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Spaceflight & BlackSky Global

Will Porteous

I’m excited to talk about RRE’s investment in Spaceflight and the launch of its BlackSky Global division.

Spaceflight is executing on many of the trends that we see affecting the satellite industry broadly. After decades of isolation, open systems thinking is finally coming to this industry. For those of us who actively invest in enterprise systems businesses (networking, processing, and storage hardware) it is difficult to fathom the monolithic and proprietary design approach that still persist in most of the satellite industry. The rest of the systems/hardware industry relies on Commodity- Off-The-Shelf components, open architectures and standards and a universe of offshore contract manufacturers.  The expense of launch and of operating in the harsh environment of space have been major drivers of this approach, but the willingness to pay of Government and Defense customers has also been a big enabler. This is of course changing as the Government outsources more and more responsibilities to new suppliers. There is no better example of this than SpaceX’s contract to supply the International Space Station.

The most important enabler of this shift to open systems thinking has been increasing access to affordable launch opportunities. This has enabled satellite system designers to think in terms of replenishing the elements of a satellite constellation much more regularly. Once launch is cheap and easily accessible, then satellites become much easier to replace, which opens the door to considerable simplification in the way they are designed.

Spaceflight is deeply rooted in the legacy satellite industry, having developed small satellites for government and defense customers for more than a decade. But the company has also been a leader in increasing access to affordable launch and designing smaller form factor satellites that can still deliver high quality imaging to meet specific customer requests. We invested in CEO Jason Andrews and this extraordinary team in part because they are so deeply rooted in the industry, but also because they are consciously reinventing it. We spent a great deal of time analyzing the imaging market and the business model choices of other companies in the sector. We believe Spaceflight and its BlackSky Global division blends the best of modern systems thinking with a commercial approach that is well tuned to the needs of government and enterprise customers alike. We are delighted to have led the company’s Series B financing alongside our friends at Vulcan Capital, Razor’s Edge, Chugach Alaska Corporation, and Apogee. And we will work with our friend Richard Fade, who also served on the Whiptail Technologies board, any chance we get. Spaceflight is the 3rd company in RRE’s space portfolio, which also includes Spire and Accion Systems.

Don’t Congratulate Me For Writing A Check

Steve Schlafman

On Thursday we announced our Series A investment in Managed by Q. Throughout the day, I received countless congratulatory emails and tweets from friends. “Amazing investment.” “Love that company.” “Nice win.” “HUGE CONGRATS.” And so on. On my way home, as I reflected on these kind messages, it occurred to me that I don’t deserve a pat on the back. There’s a long road ahead for the company, and I really haven’t done shit. Sure, I built a relationship with Dan and Saman, hustled to help Q win new customers and key employees, and gave them a generous term sheet. But writing a check is easy. Being an engaged board member and a supportive partner in good times and bad is the hard part. And building an enduring, category-defining company is nearly impossible.

Mark Cuban once said, “the magic in business isn’t raising money but making money.” Amen. Our industry spends too much time sensationalizing the fundraise while ignoring the fact that this process marks the beginning, not the end, of a startup’s journey. Once term sheets have been signed, there are people to hire and fire, product and features to ship, endless reams of data to analyze, and millions of small but crucial decisions to be made.

Let’s be honest for a second, fundraising news drives page views for the tech blogs, makes companies feel validated, helps investors build their brands, and can even intimidate the competition. There’s no denying that raising money is an important milestone in a company’s lifecycle. But dollars in the bank is far from the most important metric. I like to remind my founders that cash is oxygen for their startup—it buys time and space to breathe. But money alone cannot buy victory. That would be like Sir Edmund Hillary celebrating before reaching the summit of Everest based solely on his vast store of supplies. 

Whenever I make an investment, my Jewish anxiety tends to kick in and I become laser-focused on how I can support the team in the short and long runs. After the 24-hour buzz of winning the deal fades, the real work begins. What follows a fundraise is daunting for every founder and investor. Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely appreciate when people take time out of their days to send a thoughtful note. Each of us has a million things going on, and these small and simple acts of kindness are perhaps the most underrated acts in business.

But rather than sending a congratulatory pat on the back, wish me good luck, see how I’m feeling, ask if or how you can help. We all need to do this better. I am no exception. I’ve always believed it takes a village to raise a startup. The more strongly we support each other, the more quickly our industry will grow and thrive, and the more successful our companies will be. I don’t show up every day to write checks. I show up to fight for my founders and deliver a return to my investors. And I don’t show up alone, I show up alongside everyone in our ecosystem that is passionate about building companies and moving the world forward. 

Hightower: The System of Record for Commercial Real Estate

Steven Schlafman

A few years ago, Brandon Weber, CEO and Cofounder of Hightower, and I were catching up over a casual dinner in Brooklyn. We had met ten years earlier when we started our careers at Microsoft and quickly became friends.  A few months before our dinner, Brandon left the commercial real estate (CRE) brokerage powerhouse CBRE, where we was a Vice President, to start Hightower because he saw that the industry was broken. He explained in fine detail the great paradox facing the industry. Despite CRE being a fifteen trillion dollar market and highly data intensive, many of the processes were manual and relied heavily on paper, excel and email.  Additionally, existing industry standard solutions such as Yardi, MRI and Argus were siloed and 20 years old. Brandon explained that he and his cofounders, Donald and Niall, were starting Hightower to solve these problems.

