technology

Sizing Something That Doesn't Exist: Forays into the Robotics Market

The “robots are coming” narrative has two parallel conversations. One is a dialogue over whether or not this is a good thing. Team Bee collaborated (argued, postulated, wrote, erased, and wrote again) over several months last year to develop our core thesis, Machines Will Win on that topic. Spoiler alert: Yes, they will win, and we’re excited to be among those leading the way to positive human-machine engagement as evidenced by the companies in our portfolio.

The other conversation is around financial rewards and it goes something like this: Robots are coming and they bring with them dramatically reduced labor costs, blindingly fast efficiencies, and embarrassingly large profits for their makers, users, and investors.

If only any of it were that simple.

Yes, a global robotics industry is rapidly emerging. Writing about it has been like trying to describe the ground under my running feet. And the industry, as well as the investment it requires, faces all the challenges of any emerging business field. It also has some unique and unprecedented challenges, and has us posing questions we’ve not asked before.

In “Demystifying the Robotics Market,” I set out to define the developing space, looking at the simplicity (not) and cost (high) of implementing robots, market conditions among the two dominant robotics producers and users (the U.S. and China), and possible solutions to the problems of business models and expense. Please have a look. I eagerly await your thoughts and opinions, so start a conversation with me at kira@beepartners.vc, and use that email address as well if you’re interested in a job in robotics. Our robotics investments in Skycatch, Carbon Robotics, and Iris Automation have given us fascinating and unique insights and we know them to be exciting and rewarding places to work.  

Neighborly Launches an Opportunity Fund for Open-Access Fiber Infrastructure

Back in 2014, we invested in a crazy Founder named Jase Wilson, who had the audacious vision to connect capital and local communities to drive investment in public infrastructure like schools, parks and more. Our investment thesis: The inefficiencies in the $3.8 trillion municipal securities market can only be solved through software.
   
Since then, Neighborly has closed more than $30M in funding from investors including 8VC, Emerson Collective, and Stanford University. The company won The Bond Buyer "Deal of the Year" award and has grown to a team of 35.

We recently held a call to invite qualified investors to join Neighborly’s Opportunity Fund which would enable local communities to fund their own open-access fiber network infrastructure. Read more about this uniquely powerful effort here, in Jase’s clever and very wise post, You Drive a 1972 Pinto Because Your Neighborhood Makes You.

Machines Will Win: A Portfolio Company Responds

In Q4 2018, the Team Bee joined forces to write an important treatise, a summary of our beliefs and knowledge about the state of technology and humans, and to explain the critical role of our investment thinking in the future that is upon us. 

The resulting manifesto is on our website. Machines Will Win describes a reality from which there is no turning back: The machines of technology are evolving faster than humans. The future we make, the problems we solve, the opportunities we create will derive less from the human ability to harness machines than from trusting the abilities of the machines that people like Bee Partners' Founders will create.

When we first shared Machines Will Win with our portfolio’s Founders, Rachel Taylor and David Rauschenbach, co-Founders of Nubix, wrote a brilliant and concise response explaining how their technology matches Machines Will Win thinking. You can read their thoughts here.

We share their response as one example of the deep philosophical compatibility between Bee Partners and our portfolio that drives investment success. 

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Chat is the New Search; Customer Service is the New Marketing

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At Bee Partners, we’ve developed a set of criteria to evaluate effective conversational commerce enterprises and identify prime seed-stage investment opportunities. Drawing on our well-established core positions in the application, “handshake,” and infrastructure layers for human-computer systems, we’ve charted trajectories over the next cycle pointing to likely wholesale adoption of conversational commerce and NLP (natural language processing) across various industries.

As frontier tech investors with deep cross-sector expertise, we’ve delineated a set of crucial intersecting trends driving innovation in commercial applications for NLP. Bee’s approach means going beyond simply getting excited by new platforms that allow users to seamlessly bypass the clutter of other apps and websites via a single “stackless” interface. Our strategy for smart investment looks deeper and more rigorously for scalable models from enterprises combining deep technical knowledge with vertical business experience.

Among the startups in which Bee has already invested is StatMuse, which offers responses to fans’ questions in sports celebrities’ own voices. Another is SnapTravel, which has revolutionized online hotel booking by removing the need for consumers to scroll through endless, irrelevant data, giving them direct access to information that matters. What we’re increasingly noticing, however, is the need for all conversational commerce companies’ vertical depth to be matched by an effective horizontal technology that enables use across all conversational platforms (voice ANDchat).  This “handshake” layer is perhaps more important than originally thought and one that will drive lasting value for founders, investors, and consumers for decades to come. Check out our SlideShare on conversational commerce here.

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