When Matt Ocko met Zachary Bogue a few years ago they were at one of a million tech events held in a club that was too loud, crammed with way too many people. They were in the back of the room and while shouting to one another, they discovered they were both obsessed with the mass amounts of data that each person was generating online, and the opportunities for processing that date quickly and accurately. “We were the only two guys there who wanted to talk about big data,” Bogue says.
They didn’t know it at the time but that awkward conversation– two guys shouting over drunk tech revelers about the promise of petabytes– would spawn a venture firm. If they made RomComs about the formation of VC firms, this would be the script.
The firm is called Data Collective, and it’s in the middle of raising its first institutional fund now, after investing a seed fund across a sizable forty six companies. (The two also invested a small amount in PandoDaily’s seed round.) Legally they can’t talk much about the size of either fund lest it be seen as solicitation. But more interesting than money is the fund’s structure.
Ocko and Bogue are the managing partners, but they have two other co-founders Mike Driscoll who is the CEO of Metamarkets and Bradford Cross who is the CEO of Prismatic. Between the four of their networks, they’ve come up with a list of 35 big data rock stars– CIOs, data scientists, thinkers, founders, coders with high ranking jobs at companies from Akamai to Zynga. A big brain trust on big data. And unlike other venture firms who have advisors, or individual LPs or even scouts, they decided to make these 35 people equity partners in the fund, with a regular GP carry based on the performance of the fund as a whole.
As far as I know, a structure like this has never been done before. Part of that is with good reason. Even with the economic incentive to add value, managing 35 external partners is a bit like herding cats. Bogue and Ocko have to be very attuned to what each person is looking for, how they would best like to be involved. They give the example of one partner who is a female data scientist who has specifically asked to do hands-on mentoring of any other hard core data female entrepreneurs they invest in. Another was between companies and looking for six months of projects and challenges. They have to work like hell to stay in touch with each of them, and route the right requests to the right people. “It’s almost like a club,” Ocko says.
A secret club for now– they don’t want to disclose who anyone in this gang of data scientists is, nor would they disclose the exact economics of the carry. The four main partners clearly get a higher percentage of the returns. But for many of the younger external partners who haven’t had an exit yet, the percentage could easily represent significant money for them, Ocko says.
Herding cats aside, they say the broad partnership and the economic incentive has given them deal flow and reach and an ability to process due diligence quickly that they couldn’t have on their own. Hence, the reason they’ve been able to do forty six deals out of a seed fund in just a few years.
Unlike the loud party several years ago, today Bogue and Ocko are hardly the only guys in the room who want to talk about big data. There are seven billion people on the planet who will be wielding 50 billion connected devices by 2020, all creating huge amounts of data as computing power and storage gets cheaper and more powerful. And while a decade ago only casinos wanted to analyze every single thing customers did in eerily precise ways, now every company wants that. “This is the first time in human history where everyone is asking, ‘What does the data show?’” Ocko says.
Indeed, it’s such a hot trend du jour that any startup who processes any amount of information (read: Any startup on the Web) is slapping the label big data company on their site. But Ocko and Bogue have pretty strict guidelines for the companies they invest in.
They must be tackling three things as a core part of their businesses. The first is true exponential increase in the volume of data from terabytes to petabytes and even exabytes. The second is a dramatic decrease in the time that data is accumulated and how fast it must be processed and analyzed. “Lots of companies can get to a petabyte of data over thirty years, but are you creating that every hour?” Ocko says. The third is an unprecedented demand for accuracy in analyzing that data. “In the past if someone told you that there was an 80% chance that you’d have a problem with your supply chain in the next three months somewhere in the US, that’d be pretty good,” Ocko says. “Today people want to know with 99.99% confidence where a problem will be and in what zip code.”
Clearly these two won’t be investing in your average social-mobile-photo-loco app. But a few of their deals are ultimately consumer facing. They gave the example of two stealth companies that use big data to deliver disruptive services to individuals. One is a company that uses massive amounts of real time data points to offer consumer lending at disruptively low rates, “a multiple lower than rates of others,” Ocko says. The other traces seat-by-seat airline patterns to derive real time insight on why so many seats still go empty and offer those seats in the right way at the right price.
Several LPs, excited about the structure, have asked if Data Collective is out to break and remake the venture business. Bogue and Ocko repeatedly emphasize that they are not. As a seed fund very focused on solving very hard problems, they need traditional VCs for follow on rounds and expect to play nice with them. They’ve found that VCs have been grateful for a firm to take the early risk with companies this technical and complex. “Most people who gravitate to this space are hardworking nerds who know how hard it is to have a giant success here,” Ocko says. “There are no accidental home runs here; you have to work for your wins.”