My friend and colleague Joe Saviano is not just a New York VC. He’s also a Boston VC, and a Miami VC, and a Silicon Valley VC. Joe travels far and wide looking for emerging companies in the 21st century digital economy that have the potential to drive superior revenue and profit growth. Most of the investment opportunities that come across his desk do not make it through his screening process. For the ones that do, Joe has a demonstrated ability to quickly identify sources of capital and drive fund raising; however, closing the deal is just the first level of Joe’s contribution. After the money is in the bank, Joe steps up his level of involvement to make sure his chosen ones are going in the right direction. When there are problems, Joe is there to help .. anything from recruiting key employees to identifying the right vendors to work with. In fact, Joe served as a board member and key advisor of 2 companies in our portfolio that have realized successful exits, Human Demand and Immedia Semiconductor.
Immedia Semiconductor is a cool story. They are a Boston company started by MIT computer scientists totally focused on advancing image sensors and digital camera technology for PCs. They developed technology for those embedded web cams found in the screens of Windows laptops. They were able to achieve superior image quality and energy efficient video compression performance with their patented chip technology. Everything was going great, and then the world changed. Smartphones and their embedded cameras began to dominate the market. Microsoft changed its hardware spec, making web cams optional. High volume business from PC manufacturers was no longer in the cards for Immedia. They had to change their business model or perish. They decided to liberate their web cams from the PC form factor, and repurpose as wireless security cams managed by a smartphone app and deployed according to the principles of IoT. This new consumer product was to be named Blink video security.
Blink was a brilliant idea, but clearly it would require significant R&D funding to pivot a product like this, and the business had already burned through significant early stage financing. Time was of the essence. Immedia raised more than $2 MM for Blink from thousands of prospective customers via a successful Kickstarter campaign. It was understood that Immedia could be the next GoPro with a multi-billion dollar market cap. Prompted by this confirmation, Joe Saviano’s DOT Capital Network joined Baker Capital III and others to help get Blink to market.
The investment value proposition was indeed compelling, but I remained skeptical. I believed it would take more than a well-designed sensor to slay the market. As a fellow member of the ARC Angel Fund of New York, Joe knew that more tech due diligence would be necessary. Joe made the arrangements for a visit to Immedia’s offices in Andover MA the week after the big CES in Las Vegas. Without divulging any trade secrets, I will say that technology we saw demonstrated that day was compelling. The office was full of motivated MIT grads. Management had everything under control, and we were comforted they would benefit by having Joe participating as a board observer and advisor.
I subsequently became an enthusiastic user and promoter of Blink security cameras. The product group reached out to me and other early adopters for input on features. On one occasion, I worked with them on field testing the product after discovering an error. Today I use Blink cameras to monitor both my home and office. All the while, Joe provided business updates and his insights regarding the ups and downs of a growing consumer business. It’s rare for an investor to have such an intimate connection with a portfolio company.
Just as Joe predicted, Immedia was acquired by in 2017 and today is a core component of Amazon’s (and my) smart home platform. In retrospect, I should have taken Joe’s advice in 2015 and invested far more than I did.