Maple raises $22 million in Series A round, pre-launch!

Last week, Maple, which we seed-funded last year, announced a $22 million Series A.  Since Maple has not publicly launched yet, there were a lot of questions on why the round was so large — without even a single paying customer. So we wanted to share some thoughts on why we think that Maple is in a very unique situation.

The opportunity. First, online food delivery is a massive market. In NYC alone, Seamless/Grubhub is approaching $1 billion in annual transaction value of food orders. Second, the opportunity to provide a new and compelling food delivery option is better than ever. Restaurants in New York City are made up of small independent business owners for whom delivery is usually just an afterthought. As a son of immigrant parents who owned a number of Chinese food restaurants in Manhattan, I grew up in the business, and I saw this first hand. Restaurant owners rarely have a real discipline or strategy for offering food that would deliver well. They also don’t typically spend much investment on sourcing/utilizing packaging that really preserves the quality of the meal, and the actual delivery resources are never fully-optimized for speed and keeping the customer informed. These restaurant owners are already overworked just managing their in-house dining experience, so trying to figure out how to optimize delivery just never makes it to the forefront. On top of that, Seamless/Grubhub now charges restaurant owners 10 – 15% for processing these orders, which makes it even that much harder for restaurants to invest in improving that experience. Meanwhile, “on demand” services are becoming huge, with consumers getting more and more accustomed to high-quality on-demand and delivery services for food, groceries, housework, you name it. As they get hip to what’s possible and the services themselves are becoming higher quality, it’s time for food delivery to catch up. Maple is trying to solve this huge problem that affects a lot of people daily, which makes it an exciting opportunity and one that we know that consumers are hungering for!

The Team. Maple co-founders Caleb Merkl and Akshay Navle are exceptional entrepreneurs — and this is ultimately what drove the deal. As investors, it’s rare to find the opportunity to work with a great team that you have full faith in — so when you do, you go all in. This may result in decisions that others see as aggressive or illogical, but are actually some of the smartest and easiest decisions to make. The more you know Caleb and Akshay, the more you will understand. We got to see both of these fine entrepreneurs up close and in action when Caleb and Akshay were at Primary (then High Peaks) as an entrepreneur-in-residence and a venture partner. Through that experience and ever since, they continue to show that they are analytically sharp, hard-working, and they know how to take the long view and ‘see around the corners.’ They are impressive and inspiring and will no doubt be successful.

 The investors. We know why investing in Maple makes sense for the investors. But there’s the other point of view to consider too — why did Maple partner with these investors? In our eyes, there’s plenty of good reason. This Series A round was led by Greenoaks Capital Management, which is run by Neil Mehta and Benny Peretz. Neil and I are both board members (and we were early investors) for Coupang, a multi-billion dollar ecommerce startup in Korea. I have had the pleasure of working extensively with Neil, who has been one of the most helpful investors I have ever worked with. He is thoughtful, diligent and a great collaborator who truly helps the entrepreneur. Neil’s interest in leading this round was not only about it being a great business opportunity but more importantly what he saw in Maple co-founders, Caleb and Akshay — and I believe they recognized the same potential in working with him.

Congrats to Maple! We are excited for your future, and to have Greenoaks and the other new investors on board!

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Primary Venture Partners is looking for an Investment Associate to Join our Team

About Primary Venture Partners

Primary is an early-stage venture capital firm based in New York City, run by Ben Sun and Brad Svrluga, who combined have a 30-year track record as investors and operators in the NYC Tech scene. We primarily invest in two sectors: ecommerce and SaaS. We focus on startups based in NYC and strive to be one of the most valuable and trusted partners to our portfolio companies.

Opportunity: Investment Associate – Ecommerce

The Investment Associate will be working with General Partner Ben Sun, who is responsible for our Ecommerce investments. For us, these are transaction monetization businesses and companies that help with that enablement. Ben’s previous notable investments include Coupang.com (Amazon of South Korea), Jet.com, MakeSpace (NY’s #1 storage services company), Maple, PSDept and Greats.

What will you do as our Investment Associate?

