The Story Behind Haystack’s Investment in Nominal

This is gonna be a fun backstory to recount. It’s not often we get the chance to collaborate with so many industry friends around one opportunity, but this story presents just that.

Years ago, our friend Bilal from Lux put us in touch with a would-be founder who had logged time both at Lux Capital and Anduril Technologies, and also two startups that Haystack is proud to be an early investor in, Saildrone and Applied Intuition. Cameron McCord stood out immediately from Bilal’s recommendation, as well as countless startup colleagues who remarked similarly about him.

Around this time, my current partner Aashay was just getting acclimated to venture and Haystack itself, and he struck up a friendship with Cameron. Lucky for Haystack, that friendship gave us a deeper view into Cameron’s entrepreneurial vision, and ultimately commenced a chase for us to be an early investor in his new company, Nominal, which comes out of stealth today.

Today, Nominal makes exciting announcements that you can read about on Bloomberg or here. You can also check out Nominal’s website. Nominal’s mission is to empower hardware engineers with the best software to develop, validate, and monitor their hardware’s performance. They also unveil their funding, with a seed round from a few years ago led by Lux Capital, and today’s Series A announcement led by General Catalyst. Haystack is honored to be an investor in every round to date and alongside friends at Founders Fund, XYZ Ventures, Box Group, Human Capital, and Overmatch.

While it was easy to get conviction in someone like Cameron as a future builder and leader, parlaying that reputation and expectation into a real technology company is not a given. It says something about Cameron’s own personal constitution that he has yet to make any public announcements until today — true to character, one of many indelible attributes of Cameron’s leadership is speak softly but with purpose. Put another way, he wanted to wait on making an announcement until he had the core team set up, had a product out in live use, and ultimately has something to show for all of his promise and his team’s promise.

Let’s not gloss over the strength of the co-founding team, either. Cameron is great, sure… but co-founders Bryce and Jason bring incredibly deep and complementary experiences to the table, ranging from software systems at Palantir to gnarly embedded systems at Lockheed Martin, and more. While we were initially tracking Cameron in the wild (and a huge thanks to my partner Aashay who did this over many years!) after he left two Haystack portfolio companies, as we spent more time with the whole co-founding team, the opportunity became even more exciting to us.

Team only gets you so far, though. What about the category? Today, investing in dual-use technologies is arguably the hottest market for venture capital investment. For Haystack, though, we strive to invest ahead of the curve rather than during the wave itself. That ethos has led us to make seed investments in a wide-ranging selection of frontier software plays such as nTop, Applied Intuition, and Adyton, as well as frontier hardware plays such as Saildrone, Elroy Air, Hadrian, and many others that have yet to be announced. Nominal fits a classic Haystack play focused on “picks and shovels” under a new guise – Nominal is, at its core, a software tool and infrastructure company focused on testing, validation, and monitoring complex industrial systems.

Ultimately, what stands out to me most is Cameron’s leadership qualities not just as a co-founder and leader of his team at Nominal, but his leadership ability in the broadest sense of the term. For the longest time, Cameron has known he’s wanted to start a company. Along the way, he has intentionally acquired unique experiences not just inside startups like Applied Intuition or Saildrone, and not just inside institutions like Lux Capital or Harvard Business School.

What isn’t reflected in Cameron’s LinkedIn profile is the lineage of Navy service-men and -women that he hails from – many folks in Cameron’s family have logged real time on the open ocean or underwater on various submarines. Perhaps this is where Cameron’s leadership style was forged, deep below the ocean surface, where he logged nearly 500 days total inside a submarine as part of his national service. I’d imagine living underwater forces one to be incredibly patient, to hone a planning mindset, and to be intentional about every step. When lots of young startup founders are drawn to the bright shiny lights of today’s renewed interest in defense and industrial markets — and note, it is very exciting! – Cameron is able to lead from a place of long-term intentionality for company building that was undoubtedly forged by the darkness and weight of living a life submerged. Now as he comes to the surface for air, we are confident he and the team will achieve big things. It’s all just a matter of time.