“I met with anyone who asked me for a meeting.” That’s how our founding partner, Bill Lohse, recalls his early time at Social Starts.
That was the start of our method, which involves identifying as many targets for investment as possible. You might ask, really? You want to hear about all of them? Well, no. We’ve evolved significantly from Bill’s early VC days and have worked diligently on refining our method.
A key piece of that method has been to hone in on particular focus areas that keep with the underlying theme of the fund:
- The Internet allows for rapid expansion of the ultimate social expression: trust.
- That trust, thrown into a stew of other factors, has opened up a massive change in the way people live, and now work, globally.
It’s more than a trend; it’s an evolutionary shift. That shift is at the core of one of our seven focus areas: Work Platforms. We define work platforms as the changing structure of how people work globally -- from how they find work, to how they work, all the way through the cycle of starting to find work again.
You’ll notice that we don’t include employee, or employer in that definition. That's because we feel this change impacts both sides of that equation. Yes, it’s pretty broad, but it’s really all about data:
- Data on people, companies and platforms is the raw material here.
- Data delivered on both sides of the hiring equation is where the value is.
Data on people is the segment we see moving the fastest as we evaluate companies. In the world of extreme tension over highly skilled workers, a company’s ability to find and attract the most skilled person for a position is exceedingly valuable. More and more people will look to showcase skills on the data they provide to the world -- we’re very interested in startups that make that data usable to companies and then allow them to evaluate that data.
The differentiation here will be the ability to lock down a feedback loop from the customer to consistently evaluate the predictive nature of the delivered technology. Was the candidate actually a good fit? Were they compensated appropriately? One component of this that will be extremely interesting will be the tenure of the candidate. In a fluid workforce, the ability to identify desirable candidates that are likely to be retained will be solid gold. We’re investors in YouEarnedIt, an Austin based company that provides employers a platform for tracking the engagement that happens between employees and employer. It fits squarely within our view of what employers have to think about in order to build a talent advantage.
One area that we include in our work platforms segment is software that workers use to make their work better. While outside the talent piece of the category, we find that it fits perfectly into our investment thesis. We’re investors in Stream, a company that provides technology that allows companies to easily incorporate feeds into their web and mobile applications. That’s a fantastic work platform; it allows for developers to focus their efforts on building the technologies that matter to the success of the company while making a non-differentiated technology easy to access. The use of these types of technologies will also begin to differentiate companies as they attract talent. Why go work for a company that doesn’t utilize the tools that make your job both easier and more challenging?
That opportunity doesn’t only exist for developers. Companies that effectively utilize data on people for enterprise sales purposes will have significant advantages; when your supper is based on commission, aren’t you going to work for the company that provides you with the best tools? The data on company deficiencies is incredibly valuable as well. This drives on-demand platforms to a large degree: How to fill in a deficiency in a cost effective manner? Often, the on-demand solution will make that happen.
That’s all valuable data on companies. What about platforms?
The data on the platforms companies and people utilize to deliver on their promises is the last pillar for us. So much of work will be done outside of traditional company-employer constructs; constructs that may not even exist in the near future. Already, many teams are comprised of traditional employees, freelancers, vendors and others. The wall between insider and outsider is being breached in the world of work. So we look for platforms that can extend across that gap: what’s valuable and how to communicate with one another regardless of physical location or formal posture toward the organization. Training is a significant piece of this, as well. With companies under pressure and teams made up of more kinds of workers, companies need to know that those involved actually have the requisite skills. We’re investors in Grovo, a platform that enables companies to effectively train workers at all levels; seeing how that training influences performance is critical as companies move forward.
My view is that the connected globe will have a larger impact on the structure of work than any other area. Social Starts is committed to tracking that deep change, and investing at the earliest possible moment into companies driving these ideas into reality.