  1. Lead New Deal Investment Opportunities  – We review hundreds of opportunities per year and ONLY invest in 6 to 8 new deals annually for the entire firm. As our associate, you will be leading our deal sourcing and vetting process. Many of our deals are inbound from entrepreneurs, referrals from other investors, operators and people in our network (lawyers, service providers, etc.).  However, being great at getting deal flow is a result of your own hustle. You need to network with other VCs and operators in order to hear about companies that we should be meeting with. Being active in social media and sharing your thoughts to generate attention from entrepreneurs is a key element of the role. You will also be actively attending industry events and meet ups. You will be working autonomously, and constantly figuring out how to find the next great opportunity for us to invest in.  Driving the top of the funnel is one thing. You also have to figure out if the investment opportunity is a great one.  You need to be constantly researching and learning in order to develop your own framework to determine what companies we should invest in. Much of that framework is learning the key factors and insights that have made companies in our sector successful and how that may apply to companies we see.  What was so special about that product market fit? What marketing dynamic allowed that company to acquire customers at scale with amazing efficiency? How did that company build a moat to ward off competition? How do you find this out? To get the real key insights, you need to network with people deep in the industry: investors, operators, and thought leaders. How do you get to them? You have to hustle. No one is going to hold your hand. You need to figure it out yourself.
  1. Provide Support to our Portfolio Companies – Once you make some new investments, you’ll feel like you are awesome. And then you realize that to actually be awesome, your start-up companies need to be massively successful. Your job has just begun.  How do you support them? You will work with a handful of our portfolio companies in figuring out how to solve operational problems by leveraging our Operating Partner Network. Whether it is better using Facebook for marketing acquisition or developing the right way to predict LTV, we have people in our Operating Partner Network (and if they aren’t in our network, you need to find them) who are operating experts and specialists that can help.  Your job is to work with our portfolio companies and connect them with the best resources in our network. You also support them by helping them plan their next fundraise, getting competitive intel, lining up intros to other VCs, and bringing donuts every once in a while, because everyone loves donuts.
  1. Fund Administration – The work is not all rainbows and unicorns. We do have administrative work like preparing reports and analysis for our Limited Partner/Investors. It’s not the most fun and sexy part of the job, but it has to get done and get done well. But don’t worry, someone else will be cleaning the bathrooms.

Do you think you would be an awesome associate? If so, here’s how your mom should describe you:

  1. You figure sh*t out and can work independently. We don’t need to hold your hand to figure out what you have to do next.
  2. Hustle is your middle name. Need to get to an answer or try to get something done? You will make that cold call.  You will ask for that favor.  You will bust down that door. You do what it takes!
  3. You are a voracious learner, meaning that you love understanding how companies become successful. You enjoy mining for those insights and talking about them.  Learning about them gives you a rush. Every time other VCs and entrepreneurs meet you they always say, “Damn! [Insert your name here] knows their sh-t!”
  4. You have a real interest in Ecommerce and that means more than just having an Amazon Prime account!
  5. Ideally, you worked at a startup, especially in a product or marketing role at an Ecommerce company. What would make you an even better fit is if you also spent some time in a job like investment banking or consulting, because that shows that you have done some broader strategic and industry work.  An MBA at a great school is a good thing. You are a great mix of knowing the details of how a startup works because you worked at one, but you can also do the bigger picture work.
  6. You are not an a—hole.  You might be a superstar genius, but if people don’t always refer to you as a “really nice person” then you definitely don’t belong here. We need to like you, and so do all of your contacts.

Email me your resume or LinkedIn Profile link at: ben@primary.vc

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Great Opportunity – Venture Fellow – Community Manager at Primary Venture Partners

Primary Venture Partners is an early stage venture capital firm based in New York City.  We are seeking a Venture Fellow Community Manager.   This program will be for 6 months and will be mainly responsible for the expansion of our Operating Partner Network (“OPN”) and Technical Advisor Network (“TAN”) in which we connect our portfolio companies with operating and technical experts to leverage their expertise. The Venture Fellow Community Manager will also assist our portfolio companies in accessing our OPN and TAN to solve operations problems and learn best practices. This is an exciting opportunity for those interested in getting greater exposure to the tech start up and venture capital community. You will have the opportunity to build an amazing network and get insights from top talent in NYC.

