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There are several themes I’m currently excited about investing in. In an attempt to attract founders working in these areas and garner alternative perspectives, I decided to put together the following post. Any and all feedback is welcome and if you’re early-stage company working in an area outlined below, please get in touch.

  1. Augmented Reality 1.0 — While the notion of a fully capable and ergonomic headset is appealing, I don’t believe it’s happening anytime soon. We’ll get there, eventually, but in the meantime there are interesting opportunities in AR 1.0. For example, a pair of glasses with an integrated speaker, microphone, and bluetooth connectivity combined with a voice assistant can provide all kinds of location based notification capabilities. Amazon, Google and anyone else working on a voice assistant would ultimately benefit from such a device (rumors are Amazon is already working on this) but substantial brand value can be gained today figuring out the hardware, style, battery life, audio and user experience. Building out a user base and loyalty with a product like this would put the right company in a strong position for the future of AR.

  2. Anything but emissive displays — Chances are you’re reading this post on a screen beaming light into your eyeballs. Whether LED, LCD, or OLED, these emissive (or backlit) displays work by shining light through filters, and directly into your retina. This can be harsh and different from how we naturally see the world, where light reflects off objects and into our eyes. The short term effects range from eye fatigue to sleep problems and we’re only beginning to understand the long-term effects. We will need to find new ways to interface with technology. Voice is certainly one alternative as is reflective display technology. Common examples are e-readers where an external light source reflects off the screen and into your eyes, just like print. Refresh rates and color have historically been a problem limiting usage to basic reading, but there are companies like Halion Displays are developing reflective displays capable of rich video and color (I’m an investor). As there is no backlight, reflective displays are also far more energy efficient. The long term vision being that reflective displays with resolution and color that match print and refresh rates that match emissive monitors will provide a more natural and comfortable experience.

  3. Repetition by robotics — In 1589 Queen Elizabeth refused to grant a patent for a mechanical knitting machine out of fear of putting thousands of knitters out of work. The same fear exists today around robotics but has been proven incorrect time and time again. In fact, robots completing repetitive, at times dangerous tasks, helps drive innovation in new areas better fit for the creative, intelligent human mind. One such company working in the space is Dishcraft Robotics, a company building robotic equipment for commercial kitchens enabling more efficient, hygienic and humanizing operations (Also an investor). They’re largely in stealth at the moment but big things are on the horizon for this company. At the moment, I’m particularly interested in companies building robotic solutions in the areas of sewing and environmental scanning.

These three themes are active areas of interest but I’m also excited about many other topics. If you’re building a company around defensible, innovative technology and would like to talk, please drop me email me greg at anorak dot vc.

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Mental health statistics always boggle my mind. In the US alone, 43M adults experience mental illness in a given year, 60% going untreated*. $193B annually is lost in earnings due to mental health issues and 12% of Americans take antidepressants daily**. All this yet there has not been a major drug breakthrough in the field for nearly 30 years and talk therapy remains inaccessible to most. These numbers represent an enormous opportunity for improvement. As someone who has struggled with social anxiety and depression in the past, my interest in new treatment options is both personal, and as a venture investor.

Today we often think about virtual reality in relation to gaming but usage for mental health pre-date, and some would argue, was the true initial driver of this technology. Some of the earliest pioneering work in virtual reality was focused on PTSD for the military. Palmer Luckey was working in the Mixed Reality Lab at USC on such applications before co-founding Oculus.

Decades of research has found that using VR for exposure therapy results in reduced autonomic arousal, extinction of fear response and reduction in severity of PTSD symptoms***. To take a real world example, agoraphobia (fear of crowds and public places) affects 200,000 people annually in the US. Using VR, a therapist can simulate a variety of public environments for a patient and coach them through the experience by teaching them various coping techniques.

This concept fascinated me. I thought about how people use practice and repetition in sports to improve. Serving 50 times in a row or shooting free throws for hours on end is how athletes improve. With the availability and power of VR, why shouldn’t people with social anxiety be able to repeatedly practice walking into a crowded room with a therapist there to provide guidance and techniques to make the situation more tolerable.

