Written by Nigel Toon
Posted Nov 16, 2017
I am thrilled to announce that we have just closed a $50 million Series C funding round with Sequoia Capital. This is on top of the $60 million we had already raised in our Series A and Series B rounds over the last 18 months. We’re not obsessed with raising money; we’re obsessed with who we work with – our customers, our team, our partners and our investors.
As a founder and CEO in a young company you probably spend most of your time working on three things:
- spending time at potential customers to understand whether you are solving a real problem that is urgent and valuable to them
- hiring the best staff who add value to the team and helping everyone work together collaboratively to achieve the company goals
- and attracting funding from firms that can really help and support you to grow
Our investors need to be close partners who work with us to build the company. We need to have a common vision of what we are trying to achieve and on the scale of our ambition. Do they want a quick exit or are they in for the long term to build a company that can grow and float on a major public market exchange in an IPO?
In the formative years of your company you really need to find investors that share your passion and vision and who can help you grow. Ideally you want investors who are experienced, bring a vast network of connections, and who can add real value. Certain venture capital firms stand out as a result of their track record in building great companies. We are lucky to be working with many of these venture firms already, alongside some very important strategic investors. However, perhaps there is one firm that stands out even more - Sequoia Capital.
Sequoia Capital is based in the heart of Silicon Valley and do not often make investments in Europe as they have so much opportunity in their own back yard. They have been the early private investment partner behind many of the world’s most successful technology companies: Apple, Oracle, Nvidia, Yahoo, Google, YouTube, PayPal, Instagram, WhatsApp, AirBnB, to name just a few. Their track record of successful company building is stunning.
As the Series A investor in Nvidia back when it was a startup, Sequoia clearly understand the potential for new processors that accelerate important workloads, recognizing early the need for a separate processor to do graphics processing, and supporting the company through to its IPO in the 2000. Sequoia also realize the importance of Machine Intelligence and how this will completely reshape computing.
Over the last year, several companies have approached them with new architectures for hardware aimed at AI. Sequoia started to look in detail at the market to understand the potential and what customers needed. They were able to leverage their network of top companies – many of which they had helped to create, and many run by people that they had worked with before. What they heard surprised them – prospective customers definitely thought that a new approach was required and that the current architectures, including CPUs and GPUs, don’t match up to what is needed going forward. They also thought that some of the US and China based companies that they were looking at were interesting, but they asked Sequoia, have you looked at Graphcore? As they spoke to more and more people, Graphcore’s name kept coming out at the top of people’s lists.
As a result, Sequoia reached out and I dropped by their offices on Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley to talk about what we are doing at Graphcore. Afterwards we signed an NDA and met up a number of times over the last few months and dived into much more detail. A team from Sequoia also jumped on a plane and came to spend time with us in Bristol. We were ranking high on all of their due diligence metrics.
Obviously I had heard of Sequoia but we had not worked together before so I started my own due diligence on them. I spoke to companies they were currently invested in and I spoke to people at companies that had been supported by Sequoia and were now major players. The feedback was totally consistent – Sequoia are tough, they will challenge and push you harder than anyone to achieve more than you were originally planning, but they will also support you more too. I learnt about their network and the types of introductions and connections that they can make at the highest levels, how they can help us to hire great people and if our plan is to build a company that can grow and can IPO, then this is the firm to work with – if you get the chance.
So over the last few weeks Graphcore and Sequoia Capital have worked together on a scale-up business plan and on a funding plan which will allow us to grow more quickly and to support our prospective customers more deeply as we bring products to market. We have set out some clear objectives and have full support from our brilliant existing financial and strategic investors.
It turns out you don’t need to be sitting in Silicon Valley to attract the world’s best investors. However, you do need to have a really compelling technology that prospective customers are keen to use. You need a great team that have the experience and ability to bring this technology to life. You need a clear vision that is shared amongst your staff and with your partners, and where everyone is working collaboratively to achieve a common set of goals. And, you need to possess the ambition to want to build the next leader in tech, a company that can scale, can IPO on a major public market exchange, and which can go on to lead in a new, multi-billion dollar market category.
At Graphcore we are committed to making our Intelligence Processors the standard for a new era of computing, letting innovators create the next breakthroughs in AI and Machine Intelligence. Having the opportunity to partner with Sequoia Capital on this mission is awesome.
Written by Nigel Toon
Posted Nov 16, 2017