By episode three, we’re halfway through TechStar’s three-month cycle and you know what that means: pivot time! Fred Wilson get some serious screen time, offering real talk on which startups–and founders–have a chance to succeed. This week, the prize is huge: a meeting at Twitter HQ in San Francisco with CEO Dick Costolo. OnSwipe has an ego problem, Homefield is too focused on the hustle, and ToVieFor is about this close to stepping on a landmine.
The VCs Play Poker
Unlike some people (ehem, Hurricane Melanie, the producers seem to be saying), UrbanApt has absorbed the mentors’ advice and pivoted. Yipit’s Vinnie Vicanti told them to use the users “additional data they didn’t know about” to “add a ton more value” and so they have. “They came in wanting to build Yelp for apartments, which was a terrible idea,” says David Tisch. Mr. Wilson still has some concerns, “I’m worried that the value to the user is high, but the monetization opportunity is somewhat low.”
But David Cohen is betting on CEO Caren Maio. “I would invest in a percentage of her career, I don’t know if it’s this company, but she’s going to get there with something.” Mr. Wilson seems tickled. “It’s a new model in the venture business!” Mr. Tisch is in too. “This has been my pitch for a long time. They do that in poker–you take a percentage of someone’s career earnings and you’re trading that with other top players.” After deciding what name not to go with (Roof Nest, Bungahole!), UrbanApt is now Nestio.
‘Mo Ego, ‘Mo Problems
TechStars’ Andy Sacks is in from Seattle and not happy with OnSwipe’s Jason Baptiste. “OnSwipe? Arrogant. Holy smokes arrogant.” The two play some kind of a founder/advisor game of chicken during the mentorship session and Mr. Tisch is having problems relating to Mr. Baptiste personally. Maybe he saw the animated version of the Davids Mr. Baptiste was playing around with on his laptop. The robotic voiceover mimics the mentors saying, “Hello I am David Tisch. I like hoodies, your pitch sucks. I am David Cohen: Do more faster.” Mr. Wilson dismisses OnSwipe as a bridge solution, hanging his head in his hands when he hears there’s no way to get to a webpage off the service. But Mr. Cohen seems more convinced. “You don’t want to be impressed, but you are.”
I’m a Hustla, Imma Imma Hustla
Homefield pivots out of the sports and into the crowded online video market, which worries the mentors as their competitors are farther along, but Mr. Wilson thinks it’s too late in the game to change course again. Mr. Tisch seems to have his doubts about CEO Reece Pacheco. “What’s the split in Reece between pure hustler and someone who is going to create an elegant solution and then hustle to execute it?” But Mr. Pacheco doesn’t seem concerned. He tries a practice pitch on Homefield by saying, “We sold that to ESPN recently . . . Not really, but we will.”
When Your Mom Can’t Remember Your Name
Last week’s winner Wiji is now Immersive Labs, but Mr. Tisch wonders about founder and CEO Jason Sosa’s difficulty getting his futuristic video technology, which makes billboards smarter by telling you exactly is viewing it, deployed, even for free. But he has nothing but praise for its technologist, who doesn’t look to be listed on the company’s About Us page. “The tech guy on this team is the best technologist you have in this whole program,” says Mr. Wilson. “By a trillion,” chimes in Mr. Tisch.
And the Winner Is . . . [SPOILER ALERT!!]]
SocratED becomes Veri after Gary Vaynerchuk tells them even their logo and color scheme makes him feel like he’s going to the dentist. The fact that CEO Lee Hoffman has had that four-letter domain name for the past six years impresses the mentors. “That’s going from the outhouse to the penthouse,” says Mr. Wilson. Mr. Baptiste’s plans at world domination are thwarted when Mr. Hoffman gets flown out to meet Dick Costolo. And the meeting appears to pay off immediately. Veri wants to use Twitter as their log-in, which only works if Twitter agrees to send the company back user’s emails and Mr. Costolo seems happy to put them in touch with the right folks. A quick look at the company page currently shows only Facebook, but it’s still in beta.
Mr. Costolo offers some sage advice: don’t get swayed by clients who will offer $100,000 more if you offer a bunch of features you really weren’t planning on building. “You want to make sure you don’t get this barnacle on you that you have to scrub once a month.”
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Woo boy, where to start with this one? ToVieFor CEO Melanie Moore is frank: her startup’s having an identity crisis. They’re emphasizing a gaming layer, when they don’t have a game. They get a freelance buyer who wants to vest without bringing in any vendors. “This team is about eight weeks until they have to go get a job,” says Mr. Tisch. For more on Ms. Moore’s contention that fashion and tech should just fucking get along (“It’s actually quite ironic that this incredibly sexy glamorous industry, engineers don’t want to work in”) check out her guest post for Betabeat. About that day job? It turned out to be another company: stealth startup Elizabeth & Clarke.
Tune in next week to find out which startup Mark Suster wants a piece of real bad.