Have you ever heard of Giphy? How about Tumblr? Maybe Venmo? Unless you live under a rock, I’d be shocked if your answer was anything but “duh.” Here’s the tricky part: do you know what each of these companies has in common?
Betaworks. Based in New York, betaworks is a one-stop shop for all things startup, turning a wee baby side project into full companies, some worth upwards of $600 million. Primarily focused on products that combine tech and media, betaworks builds their own products, funds, and accelerates seed-stage companies. Busy bees.
Their accelerator they call ‘camp’ each year is focused on a theme. Previously, they have done Botcamp and Voicecamp. This year, it’s all about Visioncamp, focusing on ‘camera first’ technology. They’re looking for any kind of beta product which enables a computer to ‘see’ with tech like AR and computer vision. Visioncamp is kicking off in January 2018 and applications are open now until October 10th.
I had a chance to chat with Patrick Montague, Vice President at betaworks to hear more about their model, working with entrepreneurs, and seed stage investing.
What makes the betaworks model unique?
Betaworks is a three-pronged platform for creating and growing early-stage startups. In our studio, we’re constantly building new products, some of which we spin out into entirely new companies (bitly, Chartbeat, Dots, GIPHY). Our seed stage venture fund invests in outside companies when they are seeking their first institutional risk capital (Kickstarter, ProductHunt, Tumblr, Venmo). And camp combines our building and investing experience, as we both invest in and work alongside small groups of pre-seed companies in specific frontier tech areas (Bots, Voice, Vision/AR). Everything we do is driven by thematic interests and theses, usually related to the intersection of media and technology. When we approach a new space or new idea we want to push it forward through any means possible, whether investing, accelerating, or building something ourselves.
When we approach a new idea we want to push it forward through any means possible.
— Patrick Montague
What inspired the creation of betaworks?
The founders of betaworks, John Borthwick and Andy Weissman (now of USV), saw a lot of innovative and disruptive startups formed in the 90s and early 2000s but little innovation in the process of how to start a startup. They saw the success of the studio model in traditional media and entertainment industries and thought a similar model could be applied to the digital media and internet industry. This was in 2007 and we’ve been producing and financing projects ever since.
In regards to seed investing, what do you think are the greatest challenges for pre-seed entrepreneurs? How can they overcome them?
The challenges for entrepreneurs are constant, endless, and seemingly all of the utmost consequence. To overcome them, great entrepreneurs realize that no one problem on its own will fell them. On the flip side, no one triumph guarantees success. Resisting the tendency toward manic swings, both sorrowful and euphoric, is the best way to keep making progress.
Resisting the tendency toward manic swings, both sorrowful and euphoric, is the best way to keep making progress.
— Patrick Montague
We work closely with corporations and see them starting to play a bigger role in seed stage investing. What do you think corporations can do to be successful so early in the process?
Corporations engaging with startups, and vice versa, has become an ever more critical component to everyone’s mutual success. Seed stage companies are very fragile and they often need time to mature before they’re ready for full-scale commercial partnership or integration with the business units of a strategic investor. But, corporations can also be immensely helpful to a small, growing organization. An early stage investor, whether at an independent fund or within a corporation, needs to stay close enough to the company to know when and where points of value creation are while ensuring the startup team won’t get distracted or stretched too thin by opportunities for which it is not yet ready.
You’ve done Bots, Voice, and now Vision. Looking ahead, what do you think will be the next betaworks camp theme and why?
We’ve definitely got a few ideas for the next camp theme already. Hard to say exactly what it will be right now, but it will focus on an emerging way in which humans engage with computing power to retrieve information, to communicate with each other, or to simply entertain ourselves.
If you think your computer vision startup has the chops for Visioncamp, apply now. The deadline is October 10th!