Welcoming John Melas-Kyriazi to Spark Capital
Previously, John was one of the core team members at StartX, the accelerator program at Stanford, and a co-founder of the Stanford-StartX Fund, which is the investment vehicle for Stanford to invest in StartX companies.
As I got to know John over the course of a few weeks this winter, I was struck by the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of his experience. John has a strong engineering background, with experience in both Physics and Materials Science and can go deep on technical subjects; at the same time, he has a lens for investing, honed during his experience at StartX. In a wide range of conversation topics, it’s clear that John has strong balance in his prior experience that will help him greatly in working with startups from his new role in VC.
John will be working out of our Boston office, which is a bit of a homecoming given that he grew up in the Boston suburbs. John clearly has strong ties to Stanford and the Bay Area through his academic background and StartX experience, so he’ll be spending a bunch of time out west too.
Please help me in welcoming John!
Welcoming Katie Bolin to the Spark Team
I first met Katie Bolin about a year and a half ago. One of our portfolio companies at Spark was actively recruiting her for an analytical role, and unfortunately in the end, lost out to Google in pulling her onboard. My colleague Alex was incredibly impressed with her in the process of helping the company recruit her, so he recommended I meet with her, despite the fact she was already committed to Google. “She’s someone we should keep close to,” I believe were his words. We met, and our conversation exceeded the high expectations Alex had set.
Fast forward to today: I’m thrilled to announce a new addition to the team at Spark Capital. Katie Bolin is joining Spark as an Associate. As a member of our investment team, Katie is going to be involved with portfolio companies as well as researching new markets, meeting new startups and evaluating new investment opportunities. She will be based in our Boston office.
Katie has spent much of her career focused on media planning analysis, across both Google and Digitas. And, in an interesting counter-balance Katie spent the first two years of her career in the education world, between Teach for America and tutoring. Katie’s currently on a mission to visit all 50 states (“doesn’t count if you don’t stay overnight”) and is an active Marathoner.
Katie’s arrival is mirrored in David Haber's departure. David was our most recent Associate at Spark, and he really broke the mold for how we think about this job. He went incredibly deep into the intersection of the internet and finance, sourced a few deals in his exploration of the space, and ultimately decided to leave to pursue his own startup, Bond Street. We owe a debt of gratitude to David for his contributions to Spark over the past few years, and we eagerly anticipate the big things to come as he builds Bond Street.
We took a long time to find someone for this role. It’s not easy to find someone with the passion for startups, intelligence, and chemistry that we look for as a member of our small team. We want to surround ourselves with the best people at Spark. I’m delighted to be working with Katie. Please join me in welcoming her, and Katie has posted her introduction on her blog.
Spark Capital IV
Spark announced our latest fund today; the fourth since the founding of the firm back in 2005.
I feel lucky to be working with such a talented team of investors. I learn from my colleagues at Spark every day. It’s a wonderfully egalitarian work environment where ideas and ambition are valued above all else. It has served us well in three funds thus far, and I can’t wait to see where our team takes us in fund IV.
While the team is great, we are the sideshow. We’d be nowhere without the tireless entrepreneurs that do all the work of building amazing companies that match their visions. And, we owe a big thanks to our LPs that continue to support us and believe in our thesis.
Venture capital works on crazy long feedback loops. The data on Spark IV’s success won’t be well defined until 7+ years from now, 2020. 2020… that’s crazy, and I can’t wait to see how this generation’s founding entrepreneurs are going to shape those next 7 years. I hope to help them a bit on their path.
Our Investment in Priceonomics
A few vertical marketplaces have their own pricing guides. In cars, Kelly Blue Book has been the industry standard for years, and nearly all car purchases use KBB as a starting reference point. Cars are a high ticket item, a considered purchase, and a fairly liquid market, so it’s not surprising that in an offline world a third-party went through the process of aggregating the data to create a pricing guide for that market.
But what about other markets? What about smaller purchase price items, or highly illiquid items that rarely trade hands? In those categories creating a pricing guide would be useful, but it’s an impractical process in an offline world.
Spark is excited to annouce an investment today in Priceonomics, a company that has the bold ambition to be the pricing guide for everything. If you’re looking to buy a bike, tent, juicer, kayak, wifi-router, motorcycle, or just about anything you can think of, Priceonomics will tell you what is a fair price range based on all the secondary transactions for the item happening online. This is a data asset that can only be aggregated scalably in the internet era.
There are two data assets the company aggregates. One is secondary prices for a wide variety of items, which is straightforward (what’s the mutually agreed purchase price for X). The second asset is less straightforward, but equally important: Priceonomics scrapes the web in order to develop a product ontology. They have the data to understand that the “Trek 820" is a model of bike that has been made since the 90s, the model number is 820, the manufacturer is Trek, and how the vintage (year manufactured) affects the resale price over time. This is a complex and important problem, but the resulting user experience is pleasingly simply. For example, with a product ontology, it’s possible to offer intelligent autocompletion of product searches, which Priceonomics does well.
Spark is delighted to be working with Rohin, Michael, and Omar. They are a great team with a humble yet aggressive attitude that are ready to take over the world. Follow their blog because it’s a really entertaining read: a witty combo of consumer behavioral psychology and data analysis. And, of course, Priceonomics is hiring!
Try out the service the next time you’re considering a used purchase, and let me know what you think.
Joining Spark Capital
I’m delighted to announce that on June 14th, I am joining the team at Spark Capital.
I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Bijan and Mo through their presence in the NY tech community and through the numerous co-investments between Spark and Union Square Ventures. They are both great people who are passionate about web services and hungry for what’s next. They are remarkable board members in the value they add beyond their capital, and both of them are smart as hell.
I knew Todd, Santo, Alex and Paul less well prior to my move to Boston, and so we sat down over to a number of meetings to learn more about each other. My goal was to feel out how they think about the world, both professionally and personally. With each meeting I took with them, I was consistently impressed by their intelligence and conviction. In conversations with the partners I knew less well, at times I felt like I had known them for years: we think similarly.
In the end I’m humbled that they offered me the opportunity to work with them. I’ve got a lot of respect for their deal taste, which is self-evident in their history of investments, and I look forward to working with them on developing their portfolio. The team at Spark has created a great platform for early stage investing, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do with this opportunity.
Once I get started on the 14th my email address will be firstname.lastname@example.org, so don’t hesitate to ping me, and I look forward to learning about what you’re working on. Or, as always, I can be reached at email@example.com.