Our Investment in Trade Coffee – The Leading Coffee Marketplace

In Seattle, we love our coffee. And as much as Seattle is the land of Starbucks, it is also home to some amazing craft coffee roasters. Caffe Vita, a short walk from the Madrona offices, is one of my favorites. The craft coffee movement, much like movements we have seen in categories like beer and chocolate, is having its moment. There are thousands of independent coffee roasters all over the country, perfecting their craft, and happily serving local clientele. And craft coffee, consumed both in local cafes and at home, is the fastest growing segment of a nearly $100 billion annual category.

The challenge for independent coffee roasters is building their brands and their business beyond a local audience. Enter Trade Coffee. Trade Coffee is a marketplace that enables the best independent roasters to reach new customers across the country. For consumers, Trade Coffee matches coffee drinkers’ personal tastes and preferences to the 400+ blends on their marketplace, bringing customers a variety of the highest quality and freshest blends that best meet their needs.

We started getting to know Mike Lackman and the Trade Coffee team in January 2019, when the company was just beginning to scale its subscription service. Fast forward to the middle of 2020, and Trade Coffee has shipped more than a million bags of coffee to customers, while serving as an invaluable partner to the roasters it works with, many of whose local consumer and wholesale businesses have been severely impacted by the global pandemic. We love two-sided marketplaces like Trade Coffee that provide as valuable a service to the businesses they work with as the consumers to whom they supply world class coffee.

In a world in which much of the working American population spends multiple days per week working from home, access to a variety of fresh, high quality coffees (beans and ground) to be consumed at home is that much more important. And the growing at home coffee market can be there for the thousands of incredible coffee roasters facing headwinds in their cafe and wholesale businesses. We are excited to be working with the team at Trade Coffee to build the premier brand and marketplace for specialty coffee.

Our Investment in Coda & The Future of Work

Today we are excited to announce our investment in Coda.

Recently, we wrote some blog posts about our core investment themes. Specifically, two of the themes relating to Coda are the Future of Work, Workforce and Workplace as well as Low code/No Code development platforms.

There are several market trends that drive our thesis on these areas.

  1. Companies want to move faster and be more agile
  2. Cloud-native apps make it easier to access data
  3. More “makers” than ever before
  4. Multi-player collaboration and digital-first workflows

These trends together are driving innovation in how people are reimagining what tools people need to be effective and successful in today’s day and age.

The team at Coda recognized these trends when they first began working on Coda and have been building a fantastic product to serve these market needs.

The Coda team saw these trends and through their product have fundamentally reimagined how we work. They recognized that we move from application to application, and when applications talk to each other to share data and be dynamic, that is where the work gets done. So, they started with that as a core design point.

Coda is a single canvas that brings together the best of documents, spreadsheets, databases and applications. The flexibility of Coda enables users to become ‘makers’, authoring dynamic documents where the lines between a document and application are blurring and becoming one and the same.

Coda envisions a future where documents are alive and interactive – enabling users to interact with data, to interact with systems, and to automate previously manual processes. Coda imagines a world where everybody can be a “maker” and can use Coda to express what they want to and collaborate with others seamlessly.

We believe this is a massive opportunity. The “Maker Generation” has rapidly adopted new platforms and tools to solve problems, build products, and start new businesses, and we have seen many examples of this in other industries – from producing channels on YouTube, to building web sites in WordPress, or developing new games on Roblox.

Coda’s team believes they can unlock the power of software development for the Maker Generation by providing them with the platform and building blocks to build apps that look like docs, and we are already seeing thousands of users building these apps on Coda today.

We are particularly committed believers because we are Coda users. As investors we make decisions on whether to invest in an idea, founder or company together and on many different factors. We built one of the tools we use to start conversations and look at challenges, in Coda. Earlier this year we published this as a document in the Coda Doc Gallery for anyone to use.

Beyond the large market opportunity, we are also thrilled to back this world-class team. We have known Shishir Mehrotra for years since Microsoft where he worked on SQL Server, Windows, and Office before eventually moving down to the Bay Area to join Google as YouTube’s VP of Product, Engineering, and UX. Shishir’s cofounder and CTO, Alex DeNeui is also a world-class technology leader in real-time collaboration tools, and his previous company, DocVerse, was acquired by Google.

With the combination of a fantastic team, great product, and a massive market opportunity, we are looking forward to joining Coda in this journey to reimagine the future of productivity and collaboration. Coda’s blog on their funding is here.

AND we talked to Shishir about his journey to start Coda for our newest Founded and Funded Podcast – you can listen here!


Podcast Transcript


Erika: [00:00:11] Welcome to Founded and Funded. I’m Erika Shaffer with Madrona Venture Group. And today we’re really excited to bring you Shishir Mehrotra. The founder and CEO of Coda. Coda announced a new funding round today of $80 million, which we participated in and in this conversation with Madrona managing director Soma and Madrona, senior associate Elisa La Cava, Shishir talks about what Coda is, how it got founded, what you really need to start a company in his view and the very interesting journey that Coda has taken to release their first product, which was five years in the making. Before founding Coda show this year started his company. Worked at Microsoft for many years where he knew Soma. And then went to run YouTube for Google. Let’s pick up here, where Soma introduces the conversation.

Soma: [00:01:12] Hello, everybody. I’m very excited to be here today to talk about one of our core investment themes, the future of work with the founder and CEO of Coda Shishir Mehrotra. Welcome to Shishir.

Shishir: [00:01:27] Hi, Soma. It’s nice to be here. I was just to comment that you’re one of the few interviewers who can pronounce my name so clearly, okay.

Soma: [00:01:35] Yep. It’s another advantage of coming from the same part of the world. Yeah, but Shishir, really excited to have you on this podcast with us today and as we are very thrilled to be on the Coda journey with you as investors in the funding round that you announced earlier today.

Shishir : [00:01:50] Yeah. Welcome aboard.

Soma: [00:01:51] Thank you. We absolutely believe the Coda is one of the companies leading the charge on enabling what we call the future of work. The thing that is most impressive to me about Coda, when I think about it is how you all are reimagining how the world of documents and applications can come together and goes way beyond what people have access to in terms of productivity tools and collaboration tools that they are used to today.

So that’s been very exciting for us. And the future of work is an area that we’ve been investing for many years now, but we believe that the pace of innovation and more importantly, the demand from customers for adoption of great communication, collaboration tools has dramatically accelerated since the onset of Covid.

We are also going to have with us Elisa La Cava, one of my colleagues at Madrona and she’s been part of the team that has helped us formulate a lot of our thinking on the future of work. So I thought, Shishir, that we’d get started off with your personal journey, talking with you, talking a little bit about your personal journey, leading up to both founding and stuff in Coda, you came out of MIT with your undergrad and right off the bat, you founded a company called Centrata, which was built around that. How do you describe the entrepreneurial bug that bit you at that early stage in your sort of career as you are just coming out of school? And what do you think it takes for a person today to cross over into entrepreneurship, challenge themselves and decide to create something that is going to be phenomenally better for the world at large?

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:03:26] I think it’s a great question. Maybe as a piece of background, this is my second time founding a company , I’ve been involved with startups for a long time, but, directly second time founding a company.

And, I think people are addicted to starting companies. I’m sure. I’m sure you invest in some people where every idea that I think of is formulated as a startup. I’m not one of those people I’m quite comfortable with large environment, small environments, like you I’ve had a chance to work in both of those contexts.

And so it gives me a little bit of appreciation for entrepreneurs and what makes that unique. And I think. When I was at Google before, a very common interaction with somebody would come to me and say, I want to leave to go start a company. And each of us, I’m sure you had this in your past roles as well.

We just developed our viewpoint on how to have these conversations. And I settled on two questions and generally these questions were asked a little bit as almost as a deterrent in some ways, the two questions were. If somebody says they want to start a company, I would ask number one.

Do you have an idea you can’t imagine not working on and number two, do you have a person you can’t imagine not working with? And inevitably people would answer yes. To one of the questions and no to the other. And then we’d have a conversation about, why magic hits when these two things come together.

And they talk about we’ll have this great idea, but I haven’t been able to convince anybody else to do it, or they would talk about how they have a perfect partner, but they haven’t settled on an idea yet. And, I found that the, for entrepreneurship to hit that sort of magic has to hit at that right moment.

So those are the two questions that I’ve developed over time as a kind of litmus test of, should you start a company? And actually in my own journey with Coda, I wasn’t actually trying to start a company. I was fairly sure I would have continued on at Google, running large teams. And for me, these two questions, all of a sudden they answered yes. And I just, couldn’t not start a company. And I often describe entrepreneurship, not as a gift, but as a curse. And at that point, you just can’t think about anything else and everything else seems small. Everything else seems not worth doing. That’s when you, I think start a company and jump all the way in.

