This is the inaugural edition of our new founder stories series, where we shed some light on the people behind the startups and projects we back. At its core, early stage investing boils down to betting on the founders and this series aims to showcase some of the people we have chosen to support over the years.
At Woodstock, our primary thesis has been around investing in emerging technologies — currently in the foundational networks of the DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology) space, which would go on to support entire decentralized ecosystems. We have made early investments in Layer 1s, DeFi protocols, NFT platforms and asset tokenization platforms. With Covalent, we believe that we are advancing into a category that cuts across both DLT and fintech space.
But before we get to that, our story takes us to the mighty Himalayas.
An entrepreneur of Indian origin took to the great mountain ranges in search of clarity and direction. The crypto boom of 2017 and the equally spectacular bust in early 2018 had knocked the wind out of Ganesh Swami’s conviction in the space.
But the young fold mountains of India have a mysterious way of refilling spiritual energies and providing clarity of mind. Ganesh, in his own chronicling of this phase of his life, had to make a choice between keeping Covalent running or shutting it down and doing something else. And he, along with his co-founder Levi Aul, chose to keep the Covalent journey alive.
His clarity of thought was this — the dollar price of Ether and other DLT networks are going to be inconsequential in the long run. The use-case and traction of networks like Ethereum and the unstandardized nature of data generated from these blockchains showed early signs of a huge problem to be solved in this space. The subsequent DeFi and NFT boom just proved his point.
And around this time, is when our paths crossed with the Covalent journey.
A data-backed conviction
Over the last two years, the rate of innovation in the DLT space has considerably sped up. While decentralized finance was always a discussion point while making a case for blockchain, it truly came into its own during the summer of 2020. The same is happening with NFTs now. Furthermore, the emergence of popular base chains also meant the emergence of these ecosystems outside of Ethereum.
This makes the need for data analysis all the more important. The DLT space was all of a sudden generating a tremendous amount of data. The Ethereum blockchain, for instance, went from 0 to 4 TB in less than 5 years, and it’s growing exponentially because of the millions of users interacting with DeFi and NFT products. This is only going to compound as these ecosystems emerge on other chains.
Ganesh says, “If blockchain-based products are to become attractive to mainstream users, the builders should be able to analyze blockchain data without having to invest considerable resources in trying to make sense of highly unstructured and unstandardized data.”
This conviction shone through when we first interacted with Ganesh. Founding partner Himanshu Yadav, who had an initial interaction in late 2019 with Ganesh says, “In the crypto space, it is quite unusual to meet an entrepreneur who has a clear idea of product market fit this early on, but you could see that Ganesh and the Covalent team were already thinking along those lines. It is even more unusual to see robust and proven revenue models for a DLT product, and Covalent had that too. This, coupled with a very strong conviction on the problem and a well thought out and scalable solution made Covalent a very compelling proposition for us.”
Founding partner Pranav Sharma says, “When you speak with Ganesh, what comes across instantly is that he is a good entrepreneur. I was to have a short chat with him to acquaint myself with the team and the vision, but it ended up being a really long conversation around how Covalent interacts with Enterprise stack of frontend systems and back-end systems as a middle-ware business intelligence solution. The clarity was really compelling and they already had the traction to prove that we were looking at something special here. And though they didn’t have all the answers at that time, the clarity of thought with respect to the market fit gave us a lot of confidence to back the Covalent Team.”
A new category of company in crypto
Over the past decade, the amount of innovation in the crypto space has been relentless. However, we are still in search of mainstream adoption and very few categories in this space have achieved it. Until now, this was mainly crypto exchanges and custody providers. With Covalent, we could be looking at a new category of company focussing on data, indexing and analytics solutions and applications that have mainstream appeal and a robust revenue model.
“If you look at most of our portfolio companies, you will notice that they have a high potential revenue model. This is very important for long-term success. While the token model also unlocks great value, there is no greater sign for an early-stage startup than to have paying customers in the bootstrapped phase,” says Pranav.
Our first conversation with Ganesh was primarily for an equity raise. “We were quite interested in participating in the equity raise,” says Himanshu. “But given the nature of the companies that would benefit from using Covalent, there was a strong token utility that was emerging and great value could be unlocked through token specific models as well. And of course, there’s always the network effects that come into play when you have a strong token model.”
“During the early discussion with Covalent, Ganesh would often refer to similar companies, with a strong API business model getting acquired by giants like Amazon,” says Pranav, “so the long term path was always there and it was a very strong story on the equity side as well. Now with the token model, you also have new possibilities for revenue and growth along with the API model.”
The other exciting thing about Covalent was that they had bootstrapped traction. “I think it is very refreshing to see projects like Covalent which not only have a proper working product, but also early revenue. These are still very early days in crypto and DLT, but the traction that Covalent already had was highly encouraging,” says Himanshu.
As it stands today, Covalent has over a 100 customers and has indexed 8 full blockchains. They are running several go-to-market programs with these blockchains and they have assembled a formidable 25 member team, who are experts from the traditional database technologies, crypto startup veterans, marketing, and community leaders.
The emergence of the Data Indexing Space
It’s the year 2025.
Ethereum 2.0 (all 64 shards), Layer 2 scalability solution like Matic, Loopring, optimistic roll-ups, etc, layer-1 solutions like Elrond, Casper, Near, Solana, Polkadot, Harmony, Avalanche, and many more are all shipped and running and interoperable. There will be an enormous amount of data that will be handled and processed, opening up the opportunity for structured data capturing and analysis frameworks.
As investors in DLT infrastructure, we are beginning to see the emergence of the data indexing and on-chain analytics space. Following our investment in Covalent, we have also led an early-stage investment Unmarshal, another exciting prospect in this space. “We think this space is going to become even more important in the coming months. There are at least 5–10 new public chains with exciting traction and indexing that data and making data analysis across chains seamless and simple is going to be very important” says Himanshu.
“I think in this early stages of the space, there are going to be at least three to five good players in this space and we’re happy to be backing some of the best names in this space already. As a VC, we’re always looking for a good problem and market fit, and I think data indexing is at the cusp of an inflection point,” says Pranav.
While the recent fundraising announcement makes Covalent exciting for the DLT ecosystem, on the whole, backing these projects at an early stage requires foresight and a little bit of luck. But what stood out to us with our Covalent journey so far are the founders. This is a highly qualified team, excellent foresight into an emerging category, ahead of the curve traction, and a comprehensive, near bulletproof product.
We are excited for the next phase of the Covalent journey and this space is just getting started.
We’re also launching our detailed investment thesis for Covalent in the coming weeks. Drop your email here if you’d like it in your inbox (we promise to not spam) — http://eepurl.com/hmGZM1