In the expansion of our Operating Partner Network or our Technical Advisor Network:

  1. Identify leaders in the startup and tech community
  2. Discuss opportunities to join Primary’s Operating Partner Network
  3. Enter information in our CRM system
  4. Assist portfolio companies in learning best practices, getting market intel, and hiring via the use of our Operating Partner Network
  5. Networking is a huge part of what we do in Venture Capital and we think this is a great opportunity to start building a presence in the NYC tech scene

Qualifications

  1. You love networking and have a genuine interest in helping people. You are a super connector. You need to be able to dig into people’s previous experience, motivations, and aspirations as well as develop an understanding of industry dynamics and can find the devil in the details.
  2. Strong business acumen. A strong interest in Ecommerce and SaaS really helps.   This is beyond knowing what SaaS stands for and/or having shopped on Amazon!
  3. You work hard.  Hustle is your middle name.
  4. You are not an A—hole.  You might be a superstar genius but if people don’t always refer to you as a “really nice person” then you definitely don’t belong here.
  5. You figure sh*t out and can work independently.   We don’t need to hold your hand to figure out what you have to do next.

Timing and other details

  1. Program is from February 2015 through July 2015.
  2. Venture Fellow Community Manager will be working primarily out of the office as you are expected to mostly be networking and gathering data from the field.
  3. You will receive a modest monthly stipend.

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Introducing Primary Venture Partners!

unnamedWhen my partner, Brad Svrluga, approached me about three years ago to join him to run High Peaks Venture Partners I wasn’t interested at first.  I was personally investing and helping start startups and was seeing real success and feeling very proud of the work that I was doing.  However, Brad presented the opportunity as one in which we would be reinventing High Peaks and I would be a true partner in setting a new path for the firm.  As a former entrepreneur of a venture backed startup, I had always wished my VCs would have done more to have supported my business.  And I also knew I was not the only entrepreneur that had felt that way.  I was excited about taking on this new challenge of building a VC firm that provided really impactful operational support as the next journey of my career.  The last two years have been an incredible experience.  We have set a new strategy and built a new platform of resources that I think will have a real impact on the NYC tech community.  Many people have asked me if I like being a VC versus being an entrepreneur.  I have told them I am still an entrepreneur as we have really co-founded a new VC firm over the last two years.  Now, with an evolved team, a strategy that is more focused and robust than ever, and a future full of promise, we thought it the opportune time to formally complete the transition with a wholly new identity.  So, we are thrilled to announce that as of this moment, High Peaks Venture Partners is now Primary Venture Partners.

For a fuller explanation of the thinking and process behind this transformation, please read the blog post on Brad’s blog, and let us know what you think of the new brand and identity. You can find us going forward at www.primary.vc, and on Twitter @PrimaryVC. Please help us spread the word today by sharing the blog post, etc. via your various social media channels!

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Introducing Maple!

Last week, Maple officially announced its plans to launch a better food delivery service next year. The news was welcome with great fanfare (see a selection of stories below) and we couldn’t be more excited. A couple of our favorite entrepreneurs, CEO Caleb Merkl and COO Akshay Navle were working with High Peaks as an EIR and Venture Partner respectively when they founded the business, one of the most promising investments we made over the summer. We are excited to be part of Maple along with renowned chef and entrepreneur David Chang of Momofuku and other investors including Thrive Capital and Bessemer Ventures. Maple is will deliver delicious and healthy prepared meals to customers looking for more compelling food delivery options. We wanted to share this news with our friends at High Peaks as we look forward to supporting Caleb and Akshay in the development of this new culinary experience, and we hope you will also join us in enjoying their food! To find out when it launches in your neighborhood, sign up at www.trymaple.com. Bon appétit!

The New York Times

Momofuku’s David Chang Joins Food-Delivery Start-Up Maple

Business Insider

Ramen King David Chang Is Launching His Own Food Delivery App

Techcrunch

Momofuku Chef David Chang Backs Upcoming NYC Food Delivery Service Maple

Other

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Bet on The Jockey and Not the Horse

When people ask me how I invest in startups, I share the most important part of my strategy: bet on the jockey, and not the horse.

I first heard this analogy about 5 years ago from Michael Loeb, an incredibly successful entrepreneur, who shared this advice while graciously hosting a weekend trip for myself and other entrepreneurs. Nearly every seed investor says something similar – that the team matters more than the product – but this analogy stuck with me for several reasons:

  • It captures how distinct the two entities can be, yet how powerful in the right combination.
  • It makes it obvious who is driving success. A great horse will go nowhere without a passionate, savvy and motivated jockey racing against the competition.

