A few weeks ago I reposted some great advice from Fred Wilson for pitching entrepreneurs:
“Fundraising is simple: find investors that get excited about your company.”
Our experience with Spare5 and their experience raising money from us, where we just led a $10 million Series A Financing together with Madrona Venture Group and New Enterprise Associates, fits this quote perfectly.
Matt Bencke, Spare5’s CEO, had a conversation last November with Jason. I remember Jason walking into my office and saying that he’d been thinking about something like this for a while and was super excited about how Matt was describing what Spare5 was going to do. Within a few days, Ryan, Seth and I also spoke with Matt and his co-founders and agreed to participate in their $3.25M Series Seed round.
While it helped that our long time friend Greg Gottesman had been working Matt for a while and that Spare5 was the first company to emerge from Greg’s Madrona Venture Labs project, Jason bouncing up and down about it in my office when describing his excitement to me was the real spark.
Since then the team at Spare5 has made great progress. We are psyched to be leading this round with the same VC team that made up the company’s first round. For the last several months we have had an insider’s view into Spare5’s progress, promise, and challenges. We love what we see.
Spare5 is bringing a unique approach to a massive problem that is riding huge trends. More and more companies are swimming in data – both signal and lots and lots of noise. Whether your company is posting content, selling online, training machines, and / or trying to understand what people think, you need human insights more than ever before. Spare5’s micro-task platform gathers targeted peoples’ inputs, and synthesizes them into valuable insights. The other side of this trend is the fact that we’re a society addicted to our smartphones. Spare5 aspires to give everyone a host of new choices about how to spend spare time productively and make a buck while doing it.
If you have dirty data or not enough of the good, actionable kind, check out www.spare5.com/product. If you are some particular combination of audacious, ambitious, and inspired check out www.spare5.com/jobs. And if you’re just plain nuts, download the iOS app and let Spare5 tap into your particular kind of crazy today.
Last night at dinner I got into a conversation with Greg Gottesman about the trillion dollars of student loans outstanding in the United States. Greg pointed me to this awesome TEDx Talk that he did recently on the topic. I just watched it – if you are interested in higher education in any way it’s worth 12 minutes of your life to watch it right now. I’ll still be here when you finish.
While Amy and I don’t have kids, we’ve funded the college educations for several relatives and the children of several friends. We’re fortunate that we can write these checks as the parents couldn’t have, and in each case the experience has been life changing, with no strings attached, for the young men and women. They went to schools they previously couldn’t have afforded and when they graduated they had no student debt.
When I consider their paths without our support, it would have been harder. Each of them is an amazing young person, but they are able to explore more things, in different ways, because of the education they got. And as I watch them continue to learn and grow, through their work experience, additional education, and online activities, I realize that the chance they had to go to college is still a critical part of the American dream.
I’m interested in this at many levels. My wife Amy is on the board of trustees of Wellesley College and cares passionately about her alma mater, the amazing experience of going to school there, as well as the increasing cost of education. I’m on the CU Boulder Chancellor’s Strategic Advisory Council and one of the major topics we have been discussing is the escalating cost of education and the dramatically decreasing public funding of education. I’m an investor – directly and indirectly – in a number of companies creating new online education systems. I’m a content provider for some of these MOOCs, with some courses coming out over the next twelve months. And I’ve started to take some courses as a way of learning new things while understanding what works – and what doesn’t work – with this new approach.
Up to this point, I’ve been focused on the cost and content side of the equation. Until last night, I didn’t think much about the implication of the student funding side (e.g. debt) of the equation – either the long term macroeconomic effect on society or the short term microeconomic effect on the recent graduate now saddled with student debt.
There are plenty of creative approaches to this, including many experiments underway with schools like MIT and Stanford in conjunction with new companies like Udacity and Coursera. The activity on the course and content side seems vibrant, which has the opportunity to lower overall costs.
But I don’t have a clue about the financing side, and am going to think more about it. If you have any insights, feel free to toss them in the comments or point me at stuff I should read.