Startup factory Redstar Ventures trims staff, narrows focus

Redstar Ventures co-founder and CEO Jeet Singh, in 2012.
Redstar Ventures co-founder and CEO Jeet Singh, in 2012.

Turns out that it is just as hard as you’d think to build multiple startups simultaneously.

A Cambridge incubator founded in 2011, Redstar Ventures, has narrowed its focus to just one new business a year, co-founder Jeet Singh tells me. That’s down from their initial goal of christening three new startups every year. Operating at that pace “was really hard — it was just too much,” Singh says.

Currently, Redstar is focused on just one idea, a marketplace for home healthcare services called Lindy. And Redstar president and co-founder Matt Beecher has departed.

Singh says that Redstar has always been driven by societal changes like the aging population and under-employment. But in its first few years of existence, the firm “went really far into doing research — maybe too far,” Singh says. The approach now is more of a balance between researching opportunity areas and building product quickly to see how users respond.

The biggest startup that Redstar has spawned thus far is Third Channel Media, with about 30 employees. It helps consumer products companies create networks of freelance “agents,” who can provide on-the-ground marketing support for their products as well as gather intelligence about what is happening in stores. Third Channel is now occupying Redstar’s former office in Kendall Square, and Redstar has moved into Third Channel’s smaller digs.

Several of Redstar’s “development directors,” who helped research business ideas and then lay the foundation for startups, left in 2015 and 2016, including Adam Weisman, Molly Cross, and Mike Joslin. Singh says that Redstar is down to about seven employees from a high of a dozen. He said that George Plesko, a former Redstar designer who was acquired into Nanigans with the social commerce startup LoopIt in 2014, has rejoined Redstar to work on Lindy.

One startup launched in 2013, an online wine club called Vinely, has since been shut down. Former CEO Bill Wittenberg explains by e-mail, “Vinely’s field metrics didn’t live up to the pilot data, and we all realized that while it probably would have been a good business it was never going to be a great business.”

I mentioned Redstar in a 2014 roundup of local incubators trying to cultivate multiple businesses simultaneously. Redstar co-founders Singh and Joe Chung previously started ATG, an e-commerce software company that was acquired by Oracle in 2010 for $1 billion.

Redstar isn’t the only local incubator that has decided to put all its efforts into getting one business at a time off the ground; Blade, founded by alumni of the travel site Kayak, did the same thing in 2015.

(Disclosure: I’ve occasionally emceed events at Redstar’s downstairs performance space, Redstar Union, most recently in 2013. Redstar Union suffered extensive water damage last fall when firefighters responded to a blaze at Flattop Johnny’s next door, and has not yet been repaired.)

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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