So it’s Thursday night, weather’s starting to get warm (even though today was… a tad chilly). What better way to start this up than by doing a live-style blog of the March Ultra Light Startups Investor Forum. It’s 6:50PM and we’re off and running already, sitting at Microsoft’s offices at 1290 6th (shoutout to MS BizSpark). Off we go!
6:50: And let’s introduce the judges. First up, David Aronoff from Flybridge Capital. He’s brought startups to Ultra Light multiple times and, as Graham Lawlor our host points out, the startups he’s brought to compete are undefeated. That’s called the whammy. Next, Gil Beyda at Genacast Ventures from Philly. Ed Sim at BOLDstart Ventures, a new seed fund, is doing enterprise in New York. Four exits within 2.5 years? Sounds good. Mark Wachen, of DreamIt Ventures and Upstage Ventures, just put money into high-tech vending machines in taxis. Why not? DreamIt’s May cycle deadline application is in May. Apply now.
6:58 Format discussion: 2 minutes startup pitch, 3 minutes Q&A from the panel, 3 minutes actionable advice from the panel. At the end, SurveyMonkey voting for your favorite panelist and startup. Startups, pizza, beers. That’s the day. Startup winner gets to pitch to NY Angels, DreamIt, ERA, $1,000 in AWS credits, and bootstrapping coaching. Panel award winner gets ego-boosting.
7:03 First up, Caleb at DegreeCast. You can search for education paths in different locations. All keyword searchable. They make money by sponsored results. Each sponsored click earns $16 from the company. So – panel asks: distribution? How? Similar strategies to Indeed where Caleb came from. Where’s the data from, how do you defend it? Content can be outdated and difficult to scrape. Aggregation infrastructure is their big advantage. Horizontal search engines, how do they compare? Evidently not well. It was compared to Noodle.
7:08 And the first advice comes. Figure out how to work the SEO so people get there organically. Check out the UI, why do your links take people off your site? Focus on lead generation. Healthcare is one of their big winner? Why not focus and build out specific industries? My take is there just wasn’t a big enough differentiation from any other search engine.
7:11 Hey Joe Regal from Zola Books, c’mon down! It’s a social network for eBooks. You can download anything from publishing houses and play them on any device. They make revenues from retailing. They’re also working on exclusive content (supposedly they have more then Amazon). They want 2mm on top of money they’ve already have, to get exclusive content. They’ve got trademarks and patent protection. Sounds like Amazon, GoodReads, and a few other things combined.
7:13 The reactions begin. You’re competing against goliaths, how do you even get on their radar when Amazon’s already winning? Retail 3.0 he says. Social seems to be pretty important. What about GoodReads? They partner with independent booksellers to bring people there too. A Spotify for books, borrowing them? He says good luck, traditional publishing companies won’t let their books sign up. I say, well, uh, what about non-traditional publishers? HAVE YOU HEARD OF HUGH HOWEY!?! C’MON! And the actionable advice: differentiate! What do customers cost? How would you do distribution? From an investor point of view, Gil’s terrified of Amazon. David’s confused on the messaging. Find one thing that REALLY separates them from competition. Focus.
7:21 Felix at Poutsch. Poutch is a German word, but the German woman next to me disavows all knowledge of it. It’s an opinion and question platform. Quora comes to mind immediately. You can ask a question then customize it and post it anywhere. You hold your own questions and opinions. See demographics on who answers what. They make money on promoted questions and premium accounts.
7:24. Right to the heart of it! What’s the problem you’re solving? Evidently people are reluctant survey takers, but they will answer a single question. At this stage, not only am I remembering Quora but also Facebook Questions. It’s pronounced “Pooch.” This is a confusing thing. It’s driving panelists crazy. Advice starts: change your name. Americans have limited vocabulary. Figure out the difference between a question and opinion. And Mark says don’t let it turn into a porno portal, or even worse, Chat Roulette.
7:28 Rohit is up to talk about Sverve. “Hello I’m Rohit I’m the CEO and co-founder of Sverve. My other co-founder is on the computer, where he should be.” Two points for you Glen CoCo (you go Glen CoCo). Sverve connects businesses with the right influencers to spread the word on the web. SaaS-based company. Sounds like Tidal off the bat. You start campaigns as a company, they have bloggers that apply to write about it. It’s specifically targeted at small biz.
7:31 Questions! What’s an influencer, how do you know? How do you get the bloggers and then customers? Influencers want to get more followers and money. Influencers are a community. Their actual influencer “ranking” if you will is based on followers, friends, and website rankings. How the hell is it priced? 50 bucks a month, huh? Brands end up paying bloggers seperately after that. Advice. Think about the name again. Prevent brands from going direct to bloggers. Think about how many people you need to get at 50/pop to be a big business.
