The Anti-Travis, Nasuni and EverQuote, Next Move NextView

The Anti-Travis Kalanick

This has been a very, very bad week for Uber.

One of the most valuable private companies in the world, Uber was the focus of a blog post earlier in the week from a former engineer, which describes a culture of rampant sexism within the company. If that wasn’t enough, it was revealed later in the week that Uber is now the target of an IP lawsuit about self-driving trucks from one of its biggest investors, Google/Alphabet.

The eye of any Uber hurricane seems to always center on its CEO Travis Kalanick. Some believe that his bullish attitude has run its course. Exemplified by comments like, “Stand by your principles and be comfortable with confrontation. So few people are, so when the people with the red tape come, it becomes a negotiation,” Kalanick doesn’t shy away from controversy. But that approach doesn’t seem to be working anymore. Some are even saying it’s time for him to step down.

Take the constant swirl of trouble that seems to follow Kalanick and compare it to the how one local CEO — whose company is also pushing up against powerful industry incumbents and government regulations — has handled himself in the face of adversity. If you will, compare Kalanick’s approach to that of DraftKings CEO Jason Robins.

While DraftKings has faced a fair amount of criticism, I cannot think of a single instance of Robins leadership being called into question.

Word is that the culture inside DraftKings is intense, but I’ve yet to hear murmurs of anything like the widespread issues that are currently dogging Uber. Friends and investors have long praised Robins’ humbleness and his grace-under-fire during the most challenging days for DraftKings. And, while Uber and Lyft are undertaking a seemingly never-ending battle to the death, Robins (at least publicly) never attacked DraftKings competitor FanDuel. In fact, from what I’ve heard, Robins and FanDuel chief executive Nigel Eccles worked closely together, pushing for the companies to combine.The merger, currently in process, is something that would never happen with Lyft and Uber for an array of reasons.

While it’s possible there is another side of Robins that doesn’t match his public persona, I find that highly unlikely from my own interactions with him.

With all the negative focus raining down on Uber, which doesn’t seem to be going away time soon, it’s nice to have an anti-Kalanick in the world. And it’s also a good thing for the future of DraftKings/FanDuel and Boston.


Who is under-the-radar?

Jeff Bussgang, general partner at Flybridge Venture Partners, points to cloud-storage company Nasuni, as one of the companies in Flybridge’s portfolio that isn’t garnering the attention that it should.Based not too far from Utterly Biased headquarters in an office park hidden amongst the rolling malls of Natick, Nasuni combines virtual and on-premises storage controllers with cloud storage for enterprises. As Bussgang describes it, the company is “Revolutionizing cloud storage.”

“Not sure why they’ve been under-the-radar,” Bussgang said. “But no one talks about them and they’re doing great and building a big company.”

Nasuni is an interesting company for a number of reasons. Its founder and CEO is Andres Rodriguez, who was a founder and the CTO of Archivas, an enterprise cloud storage company acquired by Hitachi Data Systems in 2006. Rodriguez was also once the CTO of the New York Times, and just happens to be the big brother of Matrix’s Antonio Rodriguez.

He’s put together a solid squad of old school and new school cloud and storage folks, including Scott Dussault, who was the CFO of Demandware when it went public.

Elsewhere, I hear that the company is doing about $20 million in revenue, with a solid and consistent SaaS customer base. If I were a betting man, I’d say that in regards to Nasuni, Dussault might have to dust off his IPO playbook soon.


What went down this week…

The NewDrift just launched a new product, called LiveView which is a sales tool that can let you know who is on your website (including potential leads) in real time. Drift is probably the first company mentioned when you ask any insider in Boston which of the early-stage companies has the potential to be huge. This new product drop seems like a major step to achieving that success. Basically, the company is bringing the habits we use to communicate in our personal lives to our business dealings. But I’ll let Dave Gerhardt, the company’s head of marketing, explain:

  • “Basically it boils down to this: The tools that most businesses are using for sales and marketing are going to break. As consumers, we all expect answers in real-time. And if we don’t get them, we move on to the next product, the next business, etc. But then we go to our jobs and when it comes to sales and marketing, we do all of the things that drive us nuts as consumers: We force people to fill out long forms in order to contact sales, we put content behind lead forms because we only want “qualified” people to be able to access it, and then we chase people down via phone and email. But in our personal lives, we’re all using messaging to communicate with each other. So at Drift, we’re focused on changing the way sales and marketing work by helping them match the real-time behavior of buyers today. And that all starts with giving sales teams tools like Live View so they can see who’s live on their website and reach out in real-time — instead of waiting until someone submits a form only to follow up hours, days, or weeks later.”

