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Basis Set Ventures invests in early-stage technology companies that fundamentally transform the way people work. We believe artificial intelligence delivers core value by improving productivity for all parts of the economy; from factories to offices.

Our fund is dedicated primarily to Seed and Series A startups.

Meet the team

Portfolio

Snappr

Snappr makes professional photographs accessible to every business and consumer, managing the entire shooting and post-processing experience for customers around the world.

snappr.com

Workstream

Workstream's hiring platform uses automation, AI, and mobile workflows to provide a simpler, faster way to hire, on-board and maintain hourly workers.

workstream.us

Rasa

Rasa empowers product teams to build conversational AI in-house, with industry-leading open source libraries and accessible enterprise tooling.

rasa.com

Path Robotics

Path Robotics is producing autonomous welding robots based on proprietary artificial intelligence and computer vision algorithms.

path-robotics.com

FarmWise

FarmWise produces autonomous weeding robots that provide growers with a cost-efficient, scalable alternative to herbicides.

farmwise.io

Ike

Ike is building cutting edge automation technology to help improve the trucking industry.

ike.com

DataGrail

DataGrail is a privacy management platform that helps companies become compliant with privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA quickly.

datagrail.io
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Latest

Camille Ricketts is a true expert on building communities and creating a top notch content strategy. From her early days as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal and Venture Beat to her stint managing the content strategy at First Round Capital, she’s seen the best and the brightest people and companies, and been at the forefront of content and editorial strategy. These days she leads the marketing team at Notion, helping them reach, nurture, and grow their customer and continue on the path of Hypergrowth.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Camille: 1) leveraged existing strengths of the Notion community to help find early advocates for the product; 2) developed a content strategy that leveraged a deep customer understanding and strategy around use cases and personas; 3) amplified word of mouth through community efforts, driving new user growth, and 4) built a teaching culture on her team to ensure that people could learn from each other.

  • Key early hires that were made to double down on Notion’s strengths on community
  • How to leverage existing pockets of usage to grow your own community of super users
  • Why turning a small group of early users into the seeds of a broader advocacy community is typically the best way to expand a community around your product
  • How listening to product feedback from early users and showing them that you are investing in their success helps your long-term product strategy
  • The process Notion used to develop a strong content strategy — from a deep understanding of your audience to a nuanced strategy around use cases and personas  
  • How to think about measurement for less acquisition oriented work such as content — and what not to do when setting incentives for your content teams
  • Using content and community to amplify word of mouth — Notion’s largest driver of new users
  • Building a teaching culture on marketing teams — how to do it and why it’s critical to ensure that a diverse team (analytical and creative) can move together

While Covid-19 has pushed technology deeper into the deskless workforce, it’s also elucidating shortcomings of existing tools not optimized for the unique challenges of specific industries and regions of the world.

In this conversation between Kris Kemeny, Managing Director of the venture arm for Tekfen, one of Turkey’s largest industrial conglomerates, and BSV investor John Mannes, we discuss how founders can build for the global deskless workforce while localizing solutions for customers.

Kris Kemeny:

Status quo was always walk and talk, and now we're having to shift to sitting and clicking.


John Mannes:

This is Episode Eight of Future Proof. Today, we're talking with Kris Kemeny, Managing Director of Tekfen's Venture arm. Tekfen is one of Turkey's largest industrial conglomerates, with activities in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction. For those of us based in the United States, we've become accustomed to weekly changes in COVID outbreak severity between cities and states. But what's often lost in the news cycle is the variance between countries. Despite wide variations in case counts between nations, one fact rings true nearly everywhere, desk-less workers are back in the field, making machines, tending to crops, and building buildings.


John Mannes:

Turkey is no different, but as founders race to build tools to support desk-less workers, it's important to remember that while all workers are in need of tools, the exact tools that are needed differ widely between applications and geographic contexts. With more desk-less workers in the world than office workers, many emerging subcategories will be large enough to sustain venture scale businesses in and of themselves. Welcome, Kris. Thanks so much for joining us on Future Proof. I'd love to just give listeners a little bit of a sense for your background, and if you could also tell us a bit about Tekfen as well, that would be super helpful for folks that may not have heard of the company before.


Kris Kemeny:

My name is Kris Kemeny, Managing Director of Tekfen Ventures. Tekfen Ventures is an early stage venture fund backed by Tekfen Holding, a publicly traded industrial conglomerate based in Istanbul, Turkey that focuses on the agribusiness, industrial contracting, and manufacturing verticals. We're Turkey's largest fertilizer manufacturer. We're also a large player in seeds and other inputs, and we have orchard operations where we are Turkey's, I think, second largest fruit growing and import export operation. None of those are unique, but they are uniquely large in that part of the world and have been operated highly efficiently and with the future and progress in mind. We partner with a holding company and our colleagues on the operating side of the business to understand regularly what key challenges we're having.