7:38 Last pitch before the break, Domi Enders at Open Assembly. It’s digital learning source that everyone can afford. It lets you gather content as easily as an iTunes playlist. College students spent 20-40% of their college costs on textbooks? I think she means Taco Tuesdays. Many competitors but they have some real differentiating features that she doesn’t have time to get into. So how do students actually use it, asks the panel? It’s HTML based, can be used on any device. Are you guys a textbook company? What’s your one thing? A destination for teachers. A vertical strategy? Community colleges first, then a community of curators to get traction, and with librarians. I don’t know why librarians really matter nowadays, but yes, librarians.
7:43 Advice time. There’s supposed to be an interactive element? Emphasize it. Focus on one or two things. You’re making money on interactive textbooks? Get books, leverage other platforms, go. Some defensibility. She’s targeting community college, great start. Very intense competition though.
7:50 Sponsors! Sponsors are sponsors. But a sponsor totally unprepared for a pitch, that’s entertainment. Someone at Summit Service came up with nothing to say. Someone in the crowd yelled out “what do you do” a few minutes in. It was never heard and railroaded over. Pure comedy.
8:00 and we’re back. Dwelleo is up with Noah Smith. “Connect with your neighbors online” they say. No one’s nailed how to connect neighbors with each other. It’s a totally open group platform. You can set up a public group for your building but private group for owners. This one ran fast. Next Door does private communities, Dwelleo does both. But could Next Door change? Why not? It’s a social network, how do you build critical mass? Private beta is only in a dozen buildings. What are the value added services? It’s just a discussion board. It’s not hyper-local news, or anything like that. Revenue model is local biz can advertise on it. Yellowpages for ad words. So the end-goal is the recently launched MyTime, without the immediate appointment making. It’s an extremely fragmented market, how the hell do you unite it? Sounds tricky. Panel is generally down on him. Sorry dude.
8:09 Bernard from KISIBOX. They just won 35k last night from Fred Wilson. So, tons of things are locked. How do you share access to them? “I lost my keys” Bernard says, and then someone from the audience finds them and throws it. Audience engagement! KISIBOX shares the housekey in the smartphone. Manage all your keys and access online, like keycards in your phone. It could work with AirBNB, delivery services, etc. Sounds pretty cool to me. Question: what’s the hardware solution? What’s the hardware cost? How do you install it? Are alarm companies doing it already? Sounds like actual security concerns exist to me but he never covers it. Why did he sideswipe the single family homes question earlier? He said it’s already being done and it’s easy. It’s tough to figure out things like apartment buildings. What about “practical hurdles” like wifi coverage, no battery? How do you scale maintenance and service? Hardware meets software, especially on the phone. Cool. Ran a little long, but I like. It’s getting a vote.
8:17. Dan O’Sullivan from Rock the Deadline says “Hello Sharks” when he walks in. Wrong TV show. RTD is a universal marketing solution. How do you create quality content at scale? SaaS product that… I’m still not sure what it does yet. It has studios that do “idea management and creation at a team level.”
8:20 Question 1: I heard buzzwords. What problem are you solving? Agreed. The marketing tech stack presumes content exists. RTD helps you start with a blank piece of paper. Subscribers go into an industry vertical and lets users see what everyone else is doing. What should they be writing about? Idea generation. So it sounds like you give people an ability to look at industry specific stuff? I’ve been listening for 5 minutes and I still don’t know what’s going on. They look at gigantic RSS feeds and bubble up most relevant industry stuff to their clients. Gil said Dan needs a 30 second pitch to actually explain it. I’m not the only dumb one. Ed seconds the notion. I feel better.
8:26 David at MyHomePayge is up last. His website crashed 4 seconds into his demo. No good. Property managers are moving to online communication. These guys have relationships with them. They have some comprehensive free solution that everyone loves. Hyper-local advertising, financial tech, and lead gen. Now here’s one where I hate the name. He’s got some good energy though. It’s kinda similiar to Dwelleo as a communication model, but not amongst the neighbors but from property managers to their people. David has a portal his property manager uses and he loves them because they don’t spam and lead gen.
8:32 David just looked into this space! He’s informed! New York’s market is very different and how do you integrate with systems outside here? How do you drive utilization with renters when… they’re not going to want to go there and hang out? Figure out a way to defend it, if he’s successful people will rush in.
8:35 and It’s voting time. I voted for KISIBOX, Gil, and David. There were two other startups, but the only one I really liked was KISIBOX. I hope this isn’t Fred follower syndrome. There were some great people out there but I didn’t love their ideas. And now an introduction to BuzzTheBar. Richard Liang is helping you enter credit card info into your phone and order/pay for your drinks on it all night. Oh great, another way for me to spend money at bars. It was 30 seconds and I’m ready to vote this top 2 for startups tonight. Sponsors, bar locations, award recaps, annnnnnnnnd…
8:38 The Winners are. KISIBOX takes it home convincingly, Poutsch takes second, and and Joe at Zola Books wins 3rd. The Panel winner is David at FlyBridge. I guess he didn’t submit a startup but he at least takes the panel. That’s it. Goodnight.