The Founder of Robot Maker, Kiva, Couldn't Get Silicon Valley to Fund Him

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Just one more pebble of evidence on a growing pile that Silicon Valley has been too focused on small ideas in the social space.

In a blog post today, an early investor in the warehouse robot company, Kiva, detailed what he learned from the venture.

If you haven't been watching the logistics space, Kiva makes squat little robots that work in vast teams in e-commerce fulfillment centers. Instead of humans wandering into vast stacks of merchandise, robots bring that merchandise to the workers. The robots carry out the work according to constantly evolving algorithms that maximize the efficiency of the operation.

They are a very big idea in logistics -- and one that founder Mick Mountz built a company around that Amazon purchased for $775 million in a deal that closed this week.

In today's blog post, Ajay Agarwal of Bain Capital Ventures noted that Mountz was unable to find funding in Silicon Valley, despite the idea's now-fulfilled promise.

There have been several blog posts, most notably by Peter Thiel and Founders Fund, discussing the venture community's lack of desire to fund transformational companies -those with disruptive technologies taking on big problems.  Mick saw this firsthand. When Mick first started Kiva shortly after the bubble burst, he was unable to raise funding on Sand Hill Road.  This ultimately caused him to move to Boston, where he raised his angel round and eventually his round from Bain Capital Ventures...

The truth is, Kiva simply wasn't a company that could be cranked out in weeks with some seed money, and the technical obstacles inherent in building a solution like this forced Kiva to invest years working on the solution pre GA. However, once they built a working and viable solution, they had the advantage of significant IP and few direct competitors.

There are echoes in Agarwal's post of the no-idea-too-small attitude that I discussed in my recent essay, "The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future."



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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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