John Mannes:

So would you say overall since this entity was created within the company that the number of pilots and POCs and work with the tech community and startups has increased? Is that a fair general takeaway?


Kris Kemeny:

That is an absolutely fair general takeaway.


John Mannes:

Are most of your sales in Turkey or are they domestic here in the United States?


Kris Kemeny:

Tekfen's fertilizer sales are almost all in Turkey. Some being sold to neighboring countries in that geography. Our fruit exports are predominantly bound for Europe and Asia, and the contracting arm does much of their projects in the Middle East area.


John Mannes:

So thinking specifically then, in that context of the last six to nine months, everybody is familiar with COVID and the impact that that's had on the economy, folks are familiar with what's happened with oil prices recently, same thing with the trade war, just broader economic volatility on top of all of that. How would you say as a company that the operational and technological priorities have shifted in order to embrace that new normal?


Kris Kemeny:

Obviously, the last six months have been quite unique and different and challenging for our organization as they have for much of the world. The key priority during this period has been a priority for Tekfen Holding for decades. And so there's maybe nothing new there, although the way that we've had to implement it is new, and that priority is safety. The operations of Tekfen, as much as possible, shifted to remote work beginning in March. It was a slow return back to the office for those of our colleagues who actually work in an office, and we're hovering probably at around 50% capacity, but this is also an evolving decision that's regularly revisited every couple of weeks, every month, to ascertain if things should be re-evaluated and we should slow the progress of that return to work.


Kris Kemeny:

The challenge, I think, for us has been adapting to this new type of work. Although thankfully, these are things that have been invested in at an organizational level starting a number of years ago, and so it caused less disruption than it might have had we chosen to wait. It's also important to state that much of what we're talking about in terms of being able to do work remotely doesn't apply to many parts of our operation. Today, you cannot build without people, unfortunately. We have to still show up to work, for those of us on the construction sites. We have to still show up to work, for those of us that work at our fertilizer plants.


John Mannes:

And just to give folks a sense, how many folks are there roughly within Tekfen that are working in some of these field types of roles?


Kris Kemeny:

20,000, approximately. Yeah, it's about 80% of our workforce is in the field, which means in a factory, in an orchard, on a construction site. That's part of a reality I think for individuals that are working in these industries. They are critical and they can't be replaced with anything we have available today, and so we've had to ask them to continue to show up to work.


John Mannes:

Coming out of this whole experience in the last six months, we talked about how volatile it's been, we talked about differences across geographies. What are the top two or three things that you're most excited about that you'd like to see founders working on?


Kris Kemeny:

The last six months have exposed the whole world, but particularly these industries, to three big shocks, three large buckets of disruption. Demand, supply chain, and work process or labor. All of this has exposed the high level of vulnerability and lack of modern resilience that the industries of feeding, building, and supplying the world operate in. The most impactful solutions are all going to address one of three sets of problems. They're going to make these industries less environmentally impactful. I think that's key to any future we want to live in. They're going to make them less labor intensive, at least as an optionality. That might come in the form of automation, robotics, or a broad mentation, and they're going to make them less analog, and that's going to create new opportunities to optimize how these industries operate.


John Mannes:

From Tekfen's perspective, was there any critical technology investment or work that had to be done on your side in order to help folks get back to work?


Kris Kemeny:

In many of these industries, the status quo was always to walk and talk, and now we're having to shift to sitting and clicking, particularly on the productivity and management and progress tracking. That's only possible if you've taken from pen and paper workflows and turned them into digitally enabled tools, datasets, and optimization paths. The two medium term needs that will be addressed and are being addressed by technology that we're on the lookout for have to do with environmental impact and supply chain resilience. These industries today are responsible for probably about three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions through energy consumption and emissions. And when you think about their supply chains, as I mentioned earlier, there's a highly concentrated, highly price-driven, and consequently highly vulnerable set of supply chains that power and underpin the way that we're feeding and building and supplying the world today.


John Mannes:

Okay, so given all of that, I mean, I think that also provides an interesting context, especially for founders based here in the United States thinking about a lot of the solutions and deployments ultimately are probably going to happen on the ground in Turkey, in Europe, in parts of Asia, especially when we think about things like autonomy. I think there's an interesting question to be had there around deployments and in a lot of these geographies that are frankly very far away from a lot of founders here in United States, there's some interesting open questions around automation, particularly as it relates to the economics of automation and areas outside of the United States. Do you guys have perspective there around what types of technologies you've seen have been most successful in deployment in these regions and maybe just tying that back to open opportunities where you have yet to see enough companies being started?


