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K.I.S.S.: FieldLens and Enterprise App Simplification

September 19, 2012

Brad Svrluga

When I wrote a couple of weeks ago about our investment in Routehappy I also introduced some new thinking here at High Peaks about our investment focus, describing our interest in Consumer Empowerment. I also alluded to a second theme we’re excited about, and said an announcement highlighting that theme was coming soon.

Today we are excited to announce that theme and our investment in FieldLens. Started by childhood friends Doug Chambers and Matt Sena, FieldLens is, in short, going to completely change the way that construction projects get managed – from skyscrapers all the way down to condo renovations. And in doing so, it will be a shining example of a whole new generation of b2b companies that we are actively pursuing.

As we think about the rapidly changing b2b application landscape, our thinking has centered around a theme of Simplification. For us, Simplification is about an entirely new world of business applications that are lightweight, inherently social, simple to deploy, simple to use and, very importantly, simple to sell.

All of this is driven by two fundamental and much discussed changes in the technology landscape. First is the iPhone-led mobile revolution.

In a world of 50% smartphone penetration and an app economy that won’t quit, we’ve hit the point where one can reasonably assume that the vast majority of employees in any enterprise carry and are very familiar with the functionality of a smartphone. Further, the realities of app development for 5” smartphone screens has enforced a new sensibility that is changing application design on all platforms. Less is more, and simplicity reigns.

Second is the Facebook & Twitter-led social revolution. There are a billion people on social networks across the world. And while we can debate the relative merits of one network vs. another, there’s no questioning that we have hit the point where Facebook, Twitter, etc. have trained the substantial majority of Americans on the basics of these new social communications modalities. This familiarity is growing and moving up the age ladder rapidly – in the past year the % of 45-54 yr old Americans with a social media presence has jumped from 45% to 54%. From 55-64 yrs old we’re now past 1/3 penetration.

Take these two megatrends together, add in for good measure the fact that cloud technologies and standardized, off-the-shelf components have cut the cost of starting a web-based business by as much as 90% from 10 years ago, and it’s game on for innovation.

In this mobile & social world, we believe the very nature of business communications and collaborations is only in the earliest stages of a massive transformation. We’ve all got smartphones, we are all engaged in social nets. The implications of these realities are arguably as powerful as the dawn of the browser and web 1.0.

One very attractive element of Simplification businesses is that they are so easy to use and thus, easy to adopt. As we’ve seen with Simplification leaders like Dropbox and Google Apps, these applications have a remarkable way of starting out being adopted by individuals or small groups within an enterprise. Frequently their use is free, or at least dirt cheap, in these smaller use cases. But then as their usage proliferates within an organization, it makes sense to bring in some control and standardization, and enterprise sales opportunities open up.

Done effectively, these distribution models flip the traditional enterprise sales model on its head. Talk about something that’s been needing a flip…

The first generation of enterprise consumerization companies were largely focused on horizontal applications – that is, applications for things like file storage and workgroup collaboration that are applicable to almost any business.

We think there is much more ground to cover on Simplification of these horizontal applications, but we are also increasingly excited by opportunities for Simplification of vertical applications. We’ve made plays here already with our very promising investments in Ticketfly and PublicStuff.

Now FieldLens is as good an example as we’ve seen yet of these game-changers – lightweight, elegantly designed, mobile-first, and tapping into elements of the “friend and follow” communication modality of the leading social platforms.

The FieldLens opportunity stems from the fact that in the construction industry, the desktop web revolution never really happened. Why? Simple: No desktops!

Think about it…management of tasks and workflow on a job site is something that can’t be done with even the sexiest & most elegant of browser-based web applications. The guys who run these jobs aren’t sitting at desks, they’re walking around in hardhats.

So when FieldLens CEO Doug Chambers was running huge pieces of projects like the New York Times building and 4 World Trade Center, how did he manage tasks and to do’s on the site? You guessed it – a clipboard and paper notes. Not surprisingly, during one of Doug’s sprinkler system inspections a few years ago one of those pieces of paper got lost, a defect didn’t get reported, and when the system went live for final test a massive flood ensued, wiping out the electrical system for 5 floors of a skyscraper. A very, very costly mistake.

And thus, in a classic “there’s gotta be a better way” moment, FieldLens was born.

You can read the press and see the FieldLens site for more on the specifics of the product, but suffice it to say that its time has come, and by leveraging the best elements of simple mobile applications and efficient, collaborative social communications, this is about as much better as mousetraps get.

Like all great Simplification businesses, FieldLens will be easy to trial, cheap to adopt, and viral by nature.

