Our first-ever portfolio company Presto (fka E la Carte) announced today that it intends to go public by merging with hospitality-focused SPAC Ventoux. It’s a great moment for a team that has persevered and ultimately thrived through the restaurant industry’s transformational journey over the past few years. Now is the most exciting time in our history: Presto’s labor productivity-enhancing technologies are in hot demand with restaurants across the country as they struggle with post-COVID labor shortages that are becoming permanent fixtures of the industry: a narrative we all recognize from our favorite daily media sources.
I am a part of the Presto team. When I started our venture capital firm out of MIT in 2008, Raj was the kind of founder I envisioned REMUS working with: a very sharp, first-generation immigrant founder educated at world-class engineering schools (in Raj’s case, Waterloo and MIT), with highly entrepreneurial instincts, world-changing ideas, and an interminable work ethic. His idea was my first investment, and in December 2008 I was his first $100K check. He was effectively our first Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and our incubator/office space was The Asgard, the local pub next to MIT where Raj worked as a waiter and trialed the first versions of Presto’s technology (and I helped write trivia questions). Our journeys out of MIT are indelibly intertwined, and the work we did together in those early years was foundational for both of our firms.
Raj and I have lived a thousand lives in the intervening 13 years, but we are still both working just as hard as we did on the MIT campus and still chat nearly daily; the only difference is that while we struck our original deal over Gchat, we now use WhatsApp (he also now happens to have a lovely wife and 2 incredibly cute kids – time flies!). We were Presto’s first investor then, and today we are its largest shareholder across various entities.
Presto is the quintessential REMUS company, emblematic of many of our firm’s core operating principles and vision. I am always in search of more entrepreneurs who can relate to these:
- We seek to be contrarian and are most excited about investing when others are not, when the opportunity is not obvious.
- We love rebellious technical founders from world-class technical universities like MIT and Waterloo.
- We strive to be exceptional partners across the journey, even 13 years after the first check. We are always there for our companies, whether by winning customers, crushing competitors, hiring executives, enabling fundraising, or crafting strategy. We build; we do not bet.
- We are believers in the massive opportunity digital transformation is creating, in every large vertical, and we want to back companies that can become platform – rather than point – solutions.
- We are passionate about the best product- and technology-led companies, even if in the presence of competitors with better commercial relationships or presence at the origin.
This deal represents what the SPAC instrument is best designed to do, in my opinion. An industry-focused sponsor is partnering with a market leader to take advantage of particular dislocation and momentum in time and market. The combined entity will have certain advantages in the public markets that private markets do not afford.
Perhaps if we ever find ourselves in the corner of a Presto-enabled Cambridge pub or Silicon Valley restaurant, I can relay the backstory of how this deal came to be. In the meantime, I can only say I am truly thrilled to embark upon the next chapter of the Presto-REMUS journey with an exceptional management team and board that I am excited to chair. I wonder what chat app we will use a few years from now!