Kris Kemeny:

Yeah, so I think that's a great question. These industries, when you think about construction, when you think about commodities are inputs manufacturing like fertilizer, the truth is there are a lot of similarities, but each of these have regional analogs because there's economic and business incentives to have more localized or at least regional production and service capabilities. We focus on investing in businesses that we think have global applicability in terms of their solution and potential adoption. That being said, adoption is a curve and happens over time, and specifically when you're thinking about growing your business and expanding into new geographies, like, for example, Europe, Turkey, or the Middle East, you have to be aware of the local environment, price points, language, connectivity, communications, kind of regulations. All those things come into play.


Kris Kemeny:

As you mentioned, the breakeven point for adopting certain technologies is highly dependent on the economics and the prevailing wages of a certain area. Obviously, when you think about high wages being paid to, say, a skilled laborer in the Bay Area or New York City, it's going to be higher than the equivalent worker that's working in, say, the south of Turkey. And so the adoption will come a couple of years later when the price point makes a little more sense, but that is the benefit of technology, is that it does scale over time. It does allow you to provide the same technology, maybe not in perfect sequence, but hopefully over time to be able to diffuse into and benefit the whole world.


John Mannes:

I think the same question could be applicable on the workflow automation side, definitely on the supply chain side, understanding that you guys are looking again to invest in the macro trends and are prioritizing that maybe over a specific arbitrage opportunity in one country or another. The main question that I'm just trying to get at is, from a founder's perspective, if you're thinking about automation or workflow automation or supply chain in a geography that's not the United States and you're looking with everything that's happening with COVID and everything that's happening with the broader economy, it's pretty clear that certain regions are doing a lot better than other regions, that, that is very dependent with time, that there is a lot of relocation, particularly in manufacturing. And we've talked about this on other episodes where folks that are producing in China have opened up second facilities in India or Vietnam, folks that were maybe looking to have a single office in London are looking to have an office in both Asia and also Africa.


John Mannes:

There's just a lot more diversification that we're seeing across supply chains, across manufacturing, across construction, and I'm just trying to think about specific lessons for founders that they might be able to take away from an organization like Tekfen as they prioritize what to build to any extent that that can be informed by variances and exposure from other geographies and other industries within those spaces?


Kris Kemeny:

Yeah. Look, I think workflow and digitization happens with more customization, and so there's increased opportunity for localized targeted innovation to be created, because it takes almost as long to build as it does to adapt a solution to a different language. And then you have to think about the unique workflows of doing construction on a pipeline project in Azerbaijan, or you have workers who speak many different languages. You might not always have great connectivity. Not everyone has cell phone. So how do you think about digitizing that workflow? If you're working with a large contractor like Tekfen, we likely have some unique requirements that are more specific to us than maybe another contractor. And so I think there is real opportunity to build a best in class and successful business by finding these unaddressed opportunities and working with partners to create something that fits the local language, the custom workflow, the unique requirements of specific types of construction in specific regions and for a subset of the customers.


John Mannes:

Yeah, that makes sense. If you were to distill all of that into some simple advice for founders, what would you say?


Kris Kemeny:

Make sure that the users, that the data complexity, that the lack of connectivity, that the general environment and needs are being taken into account when the solutions are developed. We think those two things have to go hand in hand.


John Mannes:

Well, thank you very much, Kris. I really appreciate all of the amazing context that you've given us and exposure to a number of industries that I know folks are just dying to learn more about. So thank you so much for your time, Kris.


Kris Kemeny:

Thank you, John. Really appreciate it.


John Mannes:

While there's likely to be some lag time in the adoption of autonomous machines in geographies with less tight labor markets, supply chains are the unifying achilles heel for any industrial company, regardless of operating context. Many supply chains have become so consolidated over the last few decades that they expose businesses to immense geographic risk, and we've seen that play out in real time with COVID. Companies around the world, on both the supply side and the demand side of production, are seeing more change than any time in recent history. This change is bringing opportunity to companies that can build and scale global solutions that leverage local knowledge to solve cross-border problems. I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Future Proof. We'll be posting episodes on Spotify, iTunes, and SoundCloud. So watch for our next episode. Check out Basis Set's full research on all of the industries discussed here today at basisset.ventures/research. And if you want to chat about any of the themes from this episode, drop me a note at john@basisset.ventures.

For more information on this topic, check out BSV's research: