In mid -2009 I was introduced to a fast-speaking technologist in London. Rahul Powar had been the initial Chief Technical Architect at Shazam, and had this Valley-esque combination of deep insight and ambition backed by acute technical acumen.
In 2009, Rahul and I had both come to the same conclusion via different paths: That there was an opportunity to create a mobile “studio” in London which could bootstrap its efforts through 3rd party app development while creating its own IP and products. That vision became AppSmart of which Rahul became the CEO and to which I became an Advisor. The team built dozens of apps and launched their first product, a radio streaming service… and were then pre-emptively acquired by Thomson Reuters were Rahul went on to become the Head of Mobile App Development.
In the parallel, as we launched White Star Capital, Rahul often served as part of our technical due diligence for our investments and he has always been someone I enjoyed drilling deeply with into the technical merits of data and computational-centric startups (Looking back through my inbox, I realized that we passed on two investments in part based on his feedback, and that he invested as an angel into two companies we introduced him to). He is someone I respect deeply as a technologist and with whom I have a clear alignment on the power of data as a competitive advantage.
Rahul was, at the core, a data geek, a tinkerer and an entrepreneur, so I always assumed that he would emerge from TR at some point with a new idea under his belt…and, as hoped, in early 2015, the following email arrived in my inbox:
Over the months that followed, as Rahul and his co-founder Randal left Thomson Reuters and launched what would become Red Sift, we had probably a dozen coffees, lunches and informal chats. I gave them feedback on the pitch for their Angel round, they showed me early versions of the platform, and we discussed go-to-market strategies at length. Emotionally and intellectually, I was part of Red Sift from day one, but it would take a year before I was able to step in as an investor and Board member.
What was clear was that our view of the world was aligned:
- Data is growing at an exponential rate. IBM states that over 2.5 quintillionbytes of data are created each day
- Negligible cost of storage allows all of this information to be retained at scale
- Accelerating advances in algorithms and deep learning help apply computational power to these data sets, from vast corporate databases to personal data stores
- Interfaces into these data sets are democratizing away from analytical dashboards and into more natural interfaces across messaging, email and natural language via micro-services
- And yet, the “cost” for a startup to build the needed backend, platform and tools to build a new data-centric micro-service continues to be high when many of the core components are repeatable
It was this last data point that brought Rahul and I together: Many of the companies I was seeing were all solving punctual data-enabled use cases, but they all had to build a robust back end, security, a computational engine and a visualization layer across interfaces. They were all trying to build what Red Sift now calls “Sifts”, intuitive but analytically powerful micro-services that allow me to take control of my data to move from analysis to action.
If our vision for an Age of Context is to come to fruition, a platform that allows developers with basic coding experience -and eventually data consumers themselves- to collect, merge, analyze and represent data in an insightful and actionable manner must first exist. Secondly, that platform must be open for third parties to build their own micro-services, and finally the platform must help provide distribution to generate value for consumers and developers alike.
Having known Rahul and Randal for a long time and having spent over a year and a half seeing them tune their vision for Red Sift, I am convinced they are building that platform which will benefit tens of thousands of developers and millions of individual and corporate users.
As Red Sift unveils their platform and announces their Seed round, I wanted to document the meandering path that has led us to this point. It’s a story of a longstanding relationship and an alignment of visions that started in 2009, and a proud belief in what the team is building. I am excited to be backing Rahul and Red Sift along with Tom at Oxford Capital and Avi at EntreeCap and can’t wait to see what Sifts you all might build.