Soma: [00:05:30] It’s pretty impressive to see the journey you’ve gone through Shishir, but let me hand it over to Elisa to ask you the next set of questions.

Elisa La Cava: [00:05:38] So after the Centrata experience, I know you did a tour of duty, about six years at Microsoft and another six at Google before founding Coda.

And what I’m curious is what was different for you? If anything, this time around when you started Coda versus when you started Centrata during the height of the .com era, what was different for you in terms of the conditions to start a company, but also your entrepreneurial mindset and drive and determination to build something new.

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:06:13] very interesting question. At 15 years apart in that cycle, my situation the starting of the companies could not be more different. Cenrata I was coming out of school, we were converting my graduate work into a company. One fun story was the way the financing happened.

The company was in Toronto and was funded by, a guy named Vinod Khosla. We had been trying to raise money for nine months, flying back and forth from Boston to California. And no real success in doing it. And I get this email from Vinod and, it says, I read your business plan.

I’d like to, I’d like to fund your business. Vinod, is pretty direct, so his emails are direct and short, they’re full of misspellings. It’s like half the words or half the words are misspelled. And so I get this email and, this is, it’s 2000, this is a timeframe when there was no Wikipedia, there was no LinkedIn.

So I, this is a little embarrassing to say, but I had no idea who Vinod was. And so I write one of my, angel. So I had this angel, who had promised to put a half a million bucks into the company, but hadn’t actually done it yet. And so I write him and I say, do you think this email is real?

Is this like spam? Is this what, it’s full of misspellings. I’m not sure who it is. And so the angel says to me,

Elisa La Cava: [00:07:18] Right and you and you hadn’t, you hadn’t spoken yet. He had just looked at your business plan without even talking to you.

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:07:23] And it’s like, what are the chances? That somebody wants to fund the business.

So the angel says to me why don’t you walk down the street to the bookstore, the college bookstore and go to the magazine rack, see the person whose face is on all the magazines. That’s Vinod Khosla because that’s when he was at the top of his game. The funny part starts when I come back to my dorm room and my CFO in quotes was my, housemate.

I’m walking back into the house and I’m excited about this and he stops me and I said, I have something important to share. And he says, Oh yeah, I was actually gonna ask $500,000 just showed up in the bank account. Like what, where did that come from? This angel had heard this and wired the money in.

The first experience of starting Centrata was, we didn’t know what we were doing. I didn’t know who the financers were. You’re just figuring everything out from, from scratch. And I think there’s a level of blind determination. You’re not bogged down by the reality of the world. Coda, I got started, we raised our first round of financing in a weekend. I had a much better sense of what we were doing. I knew what terms to ask for. and so it’s like dramatically different that way.

But what I’d say about that was similar was at these two incredibly different moments of my life. One where, I didn’t really know what we were doing. And the other one where, I had a better sense of how this whole process works. The similarity, I think was that same level of ridiculous conviction on an idea that honestly, everybody else around us thought was weird and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. And I think that similarity and that determination, you can spot it, the eyes of every entrepreneur at that moment. They just don’t understand why you don’t get it.

It’s just so obvious. Like it says, obviously going to work and that’s what you have to have because you’re going to get every type of you’re going to get every type of no, why don’t you go get a real job, getting all different versions of that.

And when it works, it’s a particularly exciting, but that’s some similarities and some dramatic differences.

Elisa La Cava: [00:09:12] I love that though. You’re talking about that determination and it sounds like with Coda, you kept thinking about it and thinking about it. And then at one point you just thought, Oh, like I have to do this.

There’s no alternative.

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:09:25] Coda is one of those products where first off, when you can picture it just feels that’s obviously how it should be.

And that, that seems like really clear. Why would anybody bother building it any other way? The other thing that happens with Coda is it’s like this meta product where almost every idea that was pitched to me, I could picture that product, every idea I heard was, Oh yeah, I should just build that on this platform.

Like that. that’s exactly what we should go do. And so it became this sort of, every idea felt small compared to this thing. Now, the flip side, I call my parents, my wife’s on, they all look at me and say, what’s wrong with Microsoft Office? Like, why do you want to go do that? That seems silly.

So you had to, square those two pieces away. And of course, for the, when you cross that entrepreneurship hill and you’re in that convicted, you can’t imagine not working on this thing. You can’t imagine it not working now. Everybody else’s lack of faith actually, emboldens you and you get even more determined.

And even when you get even more certain that, if I don’t do this, then nobody will do it and then I’ll feel really bad, and then, I think Jeff Bezos was talking a lot about regret minimization framework. Yeah. Then you’re going to really feel like, man, if I had just done that, then the world would have this new product , and it would have worked out in this different way.

And so I think that the, that determination is very similar.

Soma: [00:10:42] That’s a fantastic story, Shishir. You already started talking a little bit about Coda, but I thought, let me pause for a second and hear from you. How would you describe, what Coda is all about?

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:10:53] Yeah. I think our users would describe Coda as an all-in-one interactive document and what they would probably say is it blends the best parts of documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and applications together into one new surface.

Our promise is that it allows anyone to make a doc as powerful as an app. And that’s a, that’s the bold promise and something that we’re fairly committed to the, I think that if you step back for a moment, Coda was formed with two primary observations of the world. The first observation is that the world runs on docs, not apps. And that if you were to look yeah, that any team, business, family, individual, and say, what do you use to run yourself, your team, your business, so on. They’ll probably rattle off a set of applications they use, and a lot of packaged applications and I have the CRM system and this inventory system and this task system, and, so on.

But then if you watch them all day long and just stand behind their desk and see what they’re working on, you’ll see them in documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and communication tools all day long. And this observation was pretty stark when I worked at Microsoft on the office team, so that was pretty stark then, but it was particularly vivid for me at Google.

I got to Google 2008, right when Google docs came out and it was transforming the way we ran our businesses. And so YouTube, 2008, we basically ran everything on Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Sites. And, there was some kind of extreme examples of this, I have to pick one crazy example. If you hit flag on a YouTube video back in that 2008, 2009 period, it would create a row in a spreadsheet on an ops person’s desk. And that was how, that’s how pervasive this was. And for a lot of people that sounded crazy. But for me, it was part of this observation, that docs, not apps run the world and I think people saw that as a weakness, I saw that as a strength, it gave us complete agility. It meant that when we wanted to change how we did planning, we could do it instantly.

And as the world of how we thought about flagging and content moderation, so on evolved we had total control over it. So this kind of observation, number one, docs not apps run the world. The second observation is that those surfaces document, spreadsheets, presentations haven’t fundamentally changed in over 40 years.

And there’s a running joke in the company that if Austin Powers popped out of his freezing chamber, he wouldn’t know what clothes to wear. He wouldn’t know what music to listen to, but he would know how to work a document, a spreadsheet and presentation because none of them have fundamentally changed since the 1970s.

And this is, if you go back to WordStar Harvard graphics and VisiCalc, and you just take those metaphors. And you just watch really four decades of copy forward and we just took it and we just changed the environment. And we went from green screens to Dos, to Windows, to MacOS, to the web, to the mobile phone, but all the same core metaphors are the same.


The operating systems are unrecognizable from that period to now things like web browsers didn’t exist. Databases that we thought were very fundamental are completely different. The search engines didn’t exist. And yet this thing that we stare at, we, the first thing we opened in the morning, the first thing we put our new ideas and the thing that runs our board meetings, the thing that runs our town runs our compensation.

That thing hasn’t changed in 40 years, that seemed crazy to us. So when we started, we took these two observations. So the world runs on docs on apps. Those haven’t changed in 40 years. Why don’t we start from scratch? And so we built a new doc and that’s what became Coda.

Soma: [00:14:21] That’s awesome, Shishir. I want you to go back to the early days of Coda. You started the company, you brought on the first set of people, and the founding team for Coda.

And you started working on what I call the first MVP, the first version that he wanted to put out and see what customers thought about it kind of thing. When you did that, what are the feedback like? Did it catch on like wildfire? I would love to hear the journey that you went through to a place where you found initial product market fit.

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:14:51] Yeah, I think the, I always love this question for entrepreneurs. Cause I feel like it’s a debunking of real products appear. And it just seems Oh, that must have caught right away. And then you go look underneath and you see what the iteration went into it. One thing we decided when we started the company was we decided to start it in stealth, which is not a typical decision.

And there was a bunch of different reasons for it, but the main one was, I didn’t want the team to be distracted. And I felt like we had a number of prominent people in the company and. And backing the company and so on. And I thought if we spend time talking, we wouldn’t really be talking about the product.

So we basically told the company we’re not going to ship, or we’re not going to talk about the company until we can shift the product and let the product lead the story. Which I had no idea how long that would take. So we got started, at the same time, my philosophy was don’t build in a vacuum.

