By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
Irina: How do you spend time with the entrepreneurs?
Brad: They come to us and we go to them; we spend a lot of time together. I think it’s really us developing that relationship with them. We made an investment recently in a company called Sifteo, I’m thinking of that as an example.
Two of my partners met with them at South by Southwest. I think we saw their TED video earlier, so we were at least familiar with them. Then I was in California a week or two later, so I spent a couple of hours with them and really liked them.
Then one of my other partners was out there the next week, so he spent a couple of hours with them, and by the time the four of us spend time with them, we knew it was something that we were really interested in and wanted to do.
Irina: What do they do?
Brad: They are another company in the human–computer interaction theme. They make varying hardware devices that essentially run an application on them that look like tiny screens. They’re wirelessly connected back to your computer, so the applications are actually running on your computer or the Web but communicate with these little blocks.
The blocks communicate with each other, and inside them are accelerometers, and they have edge detectors. So you can have games that you play with multiple blocks or you can have a learning system that you build out of these blocks. It’s a way of using these computer-enhanced devices for different a mode of entertainment in a computer interaction.
Irina: That’s interesting.
Brad: It’s fascinating. It’s completely programmable, so it’s very flexible. As part of their business, they’re building an apps store that allows developers to build their own applications for these devices. So, when they launch them, you’ll buy the physical hardware, but you’ll also be able to download as many applications as people have built for them.
Irina: Very interesting. So, when you are evaluating a startup, what is the most decisive factor?
Brad: The first step for us is to decide whether it fits within one of our themes. Before we spend any time on something, that’s a key question for us.
If it doesn’t fit within our theme, then we don’t pursue it, with one exception – an entrepreneur we already know whom we think is dynamite. So, there are exceptions to our rule, but they are exceptions. In almost all cases, if it doesn’t fit within our theme, we simply pass because we are not the right group for it.
If it fits within our theme, we go very deep very quickly on two different things. One is the product itself and what we think the product does, and the second is vision of the product and whether it is compelling.