“But when the new Umami Burger outlet opens down the street from you (or the new Ivan Ramen outlet, or the new Roy Choi taco joint), you can say a little prayer of thanks (or not) to Chang, Bloomfield, and her partner Friedman. You can thank them for your strange, abiding obsession with brown liquor and craft beers, and the hamburger, and that fragrant vat of kimchee your Park Slope neighbor has kept buried for months in her backyard. You can thank them for that road trip you’re planning with your suddenly food-mad 10-year-old daughter, down through the ancient Foodways of Virginia and Tennessee to find the perfectly cured country ham. You can thank them for that weirdly excellent gastropub your friend stumbled on in the wilds of Ojai, California, or Rockland, Maine, and you can thank them for a food world that’s more democratic, more accessible, and generally a whole lot more fun than the one these two young cooks, coming from different worlds, stumbled into, ten long years ago, in the summer of 2004.”—The Chefs That Changed America: A Decade of David Chang and April Bloomfield — Grub Street New York
“It’s also clear that the authors could not summon up the courage to stop referring to their audience as ‘readers’ and begin to call them ‘users’ – probably because some pedant was worried they’d be confused with dope addicts.”—
The Internet has enabled the seamless flow of commerce in an unprecedented fashion. But where transactions go, so do bad actors. We currently estimate online fraud to be a $40B problem, and it’s just getting worse. The few rarified Internet giants like Google & Amazon have built large dedicated teams and sophisticated technology solutions to combat fraud. But what about everyone else? Even our largest commerce and marketplace investments at Spark suffer from fraud and have turned to third parties for help.
I am thrilled today to announce that Spark Capital is leading a $18MM Series B financing of Sift Science, the world’s most advanced fraud prevention platform. Sift Science empowers online merchants with real-time, large-scale machine learning via an easy to integrate API that unlocks deep customer insight and helps businesses large and small prevent fraud on their sites.
Sift launched it’s first machine learning as a service product just over a year ago, and today analyzes more than $1.5 billion of transactions and 600 million events each month. They have grown their customer base over 50x in the past year and today power fraud prevention across the globe for high-growth businesses like Airbnb, Uber, JackThreads, Kickstarter and HotelTonight. With an API that can be integrated in a day, a real-time fraud console, and plugins for Shopify and Magento, Sift is simply the easiest and best fraud prevention service on the planet.
One of the most exciting things about Sift’s machine learning platform is that it continues to get smarter and better as more customers join the Sift network. Each customer brings unique data to the platform that Sift utilizes to identify and weed out bad actors wherever they may appear. In true Internet form, everyone on Sift’s network benefits from everyone else’s collective data and intelligence.
Sift Science is a new style of SAAS business, utilizing easy to integrate APIs for distribution, leveraging a freemium business model and benefitting from terrific network effects at scale. We’ve made a number of investments in this area at Spark and will continue to look for more.
I’m thrilled to join Jason, Fred and the rest of the excellent Sift Science team to help them realize their vision of making the Internet a safer, better and more profitable place.
Over the past number of years, there’s been an ad-hoc explosion in ‘pop-up’ retail spaces. We’ve also seen the emergence of meaningful brands being built online that are finding in-person experiences to be massively additive to their businesses. As our world becomes ever more digitally connected, I believe we are increasingly yearning for complementary in-person experiences that are uniquely rich, fresh, integrated and responsive.
I’m thrilled today to announce Spark Capital’s Series A investment in Storefront, the world’s leading marketplace for short-term retail. Storefront makes it easy for any brand, business or artisan to find a space to showcase, market and sell their wares without any of the burdensome, expensive and long-term commitments of the typical lease. Some more details on Storefront’s terrific early progress here.
Whether you’re an Etsy seller, Warby Parker, an aspiring art gallerist, or Samsung launching a new phone, Storefront can help you find the right space for your needs.
On the flip-side, Storefront allows property owners to maintain freshness and flexibility with their spaces while providing higher yields. It also opens up spaces that would have never before been considered easily short-term rentable such as shop-in-shops, street fair booths, restaurants spaces and subway kiosks to name a few.
The seamless connection of online and offline experiences is a big deal, and Storefront is poised to help lead this charge. I couldn’t be more excited to partner with Erik, Tristan, Ron and the terrific Storefront team as they execute on this ambitious vision.
“As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.”—
After the crisis of 2008, it became abundantly clear that our staid financial institutions needed reinventing. So, as they do, talented entrepreneurs got to work. We are now seeing the first wave of post-crisis innovation starting to bear fruit across lending (e.g. p2p), investing (e.g. crowdfunding), payments (e.g. simple api’s) and other key financial services categories. But we are just getting started.