So as soon as possible, if you want to get people onto the product, so our first milestone was just getting to our own usability. You can sometimes we call that a dog food milestone. We had a particular use case we had in mind for that. The company was only six or seven people at the time and we basically converted our planning and task tracking system into Coda.

And then, so we’re feeling pretty good about that. We’re about four or five months in, and we say, okay, let’s, let’s find someone else. Let’s find someone other than us to do it. And so a friend of mine, a guy named Nolan Lavinsky was starting a company and there were also about six people.

And so I called them up and said, Hey, this is working well for us. Would you try it and give us some feedback? And, gladly agreed and said, I’d be happy to do it. So we had a little dashboard that tracked our daily active users and it only went from zero to six because that’s how many people they had in the company.

And then one day this thing hit zero and we wait a day and it’s still at zero the next day. And I call up Nome and I say, I said, what happened? Did you guys go on vacation? Are you having an offsite or for, he says, no, actually I’ve been meaning to call you and tell you.

We, we had a team discussion and, I have some news for you. The team all told me that if I make them keep using Coda, they’re all gonna quit. And so we had to pause and I, my first reaction was okay, I don’t know how you’re going to sugarcoat this. That sounds pretty extreme.

And, and he said, but I have some good news. Okay, what’s the good news. And he said, they’re all totally aligned on the mission for where you’re headed. They just have lots and lots of feedback on things they think you should be fixing. And we’ve built a list of 30 things that you should go work on.

And if you get these things done, we’d be happy to try again. And the interesting thing about this journey and this product, and by the way, that process repeats itself, many times we, Started the company in 2014 and we actually didn’t launch Coda 1.0 until February of 2019. About four and a half years after.

And so it was a much harder product to build than I expected, early on. And I think part of the reason, and we would hear that pattern of feedback over and over again. I totally believe in the mission. I totally understand where you’re headed. I love the promise. Can you fix these 30 things?

And gradually that 30 would go to 25 and go to 20 and so on and you get there, but everybody’s listed 30 was a little bit different. So it wasn’t just like, you could just keep working the same list and I think one of the things about building a product like this, I was talking to a friend of mine who’s deep into the video game space and builds lots of a video game.

And he says, there’s two types of video games you make, there’s some video games where you make a one level and you put it out and you don’t even bother making level two. You see how a level one goes. And once people start beating that, then you make level two. And then he was telling me this other game they made, that was this big Star Wars game.

And they worked on it for, five years. And no one of the components actually work together at all until three months before launch. And the whole thing made no sense until it all worked together. And he said, there’s a sort of two different types of products he sometimes built. And I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what Coda ended up being.

And I think the reason for that is fairly simple Coda is a product with very high ambitions and aspirations. It’s an empowerment product. but it’s also displacing a set of tools that as I said, had been around for 40 or 50 years. And so the expectations are incredibly high. And so it became a part of, I sometimes describe Coda, like a piece of music when, when one note is off, the whole thing just sounds wrong.

And so you’re constantly finding all those different areas. So anyway, the process of building Coda was very deep interaction with customers and lots of love your vision. Fix these 30 things. I think it worked.

Soma: [00:18:59] Got it. That’s fantastic. Because like you said, most people looking at it from the outside think Hey, you go build something and then boom, it takes off kind of thing.

And maybe occasionally it does, but for a lot of people who now put something out, listen to customers. Iterate and then go through the process in a tight loop fashion, and sooner or later you get to the right place kind of thing. So that’s great to hear your sort of story during the early days of Coda.

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:19:22] Very few people know this, but YouTube started as a dating site and YouTube was more of an overnight success than most, but even there, the migration was, was meaningful.


Elisa La Cava: [00:19:34] I loved hearing, about how, the feedback from your early customers, giving you 30 different list of 30 things.

And then today, what you called a meta site, you can create to do lists, brainstorm ideas, manage projects, publish websites, the capabilities are incredibly powerful, and growing and endless.

But on the fun side of things. What have you seen? What’s a neat and perhaps unusual or overlooked use case you’ve seen a maker or user use Coda for so far?

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:20:06] One of the fun parts about working on platforms is that you’re constantly surprised at what people do and YouTube was similar.

I’d walked into YouTube some days and you’d look at it and you’d say, I can’t believe people did that sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a not very good way. And I think Coda has a similar element to that. There’s an incredibly long tail of what people do. Pick one fun example. There’s a venture firm called Madrona that’s apparently making investment decisions in Coda, which I think is actually a really fun one and maybe joking aside is, I think, is a really good representation of how to think about very fundamental processes a little bit differently. And I think that one is a great example of removing bias and a really hard process, and avoiding group think and really soliciting and getting the most out of a partnership, which I think is a really hard thing to do.

Let’s see. Other interesting use cases. One that sort of outside of the traditional teams using Coda to run themselves, Sal Khan’s building one right now called schoolhouse.world, which I think is, I think it was really cool. And this one was interesting, Sal is actually an old college buddy of mine.

He and I both went to school together at MIT and known each other for years, both ended up marrying our college sweethearts and actually lived just a couple of miles from each other. We launched a feature in Coda called publishing where you can publish a code of doc as a website.

And, when we launched that, he emailed me and said, Hey, could I use this to build this thing I’ve been meaning to build? And apparently his basic idea is that Khan Academy is his primary creation, which is, most people know of as a great educational site. He wrote a book called One World Schoolhouse.

And, at that time, he bought a domain called schoolhouse.world, which is, the, his sort of working view is that the boundaries of what we consider school to be will shift from being physical, to being encompassing of the whole world. And so the way the site works is pretty simple. It’s a doc where anybody can sign up as either as a tutor or as a student, and describe what you want to get to and you get match made to different group tutoring sessions.

And, it’s really interesting. It’s being run by a group of volunteers. And I think one of the, one of the really interesting things about it is Sal called me and asked about this and it was up and running in a weekend, because it was so easy to make. So I think that is a really interesting one, I think the breadth of use cases is really fun. It’s really inspiring. It’s really challenging. Building a product that can actually handle all those use cases is not easy. And you can imagine everybody’s list of 30 different things to change is very different across that spectrum, but a lot of fun.


Soma: [00:22:33] Awesome, Shishir. Particularly, now I do want to make a plug into Seattle here. I know that earlier on you decided that Hey, as you think about creating a distributed team, that one of the locations you are going to build a team around is in the greater Seattle area in Bellevue.

And given the amount of technical talent, particularly, but in general, the technology ecosystem talent that’s available here, I’m glad that you made that decision earlier on and hope you are happy with the decision so far.

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:23:00] Oh, the first, I think the second person we hired, it was Nigel Ellis who was running engineering for SQL Server at the time, on my old teams.

And, we had this sort of debate about it and said, are we, I know to show you talk about distributed teams being better and so on, but are we really ready to do this and discussion with our board. And honestly, most people’s reaction was that’s a little bit nuts. Like you’re six people. Like, why would you want to be split in multiple offices now?

And you all live near each other. That seems crazy. And one of the arguments I made, I think that distributed teams work better. And I also think that teams that start distributed have a much easier time staying distributed.

Actually one of my pet peeves is when people use the term remote. Remote I view as a pejorative term, a remote implies a headquarters. And I think if you think that way, if you think headquarters and remote, you’ll build one culture. If you think distributed, you have built a very different culture.

And so we started with that and it was an easy case to make it was, Nigel was great and he’s like a great person to hire. And by the way, there’s like thousands of other great engineers in Seattle that are clearly qualified to work on Coda and will be very relevant to us. Why would you box them out of being part of our journey?

And that turned out great. And we’ve got a great, thriving team in Bellevue and now all over the country and all over the world. But I think it was very helpful and setting the right scaffolding for building a distributed team.

Soma: [00:24:19] That’s great. Hey, Shishir in building on the culture that you talked about a lot so far, there is one other thing that I’ve heard about Coda, both from you, as well as from other people in the ecosystem that I want to start off and ask you about. In the six years that you’ve been around you.

You have a tremendous track record of what I call close rates of candidates. Particularly Hey, when you make an offer to a candidate, I hope many of them, they can actually end up joining. You have a very high number related to pretty much any other startup that I’ve encountered in the last many years.

Tell me what makes you and Coda and the team so special that you have such a high rate, I guess I have heard through the grape vine, it might be related to how you take care of the employees. It could be a charming personality. It could be a vision, maybe your equity policy, maybe all of the above.

So I’d love to hear, what is the reason for the success. And I think this is something that every entrepreneur should pay attention to.

Shishir Mehrotra: [00:25:15] I’m going to give you a right brain and left brain answer to this question. And thanks for the positive thoughts. I think we do well.

