Englishman Phillip Astley is credited with creating the first circus in 1768 in England. A war-trained accomplished equestrian, he parlayed his advanced riding skills into a post Seven-Years War career when he opened a riding school where he rode his horses in a circle (a ring) rather than the traditional straight line which allowed him to use centrifugal force to perform advanced trick riding. He later added other riders, musicians, jugglers, clowns, tight rope walkers and acrobats and created the modern day circus. That format stayed largely unchanged for 200 years until contemporary circuses were created in the 1970’s. The most successful of those has been Cirque du Soleil which was created in 1984. 15 million people will see a Cirque show this year and they are approaching $1B in annual revenue.
While obviously wildly successful, it’s been more than thirty years since the Circus was disrupted. This summer, we met a couple of remarkable entrepreneurs who figure it’s time to change that. The moment we met Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman, we knew instantly that we wanted to be a part of what they were up to and last week we co-led a $6.5M Series A investment (along with our friends at Foundry Group) in Two Bit Circus, the circus of the future. At Techstars, nothing excites us more than meeting mission-driven entrepreneurs and these two define that. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Brent under the big-top with P.T. Barnum and Eric’s got both the imagination and roboticist chops to make Two Bit’s studio in LA the most amazing ideation lab we’ve ever seen. Most importantly, they’re both crazy enough to believe they can change the world.
Instead of sitting back and watching a circus, Brent and Eric believe that the experience should be completely participatory. Two Bit Circus is a modern tech-driven immersive circus encapsulating many components of the future of tech. Lasers, robots and virtual reality are just a taste of what they’re incorporating into their flagship STEAM Carnival this year which will be held at Pier 48 at AT&T Park in San Francisco next weekend (Nov 6-8). If you’re going to be in town, you don’t want to miss this! Use the coupon code “brent” for a few dollars off. You can get tickets here. I’m flying in for it and bringing my son. Hope to see you at STEAM!