Archive for June, 2021

Uber’s first head of data science just raised a new venture fund to back nascent AI startups

Kevin Novak joined Uber as its 21st employee its seventh engineer in 2011, and by 2014, he was the company’s head of data science. He talks proudly of that time, but like all good things, it ran its course and by the end of 2017, having accomplished what he wanted at the company, he left. At first, he picked up the pace of his angel investing, work he’d already begun focusing on during weekends and evenings, ultimately building a portfolio of more than 50 startups (including the fintech Pipe and the autonomous checkout company Standard Cognition). He also began advising both startups and venture firms — including Playground Global, Costanoa Ventures, Renegade Partners and Data Collective — and after falling in love with the work, Novak this year decided to launch his own venture outfit in Menlo Park, Ca., called Rackhouse Venture Capital. Indeed, Rackhouse just closed its debut fund with $15 million, anchored by Uber’s first head of engineering, Curtis Chambers; Steve Gilula, a former chairman of Searchlight Pictures, and the fund of funds Cendana Capital. A lot of the VCs Novak knows are also investors in the fund. We caught up with Novak late last week to chat out that new vehicle. We also talked about this tenure at Uber, where, be warned, he played a major role in creating surge pricing (though he prefers the term “dynamic pricing.”) You can hear that fuller discussion or check out excerpts from it, edited lightly for length and clarity, below. TC: You were planning to become a nuclear physicist. How did you wind up at Uber? KN: As an undergrad, I was studying physics, math and computer science, and when I got to grad school, I really wanted to teach. But I also really liked programming and applying physics concepts in the programming space, and the nuke department had the largest allocation of supercomputer time, so that ended up driving a lot of my research  — just the opportunity to play on computers while doing physics. So [I] was studying to become a nuclear physicist was funded very indirectly through the research that eventually became the Higgs boson. As the Higgs got discovered, it was very good for humanity and absolutely horrible for my research budget . . . A friend of mine heard what I was doing and sort of knew my skill set and said, like, ‘Hey, you should come check out this Uber cab company that it’s like a limo company with an app. There’s a very interesting data problem and a very interesting math problem.’ So I ended up applying [though I committed] the cardinal sin of startup applications and wore a suit and tie to my interview. TC: You’re from Michigan. I also grew up in the Midwest so appreciate why you might think that people would wear a suit to an interview. KN: I got off the elevator and the friend who’d encouraged me to apply was like, ‘What are you wearing?!’ But I […]

Nodes & Links raises $11M to — maybe — save billions on the big projects the world needs now

Nodes & Links is a scheduling platform for large-scale infrastructure projects which works out when the nuts and bolts for the bridge (for example) should be delivered, and in what order. Unsurprisingly, complex infrastructure projects often get this wrong. The company has now raised an $11 million Series A funding round led by urban sustainability-focused fund 2150, alongside Zigg Capital and Westerly Winds, with participation from existing investors Entrepreneur First, ADV and Seedcamp. Launched in 2018, the company’s Aegis platform is used by Balfour Beatty, Costain and BAM Nuttal, and claims to have delivered millions in cost savings on infrastructure projects, because the building materials and assembly ends up being organized in the right order. Given that most major projects run significantly over time and over budget, scheduling correctly can make a huge difference to costs, as well as the impact on the environment. The company quotes a survey by Oxford University that found that only 8% of infrastructure projects get delivered on time and on budget. “Complex projects account for over 4% of the world’s GDP, yet only 8% of them complete on budget and on time,” Nodes and Links CEO Greg Lawton said. “This is largely because humans are responsible for all tasks within projects, even the repetitive and complex ones they’re unsuited to, instead of the high-value, creative activities people are uniquely qualified for. By expanding our workforce to include machines, better decisions will be made and better projects delivered. We firmly believe that the work we’re doing is going to have the same impact as automation did in manufacturing and this new investment will help us accelerate its adoption for the common good.” Nodes & Links competes with large infrastructure software such as Oracle Primavera, as well as plain old Excel spreadsheets, for obvious reasons. “The world is accelerating its investment into linear infrastructure, much of it with a focus on sustainability and resilience,” Christian Hernandez, Partner at 2150 said. “Time is the biggest lever available to ensure that trillions of dollars of projects starts delivering benefits to our planet and Nodes & Links has proven that they can help large and complex engineering projects deliver on that.” Investment in construction automation is essential to rebuilding US infrastructure