I’m sure we can do better. When I was debating, leaving Google to start Coda, as mentioning I was going through my two questions. So I have an idea I can’t imagine not working on and a person I can’t imagine not working with. And, I’m gradually getting conviction on both things and the idea I just couldn’t stop thinking about.

And Alex and I were very clearly like the right pair to go work on this idea. But I was still pretty resistant to starting a company. And a lot of it was because I had a friend of mine who had started a company and I was talking to him and I said, Hey Alex, so I’ve been talking about this idea.

I can’t stop thinking about it. I think I should. I think I should start this company. And this friend of mine said, she said, you can’t do that. And I said, why not? And, and he said, there’s a thousand reasons, but she should, let me give you just one reason. He said, what’s your, close rate for hiring people into YouTube.

And I just come out of a meeting with my HR lead and, and so I had the stats like right on my tip of my tongue. It was about 92%. Like it was. And you to remember at this time, YouTube was like a great place to work. Is startup inside big company, like big mission? well known product, lots of scale, but lots of opportunity for innovation.

We were pretty good at recruiting people and it was very rare that we gave offers and people didn’t accept. And so I’m talking to this friend of mine, he says, okay, that’s interesting, 92%. We sit in the forties. And we said, I spent all day long trying to find the people that are too tall for Google and too fat for Facebook.

and that was his analogy that I’m quoting him, not me and it struck me, he said, you’re just going to find yourself trying to recruit people, and you’re not going to be able to recruit the best, and you’re going to drive yourself nuts.

And for me, that sounded terrible. Like I really wanted to work on this problem. And I thought I had someone great to work with, one of the things you get used to working in a place like Google, Microsoft, and so on is you work with great people and, people that are really talented.

And the idea that I’m going to go try to find second servings from each of these companies, that sounded really terrible. And so I went and had this conversation with reading him with Reid Hoffman, and Hamilton, which ended up being the primary financier is of Coda.

And I talked to both of them about it and they both told me, look, that’s not, what’s going to happen to you and we’re going to help you understand why. And I think those conversations were really critical and me deciding to start Coda. And, so right brain, left brain. The right brain side of this is people join missions.

And the, if you have a big, bold mission and you can get people excited about it, people will find that same level of enthusiasm that you feel in going after this mission. And if you look at people joining Coda, many of them, when they describe why they’re joining and so on, they’ll describe a lot of left brain things.

I’ll talk about in a moment. But they’ll all start with I just thought it was a chance to build a thing that really mattered. And that’s a thing that when you get those opportunities, you get excited about and you really feel motivated about, and that can drive a lot. And I think it’s one of the things I ended up coaching entrepreneurs on a lot is how to tell your story in a way that lets people go on that journey with you.

And there’s probably a version of it that caused you as an entrepreneur to feel that convicted about it. But sometimes telling that and helping people feel part of it is really important. And I think we do a pretty good job with that. I think Coda has a big mission and has it has a good chance of impact lots of the world and lots of different aspects of the world.

And yeah, somebody, if I just talk about, for example, we talked about with distributed teams and changing how you think about bias and that’s the type of thing that would not be obvious. I just told you, Hey, we’re going to go rebuild office because we think it hasn’t been rebuilt in 40 years you probably would be excited, but maybe not that excited, but if I told you, I think the world is full of cases where whole groups of people are ignored or don’t realize their voice, their potential.

So you might be inspired by it in a totally different way. and so I think getting good at telling that story is really important. And I think, I think my, our recruiting team, each of our leaders are all very good at this and they will tell some version of this in a good way.

And it’s infectious. Then each person that turns around and tells it to the next person and so on. So I think that’s really important. I think people don’t spend enough time on this. Kenny Mendez who runs, people in operations for us is always one of the best storytellers I know. And, and has been a really good at not only doing this himself, but building a team of people that can do this well, that’s the right brain side, the left brain side, talking to him and Reid about this.

They said, look, you’re going to tell a great story. you have a pretty good network to build off of, and people want to join places where they can join other great people. And I think that’s really important, but there’s a practical side of joining a startup. And one of the things that I think companies don’t do.

And so this will get to the mechanical part of this is they’re unrealistic about the decision facing an employee and these employees, anybody you want to hire has many offers and that’s good. Like liquidity is good. The job market is generally healthy. You don’t generally want the person that is not able to get other offers.

In fact, we often offer genuinely to help people with it. I’ll help people connect with other companies. I’ll help them. I’ll reference, check for them if they, if that’s helpful and someone, because I feel like when you join a place like Coda, I don’t want you to joining because we were your last resort.

I want you to joining because you understood your options and you decided this was the best one. And if it’s not that’s okay. And I think being clear on that is helpful, but at that point, they’re going to have a decision to make, and that decision is likely not theirs alone.

Like they may have a spouse or partner. They may have a parent or family members that are coaching them, they may have an advisor or so on, and those people are gonna start left brain. And I think that from that perspective, the main thing that we end up talking about is we treat employees, making a decision to join a company as being investors.

And that philosophy is the way I think about it is I always tell people, look, when you’re joining a company you’re investing and you’re investing with your time, not with your money, but, boy, time is a way more precious resource the money. So you need to think about it in that way.

And we’ll do a lot of work too try to make this process clear to people. And, I’ll just to give a few of them first off, we’re very generous with equity. We make it such that, and that starts by, we didn’t sell that much to investors so you can get more to employees. My view is most companies end up being held too much by investors and founders and not enough by employees and it’s not a good thing.

So being generous with equity is really important. How you present the offers. I can’t tell you how many people present offers and here’s your number of shares and they don’t tell you basic information. What’s the total float of the company? What was the last round? What were the terms?

What are the gotchas in the around? Are there any special provisions? Like all these things just don’t give enough information for the person to think like an investor. And so we built an offer model that helps people run through this process. One of the things that model does is it gives an unexpected value calculator.

Which is another thing that, most employers I’ll have many employees look at equity and they’ll think of it is worth either zero or worth of a jillion dollars. The employees have no way to gauge anything in between. But smart investors know that’s not how you should think about equity.

And there’s four new investor. In a company, there’s some percentage chance of the mega outcome. And there’s some percentage chance of the mediocre outcome. And there’s some percentage chance of the zero. And yeah. And you define your scenarios and we don’t fill in anybody’s numbers and you should make your own decisions, but we just help people through that decision, give you enough information and to be able to have this conversation with your partner, with your spouse, with your family members and so on.

And, and realize that you may be excited because you want to change the world and you want to change how things operate and so on, but they want to make sure that you’re making an economically sound decision for your, for your family as well. There’s a number of other things we do there. We do a thing called founders preferred stock, which is a special tier of stock that converts a little bit closer to a preferred stock.

The ways we do the actual mechanics of the offer is and options and so on is a little bit different, but the basic philosophy is how people have that same founder level of conviction on your mission, and then treat them like investors as they make a decision to invest their time into your company.

And I thought those were like those two things together lead to building a company full of great people.

Soma: [00:33:11] We’ve had these conversations over the last couple of years, but every time sort of hearing from you about your journey about Coda journey, it’s always been fun.

It’s great. So thank you. Thank you for sharing your sort of thoughts and perspectives and your journey with us.


Shishir Mehrotra: [00:33:25] All right. Thank you. This was a lot of fun, lots of great questions and a great exploration. Thank you.

Erika: [00:33:32] Thanks for joining us for Founded and Funded. That was a great conversation with Shishir and there is more to come. We have another podcast coming later this week. That really goes a little bit more in depth into the future of work with Shishir.

Erika: [00:33:48]

Please stay tuned for that podcast coming up later this week. And send us any feedback that you have about the podcast. You can send it directly to me. It’s [email protected] and that’s E R I K A.

At madrona.com. Thanks and we hope you have a great week


Our Investment In Fauna, The Data API For Client-Serverless Applications

Today we are announcing our investment in Fauna.

We believe that the next generation of applications will be serverless. Those applications can be completely new, “greenfield” applications – like a dynamic Jamstack web application, or they can be new functionality that is added to an existing application or service but leverages a rich mobile or web client with a serverless back end. We think of this model of development as the “Client-Serverless” model, and this represents the 4th generation of application architectures.

Fauna helps developers to simplify code, reduce (development and operational) costs and ship faster by replacing their data infrastructure with a single serverless API that is easy to use, maintenance-free, yet full-featured. Fauna is the data API for Client-Serverless applications.

As computing platforms evolve, new opportunities for developer and application platform products are created. Some patterns (like the client/server era) were brought about by new technologies (Windows, SQL Server and the Windows hardware ecosystem) while others were as existing technologies aligned against important use cases (such as the LAMP stack for web applications) and just became “the best way to do it”. At any layer of the platform stack, if you can align with (or better yet create) one of these rising tides it can help you scale more efficiently. Changes in infrastructure also create opportunity, such as what we’ve seen in the Data Warehouse market where Snowflake’s forward-looking bet on exploiting elasticity and scale of cloud infrastructure have enabled them to disrupt a large and existing market.

