Trending: Regulation is coming: How startups should be thinking about data, security and privacy
Jay Bartot. Photo via Madrona Labs.

Madrona Labs, the “startup studio” housed inside of Madrona Venture Group, wants to focus on deeper, more technical startups — and now it’s getting some help from Jay Bartot to do so.

The veteran entrepreneur, who co-founded four startups over the past two decades, has joined Madrona Labs as its first CTO.

Bartot was most recently vice president of data and analytics at Hulu, where he arrived last year after the video streaming service acquired his photo-scanning app Vhoto. Before that, he was the senior vice president of technology for Alliance Health Networks, where he landed after the company acquired his startup Medify. Bartot also helped co-found Farecast, the airfare price predictor startup that was incubated inside of Madrona and was eventually acquired by Microsoft in 2008.

It was at Farecast where Bartot originally met Mike Fridgen, who is now CEO of Madrona Labs. The two kept in touch, and now are reuniting after nearly a decade.

“What’s compelling to me about Labs is that it systematizes the whole startup ecosystem, from ideation to idea vetting to validation to ultimately building prototypes, getting funding, and spinning companies out,” Bartot told GeekWire. “I’ve done it enough times over my career and learned tons of lessons about how to do things and how to not do things, so I’m very compelled at this stage in my career to be in an environment where I can spawn multiple ideas at once.”

Madrona Labs launched in December 2014 as an incubator of sorts that helps spin out new startup ideas quickly, taking ideas from “napkin to traction” by way of recruiting, product development, financial investment, and more.

The group has spun out three companies since then. They include Essential, an intelligent messaging startup; ReplyYes, a chat commerce platform; and Spare5, which pays people to spend their spare time performing short tasks on a smartphone.

Mike Fridgen.

Those startups all share a common theme: they utilize lightweight applications that were validated quickly for product market fit and consumer interest. That follows part of Labs’ original philosophy, which was to rapidly test new ideas, a small fraction of which would eventually turn into companies.

But now the 7-person studio is broadening its focus to deeper, more technical ideas for companies that can have a larger impact. The pivot was inspired in part by what happened to Spare5. The startup launched as a platform for people to perform small tasks that help businesses tag photos, update metadata for online merchants, and more.

Now, though, Spare5 has evolved into somewhat of an AI company, with customers using its technology to generate datasets that help train and test machine learning models.

“We want to be able to advance these ideas here at Labs while they are being built,” Fridgen explained. “Our thinking is maturing around some of the bigger opportunities.”

Fridgen said that the hiring of Bartot, who is also a veteran engineer of companies like Netbot, Sightward, and AdRelevance, is perfect timing. He called Bartot the “most innovative and creative engineering partner I’ve worked with.”

“We see all kinds of opportunities to go deeper with some of our technology projects,” Fridgen said. “A lot of the technology that Jay has experience with — whether it’s machine learning, computer vision, and more — are the areas where we want to be making longer-term investments and spin up companies where appropriate.”

Fridgen also said he’s excited about Bartot’s experience transitioning between startups and large companies, and hopes that the new CTO can provide valuable insight to entrepreneurs at Labs.

Bartot is interested in companies working with machine learning and AI technologies, which he said are “super hot right now.”

“We certainly want to be part of that movement at Labs,” he noted.

Bartot added that he’s also been a longtime fan of computer vision technology, even before he helped launch Vhoto.

“I’m very bullish about it,” he said. “I hope it’s time has come.”

Both Bartot and Fridgen said they are committed to growing this new startup studio model and have it “flourish in Seattle,” as Fridgen noted.

“It’s a new way for entrepreneurs to get connected and be apart of this tech and startup community,” Fridgen said. “We’re really inspired by the idea of working with these entrepreneurs to make these companies great.”

Madrona Labs was originally led by Greg Gottesman, the longtime managing director at Madrona who left that role last year to start a similar “startup studio” concept in Seattle by the name of Pioneer Square Labs.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.