Investment Update July 2012

I see that I haven't posted since the end of last year, and quite a bit has happened in my world of angel investing, so time for an update. Top line is that my gambling habit remains out of control, but I am reining it in for a bit while I catch my breath, and hope for a couple more positive exits.

In the exit department, I sadly said goodbye to Emerginvest last year. This was my first investment, with a great entrepreneur and what seemed like a great idea, but with terrible timing. A big data play in the area of international financial markets, they came a cropper on the rocks of the 2008 market collapse and never were able to recover.

On the positive side I had two nice exits, one from Horizontal, a company that has a Building Information Modeling system that integrates CAD models from multiple sources (architects and engineers, for example) to reveal conflicts in the design that are really expensive to remedy on-site. They sold to Autodesk, a large CAD company. The other exit was AisleBuyer, who has a product that let customers pay for purchases in the aisle of their favorite brick-and-mortar store using their smart phone, and without waiting in line. AisleBuyer has a large bag of technologies that they developed in support of their application, so they were a great fit for Intuit, who snapped them up early to round out their own mobile payment suite.

On the investment side, way more activity. 

I've already mentioned GaggleAMP and Turnstar (formerly Textaurant), as well as GoodTwo in passing. 

Another investment that Kathy and I made was Mystic Brewery in Chelsea; this business is atypical for angels (not a high-growth kind of company), but we like the beer and the team, and Kathy said this is the kind of business she really understands: they make something and sell it at a profit, and give us some back every year. That's one of the joys of angel investing: we can do what we want and don't have fiduciary responsibility to our partners.

I put down another bet (first one was Brand Yourself) in the on-line reputation and personal marketing space:, which allows the user to have a personal landing page with a curated set of Google search results (see the "SearchMe" button over to the left for an example). I have a QR code on my business card that also goes to that search page (also in the sidebar here). Vizibility allows me to highlight what I think folks will want to learn about me when they are searching. And allows me to keep the focus on me rather than the other Ben Littauer in the Boston area (there is one!).

We've already seen Mosaic, singing the pitch in the "Minute to Win It" competition. They are now a portfolio company with two exciting products for professional and pro-sumer photographers. First, they have a backup service with appropriate muscle to handle the incredibly high volume of data produced by these folks (who shoot in RAW format, which is many times larger than JPG). An upload of a typical weekend's shooting might well take more than a week to upload, which makes regular on-line backup services impossible for these users. Their other product, MosaicView, provides automated on-line access to Adobe Lightroom photo catalogs. Lightroom is used by a large percentage of these folks, and this allows search and display of images from anywhere, and will soon allow editing of metadata (ratings, keywords, etc) as well. Very convenient to be able to to the sorting and filtering of your shoot from the comfort of your easy chair with just an iPad. 

Next is Kitsy Lane, founded by old friend Andy Fox, a serial entrepreneur with an admirable record of successes. Kitsy Lane is a Social eCommerce play that allows people to build their own boutiques of jewelry and accessories and sell through their social networks. An on-line version of Tupperware parties, if you will, but with much fresher merchandise since the boutique owner does not need to have physical inventory to show.

I've said a few times that I've sworn off medical devices after one negative experience with FDA approvals. That company, Nomir Medical, survives, but has not flourished, largely due to the dysfunction at the FDA. But I'm in two new medical-related investments this year. First of these is Setem, which is in voice processing and noise reduction. Their algorithms could lead to dramatic improvement in the so-called "cocktail party problem" that most users of hearing aids know all too well. There are many other applications of Setem's technologies as well. With hearing loss in my own family, I have a personal interest in this stuff. And no FDA approvals required!

The other company is my first cross-border investment. ESight is a medical device company out of Ottawa, Canada, that has an exciting pair of spectacles that restore vision for "mostly blind" people. Their original business plan had them going the standard medical device route, with all the investment and delay that implied, but working with my BHA colleague, Bill McPhee, and a few others (I even made a few suggestions), they're going direct to consumer with the product. This is a perfect case of having a disruptive product and using a disruptive business model to (we hope) build a very rapid growth company.

Finally, I've just invested in CoachUp. Re-introduced by Jeremy Levine over at StartStreet to old family friend, Jordan Fliegel, I discovered that this kid who had gone to pre-school with my son, Ross, had grown up into quite the entrepreneur. After playing basketball professionally in Israel and subsequently completing an MBA at Brandeis, Jordan launched CoachUp to match personal sports coaches with aspiring athletes. While I might have invested a token amount based on friendship, I am totally blown away by Jordan's ability to execute, so I am very excited by the opportunity here.

The summary is that I'm currently invested in 23 companies (27 total minus 3 exits of one form or another), and have high hopes that some will return money soon that will replenish the gambling fund and let me continue playing. In the meantime, I am still doing a whole lot of mentoring, both at Mass Challenge and on my own, and truly enjoying it.

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