The database market is massive and there are always opportunities for new platforms to emerge and differentiate. However, this has proven difficult as it is expensive to build a new database and even more expensive to sell one. Nowadays, decisions around infrastructure are more and more driven by developers and so any new platform needs to win the hearts and minds of developers first and foremost. Without this, the only way to land new customers is going to be through a deep technical sales process. You can argue that most of the NoSQL era (Mongo for example) came about via more effectively targeting developers – via Open Source and having more approachable platforms that were on trend for where applications were headed.

So, it is somewhat of a straightforward formula for success in the database market: build a database and latch on to the most important trends and developer technologies. This is what Fauna has done and why they are so well positioned.

Developers are moving en masse to serverless architectures for new applications, marking the dawn of serverless as the next tool chain for building global, hyperscale apps. FaunaDB plugs in seamlessly into this new ecosystem and uniquely extends the serverless experience all the way to the database. This developer journey began with the move to the cloud, but Fauna has correctly identified serverless as the next frontier for cloud and has succeeded in building the database of choice for this new era.

FaunaDB is unique in the market combining the following attributes into a single data API:

  1. Focus on developer productivity: Web-native API with GraphQL, custom business logic and integration with serverless ecosystem for any framework
  2. Modern, no-compromise programmable platform: Underlying globally distributed storage and compute engine that is fast, consistent and reliable, with a modern security infrastructure
  3. No database operations: Total freedom from database operations at any scale

Consequently, Fauna has seen its developer community grow quickly to over 25,000 users over the past year and has developed one of the strongest brands within the serverless and Jamstack ecosystem.

While it is great to identify a massive opportunity with a differentiated product, the most important part of investing in a company is the team.

The two co-founders, Evan Weaver and Matt Freels are amazing engineering and product leaders who were instrumental in building a scalable, distributed system at Twitter, where they witnessed the signs of where the world was moving and went on to build Fauna to fulfill their vision. They built Fauna as a 100% remote team from day 1 with the right focus of communication and collaboration to enable a high performing team aligned on a common vision. With a lot of the tech industry talking about working remotely currently, Evan and Matt have been leaders in adopting the “future of work” and setting up a strong culture for success as the team continues to scale in the new post COVID-19 era.

Eric Berg, who recently joined Fauna as the CEO is somebody that I have worked with at Microsoft in the past, was a key leader at one of Madrona’s portfolio companies (Apptio) and most recently the Chief Product Officer at Okta. During his eight-year Okta experience, he took a pre-Series A company through IPO, developing an identity product no one was sure they needed into a huge success.

And of course, I am very excited to have the opportunity to work together with Bob Muglia again as the Chairman of the Board at Fauna. I have had the opportunity to work together with Bob over the decades, initially at Microsoft and more recently at Snowflake and am thrilled to be able to work with him again here. Bob and I share a common vision of Client-Serverless being the next generation application model – applications are composed of Internet connected services using standard REST and GraphQL APIs, the Jamstack and the browser being the universal client and a globally distributed database as a cornerstone of this ecosystem.

With such a stellar team, a great product and a massive potential opportunity, it is a no-brainer for me to want to be a part of this journey and that’s one of the main reasons we decided to invest in Fauna. Looking forward to this journey!

Welcoming Zeitworks To The Madrona Family!

Today, we are thrilled to announce a $4.5 million seed financing in Zeitworks, a company incubated at Madrona Venture Labs, that is automating process discovery, mapping and measurement. We are also excited to partner again with Ryan Windham – who previously was the CEO of Cedexis in our portfolio – and welcome our new co-investors JAZZ Venture Partners, and entrepreneur Spencer Rascoff, founder of Zillow.

Most investments we make at Madrona follow the time-tested model in which an entrepreneur pitches us his/her vision of how to change the world and we end up partnering because we believe that is the right team taking on an important market opportunity for which the time has come. And we also need to believe that we can directly contribute to their success. Occasionally, we have bent that model and incubated a company at Madrona via Madrona Venture Labs, that has a full fledged incubation program. Zeitworks is the outcome of one such collaboration in a space that we have a deep conviction in.

Intelligent applications have been at the core of our investing strategy for years. The proliferation of data, and the ability to process it and derive insights has changed both consumer facing and enterprise facing experiences. In the last couple of years we have seen this extend to automating tasks and we have become more involved with companies looking to change how work gets done, as evidenced by our investment in UiPath, the leader in RPA. But understanding the work and the process is a required element to actually automating.

Businesses in every industry execute hundreds of repetitive business processes for wide-ranging use cases such as claims processing, employee onboarding, order processing, returns management, etc. to name just a few. The success of such processes, and in turn of the businesses executing those, critically depend on the efficiency of those processes and the ability to improve their efficiencies. However, in an overwhelming majority of cases, the processes are not documented – or, at least poorly documented – and not measured accurately enough. As a result, businesses struggle to understand the true costs of their processes, identify the bottlenecks and make improvements that would have the highest ROI.

Traditionally, process discovery and modeling has been largely manual – serviced by consulting firms such as Accenture, Deloitte, PWC, etc. – and as a result, costly and time-consuming. However, with every business undergoing digital transformation, automated discovery and measurement of processes is increasingly becoming key to success.

Zeitworks is building a process discovery/mining product to automatically map, measure, and improve business processes across all applications, without IT integrations, consultants, interviews, or workshops. The operative word here is “automatically:” Zeitworks collects data on user activity and events via desktop sensors, applies Machine Learning to automatically discover and map processes, and analyzes and measures those processes to understand, optimize and automate those.

While process discovery and mining is not new, what makes Zeitworks possible today is the convergence of three macro trends – (a) the availability of “infinite” compute thanks to cloud computing, (b) the ability to collect large volumes of high-fidelity data, and (c) the maturity of ML/AI techniques to identify patterns and extract unique insights. Capitalizing on advanced ML algorithms and the computing ability to process vast amounts of data, Zeitworks can help identify repetitive processes and provide insights into how they are being accomplished now and how they can be completed more efficiently. Equally importantly, Zeitworks requires no deep technology integrations, enabling teams to deploy the software and realize value in a matter of hours.

From a market need standpoint, the focus on digital transformation and increasing efficiencies is driving business users’ awareness of the benefits of analyzing and understanding their own processes. We believe that Zeitworks will be a key enabler in that inevitable digital transformation of enterprises.

At Madrona Venture Labs (MVL), the founders Ryan Windham, Ben Elowitz and Matthew Holloway tested the idea behind Zeitworks extensively, with input from hundreds of prospective customers and us, while assembling a world-class team of product and technology leaders to go execute that vision. MVL continues to be core to our work with early stage founders – the MVL process includes both ideating and testing as well as partnering with a wide variety of technical and business founders – and Zeitworks is a great example of a world-class founding team taking on a market opportunity we have a deep conviction in.

We could not be more excited to partner with Ryan and team and we look forward to helping them build the next billion-dollar business in enterprise software!




Embracing the Intersections of Innovation: Our Investment in Nautilus Biotechnology

(Sujal Patel and Parag Mallick, co-founders of Nautilus)

The code of life, biology and chemistry, have been constantly evolving for millions of years. The code of computing has functioned for less than 100 years. Today, those domains are coming together to transform the ways we understand and improve life and health. The biological and chemical sciences are intersecting with the computer and data sciences in precision medicine, digital pathology, proteomics and more. At Madrona, we believe these intersections of innovation will be at the forefront of major breakthroughs in research, analysis, diagnostics, clinical processes, preventions and cures. While our 25-year history has primarily been focused on transformations in information technology sectors including cloud computing, applied ML/AL, Software as a Service and Internet/e-commerce, we have more recently embraced opportunities where biotech meets infotech.

A company that embodies this emerging theme is Nautilus Biotechnology. Madrona has helped shape the company for almost four years, working together with founders Sujal Patel and Parag Mallick from day one. We provided office space and support for the company in the early days. We co-invested in the Series A with Andreessen Horowitz’s Bio-fund a few years back. And, today, Nautilus announced their $76 million Series B round with new investors including Vulcan Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Bezos Expeditions and Defy.vc.

What has drawn us to this investment theme in general and to Nautilus in particular? It is a combination of the expansive opportunities for scientific discovery, the scale, speed and agility enabled by modern compute and automation, and the continuous improvement in patient and disease understanding enabled by machine and deep learning. But, more importantly, it is a combination of founders in Sujal Patel who we have worked with for almost 20 years – first as the founder and CEO of Isilon Systems (and Madrona Strategic Director), and Parag Mallick who is a Stanford Professor with a focus on proteomics and systems biology with a background in biochemistry and computer science.

