Today, we welcome our newest addition to MFV Partners’ portfolio – a bipedal, humanoid Robotics company, Agility Robotics. We are delighted to join DCVC, Playground Global, TDK Ventures and others in the company’s $20M financing round. And this marks our second investment in Robotics.
Robotics has been around for decades – but it has found its footing in the last few years and has been growing rapidly. Advances in computer vision, navigation, AI and sensors have made Robots smarter and able to handle long, complex tasks. Smartphones have driven down the cost of computing, connectivity and other components making today’s Robots an order of magnitude cheaper compared to the ones from few years ago. Robots are finding use across construction, manufacturing, transportation, logistics …
Most of the robots we see today are made for purpose-built environments with little to no human interaction. Factories, warehouses and assembly lines are built from scratch or modified to fit Robots. When we were talking to Robotics startups, it became clear that there is a huge need for Robots that can work in existing, unstructured environments and can work alongside humans.
Enter Agility Robotics. When Andrew Maywah of TDK ventures introduced us to Damion and Jonathan, we went in with a lot of skepticism. In the past decade, we had seen demos and prototypes of bipedal robots – they all have crashed and burned; and none of those efforts turned into a commercial grade product that can be deployed in a factory or a warehouse. In our first meeting with Agility, we came away hugely impressed with the depth of the team and the maturity of the product. Few things became very clear:
Agility’s technology is fundamentally different from the wheeled Robots in the market. Digit, Agility’s first Robot, mimics the biokinetic mechanics of animals and humans to walk and move. That provides significant flexibility to adapt and work in different terrains without understanding the terrain in millimeter level detail like other Robots try to do. Digit can work in unstructured environments, can perform a wide variety of complex functions and interact in a human filled environment. As we conducted diligence on product, technology and customers, we became convinced that Agility is building something fundamentally different and potentially, category defining.
We are excited to be working along with Matt Ocko and DCVC team, Bruce Leak and Playground team in addition to TDK Ventures and other investor partners. Agility’s Robots will be deployed across many customers and use cases over the next few years and we are excited to be part of their journey and to help them succeed!
Welcome to MFV Portfolio, Agility Robotics!
We are delighted to welcome MFV Partners’ newest portfolio company, Boostup.ai, an Enterprise Sales Intelligence Platform.
This investment and the entire diligence process is indicative of the times but we are all extremely fortunate to be able to continue our work from home and through Zoom conference calls. We got introduced to Sharad and the Boostup team by Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, Girish Muckai, two years ago. So, we knew the team before Covid-19 times but this is our first investment managed and done completely through Zoom.
Extracting meaningful intelligence from volumes of data across disparate data sources is a pressing problem of today’s systems – whether in autonomous systems, Robotic platforms or Enterprise Systems. The problem is only getting worse with with new single-use applications, changing communication paradigms and variety of interaction platforms. Boostup is solving this problem for Enteprise sales and other client facing functions. Boostup platform ingests unstructured data across CRM, email, Slack, Zoom and other sources to provide actionable intelligence for sales teams.
Sharad, Amit and Neal are repeat entrepreneurs and have approached this problem with deep insights drawing on their startup and big company experiences. I was impressed with the thoughtfulness and deliberate decision making of the founders. Amit and team is building an incredibly complex technology stack. We found the team driven in their pursuit to create a compelling solution to solve the Enterprise sales needs.
We are happy to invest along with Canaan (with whom I had invested during my time at Qualcomm Ventures), Emergent Ventures (Ankur and I have exchanged ideas since his time at Nexus), BGV (this is our second investment together) and Correlation Ventures.
At MFV, we are excited to be part of Boostup’s journey in building an actionable Sales Intelligence Platform for enterprises.
Pattern recognition using Neural Networks has come a long way – When I first got exposed to it almost 25 years ago, a 500 node Neural Network would take days to train and would perform pathetically compared to a standard Bayesian classifier. The explosion of computing power, especially the parallel processing power in the GPU’s, has made training of large, deep neural networks possible. Given the computing power and the advent of various flavors of Neural Networks, many of the pattern recognition problems are well solved today. Image Recognition and Speech recognition have reached near 100% accuracy because of these deep models.
As a fund, we were looking at pattern recognition problems using AI, especially as applied to industry verticals. Our thesis was that to create significant value, technology needs to go beyond images and understand higher level context – actions, sequence of actions … If a system can recognize a complex context, spanning arbitrary time frame, that would be powerful and can be applied across variety of settings and industries. However, as you go towards understanding of complex contextual situations, the problem gets exponentially harder and requires lot more than just computing power. We were looking for companies that would tackle this problem. We didn’t find very many companies.
About a year ago, Nagraj Kashyap and Samir Kumar from M12.vc introduced us to Roland, Moritz and the TwentyBN team. Right off the bat, in the very first meeting, we were impressed with their technology and vision. The team came with a great pedigree as Roland himself was one of Geoff Hinton’s students. TwentyBN had spent a lot of time at the problem of understanding actions and context and built a solution from the ground up. If recognizing context and actions itself is a hard-enough problem, they were taking it one step further and solving it in real time and at the Edge. To say that we were hooked, would be an understatement.
As we started working with TwentyBN, we got to know the team better. Every company is a journey. I have rarely seen a startup go in a straight line in terms of direction, focus, milestones or scale. There is constant evolution and course-corrections and setbacks and adjustments – learning from the market, customers, investors and team members. It is a fine balance though – management team should be willing to take feedback and course-correct, but not so fickle that they are flip flopping on focus every day. They need to have strong conviction on the value they bring to the market but not too stubborn to listen to what the market is saying. In my experience, the companies that reach greatness are the ones that manage this fine balance. Working with the TwentyBN team through the last 12+ months, we were impressed with the team’s willingness to take critical feedback while being steadfast on their conviction and execution. We watched the team launch the Digital Avatar product, Millie, based on their underlying technology with a focus on Retail. The company in turn, has been recognized by CB Insights as a Top 100 AI company and Top 5 Retail AI company.
One aspect we look carefully when investing is the composition of the board – it is often underestimated. Having investors around the table that help with the company’s journey and can make decisions quickly and decisively is essential. Between Peter, Samir, Christian, Alex and Lior, we are very excited to have a great set of investors and people on the board.
It is fair to say we are very bullish on TwentyBN and the value that they bring to different industry segments. We believe that they are creating a new category with their technology. I am sure there will be lots of excitement, learning, setbacks and wins along the way and we are excited to be part of the journey ahead with TwentyBN!