LA Venture Podcast: Chang Xu's Basis Set Ventures Focuses On AI and Automation
On this week's episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, hear from Chang Xu, partner at Basis Set Ventures, a $140 million fund focused on AI and automation - technology that transforms the way people work.
Basis Set Ventures focuses on four pieces: infrastructure, collaboration, automation and autonomy. Chang spends a lot of time on infrastructure, and she breaks it down into four themes: raise the ceiling, lower the floor, open space and data privacy.
By raise the ceiling, Chang says there's "always going to be better and more secure and faster fundamental building blocks for infrastructure to the tune of database systems and streaming data and...infrastructure as code."
Lower the floor is about no code and low code, which, for example, could allow for not-trained people to build their own apps without relying on software developers. Chang predicts a proliferation of tools that she says will enable "people to create regardless of their technical abilities and their starting point."
When I heard "open source" I figured she meant "free." But, Chang says, open source "is almost table stakes for how infrastructure is discovered, bought and sold today."
Lastly, Chang says they see "data privacy as a really large tailwind and emerging space" because it is tackling the challenge of adhering to privacy regulations, but at the same time innovating fast, while taking advantage of the growing amounts of data companies are amassing.
Chang and her partners aren't just stuck on tech, they're also keenly interested in what makes a lasting and impactful founder. She says her firm's research has revealed that "successful founders are humble operators, agile visionaries and seasoned executives. And the less successful founders...are passionate outsiders, overconfident storytellers and stubborn individuals."
This interview goes deep into machine learning optimization (ML Ops), what Chang learned from her many years at Upfront, like how to craft a good narrative and practical advice for startups on how to form a board.
Not incidentally, Chang is L.A.-based, though the Basis Set operates out of San Francisco.
Chang Xu is a partner at Basis Set Ventures. Previously, she was a principal at Upfront Ventures, the oldest and largest SoCal-based early stage venture capital firm. Prior to joining Upfront, she was a founder and operator. She was the first product manager at the Minerva Project. She co-founded and was the COO of Onion Math, an edtech startup in China that has raised $90 million to date. She started her career at BCG where she advised clients across technology, retail, healthcare and private equity. She holds an MBA and AB in Applied Math and Computer Science, both from Harvard. (bio from Basis Set).dot.LA Sr. Podcast Producer & Editor Laurel Moglen contributed to this post.
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On this week's episode of L.A. Venture, hear from Will Schmitt, the head of venture strategy at Miroma Ventures. Miroma Ventures is the investment arm of The Miroma Group, which is made up of a collective of smaller marketing agencies. Their venture team works with Fortune 500 companies like Spotify, Starbucks, Masterclass and Netflix to help build brand awareness and recognition.
Former Cisco executive Shaun Cooley's two-year-old Los Angeles startup is creating a platform to make buildings smarter.
Mapped, which just raised $6.5 million led by Allegion Ventures and MetaProp, helps commercial real estate companies operate their buildings remotely.
So far, it has about a dozen commercial customers that have anywhere from 100 to 1,000 buildings where HVAC, elevators and other systems can be controlled from a central brain.
Although their current customers are all commercial real estate, Cooley hopes to expand that to refineries, energy production facilities, manufacturing floors and retail spaces.
Mapped's software represents physical buildings in standardized, open-source digital database graphs and automates everything from heating and air to lighting, elevators and even conveyor belts — adjusting them based on the temperature outside or time of day, all without the need for human intervention.
Cooley came up with the idea after years as Cisco's CTO and vice president of IOT and industries, where he saw his customers struggle with extracting data from their systems and making it usable.
"Just because you digitize, or you IoT enable one factory, doesn't mean you can take that digitization and move it to the factory across the street," said Cooley. "They have different systems, installed in a different time period, by a different system integrator."
For example, a decades old building might have an HVAC, lighting, security, elevators, irrigation system, gas metering and other systems feeding into a central hub. For owners of multiple building, the interfaces that those systems operate on are often different. Mapped offers a platform for developers to standardize those interfaces.
Using APIs, Mapped's software constantly scans the environment, communicates with devices in their native protocols, and then brings data back to its central platform. Thus, software developers can write applications one time and instantly deploy them across all of a company's buildings.
Cooley said his product is different than what's offered by Oracle and Microsoft because its designed to be an all-in-one automated platform, making it much faster than his competitors.
