Interesting Markets in 2019

Serial entrepreneur and investor Elad Gil put out an interesting post a few weeks ago with sectors he thought would see noticeable growth in 2019. I like that it is not the standard list oft repeated by technology journals and is based off a bottoms up view of deals he is seeing. You can see the original post here.

Of the 7 markets he lays out the Devsumer (where consumers start doing developer lite tasks on their own) is the one that jumped out at me as extremely unique and interesting thesis. I’m not so sure that we will see the majority of the population doing basic coding tasks and automation to help them in their day to day job/lives but its certainly a cool thought.

AI and Cybersecurity

The AI Now Institute recently released their annual review looking at AI and security. Their annual report for 2018 can be seen here. The main theme this year is that governments need to start regulating AI yesterday, especially the use of facial recognition technologies. The institute believes that the biggest near term risk is the use of AI in surveillance technologies and automated decision making, especially by the state on their people.

The report is a fascinating read on an area of AI most people haven’t thought about so take a look.

Some Predictions for 2019

With the end of the year 2018 it’s time for some 2019 predictions.

  • Crypto Goes into Hibernation - Crypto and blockchain technology more widely will undergo a winter with most investors and the mainstream forgetting about the technology. Developers will continue working on it and with the hype gone we will finally start seeing some very useful applications emerge. Ethereum is my bet for the big winner long term here since it seems to have the biggest traction with developers who will be free to experiment outside the public eye.

  • Amazon’s march to world domination continues - I’m still betting on Amazon wherever they go. Even if there is a stock market crash Amazon will emerge stronger than ever and will climb its way back to $1T+ market cap in the coming years. The prescient move to open a 2nd/3rd HQ right outside DC is Bezos playing the long game and looking to neutralize the only real threat he had, government regulation and an Amazon break up.

  • Augmented Reality (AR) - I think this year is when Apple will begin revealing more of its vision and what is been working on around AR. A setup year but one that will herald interesting things to come with AR. My guess is Apple will actually be leading the way into AR and mainstream adoption, not startups unfortunately.

  • Softbank and the Vision Fund - I doubt the recent Saudi Arabia issues will even really slow the Vision Fund down and we will continue to see large investments at jaw dropping valuations.

  • Self Driving Vehicles Rolling out to Consumers - Finally, consumers will have access to on demand self-driving vehicles with Waymo and others beginning live roll outs in select locations. This is the most exciting thing happening in 2019!

  • Tesla - As I write this things seem to be going extremely well with the company having reported a profit in the most recent quarter. However, I don’t think it will be smooth sailing in 2019 for the company, with large financial issues they’ve temporarily swept under the rug hitting them. If the stock market crashes, the cheap capital that has kept Tesla going will vanish leaving them in hot water again.

  • Facebook - Scandal after scandal has hit the company. My bold prediction is we see a large senior leadership exodus, with potentially Sheryl Sandberg moving on to become CEO of another company (Disney?).

Onward to 2019!


Trim Logo.png


Trim is a fintech startup that offers an AI personal assistant that improves the financial health of its users. Services include saving automation, spending analysis and automatic budgeting. Its hottest offering is an automated service that negotiates and lowers a user’s bills. Trim does this with subscriptions such as Comcast cable by using AI to look at billing and pricing trends regionally. It’s customers tend to be younger and more tech savvy individuals, mostly in the millennial demographic. Their next set of offerings will be focused on helping solve debt challenges people have, especially around student loans and credit card debt.

Trim has an interesting business model that takes a percentage of what they save their users by negotiating their cable and internet bills.

The team is currently less than 20 people and is based in San Francisco, CA.

Why I like Them

Automation - the team is hyper focused on automating the personal finances of its users. A long term thesis of mine is the growth of more automatic personal finance since the vast majority of people don’t understand and hate dealing with their finances. Trim recognizes this and is investing heavily in R&D to ultimately become a platform that improves user’s financial health.

