Responding to a popular request, we are now sharing transcripts of our investor podcast interviews in this new series. The following interview with Stewart Alsop was recorded in May 2016.
Stewart Alsop, Partner at Alsop Louie Partners, has been a VC for 20 years, and before that, a journalist for another 20 years in the technology industry. This conversation is wide-ranging, spanning autonomous vehicles, unreasonable entrepreneurs, etc.
Sramana Mitra: You’ve been in the business for 20 plus years and you’ve covered technology as a journalist 20 years before that. I’ve been in the business for 20 years.
Stewart Alsop: I’ve been working for 40 years.
Sramana Mitra: What is your analysis of the technology startup business today? How has it evolved?
Stewart Alsop: When I started 40 years ago, startups were not normal. When I started working in ’75, one of my first jobs was working in a magazine, which was a magazine for startups. It was fascinating. It was what got me started in the computer business. Startups were something that most people didn’t do.
The big change is the fact that startups is a career now. You’ve got students coming out of college and even dropping out of college. That’s the weirdest thing for me. I think it should be hard to start companies. I don’t think everybody should do it. I don’t think everybody should have venture capital. It’s one of the reasons I love One Million by One Million. You celebrate businesses that don’t raise venture capital and are still successful. That used to be normal.
Sramana Mitra: Most businesses don’t fit the venture capital framework. They don’t grow at exponential rates. They don’t grow to become $100 million businesses in five years. They just don’t have the characteristics to do that.
Stewart Alsop: I try to get people to think about starting companies and not about raising venture capital. If they’re lucky enough to get into a business that is in a high-growth area and needs capital to grow, then we can talk. Even then, we still don’t fund 98% of the companies we talk to.
Sramana Mitra: What trends are you most excited about in B2B technology right now?
Stewart Alsop: Back then, PCs were these radical things that people could own. We come to a series of these transitions to the point where technology is being infused into everything and beginning to transform what it’s infused in. I don’t know if it’s B2B, but autonomous is a big deal. It’s kind of B2B because the technology needs to be embedded in the cars.
There’re particular kinds of technologies that are really interesting in that environment. One of the things we’re really fascinated with right now is artificial intelligence of which there’s a series of sub-components. It’s getting to the point where back in the early 80’s, there was a big artificial intelligence thing. We got ahead of ourselves and had these fantasies about computers being intelligent.
We didn’t even have a network then. We didn’t even know that not having a network was a problem. Now we have network and it’s pretty fast and ubiquitous. We’re beginning to go back to the principles of artificial intelligence integrated into real applications. That’s interesting. I’ll give you an example. We have an investment in a company called Hover. You can go and get the application.
You can take eight pictures of your house and within a certain period of time, we will deliver a precise 3D model of your house. The problem I’m having right now is, we have too many people trying to get these models and there’s too much human labor involved. We’re in this deep process of using machine learning, neural networks, and underlying AI principals to teach our system to recognize all the different elements of the house and build that pretty model without human intervention.
Sramana Mitra: What is the application of this technology?
Stewart Alsop: The visible one is contractors will use their phone to take pictures of the house and they can use that information to make a bid for work. Contractors are blown away by this. It makes it easier for them to make accurate bids and get customers excited about what they can do and deliver that work.