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.

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!

M87 – A New Wireless Infrastructure Company Comes to Seattle

The wireless infrastructure industry in the Pacific NW has a long history – from McCaw to AT&T Wireless to T-Mobile. Madrona is very excited to be announcing our investment in M87 which provides better connectivity over existing infrastructure to wireless consumers, infrastructure providers and app developers. This company brings together technology that is crucial as data on our wireless infrastructure increases 50% annually, with a team that is deep on technology and business leadership. Cole Brodman, who has over 25 years of wireless experience, much of it right here at T-Mobile, is also joining the company today as CEO. Cole is someone we have worked with over the last several years and we are excited to be backing a company he is behind.

M87’s technology focuses on the edge of the network. The idea of ‘edge networks’ is not new, early content distribution networks (CDNs) like Akamai started putting edge nodes at internet points of presence in 1998 in order to move content closer to end-users. We built a related system of audio/video streaming splitters in the same era at RealNetworks to exploit the multiplier effect of shared infrastructure and improve network performance.

Today’s mobile devices offer the ability to move the ‘edge of the network’ all the way to the end-user. Technologies such as Wifi Direct and LTE, which the majority of the world’s 4B+ mobile phones use, enable end points to redistribute content back into the network. M87’s technology taps into this ability and liberates an incredible array of new applications around industrial and consumer IoT, messaging and retail, presence awareness and instant connectivity. Two thirds of all US internet traffic is now mobile. Outside the US, the dominance of mobile networks, rather than terrestrial based internet, creates even more opportunity to improve networks and applications as emerging markets invest in new ways to expand coverage.

I’m most excited about the team and Seattle story M87 represents. Vidur Bhargava founded the company based on his research at the University of Texas and he partnered early with David Hampton who has terrific public wifi experience from his leadership of Wayport. They share Texas roots with M87 CEO Cole Brodman who moved to Seattle 21 years ago as an early product leader for Western Wireless. As CTO Cole led what became T-Mobile to more than 30M subscribers. Collectively, the m87 team has an exciting blend of experience and capabilities and we are fortunate that they are moving the company to Seattle. We will struggle to compete with their famous ‘BBQ’ but let’s welcome them to the world of coffee, a little rain and a great startup ecosystem.

And as a note the company’s name, M87, refers to one of the largest galaxies in our universe, Messier 87 that is one of the brightest sources of radio waves.

DiscoverU – Tom Alberg’s Advice to High School Students

Note: As part of The Road Map Project’s DiscoverU Campaign to get high school students to think about higher education, Madrona hosted more than 30 students from Renton High School to learn about jobs in the startup world. Tom Alberg shares this post as his thoughts for students who are thinking about working in the industry.

Here is a link to the DiscoverU website –

Where did you go to school?

I graduated from Ballard High School in Seattle. It wasn’t the best high school in the city. All the teachers weren’t great but some were amazing. I was OK in math but not great. I got a C in geometry in high school. But some teachers encouraged me and I decided to work hard to improve so I could get into college.

I majored in government in college and got pretty good at math which I have to use every day in my work.

What do you do at work?

I am a partner in a venture capital firm in Seattle. We don’t have thousands of employees like Boeing. We also don’t build airplanes. But we help create new businesses. Companies that someday might grow to be a Boeing or a Microsoft or an

What do you invest in?

We invest in people — people who have a dream about starting a company and building it into a success. Many of the people we invest in are young – under 30. I call that young.

Many are first or second generation immigrant Americans. Either they or their parents were born in a foreign country. The CEOs of at least fifteen of our fifty companies are first or second generation immigrants.

Every day someone comes into our office with an idea for a new company. We meet with over 500 every year.

Today we have over 60 active startup companies we have invested in and are working with to help them grow.

What does it take to start a company?

First, you need an idea to start a company. Hopefully, it’s a product or service that people will want to pay for. Some years ago, I met a young person who had an idea about selling books on the Internet. His name was Jeff Bezos and the company was Amazon.

Everyone has an idea for a new business. Some are good and some are not as good, but give it a try. How about delivering lunches for $11 from restaurants to people in their offices. We have one of those. It’s called Peach. You may have a better idea. Is there something you are passionate about? Maybe there is business idea involving your interests.

Do you need a team?

You need to be able to build a team. One person can’t do it all. This is the same as a winning basketball or football team. You need people with different skills who can work together. You do that every day when you play a sport or complete a group project – you know who is good at what and sometimes you push your friends to do stuff they don’t like. We can all learn to do new things

You need to be persistent even when people tell you that your idea or even you are crazy.

Does it take hard work to build a company?

To build a successful company you need to work hard and learn. Jeff Bezos had done a lot of work to analyze the book market and the Internet. He was open to new ideas. He also listened and learned as built his company. The first company name he picked was Abracadabra but someone told him it sounded like Cadaver so he renamed it Amazon. You need to learn from others.

I visited the University of Washington recently and met with two young students who are trying to launch a company that is using virtual reality to visualize organs inside the human body. I was able to grab a heart, rotate and examine its insides – all visually of course. They are working with local doctors and hospitals to test it. They call their company CadaVR – I thought it was pretty cool.

2016-10 Tom Alberg - Hay Truck
Summer job – Loading and unloading hay

What size are your companies?

Our companies start out small. One or two people working hard with an idea. They don’t need a lot of money at first. If they have a product or service that others want to pay for, then they will need more money to grow. And they come to see people like us. Or ask their friends and co-workers to invest.

What do some of your companies do?

Our companies include Redfin, which sells homes through the Internet, a restaurant delivery business, two companies that are developing products for virtual reality, a drone company that lets people at home pilot a drone from afar, a company that will deliver gasoline to your car in a workplace parking lot or mall, a company that helps you take care of your pets, and a company that sells men’s clothing over the Internet that is tailored to your measurements.

We also start companies in our Madrona Labs. Labs has six full time employees and is run by a UW grad. We’ve been lucky to work with him on multiple companies from the time was an undergrad. He started companies while still at the UW to make some money. He then went on to run and start other companies and now he is working with a team to come up with a lot of ideas to test out.

Who do your companies hire?

Our companies hire lots of UW grads. Some majored in computer science. Other pursued business courses, sales, marketing, graphic design. It takes all kinds of skills. I would love to have you major in computer science but whatever your interest, work hard at it, be persistent.

How do you see the future?

You are growing up in an exciting time. New inventions are happening every day. Some are being invented at big companies. Like Amazon. Others like Facebook are big now but started in a dorm room. There are hundreds of small companies right now in Seattle that could be the next Amazon or Facebook.

Whether you are interested in a big company or a small startup, there will be lots of opportunities for you. For a good job, however, you are going to have to finish high school. And increasingly jobs in the future will require that you go to college or to a community college to learn specific job-related skills.

Because of all the opportunity I see for you, I would be happy to be starting over.