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The DL - Founders' Co-op Deep Dive, Amazon on Amazon, Dallas Re-Opening Stats, and Free Potatoes

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Welcome to The DL, a weekly newsletter about tech, startups, and investing in the Pacific Northwest.
 
May 11 · Issue #47 · View online
The DL
Welcome to The DL, a weekly newsletter about tech, startups, and investing in the Pacific Northwest.

This week’s issue has a deep dive on Founders’ Co-op’s investment strategy, a summary of the debate between two Amazon engineers, stats on Dallas’s re-opening weekend, and a link to get free potatoes.

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Founders’ Co-op Deep Dive
In April’s PNW deal roundup, there were a bunch of new deals announced by local VCs, so I thought this would be a great time to jump back in to analyzing Seattle VCs’ investment strategies. This week we’ll look at Founders’ Co-op.

Founders’ Co-op was founded in 2008 and has invested in 100+ startups. They target $250-750K seed investments in PNW startups, and last year, they closed a $25M fund. One cool piece of their history is they launched the Techstars Seattle program in 2010 and continue to run it today.

Chris DeVore, Founders’ Co-op’s managing partner, has said, “We aren’t thematic investors but are focused on technical founding teams solving hard problems into which they have unique insights,” but here’s a look at where themes have emerged from their investments over the last three years.

🖥️ Vertical SaaS
Makes sense that if you’re looking for “teams solving problems into which they have unique insights” that the largest category of investments for Founders’ Co-op is software platforms built for specific verticals.
  • Bateau - Compliance software for long-term care providers
  • Boundless - Tech platform to automate the family immigration process
  • Downstream - Software to optimize Amazon Advertising performance
  • Ganaz - Workforce management platform for agriculture
  • LogixBoard - Customer engagement platform for freight forwarders

📊 Data and ML Platforms
If you’re looking for “technical founding teams solving hard problems” in the PNW, you’ll come across a lot of people building ML and AI products with ties to organizations like UW, AI2, Microsoft, and Amazon.
  • Advanced Voice Research Labs - NLP platform based on proprietary decision tree traversal tech
  • Comet.ml - ML platform allowing teams to track, compare, and optimize experiments and models
  • Kaskada - ML studio for feature engineering using event-based data
  • MDMetrix - Healthcare analytics platform to analyze patient outcomes

🛒 Marketplaces
Many of our region’s most successful startups are marketplaces, so it’s great to see Founders’ Co-op investing in the next generation of these companies. This is another category where unique insights about a market can lead to better tech-enabled solutions.
  • LevelTen Energy - Energy marketplace for PPA buyers and sellers
  • Loftium - Real estate agency offering rent assistance if the client agrees to host Airbnb guests
  • Mystery - Personalized night out at local restaurants and experiences
  • Source – Discovery platform for the commercial design community

💡 Others
There are definitely a couple of other themes here, but overall seems like the key thread through this entire list is great teams – many repeat founders and experienced leaders going after rapidly growing markets.
  • Ally - Scalable OKR software for startups, teams, and enterprises
  • Brave Care - Operator of clinics focused on urgent care for children
  • Routable - Online platform to simplify B2B payments
  • Trusted Key - Blockchain-based identity platform
  • Stackery - Secure delivery of serverless applications
  • The Riveter - Community to serve women in their work
  • Strix Leviathan - Investment management platform for digital assets

Hope you enjoyed this review of Founders’ Co-op’s investments! I’m slowly working my way through the list of PNW venture firms, so stay tuned!

Amazon Engineers on Amazon
Last week, Tim Bray, a VP/Distinguished Engineer at Amazon, quit and wrote a viral blog post explaining his decision:
  • I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.
  • But… at the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response. It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done.
  • At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism.

Another VP/Distinguished Engineer, Brad Porter, wrote a reply, which got a ton of engagement and discussion on LinkedIn:
  • I believe a strong case can be made that Amazon has responded more nimbly to this crisis than any other company in the world.
  • When I first joined World-Wide Operations to lead Robotics, the very first thing I learned was that safety dictated everything…
  • Do we want to do more? We do and we are… Is everyone going to be convinced we are doing enough? No. 
  • Ultimately though, Tim Bray is simply wrong when he says “It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.”
  • For those of us who work in World-Wide Operations, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our associates are the most amazing people you will meet anywhere and the heart of everything we do.

What do you think? (btw - here is Tim Bray’s re-response to Brad Porter)

Dallas Re-Opening Stats (courtesy of Mark Cuban)
After Dallas reopened last weekend, Mark Cuban paid a team of secret shoppers to find out how many restaurants and stores actually re-opened and how many of them followed safety protocols.
Results were not great:
  • Only 36% of businesses reopened
  • One-third of businesses were <50% compliant with safety protocols
  • At-risk group hours, contactless payment, and single-use condiments were the most not-followed safety protocols

Other stuff Dan's talking about
This 340' long building with potatoes stacked 20' high ONLY holds 16M pounds of potatoes
This 340' long building with potatoes stacked 20' high ONLY holds 16M pounds of potatoes
🥔 Unicorn potatoes - WA produces a quarter of the US’s potatoes, and now farmers are sitting on a billion pounds of potatoes that they can’t sell. Visit the Potato Commission’s Facebook to get info on potato giveaways
📺🎮 Media picks - Famous TV writers and video game producers share what shows they are watching and what games they are playing right now
🤩 Demo Days - Last week, Techstars posted all of the pitch videos from their companies online. Take a look at the Seattle class here! Also, this week the Seattle Angel Conference is going to stream their event. Sign up here to see how angel investors choose which startups to invest in
🎥 The Promise of a Career in TikTok - Gen Z is learning that influencing is a tough career path… “Despite her success on TikTok, Keondra has earned almost no money through her content.”

Please hit reply! (Or subscribe or forward!)
About me: I work as an investor at Madrona Venture Group, a Seattle-based venture capital firm that has been early partners with companies like Amazon, Smartsheet, Apptio, and Redfin.
If you have thoughts, questions, or comments, hit reply! If you’re new, check out some of the DL’s top articles from the last few months:

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