VC Jeff Clavier On How Startups Are Disrupting Entire Industries


Jean-Francois “Jeff” Clavier is the Founder and Managing Partner of Palo Alto-based SoftTech VC, one of the most active early stage investors in Web 2.0 startups. He is therefore in a great position to comment on the major trends in the tech boom currently sweeping through the Bay Area and beyond.

“Our hope, when we make investments, is that we can recognize and anticipate the big trends,” Clavier says. “A lot of startups will fail but every now and then we hit the bull's-eye. We try to look closely at the technology platforms that enable consumer behavioral evolution.”

Clavier identified social networking and smartphones as two of the meta-trends that are driving the current wave of startups.

“Over past few years, Facebook has been becoming this billion user behemoth. Smart phones have become powerful mobile computers. These trends enabled us to build companies in content and commerce that leverage those new distribution channels at a cost that is a fraction of what it used to be.”

Clavier says smart consumer-facing companies are figuring out how to scale rapidly.

“Even to get to one million users was very expensive a few years ago. Now when the viral loop is right you get two million in a few days. You can really take advantage of very cheap user acquisition models to scale quickly.”

Clavier identified a number of companies he’s invested in that are leading the way in their categories.

One, Gigwalk, which we profiled recently helps people find short-term contract work on their smartphones.

“All those services based on mobile, including Gigwalk, would never have been possible before. Now, using GPS, Gigwalk can allocate jobs in just a few minutes, with real time communication between the worker and the employer.”

He says that another consumer service, the GetItNow app from Postmates, which we’ve also covered, “is so convenient you don’t need to spend more than 30 seconds in ordering anything from a meal to a $2,200 piece of computer equipment delivered to your doorstep.

“These types of services help me to recapture my time, which is really my most valuable resource.”

Clavier also complimented a third local startup we’ve written about this year, Hotel Tonight, saying he’s invested in its counterpart, Blink Bookings in Europe.

He noted the extent to which tablet devices led by the iPad are driving innovations in 2012.

“The tablet and mobile devices are definitely an opportunity for companies to reinvent themselves. Any very successful service will have to do it, but some haven't adapted that well so far, including whole industries.

“So some startups will bring a new way to introduce and market those services, inventing a new way to do ecommerce.”

Clavier foresees a lot of upcoming activity from new ecommerce companies.

“One we’ve backed, Fab, has in just one year achieved massive scale. It has a unique voice on content and has been built with an architecture perfect with the viral mechanics for user acquisition and retention.”

Another important area for investment right now is based on big data.

“The cost of computing has been reduced in a major way by cloud services, and now certain massive calculations become affordable. Through a company based in Croatia, of all places, farmers are now able to track terabytes of data to improve their efficiency.”

In all, Clavier says that since 2004, SoftTech VC has made 126 investments, which these days translates to about 20-25 new ones per year.

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