$13 M – That’s the additional funding announced this week for EverQuote, the Cambridge/Woburn online insurance marketplace from SecondAlpha and Link Ventures, as well as Stratim Capital, Savano Capital Partners, Oceanic Partners, and T Capital Partners.

EverQuote could have been mentioned in the IPO window chat from last week’s newsletter, as it too has been talking about a potential initial public offering since 2015. The new funding is the last money in a round in which they had already raised $23 million.

By the numbers, EverQuote has over 5 million consumer visits per month according to data from October 2016. It also has 200 employees between its two offices and plans to add 80 more by the end of 2018.

Like Nasuni, EverQuote is an under-the-radar company that you will be hearing a lot more about in the coming year.

Name That Job – When NextView Ventures brought on Jay Acunzo as its head of platform, it was something different in the world of Boston VC. Since then, many other venture capital firms have added people to manage content and marketing, a position which has become known in some circles as the “Jay Acunzo Role.”

A recent blog post from NextView’s Rob Go shares the news that the original of the species, Acunzo himself, is moving into a different position in the firm, creative-in-residence, with Ginny Mineo taking over Jay’s role. The new position will allow Acunzo to focus on some of his other projects and will also see him working out of NextView’s NYC office.

  • I asked Acunzo about leaving a role he kind of made famous, and this is what he said, “All I’ll say is Ginny is gonna crush it running platform and I’m gonna crush it running the podcast and various creative experiments.” Modest as always. Good luck Jay.

Series A – There are at least two companies tied to Boston that have signed term sheets for Series A funding rounds that you’ll likely be hearing about in the next couple of weeks. Because the ink is still wet on these deals, names can’t be mentioned without potentially screwing up some of the last-minute deal refinement. But:

  • Some of the bigger names in VC are the leads, one East Coast, one West Coast.
  • One of the companies will soon be giving up its presence in Boston to consolidate at a central office that makes more strategic sense for its industry.
  • The founder of the other, someone who’s already achieved quite a bit of entrepreneurial success, told me it was the hardest process he or she has ever been through.


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The end of IPO limbo?

Snap Inc., set the price for its expected IPO this week — with a valuation in the range of $18 billion to $20 billion — and judging by how ALL the angles of it are being covered by media outlets from Variety to USA Today to the usual suspects like Fortune, ReCode, and TechCrunch, it is clear that everyone is fired up for a return to the days of yore when the companies everyone expected to go public actually did hit the NYSE and Nasdaq.

Since 2014, when Wayfair, HubSpot, and CyberArk locally, and Alibaba, among others, went public, there have been few IPOs, save for outliers like Rapid7, Acacia Communications, and Everbridge. Most of these have seen a rise in their initial stock price since going public. But the state of the market has left others weary of leaving the private market for the much more unstable public one.

Back in 2014, I remember clearly sitting across a far-too-large conference table with Tom Erickson, Acquia’s CEO. Erickson was fired up, we were at Acquia’s first major conference, taking place in Boston, and he was excited for 2015. Acquia had set its sights on an IPO, which Erickson felt was an inevitability, so much so that he had pushed hard for the company to join HubSpot and Wayfair in the late 2014 IPO surge.

A few years later, that still hasn’t happened.

Companies like Veracode, Acquia, Actifio, and Carbon Black (formerly Bit9) might feel compelled to join the IPO party again after sitting in the wings for years.Jeff Fagnan of Accomplice may have two portfolio companies go public if the window reopens. Veracode and Carbon Black, both under S-1s, and both have been mentioned as IPO candidates since 2014, When I asked him about missing an opportunity before, he acknowledge that, “Yes, it was probably a missed window.” But he added that, “Going public is just a stop and not the final destination though.”

That “stop” is a big one, however, and, as seen by the growth of all the companies that have gone public since 2014, having a successful public company can impact the entire market.

So let’s dust off the NYSE badges and get ready for some long awaited IPOs here in Boston post-Snap. They’ve been a long time coming.


Who is under-the-radar?

Speaking of Fagnan, I asked who in Accomplice’s portfolio was not getting the attention they should be. His answer, Hopper.

As he explained, Hopper is, “Absolutely on fire and will be one of the biggest consumer companies in Boston.”

