advice) when the company launches later this year.

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Madrona Appoints Veteran Talent Executive, Shannon Anderson, Director of Talent

We are very excited to welcome Shannon to the Madrona team today as Director of Talent. The talent and recruiting role is crucial for startups and Shannon will supercharge Madrona’s recruiting efforts to help our companies find the right people to scale their businesses quickly.
Shannon will lead Madrona’s Talent function in three key areas:

  1. Power Madrona’s talent hub. Identify and develop top leadership talent and rising stars that will fuel Madrona portfolio companies, potential new investments, and enhance the Pacific NW startup ecosystem.
  2. Be a strategic HR business partner to portfolio companies, with a strong focus on bringing best-in-class talent acquisition practices to the portfolio.
  3. Be a Talent Advisor inside Madrona, providing a Talent perspective on the firm’s investments and decision-making.

In Shannon, we feel very fortunate to have found a proverbial “unicorn” given her experience in all of these areas. Very few, if any, other people have Shannon’s set of experiences that are so relevant to Madrona. She has been a hands-on recruiter, both in the “go-go” days of Microsoft and in running her own talent firm. She has recruited for leadership, engineering and business roles. She has been a Talent leader inside a VC firm (Ignition), and thus has experience with how a venture firm works and how to engage with portfolio companies. Most recently, at Recruiting Toolbox, Shannon has been training companies “how to fish” and become world-class at talent identification, acquisition and retention. All this is combined with Shannon’s massive network of friends and contacts made during her years contributing to the Seattle technology ecosystem.

We see how the right people can make or break a company – and when you get those people on board it can change growth trajectories – or conversely, can be too much overhead early in the game. Shannon is adept at not only finding people but understanding how companies grow and when certain roles are needed.

As Director of Talent at Madrona, Shannon and Talent Associate, Matt Witt, will partner with Madrona’s portfolio companies to define, develop and refine their talent roadmaps, create compelling employment branding, great candidate experiences and fully develop their recruiting and selection capabilities.

When Shannon approaches training for HR and recruiting teams at startups and mid-size companies, she focuses not only on teaching hiring managers and executives how to find and attract the best talent – but, equally importantly, she teaches methods that enable the interview and selection process to create a great 2-way fit, ensuring happy and productive employees that stay and grow with the company over time. As a recruiter, Shannon did this herself – which helped to create an 80% retention rate for key roles.

“I’ve been immersed in the greater Seattle ecosystem for many years. We are fortunate to have so much talent here – and a lot of new talent coming to the area,” commented Anderson. “My role is to help companies attract and keep the right Talent; that’s what gets me up and excited every day. Madrona has been a crucial component to the startup culture here for a long time, and I’m excited to be on the team and to get involved with our portfolio companies to create even more value and success for the Seattle region.”

Shannon is also a frequent speaker and entertaining blogger on all topics of recruiting, HR, and talent. You can find some of her work on Medium.

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Madrona Expands the Team, Adds Talent Director, Venture Partner and Principal

Veteran Tech Talent Executive Shannon Anderson Joins as Director of Talent, Luis Ceze, a leader in computer systems architecture, machine learning, and DNA data storage joins as Venture Partner; Daniel Li is promoted to Principal

We are so excited to announce today some great additions to the Madrona Team. Each of these people is incredibly talented and will add a significant amount to what we can bring to our portfolio companies and to the greater Seattle ecosystem.

Shannon Anderson is joining us as Director of Talent. We expound on her role here.

Luis Ceze is joining the team as Venture Partner. Luis is an award-winning professor of computer science at the University of Washington, where he joined the faculty in 2007. His research focuses on the intersection of computer architecture, programming languages, molecular biology, and machine learning. At UW, he co-directs the Molecular Information Systems Lab where they are pioneering the technology to store data on synthetic DNA. He also co-directs the Sampa Lab, which focuses on the use of hardware/software co-design and approximate computing techniques for machine learning which enables efficient edge and server-side training and inference. He is a recipient of an NSF CAREER Award, a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship, the IEEE TCCA Young Computer Architect Award and UIUC Distinguished Alumni Award. He is a member of the DARPA ISAT and MEC study groups, and consults for Microsoft.

Luis also has a track record of entrepreneurship. He spent the summer of 2017 with Madrona and has been a vital partner as we have evaluated new ideas and companies for several years. In 2008, Luis co-founded Corensic, a Madrona backed, UW-CSE spin-off company. We are excited to have him on board, continuing and building on Madrona’s long-standing relationship with UW CSE, and working formally with us to identify new companies and work closely with our portfolio companies.

