It was a good ride for Magic AI. But Alexa Anthony’s love for horses and her desire to help owners of the animals use technology to better monitor them failed to ignite similar passion among investors. The Seattle startup is shutting down after 2 1/2 years.
In a Medium post over the weekend, and in a recent interview with GeekWire, Anthony shared the lessons and the heartache that she’s taking away from her first foray into startup life.
Magic AI started in June 2017 and relied on video cameras, artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning to keep an eye on horses in their stalls 24/7. The goal was for the tech — called StableGuard — to learn when the animals were exhibiting signs of stress or colic, and the idea was born when the former equestrian champion lost her beloved horse Magic in 2012.
Magic AI raised $1.2 million in an April 2018 seed round. But Anthony failed in her bid to raise a second $3 million round and said this week that no buyers had come forward for the company or the intellectual property.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of the buy in from the VC community that we thought we would,” Anthony said. “We went to a lot of VCs and the main feedback we got was the equine market’s too small. If your team’s not great or your solution’s not great or your tech isn’t great, you can fix all those things. It’s kinda hard to fix your market unless you go to a different one.”
After applying for and being accepted into the Techstars Agtech accelerator over the summer in St. Paul, Minn., Anthony wasn’t interested in a market she was being encouraged to pursue — livestock.
“I started the company to save horse’s lives,” she said. “As a vegan and animal rights advocate, it felt like I was starting to teeter on the tight rope of morality.”
Rather than head down the road of the “good, bad and ugly” of animal food production, Anthony decided to wind down the company of eight employees. And she came to grips with being among the majority who fail to make a startup into a success story.
“It’s hard. You hear that all the time, ‘Ninety-nine percent of startups fail,’” Anthony said. “But you never think, ‘That’s me.’ You always think you’re the 1 percent. Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it. … You feel so lonely. You feel like you’re the only person that didn’t succeed, and everyone else can figure it out, but why can’t you?”
Anthony, who pitched her idea during Season 1 of GeekWire’s “Elevator Pitch” business-plan competition (below), said she has found comfort in Seattle’s tech community and entrepreneurial friends who have gone through all the same challenges and ups and downs. The network has been helpful and she feels less alone.
She’s taking some coding and programming courses at the University of Washington, which she joked would make it easier to understand what her tech team is doing every day at her next company.
And she still thinks there is value in the Magic AI idea.
“I wonder if the timing wasn’t great, that people were still coming to terms with having video cameras around them all the time and monitoring their horses, but also them interacting with their workers and things like that,” Anthony said.
She has her entrepreneurial eye on a generation of horse owners growing up with tech and social media as a constant. People who would reason, “I’m always on my phone. Why wouldn’t I have video cameras monitoring my expensive horse?”