Throwing my VC hat on, I went out looking for a startup working on this problem. It was Matt Huang at Sequoia that first introduced me to the team at Limbix. They were working on this exact problem. To boot, the founders Ben Lewis and Tony Hsieh were highly accomplished entrepreneurs with a proven track record. Their vision for building a company with the potential to help millions was inspiring and after one meeting, I knew they were building something special. It didn’t take long for me to commit to an investment alongside other fantastic investors like Sequoia Capital, Jazz Venture Partners, Pathbreaker Ventures and Presence Capital.

Limbix has been in stealth for the last few months, heads down in their Palo Alto office building their product and team. For the first time last week they came out to the public, featured on the front page of the New York Times Business Section. It’s a great read and I’m happy to now be able to publicly speak about one of my most exciting investments. I believe all of my investments are working to make the world a better place, but Limbix is on a special, and very personal mission to me and I couldn’t be more excited to be involved.

If you want to join a team revolutionizing an industry with the potential to improve millions of lives, Limbix is hiring. They are also looking to work with mental health professionals interested in exploring this platform. Click here to learn more about Limbix and the positions they are currently hiring for.

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Today if you’re selling goods or services, chances are you have an online presence. Be it reviews on Yelp or selling through Amazon, online is the dominant platform for commerce. This makes sense considering 91% of all Americans with higher disposable incomes (>$75,000) log in at least once a day. But what happens when augmented reality starts to gain adoption and the UX/UI paradigms shift? Content will be less about website copy and 2D images and more about immersive 3D content that lets you see what products look like in your home, on your body, or in your hand.

Today content management systems provide a clean user interface to organize and easily update websites. Photos, videos, and copy can be updated with little technical skill and the software automagically updates the front end. 3D images are also able to be incorporated and modified through today’s CMS systems but in a very basic fashion. If you want to create 3D product experiences, it’s generally a custom app that you’ll need to build. This doesn’t scale, and as augmented reality moves closer to reality we’ll need tools and infrastructure in place to make product visualization easier.

In a future where augmented reality gains mass adoption, brick and mortar locations will want to provide product details by overlaying relevant information. Things like price, color options, availability, and sale information will all be presented to users when browsing products in store. The retailer needs a system to be able to control all this information. Conversely, eCommerce platforms will want to give you a better sense of what it would be like to touch a product before you buy it, enhancing the experience and minimizing disappointment and thus returns.

Enter Marxent Labs, a product visualization and CMS platform Anorak Ventures recently invested in. There are 4 main reasons why this investment was made:

  1. Experienced management team — Given the opportunity ahead this is perhaps the most important factor. Beck Besecker, the founder and CEO, built his first software company in 1999 and sold it to NCR in 2003. His brother, CTO and co-founder Barry Besecker, worked on CMS software for 8 years prior to Marxent. They’ve built a strong team around them and have great traction with several marque brands.

  2. Easy on boarding — They’ve reduced friction for new customers by building a streamlined data ingestion process. Retailers and manufacturer can provide data in a variety of formats from 2D images to 3D models and Marxent’s software will (where necessary) create, optimize and upload to their system to create a variety of visualization experiences. Similar to today’s CMS software, Marxent provides a simple backend that non technical people can easily update to reflect price, options and availability.

  3. Best in class visuals — They leverage markerless proprietary computer vision software (demo here) and Unity3D to provide a top notch experience. No other solution I’ve seen provides the functionality and sense of presence Marxent is capable of.

  4. AR is the future — And lastly, whether it’s 5 or 15 years down the road, augmented reality will miniaturize to be indistinguishable from standard glasses and ultimately replace the rectangles we all carry in our pocket. When that happens retailers and manufacturers will need a content management system to manage models and the meta data for all their products. This represents a massive opportunity for a new SaaS platform and Marxent is well positioned to capitalize.

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