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.
Why Today’s Most Disruptive Startups are Taking a Vertical Perspective
The most disruptive technologies today are horizontal platforms — computing, the Internet, CRM systems, databases, social media, mobile technology, the cloud revolution, payment gateways… Even in their incubatory stages, they became platforms that could be applied to just about any industry vertical — Retail, Manufacturing, Automotive, Financial Services, etc. Of course, Silicon Valley likes horizontal platforms — many of the giants fit the description — Google, Apple, Oracle, Facebook, Intel, and so forth. They can serve broad industry verticals, making the target market size larger and insulating the company against macroeconomic downturns in any one vertical.
But while technology companies continue to strive for incremental horizontal disruption by creating newer horizontal technology stacks, traditional industries are still mainly consumers of broader technology. They have adopted computing, internet, mobile, and cloud solutions, etc. to streamline their operations, increase productivity, reach their customers better … but many of these verticals have not been truly and deeply disrupted. That is, the fundamental nature of how the industry operates has remained largely unchanged.
But once in a while, something fascinating happens. Startups create vertical solutions by combining several horizontal platforms and taking advantage of emerging technology stacks to put together a novel vertical platform. And these aren’t just enabling technologies in the traditional sense — that an industry can take and adopt. These are Tsunamis that knock over an entire industry and force it to re imagine and reinvent itself. What comes out on the other side is a completely new industry with new stakeholders, new customer experiences, different economic scale and highly efficient productivity curve.
What happened in retail over the last 20 years is a perfect example. Retail has been around for several centuries and has pretty much stayed the same. Of course, they adopted technologies to drive efficiencies but never to the extent to reinvent itself in a fundamental sense. Startups combined a variety of technology elements — internet, digital payments, computing, databases and added retail specific tools like logistics-tech, collaborative filtering, and personalization to deliver an end to end experience that was fundamentally different from the retail ecosystem of the past. The resulting end to end stacks progressively revolutionized retail to create Digital Commerce — with new customer experience, supply chains, stakeholders and winners — creating multi-Billion dollar asset classes around the world.
Some of the best opportunities for value creation now exist at the intersections between existing broad horizontal technological platforms and specific industry verticals– particularly in some of the traditional industry verticals. Just like retail, there are similar inflection points for several other industry verticals (for example, the medical industry about to experience exponential AI driven growth). Today, there is a critical mass of disruptive technologies available, and the potential to create value and disrupt an industry is at an all time high.
One of the main drivers for this inflection point is the evolution of the smartphone ecosystem of the last decade. With a volume of 1.5B smartphones a year, every hardware element has become cheaper, faster, and better. Computing elements, connectivity, cameras, memory, and sensors are better than ever and far cheaper. Software platforms and the application ecosystem are now extensive and robust. Today, between Android and ioS, there are millions of apps that solve most of the problems that can be imagined.
Putting together a full stack product using the hardware and software elements from a smartphone has a lower barrier to entry than ever before. Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz compares smartphone components to a container full of lego blocks. With the lego blocks of hardware components, software platforms and the apps, entrepreneurs can put together full stack solutions that produce massive ROI and are incredibly fast to market. This enables disruption of industry verticals where disruption was not previously economically viable.
Using this perspective, even apparently advanced technologies can be seen as composites of made from building blocks that are now commonplace. Drones become nothing more than flying smartphones. Robots are nothing but screen-less smartphones with a mechanical arm. In short, when you take all the aspects of the mobile hardware and software — and you add in the emerging disruptive technology stacks of AI and Machine Learning, AR and VR, and additive manufacturing–highly robust, cost effective, and quick-to-market solutions emerge that can disrupt an entire vertical.
At MFV Partners, we exclusively focus and invest in startups that are driving such industry vertical disruption. We believe industry verticals like Automotive and Transportation, Manufacturing and Industrial, and Knowledge Services will go through significant transformation over the next 2 decades. For example, with electrification, connectivity, Driver Assistance Technology, autonomous vehicles and Shared Mobility, the Automotive and Transportation industry is going through significant changes — in 10 years it will look very different from what it is today. Similarly, industries like Agriculture, Manufacturing, Industrial will be fundamentally transformed– creating opportunity for new startups (and investors).
We look forward to discovering, engaging, and backing the entrepreneurs who will be pushing the envelope in these industry verticals. Their ability to combine horizontal advances in technology and apply them to industry specific contexts will disrupt entire verticals, driving exponential value creation and providing unmatched return on investment for investors savvy enough to recognize the opportunities for vertical disruption.