You can’t always get to a deal.
The day Alessya Visnjic walked in our front door at defy is still vivid in my mind because we could not get a deal done. It was a sunny day in Woodside and it was my partner Madison’s first day at the firm. We had just been introduced to Alessya’s company, WhyLabs, by our friends at Madrona, Matt, and Tim. She was looking for a partner in her seed round that was based in the valley who could help her build her team and grow her platform. We realized almost immediately that Alessya was a force of nature and that she didn’t need much help. So, we resorted to the always classic venture capital move of not letting her leave the office without a handshake — something we have perfected over the years. To our dismay, Alessya was only able to offer us a thank you and told us that she had a lot of firms to choose from in her ‘seed’ round but if we made some strong intros perhaps we would be the one lucky investor. So, we went to work and made introductions to some great people and companies including one of our largest, Airspace who quickly became a customer. Ultimately, we were fortunate that the WhyLabs founders chose us to participate in their seed round which was likely driven, in part, by our willingness to help where it counts — with customers.
Fast forward a couple of years and Alessya, Sam Gracie and Andy Dang have built the world’s leading AI Observability platform which allows companies to run healthier AI models with more certainty. This, in turn, has led to a better customer experience. Our firm has believed ML Ops and AI will transform the world as we know it. Within this broader thesis, we believe enabling platform technologies like WhyLabs are critical in unlocking every enterprise’s ability to execute on its goals. Beyond best-in-class technology, Alessya also pulled off the impossible — she persuaded a successful VC, Maria Karaivanova to leave the ‘dark side’ and return to operations where she had already helped build companies like CloudFlare from its earliest days. Maria and Alessya developed a personal relationship as investment partners that we believe is fundamental to all successful investments and teams.
Having raised seed financing, managed through a pandemic and expanded her team, Alessya had one last mountain to climb: becoming a mom for the first time. In the midst of it all, she welcomed her daughter into the world and was subsequently named CEO of the year by Geekwire just a few months later. All remarkable accomplishments, which make our decision to lead WhyLabs’s series A round which was announced today in partnership with the AI Fund and our longtime friends Andrew Ng and Perry Wu pretty obvious. Our focus at defy is to lead rounds of financing. However, when we do the occasional seed it is to work with great partners and back only the best entrepreneurs and hopefully lead their first significant institutional round when it happens. This approach allows us to be supportive through multiple rounds of financing, provide real help to our portfolio, and has led us to ownership positions of 17.5% on average in our eight highest-valued companies.
Sometimes entrepreneurs like Alessya make this a pretty easy job because WhyLabs is truly a defy deal on every level: an amazing team going after a massive market, introduced to us by friends, and where we can actively provide value and prove our worth as investors. She is a leader who knows no bounds and we get to work with the best people in the industry to support the company long term. Thank you to Alessya, Maria, Sam, and Andy for allowing us to be your partners. We could not close the deal the first day we met you but we are so thankful you gave us the opportunity to prove our worth to you. We are so incredibly lucky and blessed to be working with you and we are amazed at the trail you have blazed to date. We are but your humble servants and we appreciate the partnership as we look forward to the incredible road ahead for WhyLabs.
Onwards and Upwards,
Neil and the Defy Team