Wednesday Wisdom from Dayna Grayson, Partner at New Enterprise Associates

We’re halfway through the week, and it’s time for a boost of inspiration to keep us going. Our #WednesdayWisdom blog series taps into the minds of industry leaders and disruptive visionaries who are working to build the future of entrepreneurship.

We sat down with Dayna Grayson, a partner at New Enterprise Associates, one of the world’s largest and most active venture capital firms, to discuss her current projects, plans to invest, and the future of voice recognition software.

What trends do you see in the problems being solved by new companies right now?
After years of mass development of new web and mobile consumer applications built on the backs of AWS and Android/iOS, I think there is a renewed focus on funding for entrepreneurs building really hard tech, including fundamental pieces of new platforms from systems for autonomous driving to artificial intelligence for better deployment of the Internet of Things. I believe we’re in a new cycle where building blocks for these major integrated technologies are being put in place, and startups are playing in these areas. In the consumer space, entrepreneurs have also been tackling harder problems recently. The trend amongst eCommerce companies is no longer to resell goods at retail prices but rather to vertically integrate and create items in-house. This starts with in-house manufacturing and ends in the consumers’ hands via both online and, in some cases, physical storefronts. Startups now endeavor to control the whole experience around bringing their products to market.

Tell us about a few projects you’ve been a part of that you love and are excited about.
I have two new projects in the industrial space that I’m excited about. One has yet to be announced but the other is Desktop Metal, a 3D metal printing company. First, the team is phenomenal—Ric Fulop, the founder and CEO was previously one of the founders of A123—a pioneer in battery technology—along with Jonah Myerberg, the CTO. Matt Verminski, the VP Engineering of Desktop Metal, previously was the VP of Hardware at Kiva Systems. Desktop Metal is reinventing via 3D printing the way folks prototype and manufacture metal parts, on an individual, small company and large run basis. What I love about the industrial space right now is that there is a bigger opportunity than ever to modernize it via digitization, but success relies on meeting the customer and the end users where they are on the shop floors, in the machine shops or in the labs. Many companies have tried and failed to automate manufacturing technology with solutions that require too many process changes and too much upfront investment. The companies that succeed will—like Desktop Metal–allow end users to simply replace their current daily system with an alternative that is equally easy to use and yet more productive and cost efficient.

Are there any products you’ve invested in that you’ve also been able to personally benefit from as a user?
Most of my investments are centered around changes in enterprise environments (and particularly industrial tech recently), but I have a few companies that deliver consumer products and services. The logistics of these businesses are sometimes very similar to the manufacturing space and their numbers are achieved based on daily performance. But, in terms of my personal “benefit,” I am a particular fan of Glamsquad. T, They provide at-home beauty services for busy women. It’s not often that my personal profile makes me squarely a part of one of my companies’ target markets, but in this case, I am absolutely their target customer. Their best customers are busy professional women who use the service several times a month when they have important events and not a lot of time to get ready. That’s me.

What are a few problems you wish would be solved in the future?
I am very interested in the advent of voice controls. How much more enjoyable is it to talk to Amazon’s Echo than it is to search for the weather while running out of the house. I believe voice controlled operations will be the equivalent of the iPhone swiping technology for the future–it will be table stakes for consumer tech going forward. But, we’re not there yet. The basic tech has been around for decades but these markets take a very long time to mature. Take something as seemingly innocuous as podcasting, for example. While it is far less capital intensive than perfecting voice recognition, it was one of the first mobile applications (on iPods, not even iPhones) that seemingly had an obvious user benefit. Around 2007/2008, everyone wanted to invest in a podcast company. But, it took years to find ways to make money on companies in this space. Today, some of the best content creators thrive via podcasts and—while the misnomer has stuck—the channel is here to stay.  Voice recognition and controls will be part of every user interface—in both consumer and enterprise tech—but because of the vast data collection and algorithms required to perfect ever thread of it, we are still years away from seeing mass proliferation. In the meantime, I’m loving Alexa.

Is there anything, in particular, you’re looking to invest in next?
I continue to think we’re in the midst of a long-term digital revolution, akin to the industrial revolution that spanned decades, not years. Starting with the advent of the internet and culminating in the bubble we rushed to the internet as if every service, every system, and every enterprise had to be digitized overnight (or at least in a matter of years). Almost 2 decades later, there are a lot of processes and industries that remain largely unaffected—and for good reasons. Industrial and field work is mostly manual and outside a tech-friendly office environment. Mobile technology, not the internet alone, has had the greatest impact on these industries, but mobile usage inside many non-professional work environments is still very low. I am particularly interested in A/R and wearables in addition to mobile apps in the industrial space. I think most of the last mile of digitization will be bridged with a combination of these technologies.

For an extra dose of #WednesdayWisdom, read our interview with Susan Lyne, President of BBG Ventures, an early stage fund focused on consumer internet and mobile startups with at least one female founder. We sat down with Susan to discuss the evolution of the tech industry, a woman’s buying power, and the challenges women face when pitching male investors.