I am convinced that we will see sweeping changes to our financial system and its institutions over the coming years. Although the financial services industry has typically been a laggard, it can’t hold on forever. Technology will fundamentally change this industry, like it does all others. In order to realize this vision however, the proper infrastructure needs to be in place.
Enter Plaid, a new service founded by Zach Perret & William Hockey that I am thrilled to announce Spark’s investment in today. Plaid is a modern API for banking and credit card data that provides developers with a clean, categorized view of user transactions and account balances. In addition to making financial data actionable and accessible, Plaid connects every transaction with a clean merchant name, address, and category.
By focusing on simple integration and high-quality data, Plaid enables developers to programmatically interact with core banking infrastructure and build applications that leverage financial data. Financial technology has always had significant barriers to entry, but with a modern API and rich, contextual data, Plaid is helping developers transform the way consumers and businesses utilize financial information.
In doing so, Plaid is enabling the developer community to create the next generation of companies. The company has seen significant early traction within accounting, tax, expense, and lending; however, as the platform has grown, developers have begun using Plaid across a number of other verticals that we never would have expected.
Zach & William have created a service with Plaid that has the potential to serve as the backbone for a new wave of financial innovation, and I’m excited to see what’s next!
It’s even less of a secret that I love everything food. Be it restaurants, burger-making, cooking, or just plain eating, food has been a personal passion of mine for as long as I can remember.
So I couldn’t be happier to announce today Spark Capital’s investment in Kitchensurfing — the world’s marketplace for chefs. When Chris Muscarella first told me he was launching Kitchensurfing, I was immediately smitten. In addition to being an incredibly talented product-led internet entrepreneur, Chris, too, is a lover of all things food and has been intimately involved in building one of my favorite restaurants: Rucola in Broooklyn.
Chris has created a beautiful product with two talented German cofounders: Borahm Cho and Lars Kluge. Adding my dear friend Ben Leventhal to the mix as President was the icing on the cake. Having previously co-founded Eater.com, Ben is one of the foremost editorial minds and community builders in the food world.
On its face, Kitchensurfing is very simple — it’s a place for folks to find chefs of all stripes to come cook for them, and oftentimes their guests, in the comfort of their own home. But Kitchensurfing is actually doing something more profound. They are unbundling the idea of the restaurant and putting it together in an entirely new way.
One of the things you learn very quickly in the restaurant business is how tough it is to be a chef. While the celebrity chefs get all the attention today, aside from them and the country’s leading executive chefs, most chefs work very hard for very little money. Save for opening their own restaurant, which does not always come naturally to a creative chef, there is little room for upward mobility.
Kitchensurfing opens up opportunities for chefs to do more of what they love (cooking) and make more money in the process. Whether they are a professional or an amateur, whether they do it part time or full time, Kitchensurfing is a platform that enables chefs to be chefs and make money doing it.
From the consumer point of view, dining out is probably the biggest piece of discretionary spend. What if ‘dining in’ could take a piece of that immense pie with a different but comparable experience? Could it even grow that pie in the process? The home chef has never been a true alternative to a restaurant meal, certainly not on an on-demand, a la carte basis. But now it is.
All great in theory, but I had to try it for myself to fully believe it. I had the Lucullan team do my first Kitchensurfing dinner, and it was terrific. So far I’ve used Kitchensurfing at my home or at friends’ homes at least half a dozen times, and I am hooked. In addition to being able to try all different kinds of foods, having a talented, interesting person in your home is actually a treat in it of itself. There is a sense of community, of being part of the process of food, that is simply hard to beat. So much so that I recently had Hagar from Kitchensurfing cook our Moroccan inspired Passover seder!
Kitchensurfing is currently available in New York, Boston and Berlin—planting a domestic and international flag from day one. Chicago and Washington D.C. are coming imminently. There are now thousands of cooks on the platform, and the business has tripled in size since the end of last year. Kitchensurfing is on a tear, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Look out for Kitchensurfing in a city near you soon. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
“Political coverage that wants to be solely high-minded is missing huge chunks of the actual interplay of personality and power that is what actually drives things”—Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, NYTimes
The above was part of a poem I wrote in 7th grade about my favorite people, including Mayor Ed Koch. Mayor Koch was a tremendous role model to me in the way that he always spoke his mind and stood up passionately for what he believed in.
We will miss you Mayor Ed Koch. You were a great man.