Phil Libin announced today that he has made his first investment as a partner at the investment firm General Catalyst. The former Evernote chief executive said that he has funded a bot startup called Begin created by Ryan Block, the cofounder of product/gadget database and discussion forum gdgt, and Brian LeRoux.
Both Block and Libin declined to disclose how much Begin has raised, but Block confirmed that General Catalyst was the lead investor. Little has been revealed about the startup except that it’ll be a bot that assists you in staying on top of everything you have going on.
Libin joined General Catalyst in September, where his goal has been to fund and work with startups involved in the application layer, regardless of whether it was consumer-focused or built for the enterprise: “How do you do substantive work?” However, more than six months in, he has sharpened his focus, this time on bots and the conversational user experience.
“I think the relevant application layer will be bots,” Libin told VentureBeat in a phone interview. It’s something that he has thought about for the past couple of years and is actively jumping into it now. He equates bots with a conversational user experience, meaning it’s a “product that you interact with without a fixed user interface where you have to push this button, swipe over here, etc. You don’t have to learn how to use it. … You’re interacting with it conversationally. It’s adapting to what you’re saying. It feel like it’s a conversation.”
He believes an important trend will emerge: the rise of divergent and convergent bots. With the former, it’s a bot that implements its own app, like Quartz or Reserve. The latter is something you don’t download, but lives within a messaging platform like Facebook, Kik, Slack, Skype, and WeChat.
“Most serious bots down the road will be both,” Libin explained, using Jarvis from the Iron Man comic book series as an analogy. “When Tony Stark is in the lab, Jarvis is just there and can do whatever he wants because he has all the tools and robots, that’s divergent. But when Tony is in his [Iron Man] suit … Jarvis is limited, that’s convergent. There will be a multi-modal way of interacting with [bots]. Some of these things through existing messaging platforms or through their own app. The good ones will have both.”
Libin strongly believes that bots will cause a massive shift in how we use technology in the next few years. He thinks that the same forces that propelled apps are happening, but will have an even larger impact further down the road: “Everything will be rewritten to support bots. … This is where applications will move to in the next couple of years.”
“What happened with apps will look pretty tame” compared to the rise of bots, he predicted.
“I believe software and especially bots are at their best when they work on our behalf to reduce stress and expand our capabilities — incidentally, this has also been Phil’s life’s work,” Block wrote in an email statement. “There was no one we wanted to work with more than Phil and General Catalyst, and I couldn’t be happier to be partnered with them on Begin.”
Libin says he’s looked at many bot startups during his time at the firm and will continue to do so: “Ryan and Brian are the reasons why I invested. … I met [them] a few months ago and we had similar visions [for the space].” He thinks that while Begin is a really early stage startup, the team will build “an amazing product.”
Additional investments in the bot space are likely, according to Libin. While the industry won’t see that many large rounds, he predicted that in a few years, these bot companies will see bigger checks.
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