Our Investment in Sofar

by Lindel Eakman

At Foundry, we care deeply about the planet. As hikers, runners, cyclists, skiers, sailors, and anglers, we love to play in the mountains and the oceans. We depend on the outdoors for not just recreation, but for the replenishment that time in nature can provide. 

Our engagement in the outdoors and our involvement and support of environmental organizations has led us to closely follow a new wave of for-profit technology companies working to solve major climate challenges. We’ve monitored many of these companies as our network of partner funds began investing in climate- related entities. We’ve now invested in two companies directly, teaming with our partner funds as they identify some of the most compelling opportunities. Our latest, Sofar Ocean, is a great example of our network model at work.

From its San Francisco offices, Sofar is driving oceanographic research and shipping industry efficiency through its worldwide network of ocean sensors that provide data on currents, weather, water temperature, and a host of other metrics. Sofar’s subscription- based data products provide access to information on all five of the planet’s oceans. Their customers include hundreds of climate and ocean scientists, more than a dozen global shipping carriers, and international government agencies that leverage its IoT- enabled ocean intelligence platform for applications including: climate research; fuel-efficient ocean mobility; offshore energy site and risk assessment; weather models and forecasting; and protection of coastal communities and local economies.

Sofar is run by four co-founders and led by CEO, Tim Janssen, who merged ocean wave measurement platform, Spoondrift, with underwater drone manufacturer, Open ROV, in 2019. The co-founders are scientists and entrepreneurs with complementary backgrounds in software, engineering, and oceanography. They are deeply committed to solving environmental problems with data. 

“At Sofar, we aim to deliver large-scale ocean data to accelerate climate insights….Ocean data and insights are increasingly critical for successful climate mitigation and adaptation…. Over the last few decades, with advances in IoT [Internet of Things] technology and distributed sensing, we’ve become great at collecting data at scale on land and in space. Oceans are now the last frontier….Our mission is to build a more sustainable future powered by ocean intelligence.”

Sofar’s data network and software offerings combine a number of our themes that we’ve seen across our portfolio. We have a long history of working with hardware- enabled software through our HCI theme. Our comfort with the hardware element (ocean sensors) got us excited about the data network and the offerings that could be built on top of it. Sofar’s ocean and weather data as a service offering naturally fits into our Glue theme, enabling other applications and software to be built on top of it. Their initial vertical product, Wayfinder, dynamically optimizing routes for the shipping industry, is a subscription- based enterprise software that we are very familiar with from a go-to-market perspective. Through this, we were able to look at Sofar through the lens of our themes and portfolio experience in combination with the signal offered by our network.

We were introduced to Sofar by Jon Callaghan of True Ventures. We, in turn, introduced Sofar to another partner fund, Union Square Ventures that is investing alongside us in this round. We’ve invested with True and USV across a large portfolio of companies over the life of our respective firms (We joke that Foundry, investing alongside True and USV, creates a “trifecta of goodness”. At least we like to think so!) On its own, we found Sofar’s thesis compelling, but the additional signal provided by our partners solidified our conviction around the investment. We are delighted  to join them in support of Sofar’s mission to deliver a new level of ocean intelligence to the market.