Manish Patel: ‘Now is the exact right moment for Union’
The founder of VC Nava Ventures describes the big vision he sees for Union.ai.
Twenty twenty-three hasn’t started with a boom for venture capital — but to Manish Patel, this is the perfect moment for a tech revolution.
Manish’s San Francisco VC firm, Nava Ventures, led the Series A investment in Union.ai. To him, this is the perfect time for Union’s technology, and a perfect fit for Nava.
“Now is the exact right moment for Union,” Manish said. “We’re experiencing a Cambrian explosion in AI. Enterprises for the first time have the data, the workflows, tooling and importantly, the culture, to start to truly take advantage of the power of machine learning and AI more broadly. “
To create future generations of data-intensive AI products, Manish said, these enterprises need a robust platform to orchestrate all these elements — exactly what Union and its Flyte engine provide. “Union is the spine upon which an enterprise can build a powerful set of capabilities to take advantage of their data and workflows,” he said. “The platform is a force multiplier for the average engineer.”
This expansive vision contrasts with current headlines about VCs hesitating to invest amid economic worries. According to a recent report by Crunchbase, global VC funding dropped 53% in Q1 2023. To Manish, history is on the side of investment. “When great people meet great markets, magical things happen,” he said. “If you think about Silicon Valley, HP was famously built during the Great Depression, which was probably one of the worst times to think about company building. But those moments are when transformative companies get formed. They get hardened and steeled, and then they can accelerate and grow as the economy rebounds.
“This is one of those unique moments in the macro economy when unique companies get created. While many sectors of the startup world may be slowing, the AI sector hasn’t even reached the peak of a hype cycle.”
Open source for the win
Manish speaks from experience. His own career journey started in the early days of Google, coming out of the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, where he was instrumental in the creation of the company’s core products. Like Google’s services, he can see Union’s technology become seamless and ubiquitous; and unlike Google, Union tech is built on open source, which Manish predicts will “win the day.”
“When you look at where innovation is really going to happen, the game-changing technologies are going to evolve through open-source communities, and through companies that know how to build and then nurture those communities. And the folks at Union are specifically tuned to that.”
Union.ai: ‘An A+ team’
“Nava is an early-stage venture capital firm that was built from the ground up to fit the needs of the modern entrepreneur,” Manish explained. “We seek to partner with those entrepreneurs who reflect our core values of kindness, truth and hustle.
“We look to invest in companies that have founder-market-fit,” he continued. “We ask our founders to tell us a secret about a market and look to work in markets that can support hundreds of billions of value over time even if those markets might be smaller today.”
When Manish met Union CEO Ketan Umare and the rest of the team, he recognized a company that embodied those qualities. “You see a lot of A+ individuals, but it's rare to see an A+ team. The first time I met the founding team, I flew up to Seattle and had lunch with them at this little Thai restaurant down the street from their office. And they just kept finishing each other's sentences!
“It was beyond technology, technical acumen and beyond product vision. They had a true rhythm. Because they have worked together for so long and have thought so deeply about this problem, they can speak with such a clear voice That’s special, especially when you're building a deeply technical company,”