Why does he feel that way? He told me that it’s the #2 downloaded travel app in the US with approximately 1 million downloads per month (half of them organic), that they have sold almost 100,000 airline tickets last month, and that Hopper will be adding three times as many people in Boston this year.

But Hopper is a known entity around here, already having raised $60 million.

So for a real under-the-radar company, let’s turn to Sarah Downey, Fagnan’s partner at Accomplice.

The company she likes in the portfolio? Acoustic sensor company Vesper.

“They are one of the most stealth companies in Boston, yet doing some of the craziest shit I’ve ever seen. The lab equipment in [at Vesper] alone is wild,” she said.

(If you know of a VC portfolio company that should be getting more attention, shoot a note to


What went down this week…

The One – The big news in Boston this week is Katie Rae taking over MIT’s The Engine fund (great profile from Scott Kirsner here). There has been almost universal praise for this move — truly, everyone I spoke with believes it is a win for Rae and a win for MIT. With the addition of Rae, MIT gains something it has been quite lacking for some time: A well-known and beloved figure with outstanding venture and accelerator chops, who excels at motivating and evangelizing for startups. For far-too-long, MIT’s quiet technological dominance has been overshadowed by Stanford’s more, shall we say “marketable” entities. This will help change that. The VCs, operators, and Techstars alums and mentors I spoke with raved about Rae. However there were one or two voices in the wilderness who wondered about Rae’s experience with the type of “tough tech” mentioned in The Engine’s announcements for this move. So I reached out to Katie, and here is what she said:

  • “The good news is that I will not be the only person at The Engine. I will build a team with deep understanding in specific areas of technology that we find interesting. At the heart of The Engine, we are investing into and helping entrepreneurs and there is lots of overlap no matter what area of technology you decide to tackle. People may not realize that as an investor at Techstars and Project 11 I have had a soft spot for tough tech as shown by investments in companies such as Neurala, NBD Nano, and Sandymount Technologies. I have lots to learn and an incredible network to help me learn faster.” Sounds like she’s ready for the mission.

C-Suite – As a bunch of outlets reported on Thursday, Dyn CEO Colin Doherty is taking the chief executive role at Cambridge-based Fuze, the cloud-based communications company that started life as Thinking Phones.

  • The coverage of this has been that Fuze is adding Doherty in anticipation of an IPO. Doherty (taking over from Steve Kokinos who is joining the board) JUST stepped in for Jeremy Hitchcock at Dyn and within a month had closed a sale to Oracle. While this is being sold as a final pre-IPO move, Doherty’s stints prior to Dyn include Arbor Networks (Acquired by NetScout in 2015), BTI Systems (Acquired by Juniper Systems in 2016), and Mangrove Systems (acquired by Carrier Access Corp. in 2007). That’s four acquisitions with a one sale per year streak for the past three years, which is quite impressive. There are all sorts of different types of CEOs, and Doherty seems like an “acquisition CEO” not an “IPO CEO.” That could change, and many folks I spoke with really expect an IPO, but I forsee Doherty’s acquisition streak staying alive in 2017.

$2.5 Million – That’s the funding number for Dave Balter’s Mylestone, which dropped the “d” from Mylestone(d) and made a shift in its product. The new investment was led by True Ventures, with involvement from initial backers Founder Collective, Boston Seed Capital, and Converge VP.

  • There are two ways to look at this news of Mylestone making another pivot, this time from a post-death digital remembrance product to an AI-powered digital memory application accessed through Amazon’s Alexa via voice command. One could say that its a bad sign that the company is making another drastic change in what it does, which is by my count the third such pivot. Or, this can be viewed as Balter and company taking all they’ve learned from their Mylestoned experiences to bring a complete vision of the original thesis behind the company to life. I bet on the latter. From what I’ve heard, the Mylestone team has been heads down and hard at work on this product for months. The Mylestone team are deadly serious about this new iteration, although Balter’s recent Startup Grind post might hint otherwise.


No names, just stories

There are plenty of local stories that don’t get talked about much, but should find the light of day.

First, many of the major so-called “secrets” of Boston tech aren’t very salacious. (At least the majority of them are not; we won’t dig into the nonsense people have done foolishly intermingling their personal and business lives, a good mirror does work enough.)

Second, there are some damn entertaining stories out there that feature the larger-than-life characters who helped build Boston into one of the world’s first hubs for technology as well as those developing the next generation of innovative companies.

We’ll be starting this feature next week, but, in the interim, send any good tales you have to


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