I was initially skeptical because I had seen dozens of real estate tech startups and many of them struggled to gain adoption with institutional landlords and brokers. CRE remained one of the major industries that hadn’t embraced the cloud and mobile.  My gut told me there was a huge opportunity because at some point in the near future “software would eat” CRE. After spending more time with Brandon and his cofounders, they convinced me the time had come and they were the right team to back.  They argued the market was ready because brokers and landlords were using iPhones, Google, Facebook and other cloud-based tools in their personal lives.  These customers now wanted and expected the same quality of tools at work.  As we dug deeper, it became obvious that Brandon, Donald and Niall were the right team to invest in because they had the unique blend of domain expertise and world-class product experience. A few months later, RRE Ventures was lucky to invest in Hightower’s seed round along with strategic investors Thrive, Bessemer, The Box Group, and Red Swan among others. 

In just two short years, the industry has changed dramatically and Hightower is helping to accelerate this change. Institutional landlords and brokers now recognize the need to adopt a cloud-based platform to streamline core processes, to enable real-time visibility into their portfolios, to lease space faster and to remain competitive. From dozens of conversations with both brokers and landlords, adopting a cloud-based platform is no longer a nice to have but rather a must have. They see Hightower as the initial foundation that will support the entire industry as it transitions from antiquated systems and adopts new technologies. Existing customers are leveraging Hightower for many business processes including deal pipeline reporting, current tenant tracking, market data tracking, stacking plans, financial analysis, and portfolio reporting. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive as evidenced by hundreds of millions of square feet on the platform, an NPS score higher than Apple, and virtually no customer churn. All the data suggests that 2015 and 2016 will be the year CRE comes online. 

With all that being said, I’m incredibly excited to announce that RRE is doubling down on Hightower and leading a $13M Series B financing with participation from Thrive and Bessemer and a handful of strategic real estate investors. The funds will be used to recruit and hire world class talent, enhance the Hightower platform and continue to provide our customers with high touch support. We’re significantly expanding our investment for a variety of reasons. First, we believe that Hightower has built the best team and product in the industry. Most importantly, customers feel the same way. The dozens of owners and brokers we spoke with said Hightower has helped them increase sales velocity and operate more effectively. We also discovered that informed customers have chosen Hightower over the current alternatives and the competition’s customers are defecting. In fact, they’ve had 100% trial win rate over the competition. Additionally, Hightower has a robust product roadmap and trajectory. They’re consistently first to market with the latest features and respond quickly to customer needs. With this funding we’re ensuring that Hightower is here to stay and will become the market standard. The company is now well positioned for long-term success, stability and growth. 

Since RRE’s seed investment in Hightower we’ve been very lucky to partner with a handful of innovative real estate startups such as Managed by Q, Floored, Breather and The Square Foot.  While each one is transforming CRE from a different angle, perhaps the biggest disruption and most value created will happen within information aggregation and sharing. This is the cornerstone of the industry because it’s where the listings and deals reside. By having real-time visibility into the data, both brokers and landlords can move faster and close more business. Hightower is building the system of record for the industry by providing world-class workflow tools built around leasing.  Based on all of these developments and many others, I’d argue that CRE is no longer a barren wasteland for technology but rather an oasis for innovation. CRE technology is a trend that’s reshaping an old and a multi-trillion dollar industry and Hightower is building that foundation of change.  I’m excited to say we’re just at the beginning. The future of CRE is here.

Apple Watch Venture In Residence

Steven Schlafman

In just two weeks from now, the Apple Watch finally comes to market after months of anticipation and speculation. You may recall back in November, Apple released its WatchKit SDK to developers and companies to ensure there would be a large selection of apps when the wearable computer hits the market. In fact, Tim cook wrote in a memo earlier this week that more than a thousand apps have already been submitted to the App Store. Based on intuition and early screenshots, many of the initial apps will be geared towards communication, news, payments, transportation, health and productivity. Like with any new platform, it’s mind bending to think about the range of apps and services that we’ll now be able to access with a flick of our wrist. 
The big question that everyone’s asking is: Does Apple still have the magic to create a category defining product that will ship hundreds of millions of units? People much smarter than me believe Apple Watch will be a flop. Additionally, many of the early reviews have been mediocre because the user interface has a steep learning curve. Taking a contrarian angle is understandable given we’ve become tethered and addicted to our smartphones and Apple Watch feels like a nice to have rather than a must have. I personally struggle with making predictions and betting against Apple before a single unit has shipped. What I do know today? Thousands of developers are building apps, Apple Watch is beautiful and hyper personal, and Apple is putting all of its marketing might behind the launch. In my limited experience, that’s a recipe that I probably wouldn’t bet against.    
Given the developer interest we’re seeing, I strongly believe that thousands of watch-specific apps will emerge over the next few years and several large companies will be built on top of this new platform. I don’t pretend to know what the winners will look like and where value will be created but I do know that RRE Ventures is eager to learn and invest in the ecosystem.  As part of this process, we’ve decided to establish the RRE Venture In Residence Program which will initially focus on Apple Watch. The idea behind this program is to partner with one or two “pre-venture backed” startups, provide free office space and mentorship at our office in Flatiron NYC, and learn from each other. An investment is not required or guaranteed but is certainly possible over the life of the residency. Going forward, the RRE Venture In Residence Program will run on a quarterly basis, offering workspace for 3 consecutive months per startup. Each quarter we will announce a new theme in order to attract a diverse base of startups over the course of a year. 
If you would like to be our Apple Watch Venture In Residence, please complete the application by Friday, April 24th at 12pm EST.  Over the course of the next two weeks, we’ll follow up over email to schedule an in person interview if you think you have what it takes. Our plan is to make the final selection no later than April 30th. Throughout the process, please don’t hesitate to email me at if you have any questions, comments or feedback. This is a new experiment for RRE so we’re going into this process with an open mind. As you can probably tell, we’re amped about the potential of Apple Watch and hope to make several seed investments this year. That said, we’re looking forward to seeing how your apps will change the way we interact with the physical and digital worlds.