The platform is valuable for management of a whole building, but also valuable to any individual sub-contractor working on just one corner of the job. So FieldLens use will proliferate organically, frequently bubbling up from the bottom, and spreading virally from job to job and firm to firm, as the networks of organizations involved in any one job interact and connect through the platform. These network effects are an important characteristic of the best examples of Simplification.

We couldn’t be happier to be partnered with Doug, Matt, and the team at FieldLens, and we expect remarkable things from them.

More broadly, we couldn’t be more excited than to be sitting where we are on the front end of the broader theme that FieldLens represents. Simplification is going to continue to dramatically change the landscape in enterprise IT, and we’re very eager to add even more investments in companies tapping into this wave of change.

Our Refined Investment Focus, Part 1: Routehappy, Consumer Empowerment & A Redefinition of Flight Search

September 5, 2012

Brad Svrluga

This morning we were very excited to announce our investment in Routehappy, the world’s first flight experience engine. Partnering with our good friends at Contour Ventures, we’re looking forward to helping Bob Albert and his team save us all from a world of crappy flight experiences. TechCrunch does a pretty good job hitting the basics of the company here, as does GigaOm.

This investment represents a very satisfying manifestation of some hard work we’ve been doing over the past year to refine our thinking and investment focus at High Peaks, and I want to share some of that in this and a second, upcoming post.

Looking back at the history of what we’ve done well and where we’ve succeeded, plus forward to where we see important trends emerging in the technology landscape, we’ve identified a couple of key themes that I hope will dominate our investing activities in the year or so ahead.

As our thinking has coalesced around these themes we’ve been working hard to identify the companies that best marry a manifestation of the theme with talented, experienced management. We’ve been fortunate enough to identify two real standouts in recent months. Routehappy is the first, and I’ll speak to the theme they represent today. The second deal, and a discussion of that theme, will follow in a week or two.

At a high level, our investment strategy starts with a clear focus on the application layer of the web, largely forgoing tech-heavy infrastructure plays. (Important note: like any good rule, we’ll consider breaking it, making occasional exceptions when an infrastructure play is consistent with a strongly held thesis we have about the emergence of an important growth market and also led by a truly exceptional team. See our highly successful investments in TxVia – alternative payments, and Enterproid – enterprise mobile security management.

Within the web/mobile application world we are not, as a rule, investors in what most people think of as classic consumer web companies. Gaming, consumer mobile apps, and e-commerce are not places we’ve played nor do we expect to play. Of course, in choosing to largely steer clear of these sectors we know we are eschewing sectors that have defined some of NYC’s more stellar wins of recent years – OMGPop,Foursquare, Gilt, and Fab.com, amongst them. But we know what we know and what we don’t.

While straight up advertising, virtual goods, or commerce driven consumer plays will not be in the fairway for us, there is a segment of consumer opportunities where we are very interested, and we use the term Empowerment to characterize them. Routehappy is a stellar example of an Empowerment play.

By Empowerment, we mean the following: Groundbreaking consumer experiences that harness existing data to empower broader, better-informed choice through business-class decision tools and game changing user experiences.

OK, so what does that mean? It means that a whole world of new consumer applications and services is being enabled by the easier-than-ever ability to aggregate, standardize and present data from disparate sources. And today, it’s possible to do that in one real-time, multi-platform application that enables a whole new level of data visibility and information. Think of Mint.com as a key 1st generation instance of Empowerment. By aggregating all of your important financial data, Mint empowered consumers with a breakthrough experience – offering the first easily accessible, truly holistic view of our personal financial status. The first time I got all my accounts wired into Mint it was truly a “wow” moment.

Like many of the services that we think will be most interesting in the empowerment theme, Mint is free to consumers, and offers what we call a b2c2b business model. The b2c part isn’t the business model, it’s the engagement experience that enables the business model. The business model emerges because of the way these businesses aggregate and engage consumers, creating new data and insights as well as marketing opportunities for businesses who want to reach these consumers.

Routehappy will work this way. As their platform rolls out and becomes more robust in the coming months, I have little doubt that it will become your go to first stop when you’re looking for plane tickets for your next trip, be it business or pleasure. And like any online travel tool, it will be free to you. There will be the obvious booking fee revenue stream, of course, but in the process of offering consumers massively more information to guide travel decisions, Routehappy will also be building a completely unparalleled collection of consumer preference data. Nobody else will be able to use real flight purchase information to generate empirical data that exposes just how important things like wifi, premium seating, and in-seat entertainment are in driving purchase decisions. Routehappy will hold the keys to this data, and that’s a powerful place to be.

Stay tuned for more news and thinking about our interest in Empowerment. We’ve got a couple of promising opportunities in the hopper on this front and hope to announce another deal or two before the end of the year. in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the theme in general, and about your experience with Routehappy more specifically. Bring ‘em on.

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