Welcome to our Member Spotlight series where we give a profile overview of our many diverse members. For this deep dive, we spoke to Raj Singh, Managing Director, Investments at JetBlue Technology Ventures.
Tell us about the firm and what makes it different.
We are the venture capital group of JetBlue Airways and are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the airline. Our focus is on finding technologies that improve the end-to-end travel experience. There are few venture capital firms that focus exclusively on travel and that’s because historically, travel hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for investors. But we believe the environment has changed and have found significant and interesting opportunities across both travel and hospitality.
As far as we know, JetBlue Technology Ventures is the only dedicated venture capital fund of a U.S. based airline. We bring to the table a combination of expertise and money. We’re a strategically focused fund and aren’t looking for a huge exit per se, but rather a huge impact on our parent company – as well as on our ecosystem partners of other travel providers. When we talk to startups, it’s not just about bringing in JetBlue as a potential customer and an industry expert, it’s also about offering introductions to other travel providers and companies. That makes us quite different than other investors. We connect interesting startups with our ecosystem of partners, not necessarily for investment, but to work with.
Where did your firm’s name come from?
Well, given our parent company is called JetBlue Airways, it made the most sense to call ourselves JetBlue Technology Ventures – or JTV for short! The technology part of the name is important as we invest in startups at the intersection of travel and technology.
What defines your portfolio?
Our portfolio is exclusively about impact on travel, which for us includes aviation, hospitality, and ground transportation. A mandate for investment is that a startup could, in some capacity, become a supplier to JetBlue and/or our ecosystem partners. That might mean immediately or that might be an aspiration for five or more years out. But all of our investments are because we identify an operational or customer benefit to the technology.
How is the firm different today than when you first started?
We’ve grown a lot with regard to team size and presence. When I joined, we were five people in Silicon Valley and now we’re at twelve, including a few folks who sit at JetBlue’s headquarters in New York to manage our portfolio’s relationships across the airline. We’re also writing bigger checks and doing more deals and looking for more investments outside the United States. However, the premise and mission of JTV has not changed.
Why is your firm a part of the NVCA?
As a relative newcomer – JTV launched in early 2016 – being a part of the NVCA has been very useful as we’ve built out our network. We know (and enjoy) that venture capital is collegiate and a team sport, and we’ve been grateful for the connections made and conversations had through the NVCA and its events. There’s also been quite an uptick in corporate venture capital activity these past few years and with the support of the NVCA, it’s been important to help define accountability and best practices.
Tell us about the current VC landscape in your geography or region.
We’re located in Silicon Valley, which is like ground zero for venture capital. Currently, there is a huge amount of money that has been raised in VC funds and there’s much VC overhang, so valuations are at historical highs. The landscape is crowded with VCs and CVCs – there’s a lot of money out there chasing good deals – so we need to differentiate ourselves as investors in this market.
While JetBlue Technology Ventures doesn’t have billions of dollars to invest, we do have valuable expertise and connections throughout our focus industries. When we come to the table, it’s not with a very large sum of money, but rather because JetBlue can be a customer and because we can advise startups on what is a very complicated and regulated environment. We can offer assistance and a strategic partnership beyond the money. It’s a bit of a truism, every VC is going to tell you that, but if you look at the number of companies that are now suppliers to JetBlue and talk to startup CEOs about the help we provide, you’ll see we walk the walk.
What’s ahead for your firm in 2019/20?
This year, we expanded our emphasis across the East Coast and are thinking about Europe, specifically London and the UK. We rebranded one of our investment themes to directly call out hospitality as one of our key focuses. We want to improve the future of hotel experiences, customer service, alternative accommodations, and are looking for startups and ecosystem partners across those sectors to work with. We are on pace to do a similar amount of deals this year as we continue to diversify our portfolio and opportunity for strategic returns.
Cassie Ann Hodges serves as Director of Communications at NVCA where she leads NVCA’s strategic communications, branding and content development, and media efforts to better support and empower the venture community, startups, and entrepreneurs. She also oversees the NVCA StratComm Peer Group network and programming.