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Friends of Roble: June 2024

Roble Ventures
June 18, 2024
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Sometimes it’s nice to get some good old-fashioned human interaction!

Last week, the Roble team met up at Stanford, allowing us to get a lovely dinner with some of our local (and not-so-local) founders. We were so happy to see Emily from Tiny Comet as well as Sriharsha and Atul from Hyperbound two early-stage startups that have seen remarkable growth over the past couple of months.

Beyond just catching up, our discussions centered around scalable founder services, and how we can play to our own strengths in order to support these companies to their next round and beyond.

On a related note, we’ll be holding another fireside chat on Tuesday, June 18, this time about creating a brand to differentiate and build credibility for your company in the early stages, even if you can’t hire a CMO.

Join us for a crash course led by Greg Fant, an accomplished marketing leader across diverse industries (eBay, Thumbtack, One Kings Lane, Coca-Cola) who helped us lead our own recent brand refresh.

You’ll also have a chance to hear from Sriharsha and Atul, a sharp duo who knows what it takes to go viral in their target market.

Lens Into a Human-Enabled Future

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS

Our Principal David Perez-Hernandez celebrated one year with us at Roble, where he’s reviewed over 1,000 deals and invested in some incredible teams at four exciting pre-seed companies.

Our annual obligatory Escape Room photo

He shared some of his learnings from the past year:

🌱 A prepared mind is critical. The best founders obsess with their market and how to keep refining their product to make it more valuable for users.

🌱 Unicorn companies start with unicorn founders. I've observed this from interacting with hundreds of founders in the past decade and reviewing over 1,000 deals this past year.

🌱 The changing role of the VC. As an operator, I sometimes saw an antagonistic battle between founders and their investors, which resulted in limited information sharing and a lack of trust.If you haven’t yet had a chance to connect with David, we encourage you to do so.

Earlier in May, he also visited Harvard Business School and attended a talk with OpenAI’s Sam Altman, who touched on how aggressive and thoughtful new AI startups will have to be with their product roadmaps in order to keep up with the incumbents — but it is possible.

While the world’s biggest tech companies have the dragon’s hoard of data, capital, and talent, startups have the speed and agility to reimagine new solutions from scratch without tech debt or the burden of bureaucracy.

“From over ~1K companies we reviewed last year, a common trait we saw among the best founders was the ability to think like a chess player, seeing not only the first product they plan to introduce to the market but rather the next 2-3 products that will deliver differentiated and defensible customer value,” David reflected. “The best founders are deeply aware of how models may improve over time and are leveraging that to strengthen their value proposition and defensibility against incumbents and new entrants.

“While there are many risks, I walked away from this weekend believing there are significant opportunities to build $1B+ companies in 2024 and reshape our interaction with technology to enable humans. What an exciting thought.”

Read the full article here.

If you prefer to watch David in a more audiovisual format, you can also check out the recent LinkedIn Live he did with Grace Gong of the Smart Venture podcast.

Both Sergio and David attended the SomosVC Emerging Manager Showcase in LA, where underdogs took center stage: their 2023 report found that Latino-led firms support more diverse startups, who in turn are more resilient than their counterparts and competitors – creating tens of thousands of jobs in the process:

The Latest From Our Founders

PORTFOLIO NEWS AND UPDATES

Kinjo founder Charles Thornburgh joined Sergio at his Stanford class on edtech and innovation, where he stressed that the future of learning will need cutting-edge tech and gamification combined with learning science to create far more immersive educational environments for students of all ages.

Atul & Sriharsha at Hyperbound did a live demo with their AI sales bot at the HubSpot x AWS Gen AI Summit in San Francisco. Atul was also a judge at the capstone event for Elevate, an SDR bootcamp based in Arizona.

They were also recently featured on RevGenius’ Next 50 GTM Startups list!

Tiny Comet launched another game into beta: Real Art or Die. The Roblox collaboration with Gameverse Lab teaches players how to distinguish between real and AI-generated art.

UBITS went on a tour of 6 LATAM countries, from Mexico to Chile, to meet with over 800 human talent leaders on how AI is transforming the workplace, and discuss how UBITS can continue to improve its product to meet employer and employee needs.

Slang launched new features to streamline the learning experience: in-app class reviews and teacher review system. These updates make it easier to leave feedback for the team after classes.

What Keeps Us Up at Night

KEY RISK FACTORS

By Sergio Monsalve

A few weeks ago, the battle between Google, Anthropic, and OpenAI over their respective LLMs came to another head, reminding us just how quickly these tech giants are innovating. At the same time, OpenAI announced that it had dissolved its AI risk team. The combination of these events is very concerning.

While competition makes for better markets and better products, I’m concerned that, in the heat of this AI arms race, these companies will be incentivized to cut corners and deprioritize safety at the expense of humanity’s privacy and security.

As just one example, AI is making it easier to run deepfake fraud schemes, which are miles ahead of run-of-the-mill call center scams (which already cost the U.S. alone around $10.3 billion annually).

This is where the agility of startups (combined with strong oversight by governments) can lead us to safer solutions; it’s easier for them to innovate in a direction that doesn’t hold the potential for harm, particularly through forming tight data partnerships — explicit contracts with their customers on what data will be collected, where it’s stored, and exactly how it will be used — early on.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. While large incumbents will undoubtedly face massive security & privacy challenges that will turn the public sour on AI, startups can rest easy knowing that their data sources are educated on the risks and won’t spook as easily as mass consumers.

The near-future of AI may get more messy before it gets better; it can be a force for good, but ethical investors and founders have to be there to push it across the finish line.

What Caught Our Attention

NEWS AND RESOURCES

The World in 2030 by Dr. Michio Kaku (YouTube) Inspiring and entertaining. A talk on the future 2030 from 2010. So much has become / is coming true. Starts at 11:20  ~David

Latino-led venture capital firms helped create more than 50,000 jobs (Axios)

Canva’s radical overhaul aims to destroy Microsoft Office and Google Workspace (Fast Company) Big investments into productivity/work spaces from the incumbents. Canva reimagined their UX/UI from the ground up and will be integrating new AI features. Good to keep an eye out for these incumbents' moves and early stage companies in the space. ~David

Are you a founder currently raising in the future of work space, or know someone who is? Pitch us.

About the author

Roble Ventures
noun: oak

Roble Ventures is a future-of-work focused fund investing in technologies that enable people, teams, and organizations to achieve their most ambitious work.

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