Seattle Week in Review: Tax Day Edition

Xconomy Seattle — 

We’ll pay what we owe Uncle Sam and hold our noses at the breadth and depth of tax evasion efforts by corporations and the super-rich revealed in the Panama Papers. This week, we’re reviewing first-quarter venture investments and filings indicating that Maveron is raising a new venture fund; several new funding rounds, including a big one for Portland, OR-based vacation rental company Vacasa; new details of Madrona Venture Labs’ latest spinout ReplyYes; a useful new service for finding subject-matter experts on Twitter, Listpedia; reported layoffs at Qumulo and Chef; a new lithium ion battery material startup, Group14 Technologies; and some fun stuff from KEXP and the Iditarod Trail.

—Venture capital investors poured $246.7 million into Washington-based companies across 22 deals during the first quarter. That’s down 13 percent by dollars from the first quarter of 2015, when there were 24 Washington deals, as measured by the MoneyTree report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), based on data from Thomson Reuters.

Nationally, VC firms invested $12.1 billion in 969 deals. The trend was down only about 11 percent from the first quarter of 2015, but VCs tried to lower expectations for what’s ahead. “I believe we’re in a sort of multi-quarter journey back to the historical norm,” said Neeraj Agrawal, a general partner in Battery Ventures’ Boston office, in our story on the national numbers. “I really think the next quarter will be the first data point in the new norm.”

Vacasa, based in Portland, raised $35 million to expand its vacation rentals listing and management business.

—Even if investment volumes are trending down, venture firms have had no trouble raising additional capital to plow into startups. The NVCA also reported this week on first-quarter venture fundraising, which reached levels not seen in a decade. VCs raised $12 billion for 57 funds during the quarter, up 59 percent by dollar value from the year-earlier period. The number of funds was down 17 percent. The NVCA, citing Thomson Reuters data, calls this the strongest three months for funding since the second quarter of 2006.

Maveron, the consumer-focused venture capital firm founded in 1998 by Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) founder Howard Schultz and investment banker Dan Levitan, is the latest Seattle-area venture firm preparing to capitalize on investor appetite for venture. Maveron filed paperwork with the SEC indicating it is raising up to $100 million for a sixth fund, as well as three related funds. Through five funds, Maveron, with offices in Seattle and San Francisco, has raised close to $1 billion and backed companies including eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), drugstore.com, Potbelly (NASDAQ: PBPB), and zulily (NASDAQ: ZU). Geekwire first reported the filings.

Qumulo, the data storage software company, reportedly laid off employees on Tuesday. Geekwire, citing an unnamed source, reports that 24 people were let go. Qumulo, through a PR firm, “declined to comment at this time.”

Qumulo just released a version of its software with two new key features and said it is now serving more than 50 customers. During an interview with Xconomy last week, Qumulo executives said the company had doubled its staff in the last year to 160. Asked whether the company would grow employment at a similar rate going forward, marketing vice president Brett Goodwin said, “We’re getting to the size we need to be. We’ll drive our future growth in response to how the business grows over the course of 2016.”

Chef, another well-funded Seattle software company, also disclosed a small number of job cuts as it combined teams.

ReplyYes, the spinout from Madrona Venture Labs that Xconomy first reported on last December, has opened its second service, focused on graphic novels, and raised $2.5 million in funding.

ReplyYes began with The Edit, which sends vinyl-record collectors a daily text message offering a custom-selected album that they can purchase by simply replying “yes”. More than $1 million worth of records have been sold through the platform so far, reports Bloomberg.

The same conversational commerce approach is used in ReplyYes’ next channel, Origin Bound, which focuses on graphic novels.

Listpedia, a new service built by serial Seattle tech entrepreneur Marcelo Calbucci, looks highly useful for anyone researching a new topic. The service lets you automatically build and share lists of social media accounts of people and organizations focused on a given area. (Listpedia works with Twitter only for now, though Calbucci built the service over the last nine months to easily add other networks in the future.)

It’s an attempt to solve a problem Calbucci encounters regularly in building and advising startups: How do you quickly get up to speed on the important players in an industry new to you? The old way is to search Google for articles like the top 10 chief marketing officers you should follow on Twitter, and then manually build a list or follow them individually. But the article is based on one person or organization’s opinions, and it’s likely static and soon out-of-date. And, in any case, building the list is a time-consuming manual process.

Listpedia makes building lists easy. You can add several related accounts in one pass by pasting in the Web address of a site, from an industry conference, say, that lists speakers and their Twitter handles. Easier still is subscribing to lists made by other people. There are already hundreds of lists on topics from big data to virtual worlds. If you’ve found an especially well-curated list, you can arrange to be notified by Listpedia whenever the creator of the list updates it with a new member. You can also tip the creator to someone you think should be on their list.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Calbucci built something similar called TweepML, before Twitter introduced its own list feature. Calbucci says few people use Twitter lists and there’s plenty of room for improvement. “It’s a problem that hasn’t been solved,” he says.

—Lithium ion batteries are becoming more prevalent in everything from cars to boats to the electrical grid. This week, we reported on a new Seattle company with a novel nano-materials approach to improving a key component in lithium ion batteries, the anode. The company is Group14 Technologies. It is spinning out of an existing company, EnerG2, which makes engineered carbon materials used in other energy storage devices. Here’s our story.

—On Friday, KEXP—Seattle’s musical treasure—is doing “6 Degrees of Robyn Hitchcock.” The idea is to play songs by artists that are somehow connected, all linking back to the first song of the day: Hitchcock’s “Viva! Sea-Tac” (sample lyric: “They’ve got the best computers and coffee and smack”). OK, what’s particularly cool about this “6 Degrees,” KEXP’s third, is the data visualization the station is producing using Tableau Public, from Seattle-based Tableau Software.

As you can see, it lets you follow the trail the KEXP DJs blaze through the music, charting the connections back to Hitchcock, and learning some great details along the way. Songs can be sorted by artist, label, decade, and whether or not they’re local.

KEXP’s new home at Seattle Center (grand opening this weekend) features other innovative ways to interact with the music. GeekWire’s Todd Bishop checked out “Inside the Music,” which allows people to remix music playing in a room by touching mesh netting; their movements are captured by Kinect sensors.

Photo by Kyle Amstadter

Photo by Kyle Amstadter

—Finally, I had a lot of fun following my cousin as he raced in the 1,000-mile Fairbanks-to-Nome Iditarod Trail Invitational. Here’s a story—with some amazing images—about the technology that allowed me to virtually watch the race as it unfolded over nearly two weeks.