When I was first introduced to Anant Bhardwaj through a mutual friend, two things were immediately apparent: (1) I didn’t fully understand what he was building, and (2) I wanted in.
To advance my cause on both counts, I pulled in my partner Forest Baskett, who has one of the sharpest technical minds around. In fact, Anant and Forest share many of the same qualities—soft spoken, brilliant, and far more savvy in sizing up people than one might expect. After meeting with Anant, Forest grabbed me en route to the office of another great tech mind, Greg Papadopoulos.
“Pete just introduced me to a fascinating young entrepreneur out of MIT,” Forest said. Greg, who used to teach electrical engineering and computer sciences at MIT said, “Great! What is he doing?” Forest looked at me expectantly, not quite managing to hide his chuckle as I replied, “Well, he wants to build an operating system for the Internet.”
“What’s that mean?” Greg asked.
“I don’t really know,” I replied. “But we should back him.”
My gut was validated by our diligence, which showed some significant early traction, and we decided to invest.
There are over 1.2 trillion reasons to get excited about Instabase.
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in not fully grokking what Anant was building. Instabase has generated a tremendous amount of interest while divulging relatively little about what they’re building. This is partly because Anant is a great storyteller, but there’s a whole lot more to it than that. Even from 30,000 feet, it’s not hard to see that Instabase is building the right product at the right time. It sits at the intersection of three of the most hot and transformational software disruptions in the world today: digitization of business processes, low-code/no-code and AI.
The digital transformation occurring in enterprises will account for $1.2 trillion in spend in 2019, in large part because the ROI for digitizing business processes is tremendous. Yet development resources to build these new applications are in short supply. So wouldn’t it make sense to have a low-code/no-code solution for building new business process applications?
Instabase is building just such a platform, using AI techniques based on programming synthesis for low-code development of new applications to replace business processes. It can ingest new data sources to build these applications, or it can tap into existing sources regardless of how the data is structured. Some of the applications Instabase has developed in-house have nailed the product-market fit right away with customers like Standard Charter, Goldman Sachs and others.
Not unlike the transformation in DevOps that enables companies like Netflix and Amazon to release software thousands of times per day instead of years, low-code/no-code platforms will lend tremendous velocity to the creation of new business applications.
VCs are wrong far more than we’re right. But sometimes, being wrong is awesome.
It’s a heck of a value proposition, and Anant knows it. When he was closing one of his first sales, he told me that he was going to charge $1 million. The customer was a private company, and I told him there was no way that they were going to pay that much for his software. He replied that it was going to save them $8 million a year in people costs. I laughed and said, “I don’t care, you’re a startup.”
Well, I was wrong. He was able to go and close that deal. Not many entrepreneurs start booking million-dollar ARR software deals while a seven-person company! In fact, I’m pretty sure that Instabase is the highest gross profit company per employee in NEA’s portfolio history. Down the road, it doesn’t take much of a squint to see that this could one day be a marketplace where new applications could be bought and sold on their platform. They are already starting to see demand for this.
A good company seizes the right opportunity at the right time. A great company does it the right way.
Anant is a brilliant engineer with an amazing vision; he is also an entrepreneur who is passionate about building a company the right way. He wants to treat people with respect, deliver on his promises and focus on what really matters.
My early interactions with Anant told me all I needed to know about his character. I was angling to be the sole investor in his first financing, but he wasn’t certain whether he wanted to work with one or two firms. I told him that I wanted him to feel great about us working together, so I would be okay with another investor as long as I could get close to the ownership I sought over the first couple of rounds. I made a number of introductions to other investors, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one who wanted to go it alone… and some were willing to do it at a premium.
Anant was true to his word then—NEA co-led the Series A alongside Jerry Chen at Greylock—and he held fast during the company’s next highly competitive financing round. He was courted heavily by many top investors, all clamoring for as big of a stake as they could get, yet he delivered exactly what he’d promised me. (It sounds like a simple thing, but frankly it doesn’t happen often enough.)
The more time I spend with Anant and Instabase, the clearer it becomes that this is a special company—a rare combination of a brilliant entrepreneur with the right idea at the right time, who wants to build a company the right way. It’s a powerful set of ingredients that come together only rarely in the venture business. It’s always a leap of faith to partner with an entrepreneur—this is one I’d make again in a heartbeat.