5 things Google Ventures guy Rich Miner looks for in startups

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Rich Miner has a lot of startup cred. After all, he co-founded Android, the mobile business which sold to Google in 2005 and only turned into the world’s most widely-used mobile operating system. Now he’s general partner with Google Ventures and works out of a rapidly expanding building in Cambridge’s Kendall Square.

Here are 5 criteria Miner uses to evaluate potential investments.

Cabinet blueprint1: People first.

What some VCs (and often the rest of us) tend to forget is that technology isn’t everything. In an interview at Google Ventures Cambridge location, Miner said he looks for founders and teams he wants to work with even if their technological background isn’t there. He cited the founders of CustomMade, a site that helps buyers wanting custom-made goods connect with craftsmen who build them.

“These were guys out of real estate. they like the idea of ‘made local’ and the makers movement. They bought a listing site and converted it over to a marketplace.” They had a passion for this idea, so he went with them. CustomMade has garnered about $24 million in funding, the last $18 million round led by Google Ventures closing last month.

2: Focus on three Ds: Design, design, design.

Design experts or not, would-be founders must grasp that design — whether it’s of the user interface or of a physical product — is key to success, not an afterthought. Google Ventures loves the maker movement, an outgrowth of the Do-It-Yourself push, which promotes local manufacturing of actual, physical products by craftsmen.

3: Mobile chops.

It’s no surprise that the co-creator of Android thinks there’s a lot of life left in mobile. Tablet in hand, Miner demonstrated how he often sees people using their glitzy electronic devices as nothing more than glorified clipboards to support a pen and paper. (Admit it, you do this too.) “Whenever I see that, I think, ‘there’s an unmet opportunity.'” he said.

He cited PlanGrid, another Google Ventures-backed company, which built a blueprint app for architects and engineers. “People draw up blueprints on paper, use them once and throw them away. That’s a $3 billion opportunity,” he said.

4: Solve a real problem.

Too many would-be startups pitch a solution in search of a problem instead of something that really eases someone’s pain. Yesware (yes, another Google Ventures company) realized that email is broken for many folks and that the best way to improve it is to attack it vertically, based on what the user does, Miner said. “Sales people spend a ton of time tracking email and looking for feedback. And the last hour of the day they spend telling Salesforce all about the emails they sent.” Miner said. Yesware automates a lot of that heartache and provides automatic feedback on who opened what emails and when.

5: Ability to make something.

CustomMade shelf unit Or, at least the ability to help others make something. Again Miner cites CustomMade as an example. “When you buy something at Restoration Hardware, it’s never quite right. The craftsmanship is not good, 60 percent of the cost is from fuel charges shipping it from Vietnam or wherever.” CustomMade lets customers specify the design of what they want, dimensions, materials, where it can be made.

He drew up a design of a shelf unit he needed for this office and submitted it for construction. Artisans on the site submit their bids and the user selects and is quite happy with the result (see photos left and above.) Unlike some competitive bidding sites, the idea here is for discerning buyers to get (and pay for) exactly what they want, which in an ideal world means the makers get compensated well. Miner said average sticker price is $1,000.

Four-year-old Google Ventures, which has $1.2 billion in funding, has had a couple of meaningful exits including Parse’s acquisition by Facebook, Stamped’s buyout by Yahoo  and IPOs of HomeAway  and Silver Spring Networks.


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