When I made the transition from angel investor to institutional VC as a partner at High Peaks, I reflected on my years as an angel and realized that any mistakes I made were because I had not fully internalized this advice. My new partner Brad Svrluga had a similar experience over the dozen years as a VC; as he puts it: “I’ve always understood the jockey-horse lesson, yet every single year I feel like I learn it again and understand more and more how true it is.” The lesson really screamed out at us both, when we recounted our wins and losses. Our biggest mistakes came from when we compromised this value or thought there were enough compelling reasons to ignore it; our greatest successes came from embracing it.

Taking this strategy to the extreme, Brad and I made some bets on jockeys before they even had horses. Our first example is Akshay Navle. When I was first introduced by an angel investor, I had no idea what to expect. I took the meeting out of courtesy and scheduled just 30 minutes – which turned into 2 hours. Akshay told me amazing stories about his work and life and experiences, from building the ecommerce site for B&H to the long winding road between his start up and Quidsi (the parent company of Diapers.com). We got along well and I knew this guy was special – he had developed so many thriving and innovative businesses, yet he had a humility about him. He seemed like a young but talented jockey who expected his best race was still to come. We ended up working on a number of projects together, and last year, I brought him on at High Peaks as a Venture Partner.

Another favorite jockey is someone I met about a year ago when doing due diligence on a potential investment. I asked friends for contacts with experience in a specific industry, was introduced to Caleb Merkl, and was immediately blown away by how smart and insightful he is. We kept in touch and he later asked me for advice, since he wanted to be an entrepreneur but didn’t have a solid business idea yet. Like Akshay, Caleb seemed like a shooting star, so I convinced him to quit his job and become an Entrepreneur in Residence with us at High Peaks. That way he could learn from our approach and network, while developing his own business.

The plan worked well, and after about 6 months with us, Caleb teamed up with Akshay to develop a great idea and co-found a business together, with High Peaks as a seed investor. We may have lost an EIR and Venture Partner, but are more excited than ever because we get to be involved in this next journey. They are still in stealth, but we can’t wait to share more soon.

Brad and I love what we do because of this opportunity to work with great people.   We value great jockeys first and foremost (like Marc Lore of Jet.com or Rahul Gandhi at MakeSpace), and this is the foundation for how we invest in people, not just companies, at High Peaks.

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High Peaks MBA Associates Program – Now accepting applicants!

High Peaks Venture Partners is an early stage venture capital firm based in New York City.  We are seeking current MBA students in New York to participate in our MBA Associates program.   The MBA Associates will be specifically working on two main initiatives. The first is the expansion of our Operating Partner Network and and Technical Advisor Network in which we connect our portfolio companies with potential operating and technical experts to leverage their expertise. The second is to work with our investment team in conducting industry research to help refine and inform one of the investment theses that guide our investment and portfolio support strategy.

In the expansion of our Operating Partner Network or our Technical Advisor Network:

  1. Identify leaders in the startup and tech community
  2. Discuss opportunities to join High Peaks’ Operating Partner Network
  3. Enter information in our CRM system
  4. Assist portfolio companies in learning best practices, getting market intel, and hiring via the use of our Operating Partner Network
  5. Networking is a huge part of what we do in Venture Capital and we think this is a great opportunity to start building a presence in the NYC tech scene

In the industry research project you will:

  1. Work with our investment team in identifying the appropriate topic and thesis
  2. Conduct interviews via our Operating Partner Network or Technical Advisor Network to gather data and insights
  3. Get intelligence and point of views from other others in the Venture Capital community
  4. Present your findings at the end of the program to the Partnership and all other participants in the program

Qualifications

  1. Strong business acumen. Ideal candidates are currently enrolled in a top tier MBA program. A strong interest in Ecommerce and SaaS really helps.   This is beyond knowing what SaaS stands for and/or having shopped on Amazon!
  2. You love networking and have a genuine interest in helping people, beyond just building a business. You need to be able to dig into people’s previous experience, motivations, and aspirations as well as develop an understanding of industry dynamics and can find the devil in the details.
  3. You work hard.  Hustle is your middle name.
  4. You are not an A—hole.  You might be a superstar genius but if people don’t always refer to you as a “really nice person” then you definitely don’t belong here.
  5. You figure sh*t out and can work independently.   We don’t need to hold your hand to figure out what you have to do next.

Timing and other details

  1. MBA Associate program is from Sept 2014 through early January 2015.
  2. MBA Associates will be working primarily out of the office as you are expected to mostly be networking and gathering data from the field.

Email me your resume or LinkedIn Profile link at: ben@hpvp.com

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