Last but definitely not least, we promoted Daniel Li to Principal. Daniel joined us nearly three years ago and has been an incredible part of the Madrona team. He works tirelessly to not only analyze new markets and develop investment themes that help us envision future companies, but he also dives deeply into his passions. He has built apps that we use internally on a weekly basis at Madrona as well as given a Crypto 101 course to hundreds of people over the past year. He has also proven to be an indispensable partner to entrepreneurs, leading the Madrona investment in fast growing live streaming company, Gawkbox, last year. In addition to digital media and blockchain, Dan has done significant work in investment areas from autonomous vehicles, machine learning, and AR/VR. Dan brings an energy, curiosity and intelligence to everything he does and epitomizes what Madrona looks for in our companies and our team.

We are excited to continue to build the Madrona team to even better help entrepreneurs and further capitalize on the massive opportunity to build world-changing technology companies in the Pacific NW.

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What It’s Like to Use Wrench, the ‘Uber for Auto Repair’ That Sends a Mechanic to Your Car

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Introducing Pulse Labs, a Platform for Voice Designers

L-R Abhishek Suthan, Maria Karaivanova, Dylan Zwick,  – not pictured – Akansha Mehta

Today we are very excited to announce our investment in Pulse Labs, a startup that is helping designers and developers understand how real people interact with their voice applications – and how to leverage this understanding to build better apps. We are joined in the $2.5 million seed round by the Amazon Alexa Fund, Bezos Expeditions and Techstars Ventures.  We are joined in the $2.5 million seed round by Amazon Alexa Fund, Bezos Expeditions and Techstars Ventures.

Each year the team at Madrona develops and presents investment themes that we revisit frequently and use to guide our investment strategy. One of the areas we are very excited about, is the emergence of new user interfaces that enable multi sense interactions between humans and technology. Over the past few years, voice has become a natural extension of how humans interact with technology and thus, the next frontier for application developers. According to Google and Bing, one in four searches is conducted by talking, not typing, a figure comScore predicts will reach 50 percent by 2020.

We believe the shift in human-computer interaction towards voice will be as fundamental as the shift from the command line to the mouse click, or the shift from type to touch in mobile computing. This shift will be as pertinent for the enterprise as it is for consumers, and in fact will serve to further blur the lines between productivity and social communication. Having Amazon in our backyard is a great way to interact at the start with technologies like these – and we were happy to become closely involved with the Alexa Accelerator Powered by Techstars that ran last year in Seattle.

When we first met Abhishek, Akansha and Dylan, the co-founders of Pulse Labs at the Alexa Accelerator last year, we knew right away that they were building something special. It was their second week at the Accelerator, and they only had a prototype but it was addressing a huge need for anyone building voice applications. Fast forward six months, and the Pulse team launched a platform to help brands understand how real people interact with their voice applications through a rigorous process of live testing and data analysis. They enable voice app developers, or voice designers as they are typically called, to quickly see how consumers want to interact with their app and get data on which prompts work and which don’t. In that short time, they’ve assisted in the successful launch of more than 20 Alexa skills for top brands, and they are just getting started.

You may be wondering what’s so different about voice apps. Turns out that developing apps for voice requires a significantly different process than app development on other platforms. As workflows and interactions shift away from the more traditional platforms like mobile and mediums shift from touch and type to speech, voice designers face a whole new set of decisions and there is a lot of room for error and interpretation. Moreover, users have different expectations regarding how a voice app responds, and apps live and die based on how well their designers understood and accommodated these expectations when building the skill or action. (Alexa dubs voice applications for their platform ‘skills’ while Google calls theirs ‘actions’).

Let’s take this example: “Would you like fries or a shake with that?” It’s a question asked over an intercom thousands of times each day, and the teenagers who are asking don’t think twice about it. But, if you’re designing a program to handle orders on avoice platform, you’ll need to think long and hard about it. You may expect the customer to answer with “fries” or “shake, please”, choosing one option or the other, but what if the answer is “yes”? Does that mean fries, a shake, or both?

Understanding these types of interactions and equipping voice designers with the right solutions is the guiding mission of Pulse Labs. With 56 million smart speakers expected to sell in 2018, according to Canalys, this need is only going to rapidly increase as will voice commerce. The experts from investment firm Mizuho Bank predict that Amazon Alexa powered Echo smart speaker alone will account for $7 billion in voice transactions—or vcommerce in 2020. It is for all these reasons, that we are excited to back the Pulse Labs team.

