Scalably sourcing companies: “Harmonic allowed us to stop focusing on the tedious aspects of data management”
VC is traditionally a referral-based industry: build connections with people and hope for deal flow through those networks. “We wanted a mechanism to help us uncover the companies we wouldn’t find through our networks,” explains Am. F-Prime engaged in “the classic strategies,” he says: scraping data platforms “and aggregating the information in very janky ways” to train algorithms that could predict a company’s relevance to the firm’s thematic investing styles. But they encountered the inevitable difficulties with that process: It became tedious to constantly aggregate data and train new models. “It wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t scalable. Things would break all the time,” Am recalls; “the data was often stale.” When one of the firm’s investors heard about Harmonic, she brought it to the team as a solution.
With Harmonic, F-Prime could immediately revise their internal system. The firm continued to build algorithms and maintain its own scoring models, but Harmonic allowed the team to offload data maintenance and provided them with consistently clean and current data to work with. F-Prime also leveraged Harmonic to build additional scoring models by enriching data on the companies that were already in their Affinity instance. Now the firm’s comprehensive universe of relevant companies sits in—and is regularly updated by—Harmonic’s platform.
Am says that Harmonic’s greatest impact on the sourcing side is that “it freed us up to stop focusing on the tedious aspects of data management and cleaning up stale data.” F-Prime’s technical resources now go toward improving predictive algorithms and “finding new signals that could be great predictors of company success. Prior to Harmonic,” Am explains, “we didn't have time for those explorations. We were using very basic predictors like headcount growth. Of course, Harmonic provides that data as well, but our bandwidth is now freed to experiment with different predictors—and ultimately build a more effective model.”
Saved Search: Creating sub-universes for thematic investing
Am describes powering the firm’s sourcing models with good company data as “V1 of our relationship with Harmonic.” V2 allowed for a more targeted focus. F-Prime makes very thematic investments—“travel tech, for example,” Am explains. So while there might be 40,000 relevant companies in the firm’s comprehensive universe, a sub-universe has many fewer companies. “We look for companies in these predefined sub-universes frequently,” Am says. “So we started building saved searches for them in Harmonic’s console so we can uncover new ones regularly.”
Harmonic routinely updates companies based on tags, keywords, funding, web traffic, social following, and talent movement. (“If a company is hiring certain people, it may mean they’re looking to raise soon,” Am explains.) The platform also determines which companies are no longer relevant based on enriched data such as recent funding rounds. F-Prime pulls those sub-universe lists, runs them through its algorithms, and pushes the most relevant companies into its CRM. “And the use case isn’t just thematic,” Am adds. “Maybe I want to look at all the companies started by top research alumni from top research institutions. Maybe I want to see growth broken down by department, because if a company’s Sales team has stronger headcount momentum than its Engineering team, that’s unique information that helps us predict where a company is headed. These are all relevant signals. And it’s incredibly easy to build those kinds of searches in Harmonic.”
Supporting portfolio companies with F-Prime’s networks: “Our networks are the most important value-add we have”
Venture capitalists offer more than money to their portfolio companies. The resources, expertise, and strategy they provide are often contingent upon the strength of their networks. “VC firms’ networks are a huge value prop to founders,” Am says. “But how quickly a firm can identify individual network members to leverage them in certain situations is often more important than how strong the total network is.”
Many of F-Prime’s portfolio companies chose the firm because of its networks in industries like financial services and robotics. “We know a lot of people in those spaces,” Am explains. “So if we’ve invested in a fintech company that’s looking to sell to a big financial institution like Fidelity or Blackrock, that’s great for them, because we have a lot of connections there. But then the question becomes: Who’s the most relevant person at Blackrock to connect our portfolio company with?”
Prior to Harmonic, answering that question was tiresome, if not impossible. “We didn’t have much context on anyone in the firm’s network—what their experience or expertise was, or even whether they were still in their role at a given organization,” Am says. “So we couldn’t answer fundamental questions like: Would this person be useful in a diligence capacity? Could they help our portfolio company with this particular problem?” With Harmonic’s People Lists, F-Prime now has the context they need. “We pushed all our network information from LinkedIn and our CRM into Harmonic,” Am says. “We can now easily find the ideal profile in Blackrock for an introduction to that portfolio company. Or maybe a company wants to expand their product into a new market and needs some advice on how to do so. Who in our network has expertise with this particular technology in this particular market? With Harmonic, we can source an expert to help with strategy. That’s invaluable.”
F-Prime’s partnership with Harmonic: “We’re building something together”
Am uses F-Prime’s networks to exemplify the firm’s relationship with Harmonic. “Six months ago, we were desperately trying to integrate our team members’ LinkedIn networks into a general, firm-wide network. But we couldn’t figure out how to do that easily: LinkedIn is a pretty closed platform and we didn’t have access to their APIs.” The team brought their dilemma to Harmonic, and within two months they had a V1 product that integrated the firms’ connections with the platform. That’s why the firm can now support their portfolio companies with such quickly-leveraged expertise.
“Our relationship with Harmonic isn’t your traditional customer-seller relationship,” Am adds. “We’re building something together—as partners. Our firm is often bringing ideas to the table about how the Harmonic team can grow its product to help us. And they’re not only implementing requests quickly; they’re also helping us build our own internal systems better. The team has shown remarkable interest in our success—well beyond our interactions with their platform.”