I send out a monthly mailer of deals that I'm investing in that I'm looking for co-investors for. Because I'm investing so early, a lot of times these companies are not only pre-revenue, but they might also be pre-product. I also invest in a really wide range of opportunities, so many of them don't look like you're typical venture deals.
Tinkergarten is one such company. At the end of 2015, I backed a husband and wife team expecting their third kid to build a network of outdoor kids classes--not an Uber for kids classes, Classpass for kids classes or Airbnb for kids classes. Actual kids classes: finding teachers, vetting them, training them, creating content--all of the unscalable things you'd never want your tech startup doing. They barely had any tech and I think they had maybe three teachers at the time I backed them. I couldn't even get the round closed and had to send a second, slightly desperate note to my co-investor list:
We did eventually get the round closed and today, I'm excited to announce that they've raised a $5.4 million Series A led by Owl Ventures. This year, they'll reach 1000 leaders and they're currently in 48 US states. They have an amazing tech platform managing the whole process, from recruitment to class management to parent communications.
There are a lot of models out there that investors would think is unscalable that I'd say if you actually figured out a way to do economically, just means you've built a better moat. When you actually offer a service or product you built and own your customers directly, loyalty goes up, brand value goes up, and you can be your own platform to launch a lot of different opportunities--if you can do it well.
These days, while you'd maybe rather be Classpass than you're average, run of the mill cycling studio or a faceless big box gym, I'd argue that you'd rather be Soul Cycle than Classpass. Same goes for Shake Shack, Seamless and your average deli. If you're not a special brand, you'd rather be software, and if you're software, you're always fighting to hang on to your network advantage as tech likes to disrupt networks and middlemen.
Excited to see Tinkergarten get recognized as a special brand.