Pulse is extending their product to Google Actions in the coming months and if you are a voice designer looking for a new challenge, send them a note, they are hiring!

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PlayFab is Joining Microsoft!

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The Next Big Step in the Snowflake Journey

Early last year, we invested in Snowflake, which is quickly becoming the leader for data warehousing in the cloud. Now, less than a year later they have raised a substantial round of $263M that underscores their phenomenal success in building a solution that speaks to a real business problem shared by many, many large business customers around the world.

Having had the opportunity to learn more about Snowflake and see first-hand their customer momentum and their execution both on the product and go-to-market fronts, I am more bullish than ever before about what is possible in the years to come.

In addition to building the world’s best data warehousing solution for the cloud, Snowflake introduced Data Sharing last year.  The ability to seamlessly share data with your customers and partners from within Snowflake opens up a huge opportunity for business customers.  This has been an unsolved problem in the past and is something that is very complex and painful to do.  Snowflake has solved that with their Data Sharing capabilities.

Snowflake has done an outstanding job of riding two important and massive technology trends – the enterprise move to the cloud and the need for accessibility from anywhere to massive amounts of business data + analytics.  They have built a fantastic product on the cloud and for the cloud that is resonating extremely well with a broad set of customers.

For all of the above-mentioned reasons, we are very excited to invest in this latest round of fund raising by Snowflake.  We are very much looking forward to furthering our partnership with Bob Muglia and team to help them scale and see the kind of success that we are confident they will achieve.

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Snowflake Computing Lands Whopping $263 Million for its Data Warehouse

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Tigera Raises $10M to Help Enterprises Secure Their Cloud Native Applications

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Tigera Joins the Madrona Family

Ever since the advent of virtualization technology in the early 2000s, software has become increasingly abstracted from its underlying hardware. The ability to “write once, run anywhere” has led to the runaway success of technologies like containers, which package software in a format that can run in isolation on a shared operating system. This allows developers to more easily collaborate on code across environments, get better utilization from their hardware, and build agile, secure software delivery pipelines.

The concept of the “software-defined datacenter” extends this analogy beyond compute into networking, storage, and security as well. With the advent of hybrid and multi-cloud, the underlying infrastructure is only getting more complex. The ability to manage infrastructure that cuts across private and public cloud leads to cost-effective solutions; better ability to simplify, automate, and scale; and the agility to move quickly in today’s IT landscape.

While containers have been the rage for the last 18-24 months, the complexity that grows from this technology quickly escalates to an unmanageable level from an application connectivity and security perspective.  In fact, this has often been the talking point of those who are hesitant to adopt them too deeply. This conundrum has been an issue for large enterprises as they look to benefit from these new methods of software architecture and management.

This is the context in which we are very excited to invest in Tigera and the team.

Tigera provides secure application connectivity solutions built for modern cloud native applications.  It addresses the application networking connectivity challenges that come with cloud native architectures, especially those that must connect to on-premises, legacy environments. Tigera does this by extending leading open source projects, Calico and Istio into commercial enterprise software that enables policy-based security, enterprise controls and compliance that works across on-premises data centers and all public clouds. Tigera offers large enterprise companies a solution for deploying containers within the Zero Trust security framework that they require and opens up this Fortune 500 market to innovations that increase agility and cost effectiveness.

The leadership team behind Tigera including the CEO, Ratan Tipirneni; co-founders Andy Randall, Alex Pollitt, Christopher Liljenstolpe, VP of Engineering, Doug Collier; and the most recent additions including Andy Wright, VP of Marketing and Amit Gupta, VP of Product Management make a world-class team that knows networking and cloud deeply.  They have demonstrated strong leadership in the open source community and the ability to build a commercial offering that solves real pain points for enterprise customers moving to the cloud.

We, at Madrona, are looking forward to this exciting journey with Ratan and team at Tigera.

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How Algorithmia Built The Largest Marketplace For Algorithms In The World

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Integris Raises Another $1.5M for Data Privacy Intelligence Platform as GDPR Deadline Looms

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Jama Software Acquires Notion, a Fellow Portland-Based Product-Development Tool Maker

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Smartsheet Makes First Acquisition, Buys Converse.AI to Integrate Voice Assistants and AI Into Workflow Automation

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Bard Richmond, 1950-2017: Former Active Voice CEO Was a Pioneer In Voice Messaging Software and Early Advocate For Homeless Issues

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Interview: Bob Muglia, Microsoft Veteran And Snowflake Computing CEO, On Databases And A Changing Seattle

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