Viewpoint / Enterprise

The Rise of the AI Cognitive Plumbing Layer

As the AI era moves from early adopters to the enterprise, I see the plumbing layer rising again.

Mayfield’s conviction in infrastructure investments began 25+ years ago, as I have been a believer in the power of plumbing to help consumers and businesses realize the benefits of technology waves. During the Web era, I joined a long line of tech industry school dropouts to co-found my first company in 1996 with my PhD advisor at Stanford University. VXtreme made it possible to stream video over the Internet, and after its acquisition by Microsoft, endures as Windows Media. While at Microsoft, I invested in Akamai, which delivered infrastructure to scale the Web.

In 2014, as the cloud era got into full swing, Mayfield partnered with Armon Dadgar and Mitchell Hashimoto, the open source superstar founders of HashiCorp, whose mission was to elevate the devops professional with a simple and comprehensive multi-cloud infrastructure platform. HashiCorp’s public offering in December 2021 valued the company at $15 billion, and it continues to power major cloud-based businesses today. Over the last decade, we have partnered with many bold enterprise founders including those at CloudSimple, CloudGenix, Elastica, Gigya, Portworx, NUVIA, Rancher, StorSimple, and Volterra who successfully realized their mission to cloudify the world.

As AI shifts from early adoption to widespread enterprise use, the importance of the “plumbing layer” is resurgent. The transformative potential lies in four layers of the tech stack: models/middleware/tools, data, infrastructure, and semiconductors/systems. The breakthrough of GenAI is in elevating humans by providing a natural language interface and doing cognitive tasks — an era I think of as AI+Humans = Human Squared. In this context, cognitive plumbing unlocks the easy creation of agents, applications, and services that can be built on the foundational technology.

Looking forward to partnering with many more cognitive plumbers of the AI age — we are People-First investors with over $1.1B in capital for new early-stage investments who are excited to guide your inception-to-iconic journey.


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