Proving the cleantech game still costs a lot, View raises $100 million Series Z

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on January 7, 2014

From The News Desk

As a reminder of just how much money it takes to succeed in clean tech, dynamic glass company View just raised its seventh round. I'd call it a Series Z at this point, since the company has already hit its other alphabetic funding benchmarks. View CEO Dr. Rao Mulpuri prefers not to give it a letter name. "We're not declaring it in a series," Dr. Mulpuri says.

It's a whopping $100 million from private equity investors Madrone Capital Ventures, adding to the $188 million View already raised.

View makes smart glass windows, which it describes as "transition sunglasses for buildings." The windows help control the elements, stopping heat and sunlight glare from penetrating. It senses external weather conditions and adjusts accordingly. That way, people don't have to crank up their air conditioning or close the blinds and turn the lights on. Energy = saved.

For anyone from the startup world, View might remind them more of a "Nest" for glass than transition sunglasses. It's one more way that designers are building home architecture and appliances to adjust intelligently to residents' needs. With Nest, it's the thermostat that regulates itself, setting the heating or cooling system depending on local weather reports and internal temperature sensors, among other factors.

View is similar, applying that principle to windows. It uses multiple glass pane layers and electrochromic coating to achieve more control over the heat and glare coming through the windows. The coating can transform the light properties that enter the glass. Users can manually control the glass' tint through a mobile app, or let the windows adjust automatically depending on the weather conditions outside.

We're getting closer and closer to Disney's Smart House everyday.

View is focused on selling to institutions, not individuals. Its biggest sectors are hospitals, hotels, universities, corporations, and government agencies: Big organizations that can save a ton of money on cooling their huge buildings if their windows have a higher IQ. These are also the groups that can afford to buy View.

In Silicon Valley, some venture capital firms -- particularly Kleiner Perkins -- have come to rue their biggest cleantech bets. It was all the rage five or six years ago, but proved to be a harder market to crack than expected, with big public failures like the Segway and Fisker Automotive. Clean tech companies often require a lot of money to get off the ground, a long timeline to profitability, a firm handle on operations, and the ability to lithely dance through ever-changing government regulations.

That's certainly the case with View. It took five years just to develop the product. Although it was founded in 2007, View didn't even start selling a product till November 2012. CEO Dr. Rao Mulpuri credits the company's continued financial sustainability through such long-term development as a result of its varied and diverse investor list. Instead of focusing solely on raising money from venture capital firms, View raised money over the course of its six year time span from venture, strategic, and late stage investors.

"We need an infrastructure base. It's not just money," Mulpruir says. Mulpruir went on to explain what each category of investor brought to the table for View's efforts.

"Venture is good at big ideas and big disruption, strategic investors are heavily involved in the energy industry which signals we can be a threat, and late stage growth firms like Madrone help us scale," Mulpruir says. "Their vision capacity matches who they are and what they're capable of delivering."

View's earliest venture investor is Khosla, one of the few VC firms still betting big on cleantech. Vinod Khosla started the firm after leaving Kleiner Perkins in 2004. Khosla Ventures hasn't shied away from the sector after others' failures, believing that there's still a big venture opportunity in green energy companies.

In May, the WSJ reported that half of the fund's investments have gone into cleantech. Vinod Khosla told the outlet he's had trouble finding strategic investors to join Khosla in backing such companies, and the firm has had to get "creative in getting investors." That might also explain View's varied and diverse list of investors, which include everyone from GE Energy's investment arm to nanotechnology investment firm NanoDimension.

From the WSJ:

Still, Mr. Khosla said "there's no reason for us to back off." Clean-tech startups are operating in "humongous markets and there's a lot of disruptive technologies to come [with] great economics," he said.
Khosla clearly stands behind such statements, and Khosla Ventures took part in five of View's seven rounds, including its first seed round.

Now that the product is developed and the sales pipeline is established, the next few years will be View's time to shine. It has a long list of investors banking on its success, and plenty of money left to bring in the returns that firms like Khosla Ventures are hoping for. It could be a big cleantech success for others to point to, joining the slim ranks of other thriving cleantech companies like Tesla and SolarCity.

If it ever exits, that is.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando.]