The team is also laser focused on their users’ needs and their mission of solving people’s financial problems. In finance and fintech in general to often firm’s are offering a service, but not helping the end user actually improve their financial well being. Trim talks to their user’s weekly to target the next products to build that directly helps them solve an issue they need. As expected with this focus, they have strong traction and growth. Even more interesting, they find that their service is very sticky as they deliver a newsfeed of transactions and information via SMS to their users that is very engaging, so much so that most users stop using their banks app.

Disclosure:  I have spoken to members of the team.

Investor Discussion Series: Ben Narasin of NEA

NEA Logo.png

Ben Narasin is a Venture Partner at NEA where he focuses on investing in early stage emerging markets and technologies.  His overarching focus in seeking new investments is in his words, “to find founders who make me say wow”.  

Author’s note, Ben is one of the most engaging VC’s I’ve ever been fortunate enough to speak with. If you get a chance to see him speak I highly recommend making it a priority. 

What trends are you currently investing in, especially any that are more under the radar?

There isn’t much overlooked today with so much money and people in the space.  For example, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is popular but every startup claims they have that so you have to figure out who has that for real.

Industrial IoT is a big, interesting category including robotics.  The way I think about the world is different.  Some investors look at one category of things.  I’m more centered around the entrepreneur and finding a vision that makes me say wow.  They show me a new vision of the future.  Its not a category investing method but one based around human beings.

Areas I don’t focus on are crypto, security, cannabis, and medtech.  You need a very specialized expertise to get really good at investing in these spaces.

Blockchain will create a ton of value, but at this point there is so much hype.  Its currently speculation, not investing.  Right now you are over paying because something is on the blockchain.

Right now you want to look at enormous industries that are antiquated and need to be disrupted.  For example, one of my investments, Transfix is disrupting trucker brokerage which is an enormous but antiquated industry.

If something is hot now it’s to late.  You need to be in the business of what’s hot tomorrow.  What’s next is where venture makes its money.   

Where and how do you source your investments?

You find these entrepreneurs everywhere but as an investor we have to see a stunning number of pitches to get there.  Active investors will see over 1,000 pitches a year.  From that you will make 1 or 2 investments.

The best opportunities come from referrals from entrepreneurs you already invested in.  I also make sure I speak at every opportunity I get and stick around afterward for entrepreneurs to talk to me.  

I actually found LendingClub while driving to work listening to the local NPR.  Spent time tracking the founder down.  Pushed until I got to the founder. 

What do you look for when Investing?

I look for 5 things: People, People, People, Great Ideas, Enormous market

When I was a seed investor I funded roughly 80 companies over a decade, half of which raised Series A from tier 1 firms.  The company is proving a thesis off a seed round - Series A is what allows you to build a business

What’s Overhyped today from an investment standpoint?

ICOs and coin based things.   

What’s the key signal or two you look at when thinking you want to invest in an early startup, what ultimately convinces you?

The decision making process is the most important part in venture investing - the outcome is less important than that you had a good process. Luck matters and influences this. 

What are some resources you use to stay up to date on a space?

Go to a lot of conferences and trade shows.  Learn from every meeting.  Even in a horrific pitch there may be some nugget you take away such as a trend or competitor they are up against. I read from books in the library across sci fi, fiction, non-fiction. Read the newspapers.  You do everything.

Any advice to young venture capitalists and angel investors out there in sourcing deals?

I was an institutional seed investor, never an angel investor.  You need to take it very seriously.  Never lose your fear when making an investment.  You do all the work you can to get to a point of comfort.

People obsess excessively over valuation (what you pay and what you sell for are all that matter).   Exercise tremendous discipline.  Its ok to go with your gut but your gut needs to be some level of training, knowledge and experience. 

Any predictions for the next year or two?

Deflation is much more likely than a pop.  No idea how long this will continue.  I don’t invest for something short term.  We invest in companies that can be world class so assume a 7-10 year journey.  Can’t imagine in the next 7-10 years we don’t see at least one correction.

Your job is to wait for the right ball to swing at, wait for the right pitch.  As an investor you aren’t penalized for when you don’t swing but what you strike out at. 

Anything else you think investors or entrepreneurs should know?

It comes down to trusting your gut as long as your gut is based on experience. It’s both science and art.  Early stage is more art than science. Later stage is science.