Nautilus’s Approach to Innovative Thinking

Biological sciences have been transformed over the past twenty years first by sequencing the full human genome and then by the “commoditization” of genomic sequencing (Illumina, 10X Genomics). Yet, a human’s approximately 3.2 billion nucleotides and 25,000 genes are just the beginning. The DNA functions as a set of instructions, a static view of what might happen, that needs to be transcribed and translated into the tens of thousands of proteins that drive all life — selective expression of proteins drive cell differentiation, metabolic reactions, stimulus response and, importantly, disease. Those proteins act dynamically to determine how our body functions (and malfunctions) which creates substantial measurement challenges.

From the beginning of Nautilus, Parag and Sujal set out to think differently. The core challenge they were trying to tackle: how do we make the proteome as accessible and impactful as possible by overcoming the limitations (coverage, throughput, ease-of-use) of existing protein analyses approaches. By reimagining proteomics as the foundation for improving the health of millions of people, Nautilus strives to enable new horizons in basic science research while transforming drug discovery and personalized/precision medicine.

Nautilus approaches the challenge of mapping the proteome differently at every stage of their automated and re-imagined process. That starts with the biochemical steps for how samples are prepared on the front end and continues through to the cloud computing, data science and machine learning techniques used continuously on massive datasets throughout the process. They leverage a robust understanding of biochemistry and the abundant technological resources that are only now available in scalable ways through cloud computing. There is so much more for the Nautilus team to share, but we defer to them on how and when to tell their story more fully!

Madrona’s Three Key Intersections of Innovation Concepts

Madrona’s investment in Nautilus and their approach to re-imagining the ability to leverage proteomics is just one area where biological sciences are intersecting with computer and data sciences. In the past several years we have increasingly seen the growing interdependence of these disciplines and the ability they have to change lives.

There are many more categories where the intersections of innovation apply. Digital pathology is developing models for image-based tumor detection, cancer research is applying machine learning to identify genetic or immune system biomarkers, and CRISPR screening techniques are helping to rapidly understand the mechanisms of action underpinning disease. Three key concepts span these intersection areas – discovery, automation and continuous learning.

  1. Discovery: The more we know about human (and non-human) biology, the more we realize there is so much more to learn. The pursuit of basic science research and the curiosity to explore new areas of discovery are central to the breakthroughs that lie ahead. Take the relatively new learnings about how bacteria’s immune system fights viruses by turning the virus’s DNA against itself through CRISPR-associated proteins (Cas) and guide RNA. In just the past decade, the natural function of the CRISPR-Cas systems has been harnessed intro powerful molecular biology tools to edit the genome, to the point that we can now edit at the base level. Modern information technologies will facilitate the front-end research and leverage discoveries, but the opportunities start with new biological insights.
  2. Automation: Biology was historically the world of wet labs filled with samples, test tubes and pipettes. Today, wet labs are combined with dry labs where computer modelling, simulations and in silico analysis occur. And, increasingly the processes of these two lab environments are automated and digitized. New approaches to sample prep and handling, to “seeing” and measuring the impact of reagents and then gathering massive amounts of data to rapidly analyze are emerging. The automation of preparing inputs, running experimental processes and analyzing outputs has the potential to mirror the journey of semiconductor technology from bespoke workflows to highly digitized, specialized and scalable processes. This automation, combined with massive computing resources, can lead to both broad scale breakthroughs and cost-effective precision medicines over time.
  3. Continuous Learning: Digitized data, across a mix of data types and formats, can increasingly be combined and normalized to transform information into insights. There are massive amounts of data to be captured through increasingly sophisticated techniques like high throughput sequencing and screening and cryo-electron microscopy. Elements of data management, modelling and machine/deep learning can then be leveraged to deepen the insights. In fact, operationalized data models can continuously improve our understanding of a mutation, antigen, biomarker or general disease state. In time, this should lead to curative approaches to most cancers, gene editing that prevents diseases and even rapid detection and containment of viruses.

The Road Ahead

The Madrona team is energized by our journey to continuously learn and support companies at the intersections of innovation. In addition to Nautilus, we have made substantial investments in Ovation.io, TwinStrand Biosciences, Accolade and Terray Therapeutics. And, we have seed-stage investments in a few early-stage companies within this investment theme. But today we especially want to celebrate the news about Nautilus’ Series B round and the potential for this outstanding team and company to positively impact the world by providing affordable and accessible proteomic information and insights to all those who may benefit from them.

Our Investment in GO1, Offering Online Training and Learning Content Platform Right When We Need It Most

We, at Madrona Venture Group, are excited to announce our investment in GO1, a company that is focused on making learning easy. GO1 has been quietly establishing their platform in a LMS (Learning Management System) agnostic way for corporations, educational institutions and continuing education organizations to reach their users with the content they need. When we first met with GO1’s Andrew Barnes, this current COVID-19 crisis was not even a whisper. Now at a roar, we are seeing that not only is GO1’s core business of corporate training strong, but the learning management systems that deliver content from top educational institutions to their students are expanding their usage. And we think they won’t turn back once we are out of this global pandemic.

GO1 delivers an onboarding, compliance, educational and professional development platform for employee and student education and training. By aggregating training content from a broad set of content providers, GO1 redefines how enterprises procure training content and how employees consume it in an on-demand basis via a modern self-service user experience. GO1 also integrates with a variety of key learning management platforms and integrates with front ends such as Microsoft Teams, which has seen incredible growth.

When I first met with Andrew Barnes, CEO and co-founder of GO1, I was a little skeptical about the training/learning market and opportunity. The worldwide training market is massive and estimated at low hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide. At the same time, it is a highly fragmented market. I was transparent with Andrew about my skepticism, and to his credit he took that as a challenge to educate me – and now we are investing. So, it worked!

GO1 is taking a unique approach to this massive opportunity. Rather than being yet another content creator, they have built a platform that aggregates any and all training content, provides an easy-to-consume user experience, and is LMS agnostic. Additionally, they have an easy API and can be integrated into corporate platforms and, as mentioned above, popular collaborative learning environments such as Microsoft Teams.

There are several changes underway in the market that together provide a massive opportunity for a platform like GO1 to fundamentally transform how people learn and train themselves to the ever- changing needs and requirements of the business world.

  • Secular trends are driving the need for more training including compliance and regulatory requirements.
  • Enterprises view access to world-class training and learning as a core value proposition for their employees – both in terms of increased productivity and satisfaction.
  • Consumerization forces drive employees to want access to training that is highly relevant and curated with an easy-to-consume on-demand experience.

GO1’s solution is squarely focused on taking advantage of these trends and delivering a scalable marketplace for corporate training and educational learning content. The access to data that they have about course consumption across users and industries provides a valuable opportunity to provide more curated and targeted content that is highly relevant for their users – driving consumption and satisfaction higher.

GO1 is part of the Madrona Acceleration Fund that we raised last year to invest in great companies and teams that have found product-market fit and are ready to scale to the next level. We are excited that Salesforce Ventures joined us as new investors in this round. With 1.5M+ learners already taking advantage of the GO1 platform, this company has laid a strong foundation for scale.

The world needs all kinds of support right now and we are excited for GO1 to be a company that can provide learning experiences to a broad audience, inspiring minds and inspiring change. We are looking forward to being a valuable partner for Andrew and his team as GO1 continues to build the world’s largest online learning platform.

Investing in VNDLY and the Future of Enterprise Applications – Intelligent Apps

Over the past few years and the next few years, we will see the formation of the next generation of enterprise application companies, companies applying intelligence to their applications. Over the subsequent decade those companies will replace legacy companies such as SAP, Oracle, NetSuite [part of Oracle] and Salesforce.

This will happen for a simple reason. It will happen because applications will become, well, intelligent. As ML/AI becomes integrated into every element of the application stack, applications will learn on a real-time basis and they will start to take actions on our behalf. Intelligent applications will deliver a far better customer experience, solve more of the customer problem set, and do so at far better economics than traditional or even SaaS applications.

That thesis on intelligent applications is why I am so excited about many of the companies we are working with including, Clari [Revenue Operations], a stealth corporate travel startup, a stealth financial application startup, and our most recent investment, VNDLY.

VNDLY, is a talent management solution founded by Shashank Saxena and Narayan Surabhi. Based in Cincinnati, OH, VNDLY’s clould-native vendor management solution gives employers and contractors an AI-based platform that adapts to the changing needs of both groups.

Over the past few decades, the contract and contingent portion of the corporate workforce has grown from less than 20% to more than 40%. My experience leading the Fieldglass team at SAP helped me to see the scale of the challenge businesses face in effectively recruiting, paying, managing and engaging with this critical part of a company.

Like every other component of the enterprise application stack, there is an opportunity to materially improve the completeness, the economic value and the ease of use, of solutions focused on the vendor and contract workforce.

