Meet Our New Investor in Infrastructure & AI/ML
Ever since our founding in 2004, we’ve been laser-focused on investing in pre-product-market fit companies very early in their lifespan. We’ve since had the privilege of partnering with generational companies in vastly different spaces — like Looker transforming data, Uber shaping modern transportation, Roblox expanding the gaming universe, Notion bringing a fresh take to productivity and collaboration, and Mirror tackling virtual fitness (just to name a few).
But while we’ve tended to apply a generalist lens to early-stage investing, when you take a step back, you don’t have to squint to see that our investments tend to cluster around a few key areas, such as application layer SaaS, healthcare, consumer and marketplaces, fintech and technical infrastructure (data tools, developer tools and AI/ML).
Ultimately, we’ve approached the age-old question of whether to be specialists and generalists as a balancing act. In our experience working with over 400 companies, so many of the challenges are the same regardless of the space you’re building in — whether it’s the struggle to make those first few hires, the difficulty of developing your initial product positioning, or the obstacles to closing your first several customers and getting to product-market fit.
But there’s no denying the value in specialized knowledge. For example, in the case of founders building new infrastructure or developer tools, it’s immensely helpful to lean on investors who can assist with everything from distributing early prototypes to their network of engineering leaders for feedback and providing guidance on growing a developer community, to sharing context around shifting trends in open-source software, and making introductions to those elusive MLE or DevOps candidates.
As we’ve tried to balance advice on the nuts and bolts of company building with bespoke, sector-specific support to deliver the most for the founders we back, we’ve naturally moved a few ticks closer to a more specialized approach over the last five years — especially as we’ve grown as a firm and added to our partnership.
As an example, take how we’ve built up a large and thriving healthcare community with investments like Flatiron Health, Rupa Health, PatientPing, Forward, Nomad Health, Alma, Thirty Madison and over twenty other companies, with Josh Kopelman and Hayley Barna leading the charge. Or how Bill Trenchard and Todd Jackson have built up our focus on supporting founders building the latest data and dev tools, leading investments in Looker, Labelbox, Omni Analytics, Kubecost, and others.
As an extension of that more specialized work, we’re excited to publicly share that we’ve added our first dedicated Infrastructure & AI/ML investor in the last year to support our sector-specific expertise.
James Wu’s vast experience includes a stint in academia, conducting AI and data security research with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. During this time he also dipped his toe into investing, working as a VC fellow supporting early-stage portfolio companies. This gave him a taste for entrepreneurship, so he co-founded AdaptiLab, aimed to help companies scale their ML and data science teams. The company counted Fortune1000s and unicorns in its customer base and was later acquired.
James then joined Amperity, where he led the company’s new machine learning projects and tapped back into his academic background, contributing to patents and research papers. James earned his Computer Science and Statistics degrees from Duke. Now at First Round, James works closely with our partners as they uncover new opportunities in the AI/ML, data infrastructure, devtools and security spaces.
We’re thrilled to have James as a trusted voice on our investing team as we continue to deepen our industry expertise and support the very best founders as they build from 0 to 1 — and beyond.
Photography by Bonnie Rae Mills.