The Data Guild is a venture studio based in San Francisco, California. We help to bring data-driven products to market - whether via spinouts from the Guild itself, by working in the trenches alongside portfolio company teams, or in concert with strategic partners. We work in healthcare, life sciences, renewable energy, and climate change – complex sectors whose needs are not well-served by the existing venture ecosystem, and in which finding innovative solutions and bringing them to market is crucial for the health and sustainability of our planet and society.
We are steeped in machine learning, data science, and artificial intelligence, but we are adamant that technology choices be driven by a deep understanding of the problem at hand. In order to deliver real-world impact, we rely on the following principles in our approach to new product and business development.
The user and their experience is frequently, and unfortunately, an afterthought in data-driven product development. We start with that desired experience, and bring appropriate technologies to bear in service to it.
In the complex and challenging domains in which we operate, the problem space must often be enlarged to have any hope of achieving the desired result. We always take a step back to think about the diverse forces that may be at work to encourage or inhibit change.
All too often, the data that is made available to address a problem is viewed as fixed, and obtaining the desired result can feel like squeezing blood from a stone. Before invoking sophisticated machine learning, we always look for ways to collect additional data, or otherwise augment our knowledge.
Fully-automated systems may get the attention, but systems that combine human and machine intelligence in thoughtful ways are often what gets the job done. We look to leverage the strengths of both kinds of cognition to create systems with capabilities that exceed what either can accomplish alone.
Artificial intelligence, fed by pervasive data collection and analysis, will undoubtedly change human society over the coming decades. Panoptic technologies might be used primarily to exploit populations and increase social inequality, but these powers can also be employed to better understand our world and empower communities to strengthen their social and economic well-being.
There is a real need for moral, intellectual, and economic leadership in this area, and the Data Guild is devoted to providing that leadership.
The venture ecosystem - Silicon Valley, in its global extent - has many blind spots: there are many kinds of projects that it routinely overlooks in its quest for black swans and unicorns. Rather than deep engagement with the messiness and complexity of domains such as climate change and clinical research, many startups are pressured to fail fast and pivot. And ventures that are explicitly conceptualized as "moonshots" often do their best to operate in a bubble, rarely engaging with the earthly concerns of regulation, social equitability, and sustainability.
The Guild seeks out the many opportunities that lie in these gaps. We know that solving some of the world's thorniest challenges will require a holistic, systems approach that embraces the nature of local communities, the current regulatory environment (if only to push for its evolution), existing business processes, and all of the other facts on the ground that allow a project to move beyond technology and into socioeconomic transformation.
Just as many problem domains are not well served by the mainstream tech economy, neither are many of its most talented and principled individuals. In particular, it is nearly impossible for a technologist to balance the need for a stable livelihood with the ability to work in areas of positive social impact and share in the upside and growth that these efforts might produce. In practice, each individual must optimize for one or two of these concerns, leading to an industry split between the secure-but-unfulfilled, and those following their ideals but struggling to provide for their families in spite of immense skill and motivation.
The Data Guild is providing a new option for technologists, under a model that explicitly balances compensation with moral agency, and the potential for significant equity gains with basic stability. While each of these dimensions can be maximized via other paths, the Guild is unusual in its ability to balance all four.
The founding teams we meet typically have deep domain expertise and technical skill. And while raising seed money isn't easy, finding capital usually is not the biggest hurdle. Instead, the biggest challenges are some mix of the following:
The Guild directly addresses all three of these challenges; we roll up our sleeves and work directly with founding teams to get their product into market. Plus we work for common equity, not cash, which means we're aligned for the long term.
It has become a truism that there is more money than good ideas, and more capital than existing asset classes can profitably absorb. The Data Guild is a new kind of organization, pioneering a new model for the co-creation of value. Like a venture fund, we convert LP capital into equity in a portfolio of new ventures. But like a startup, we apply our own efforts directly, rather than allocating capital. The result is an investment with a risk reward profile between that of an individual startup and traditional venture fund. Combined with our deep commitment to social and business impact in our focus sectors, The Data Guild provides a unique vehicle for investors to put their capital to work.
Rarely do purpose and prosperity intersect: technologists must routinely decide whether to follow their ideals, or provide a good living for themselves and their families.
The Data Guild is an organization specifically designed to balance these concerns, building and supporting new products and businesses that are economically successful - and that address the crucial challenges that human civilization faces in the coming decades.
We are always in search of T-shaped product and technology folk - from design to engineers to data scientists. If the current landscape is leaving you unfulfilled, we'd love to hear from you.
Executives charged with innovation, self-disruption, and new business creation are often painfully aware of the opportunities in their sector, but equally alert to the challenges and complexities presented by regulation, existing lines of business, and lack of internal capabilities.
For our strategic partners in energy, health care, and life sciences, The Data Guild provides a new path to innovation and growth. We balance responsiveness to business needs, a nuanced understanding of existing processes and constraints, the ability to navigate changing regulatory environments, and world-class design and technical ability. The result is a co-creation process that, for many projects, outperforms other paths to innovation - whether in-house or outsourced.