There is an opportunity to serve this part of the workforce with the same fullness of solutions that companies like WorkDay, provide for full-time employees.

Shashank, who was previously an executive at Kroger, and I met a few years ago. I knew at that time that I would enjoy working with him. Shashank and his team are customer centric, insatiably curious, intellectually honest and continually raise the bar on themselves.

I am thrilled to have led Madrona’s investment in VNDLY and excited to work alongside Shashank and team as VNDLY’s newest board member.

Our investment in VNDLY is an Acceleration Fund investment, which is focused on companies that have found product and market fit and are scaling their businesses.


Our Journey With Snowflake

We first met the Snowflake team three years and three months ago. At the time, Snowflake was at a sub-$10M revenue run rate, and we were skeptical that the world needed another data warehouse, given the number of other data warehouses from both the cloud providers and legacy on-prem competitors.

However, after meeting the team and speaking with early customers, we realized that Snowflake was a must-have product for next generation intelligent applications. By rebuilding the data warehouse from the ground up with cloud-first design principles, modern enterprises can benefit from both higher throughput and speed as well as better concurrent queryability, and for any data-driven company, Snowflake’s product is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

At the time, Snowflake also wanted to take a bet on the Seattle ecosystem to build stronger relationships with the cloud providers and to tap into the local talent pool of systems and database engineers.

So given the combination of technically superior product, early but strong customer traction, the perfect team for the space, and our ability to support their growth in Seattle, we decided to invest in the company.

Today, we are excited to announce Snowflake’s $479M funding round, led by Dragoneer Investment Group and Salesforce Ventures.

Despite Snowflake being the fastest growing enterprise company we have ever seen at Madrona, it still feels like it’s early days for Snowflake, and we are looking forward to the next chapter of their journey.

Our Investment in Uplevel, Helping Engineering Teams Become More Effective

(founding team – David, Joe, Ravs, Dave)

Today, we are excited to announce our investment in Uplevel, whose mission is to empower software engineering teams to do their best work. The company announced $7.5M in seed funding from Madrona, Norwest Venture Partners and Voyager Capital.

Engineering productivity has become a tough nut to crack for many growing companies. Developers are pulled in many directions at once, constantly bouncing between immediate and cross-team meetings, code reviews, planning, strategy, and, of course, actually writing code. With more interruptions comes lower productivity. While there are many tools available to other types of teams within an organization, few are designed with the engineer and engineering team manager in mind. Enter Uplevel.

Uplevel is designed to help engineering teams and managers take back their productivity. At Madrona, we believe in the power of intelligent applications to provide important insights. Uplevel’s unique combination of machine learning from ambient data created by and in systems that developers use every day (think messaging apps, calendar, code repositories, project management tools, etc.) plus deep organizational science knowledge fits this thesis to a “t”. Uplevel’s system generates data-driven insights that are rich, actionable, and help teams make small changes that provide outsized results. The product fundamentally is designed to help the sometimes overlooked firstlevel manager who most developers in an engineering organization report to, yet lacks the management tools available to senior management or individual contributors. Equally important, the product helps the team work together to become more effective by providing insights to both the manager and the individual developers so everyone has the same information and can openly collaborate using data instead of gut feel.

We are also pleased that the original idea for Uplevel was hatched by Dave Matthews, co-founder and Director of Product Management, at a hackathon run by Madrona Venture Labs. David Youssefnia, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, was also working in the labs as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). He had previously been leveraging his PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology by helping companies answer these tough productivity questions using old-school surveys, but he knew that there must be a better way. They were joined by co-founder and CEO, Joe Levy. Joe is a startup veteran in Seattle, having had successful go-to-market leadership roles at a number of SaaS analytics companies. Joe is someone we have been fortunate to know for a number of years and are thrilled to be working together at Uplevel. To perfectly round out the founding team, CTO Ravs Kaur came onboard from Tableau Software, bringing ideal experiences building and scaling software products and teams, data visualization, and a keen understanding of the “voice of the customer” pain point that Uplevel is solving. They have since recruited an amazing initial team and built a vibrant and fun culture.

While operating in stealth mode for the past year, the company has built a fantastic initial product and great group of blue-chip customers. They are now scaling rapidly and further building out their team (yes – they are hiring!).

Uplevel represents exactly what we love to do at Madrona: back amazing founders tackling important problems in massive markets using cutting technology, from day one for the long run. We have been fortunate to work with these founders since before Uplevel was even officially a company. We are enthused at their progress since, creating an innovative solution for this important challenge for product and engineering teams.

Tesorio, Applying AI to the Office of the CFO

Today, we are thrilled to announce leading Tesorio’s $10m Series A funding round. As a career CFO, I am always looking for ways to automate the back office and to apply modern technologies, such as ML/AI and RPA to the office of the CFO. When you are managing a company that is growing quickly, it is imperative that processes scale and do not break as the organization changes. That is why I was excited when I met Tesorio and saw a practical application of new algorithms and technology in a space that I have been involved in my entire professional life.

Throughout my career at both private and public companies I was constantly frustrated by how many important analyses happen in a bespoke excel spreadsheet. In today’s modern era, it is amazing how many crucial decisions are made, key conclusions are formed and key metrics are created with spreadsheets that are on the brink of breaking – too many links, formulas, dependencies and worksheets!

The ultimate financial metric for a company is Cash. Not just the current balance, but the trajectory of the balance. In the vast majority of companies this analysis is performed on a spreadsheet. One containing many links, often circular references, and pulling in data from multiple sources. The risk of an error, a break, is high. Equally importantly, a spreadsheet is not exactly a living, breathing thing even though we might pretend otherwise. Changes to data sitting in different silos do not flow easily into spreadsheets without complex processes and significant human involvement.

When I met the Tesorio team, it was exciting to be able to quickly dive into a product that was replacing the spreadsheet and adding an intelligent layer to the cash flow forecasting process. By pulling actual transactions from back-office systems, adding ML/AI to that history and allowing the user to add in unique transactions, the system uses a 3-part process to generate a cash flow.

In addition, Tesorio enables their clients to impact and improve their cash flow. The building blocks of cash flow – the inputs and outputs–are addressed in the Tesorio offering. Their AR Automation offers the ability to streamline the collection of AR (Accounts Receivables) by understanding when customers typically pay, automating customer contact to speed payment, and delivering a dashboard for finance teams to manage the workflow and communication that is core to successful collections. The same is true with the management of AP (Accounts Payable) and the forecasting and planning of hedging strategies. The result of all these areas is that much of the Finance and Accounting teams spend their day in the Tesorio application – all ultimately feeding the cash flow forecast.

The founding team, Carlos Vega and Fabio Fleitas together bring a unique combination of technical and financial expertise. They partnered together at UPenn, where Carlos was studying analytics at Wharton after spending nearly a decade in finance, and Fabio was studying computer science in the School of Engineering where he founded PennApps Fellows. Together they have brought to market a product that has already been adopted and used by an impressive list of companies including Veeva Systems, Box, WP Engine, Instructure, and Couchbase.

Finally, Tesorio squarely fits our Intelligent Applications thesis that we at Madrona have been focused on for several years. As we have discussed here, we expect intelligent applications to disrupt every business process by collecting data across different silos and applying ML/AI to that data to extract unique insights, automate workflows and even obliterate obsolete processes in some instances. In Tesorio, we believe we have finally found a product that provides the CFO and her team unique insights into the business and optimizes its finances like never possible before.

Announcing our Investment in Crowd Cow

I am excited to announce our Series A investment in Crowd Cow, a curated online marketplace for high quality craft meats sourced from independent farmers. This is our third collaboration with Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry, the co-founders of Crowd Cow. Both Joe and Ethan worked on Poppy, their 3D camera startup, as entrepreneurs in residence at Madrona, after which Joe co-led Madrona Venture Labs. We have always respected and admired Joe and Ethan as entrepreneurs, tinkerers and company-builders, and finally found an opportunity to invest in one of their companies.

Crowd Cow was inspired by an engineer’s passion for farm-sourced meat, and Joe and Ethan’s realization that: 1.) farm-sourced meat is significantly better and more flavorful than the meat available at your local grocery store, and 2.) buying a 1/4 ‘cowshare’, the principal way people buy meat directly from the farm, is not a mainstream buying activity (in part because a 1/4 share is about 125 pounds of meat). Instead of selling 1/4 shares, Crowd Cow lets customers pick and choose the cuts they want in any quantity, with orders delivered directly to their front door.

It became clear from early on that consumers love the quality and flavor of meat sourced directly from farms, and that they care where their meat comes from and how the animals are raised, cared for, and fed. As the Crowd Cow team searched the nation (and later the globe) for the best farmers producing the best product, they learned that the diversity of ‘breeds and feeds’ from these independent farms produced a wonderful diversity of textures and flavors; and they found that this is as true with chicken, turkey, and pork, as it is with beef. This great diversity is documented in Craft Beef, Joe and Ethan’s #1 bestselling book on Amazon.