In March 2020, Mapped raised $3 million in its first seed round, bringing today's total to $9.5 million.
The latest round was co-led by Legion Ventures and MetaProp, Singtel joined the round and Greycroft and Animo participated.
The prospect of internet fame is no longer enough to bring in the best and brightest. Instead, paying for content has become table stakes for these platforms as they battle one another and compete in the broader attention economy.
Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings made that clear in a recent earnings call, when he called YouTube — rather than other streaming services or theater chains — his company's "second largest direct competitor."
Within the last two years, at least 10 platforms have announced they'll be paying creators for their work, but the size of the purse, what type of content they're funding and how differs by platform.
"These types of funds are what a lot of creators have been waiting forever for, and as soon as one platform starting doing it, the others had to follow suit," said David Rhodes, a multiplatform content creator with over 10 million followers across his 12 accounts, who has earned a few thousand dollars from Snapchat's creator fund.
Whether this new funding will be enough to lure talent and sustain quality content remains to be seen, but the financial arms race has been welcomed by many creators.
Here's a quick look at each:
TikTok has said that within three years, its creator fund will grow to over $1 billion in the U.S. and more than double that globally. Only residents of certain countries are currently eligible, and successful applicants must meet other criteria, including having at least 10,000 authentic followers and receiving 100,000 views in the last 30 days. To apply, users must have a creator account, which is free to make, and submit an application via the app. Payouts are based on video views and engagement, and no caps have been set for outlays per day or to a given user, the company says.
YouTube's "shorts fund" is a $100 million pool that will be distributed through 2022. Available to creators in India and the U.S., it is an effort to boost YouTube's presence in the short-form video market via its new "Shorts" product. Phil Ranta, a social media veteran and CEO of Wormhole Labs, said he has seen lots of creators with relatively modest followings earn "bonkers" views via Shorts. YouTube says it will reach out to creators whose Shorts earn the most views and engagement each month, and called the fund "the first step in our journey to build a monetization model for Shorts on YouTube."
Snapchat is offering $1 million per day to creators on "Spotlight," a TikTok-like video-broadcasting feature launched late last year that heralded Snap's departure from an exclusive focus on peer-to-peer messaging. Anyone can submit clips to Spotlight and be eligible for the funding. Payments are distributed based on an algorithm that checks whether a post passes a "value threshold" within seven days. Snap has said factors the algorithm looks for will vary but may include unique views and performance relative to other users' posts.
Facebook set aside $25 million for a Black creator fund in 2020, available to U.S. residents with at least 10,000 Facebook or Instagram followers. The program launched in August and applications are now closed. Instagram, owned by Facebook, does not have a general creator fund, though its head, Adam Mosseri, has suggested it might create one in the future. Reports have surfaced indicating that Instagram has sought to lure some creators to its platform with lavish payments.
Pinterest has a creator fund that reportedly measures $500,000 and is open for application; participants receive $25,000 in cash and ad credits and participate in a four-week workshop. Clubhouse has indicated it will offer application-based creator grants but has not publicized details, and ran an inaugural creator accelerator program that closed applications in March. Substack offered $25,000 each to four selected writers in 2020 while OnlyFans provided four £20,000 grants to UK-based musicians.
How Some Artists Are Gaming 'Creator Funds'
The largest funds are algorithmic and the factors that trigger payouts are a moving target, but that doesn't mean they can't be gamed.
"There's always an exploit," said Ranta, noting that conversations among creators and agents often include sharing tactics for what seems to be working.
One hack he cited pertains to Snap's Spotlight fund. Some creators with big followings have found they can post to Spotlight as frequently as every five minutes with simple videos such as blowing a kiss to the camera, and earn money for it, Ranta said.
Accessing the funds can also simply mean posting relentlessly.
"The more content you can push out the better," said Rhodes. "Although some videos may do well and some won't, you're still increasing your chances of videos taking off and earning money."
Rhodes said it's key to find "formula," and "ride it out until it stops working — or until the novelty wears off — and then switch it up and try different things until you find a new formula that works, and ride that one, too."
Ranta noted that a good way to know what a platform algorithmically prefers is to monitor the company's press releases and best practices guides.
"You put those two together and you kind of get it," he said.
Conversations about how to hit the moving target also take place on forums like TubeBuddy, in addition to Reddit and Discord. Proceed with caution, though.
"Those are really hit or miss," said Ranta, or downright "unfounded gossip."
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