The Crowd Cow team is now on a mission to bring the great quality and diversity of farm-sourced meat, from across the country and the globe, directly to consumers. In doing so, Crowd Cow has become an invaluable resource to independent farmers, enabling them to share their craft and build their brand with consumers through the Crowd Cow platform. In a market controlled by a small number of corporate conglomerates, giving independent producers a more direct path to their customers is a very good thing.

We could not be more enthusiastic about Joe and Ethan’s vision for where they plan to take Crowd Cow, and we welcome the Crowd Cow team to the Madrona family. Whether grass-finished or grain-finished is your cup of tea, or you have a hankering for pasture-raised chicken or heritage pork, Crowd Cow has something for everyone; including super premium A5 Wagyu from Kagoshima, Japan, and the ultra-rare Olive Beef. We look forward to partnering with Joe, Ethan and team to bring the best craft meats sourced from independent producers to consumers across the country and the globe.

Announcing $300 Million for Technology Entrepreneurs and Founders

Today the Madrona Team is gratified to announce our latest $300 million fund, Madrona Fund VII, for investing in exceptional technology entrepreneurs and founders in the Pacific Northwest from Day One. Our longstanding endowment, foundation and family office investors see a huge amount of opportunity for growth in our market. We agree – we think the next big technology trends of cloud computing, intelligent applications powered by AI/ML, multi-sense user interfaces and solutions combining the digital and physical world will drive the next decade of innovation are all happening in greater Seattle better than anywhere else in the world.

We look forward to working with great entrepreneurs, co-investors, and partners as we build the next big companies for the future. Here are the details: we raised $300 million from which we will make initial investments over the next 3-4 years and use to continue to support those companies over the long run – often for 10+ years. Four of our companies have IPO’d in the last two years (Smartsheet, Redfin, Apptio and Impinj) and they exemplify how we work. We were there at day one through the ups and downs for every one of those companies. The average time from inception to IPO for those companies was 12 years. We believe whole heartedly in the innovation of people in the Northwest and we are excited every day to get up and work with you to build success.

Thank you!

Below is our press release on the new fund.

Madrona Venture Group Expands Capital for Entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest – Announces a New $300 Million Fund for Early-Stage Technology Companies

Fresh from Four IPOs, Madrona’s Fund VII was Over-Subscribed with Investors Interested in Participating in the Growing Innovation Ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest

Seattle, WA – May 22, 2018 – Madrona Venture Group (www.madrona.com) today announced the closing of a $300 million investment fund, Madrona’s seventh. Madrona’s strategy is to partner with the most promising technology entrepreneurs and their teams from day one through the long term. Madrona primarily focuses on great founders based in the Pacific Northwest, which is home to two of the world’s four largest technology companies, Microsoft and Amazon, as well as a thriving technology and startup ecosystem.

In the past two years, four of Madrona’s portfolio companies have gone public. With each of these companies – Smartsheet, Redfin, Apptio and Impinj – Madrona was there at day one and partnered with the team every step of the way. The average time from initial investment to IPO for these companies was 12 years, exemplifying the firm’s long-term commitment to entrepreneurs.

“The entrepreneurs in our region continue to build exceptional companies on the leading edge of major customer, technology and business model changes. We believe cloud computing, intelligent applications powered by AI/ML, multi-sense user interfaces and solutions combining the digital and physical world will drive the next decade of innovation,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director, Madrona Venture Group. “On behalf of the entire Madrona team, we are proud to have the trust of our many limited partners and outstanding founders.”

Madrona Venture Group Managing Directors

Fund VII is Madrona’s seventh fund over the last 23 years and brings funds under management to nearly $1.6 billion. The oversubscribed fund is supported by a diverse set of repeat and long-term investors including the nation’s premier endowments, foundations, family offices, Outsourced Chief Investment Offices (OCIOs) and entrepreneurs.

Madrona’s philosophy of supporting technology entrepreneurs and startups in their earliest days continues with this fund, and the firm will deploy capital to lead and participate in seed and Series A investment rounds. In addition, the entire Madrona team will continue to roll up their sleeves to help with recruiting great talent, making strategic business decisions, amplifying company stories, connecting them with partners and customers and raising follow-on financings.

Mark Mader, long-time CEO of newly public Smartsheet (NYSE: SMAR) commented, “Madrona understood Smartsheet’s vision and the value of our innovation from our earliest days, even when some others did not. In the eleven years since, our partnership has yielded significant growth, supported by Madrona’s valued counsel on market trends, buyer needs, funding, executive talent, and ability to collaborate with other growth investors. As I reflect on the early decisions that made a positive difference for Smartsheet’s business, our decision to partner with Madrona is one that delivered in the short, medium, and long term.”

Madrona has been committed to supporting, spurring and fostering the innovation ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest over its history, ranging from creating Seattle’s first startup studio, Madrona Venture Labs, five years ago; launching and supporting Seattle TechStars; partnering with the University of Washington Allen School of Computer Science; and working with the angel investor community. This year, Madrona will open Floor 33, a Seattle innovation community co-located with Madrona that will house an expanded Madrona Venture Labs and a curated co-working space for founders and their teams featuring programming for residents and the entire community. This 22,000 square foot location will open later this summer.

Current and new portfolio companies will benefit from an expanded group of Managing Directors, investment professionals, Venture Partners and professionals dedicated to helping our companies succeed. Recent additions include: Managing Director, S. Somasegar; Venture Partners, Ted Kummert, Hope Cochran, and Luis Ceze; Strategic Director, Betsy Sutter; investment professionals Maria Karaivanova, Sudip Chakrabarti and Chris Picardo; Talent Director, Shannon Anderson; and Business Development and Investor Relations Director, Alice Ryder.

About Madrona

Madrona is an early stage venture capital firm in the Pacific Northwest. The firm invests in technology entrepreneurs and companies, and works with them to build their businesses. Madrona manages nearly $1.6 billion and was an early investor in companies such as Amazon.com, Apptio, Smartsheet, Rover.com, and Redfin.

Contact: Erika Shaffer [email protected] 206-972-5514

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.

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.

The Epitome of a Day One Entrepreneur

(Jason LeeKeenan and Russell Wilson of TraceMe)

At Madrona we meet many outstanding entrepreneurs and innovators. Sometimes we meet them when they are starting a company, like Sujal Patel from Isilon or Jesse Rothstein from Extrahop. Other times, like Aaron Easterly from Rover or David Shim from Placed, we got to know them as “rising stars” at prior Madrona companies before they became an entrepreneur. But, this year we got to know someone who for so many of us we feel like we already knew. Over the months of working with him and investing in TraceMe, we have discovered how much more there was to learn about this amazing Day One entrepreneur and the company he started.

The entrepreneur is Russell Wilson and the company he founded is TraceMe. You likely know him best as the All-Pro, Super Bowl Champion, starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. And, attributes that have contributed to Russell’s success in pro football are among those that make him the epitome of a Day One entrepreneur. He is customer-centric, passionate about the opportunity, focused, determined and an attractor of complementary talent.

TraceMe Product Showcase. Russell Wislon, Ask Me Anything.

On the talent front, Russell worked with our friends at Pioneer Square Labs to incubate TraceMe and recruited an amazing star in Jason LeeKeenan to be CEO. Jason’s background includes key roles at Hulu in the early years and Zulily. And, while he is warming up to the Seattle Seahawks as a life-long Patriots fan, he deeply understands the TraceMe opportunity and how to build a sustainable company through innovative content. Jason and Russell are building a world class team of software engineers, video producers and content editors at TraceMe to attack this challenge. Madrona is delighted to be partnering with them as the lead investor in TraceMe’s $9 million Series A financing closed in the spring and announced this week.

At the heart of TraceMe is the idea that celebrities and their loyal fans want more direct and engaging ways to interact. We all see clues about this interest in social media experiences that go beyond current channels in platforms including Twitch for gamers and YouTube for live video bloggers. TraceMe is building a platform tuned specifically for celebrities like Russell and their super fans. TraceMe will create meaningful experiences for fans with compelling content, products and experiences.

We hope that fans will download the TraceMe app this week and give it a try. The app is in beta so your feedback will be helpful as the TraceMe team prioritizes new features and content. Similar to how we have gotten to know Russell Wilson better, we hope you will feel closer to him and the things he is passionate about. These include faith, family, football and finding ways as an entrepreneur to help fans more personally connect with celebrities. As opening week of the regular NFL football season kicks off, we look forward to partnering with the great Day One entrepreneurs at TraceMe to help them win big!