With Demo Day coming up tomorrow, ten out of 11 companies is the number to beat. That’s ratio of startups from TechStars inaugural class that got funded. But keep in mind not everyone had a killer Demo Day. For some, funding didn’t come till a few months down the line. “It’s like the SATs,” one mentor told Betabeat of Demo Day. “Some people are good at testing, some aren’t.”
There’s a lot riding on tomorrow’s event–the funding environment isn’t quite as frothy as it was for TechStarsNY 1.0, and the companies are well aware of that, mentors told Betabeat. “It’s a more fragile period of time than last Demo Day,” said the mentor. “They realize that they gotta be on their game.” As such, companies have been pounding out the decks, practicing demos for each other almost every week.
Perhaps it’s because the cameras aren’t around, or perhaps because TechStars New York is more established, but there’s less ego in this class and fewer type-A personalities. Investors promise that this Demo Day will still have plenty of showmanship and say this season’s TechStars class is fundamentally very solid. Many companies have partnerships; some have revenue. Almost all have raised money or gotten commitments–several New York VCs told us they had invested in at least one of the startups. Two companies won’t even really be raising money, one mentor said, because they don’t need it.”
Curious to know who pivoted and who’s already closed their round? Check out our cheat sheet, get your game face on for tomorrow and pick your ponies in the comments.
Update: SideTour announced their funding today on TechCrunch, a $1.5 million round led by RRE and Foundry Group. We noted in the slideshow they already had their lead investors locked down, but it seems unlikely now they will try to grow their round tomorrow.
ChatID.com -- Unified Chat Platform for Businesses
Think of a company whose service you use, one mentor said. “Don’t you ever wish you could Gchat them?” Enter ChatID, a customer service solution co-founded by Daniel Herman, Matthew Wild, and Waqas Hussain. The idea is to enable chat messaging for any company, and then integrate that into advertising and FAQ pages and beyond, so that customers are never many clicks away from being able to chat online with a brand representative. One thing all mentors we spoke to agreed on: investors are very taken with CEO Dan Herman. “I don't get it, but I would say I agree with everyone who's really impressed by Dan,” one mentor told Betabeat. “So, people are really blown away by this kid.” Though the website is merely a placeholder right now, “People are already clamoring to work with them.”
Contently.com -- Marketplace for Professional Content
“We like to think of ourselves as the ‘anti-content farm,’” Contently says. How so? Contently is a marketplace where bloggers can meet companies that need to put words on the internet. The startup already has a few clients, including Elle and Best Buy, acccording to a TechStars mentor.The database of bloggers is curated, for one, and companies pay real money for the content--about $125 a post, with Contently taking about a 20 percent cut (Ed. note: nice work if you can get it!) Contently solves a problem. The demand for decent writers to generate branded content, on their own blogs or as sponsored posts on other blogs, is currently met by Craigslist and ad hoc deals. But investors we spoke to saw the same scaling problem that plagues every curated marketplace. “The guys are great, but as it scales up … to find quality writers is going to be tough,” said one mentor. “Maybe they could get picked off in six to nine months by a Demand Media.” Conclusion? A business, but a small one. “Probably a good angel bet,” said one investor. Contently has raised $335,000 in seed funding from TechStars and Founder Collective, according to CrunchBase. The original Contently team--Joe Coleman, Shane Snow, and David Goldberg--is from New York, New York by way of Idaho. Contently started in 2010, launched in private beta in January 2011, and continues in open beta as of April 2011.
CourseKit.com: Social Learning Management Software
CourseKit, like OnSwipe before it, had already raised money before the team got into TechStars--$1 million, according to CrunchBase. Survey says, Joseph Cohen is this season’s Jason Baptiste: confident, bombastic, abrasive, and probably on the path to building a big business. “Like, everyone thinks the founder is uber-arrogant,” one mentor said. “But it's a type. It's a particular type of entrepreneurs. and sometimes they're very successful.” They’re hiring for two engineers, two designers and two interns, and have signed up educators all over the world. “People were buzzing about them,” the mentor said. Coursekit, co-founded by Joseph Cohen, Daniel Getelman and James Grandpre from Philadelphia, is a classroom management software that aims to make a community out of a classroom, the company says, by adding things like the ability to post links, videos and files as well as start discussions, write a blog post or ask about an assignment.
Dispatch.io -- Cloud Sharing, Movement, and Management Service
Cofounders Jesse Lamb, Nick Stamas and Alex Godin launched Dispatch.io in May 2011 at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon in New York. It started out as a Chrome extension that lets users transfer files easily between cloud services like Google Docs and Dropbox. The goal is to eventually create an easy bridge between cloud services. “It’s very exciting, almost to the point where you're like ‘why doesn't that exist?’” said one mentor who thinks Dispatch.io could be huge. We hear the product is still a basic prototype. “They only have Google Docs and Dropbox,” one mentor said. But Young Godin, the teenaged son of marketing guru Seth Godin, has been tweeting about a big upgrade--perhaps the team will have integrated more cloud services by Demo Day. Dispatch.io has raised money, mentors told Betabeat, brought on Gary LosHuertos as a co-founder, and is hiring for a Mac developer and front end developer.
MobIntent - Optimizing Mobile Ad Campaigns
FredRover, now going by MobIntent, seems to have pulled the biggest pivot among the current crop of TechStars. It began as an idea between two MIT students. Bryan Adams was working on a degree in machine learning. His co-founder, Matt Chun went on to do biz dev at IAC, where he saw a burgeoning opportunity in the mobile app market. The pair got into TechStars with FredRover, a company that would drive mobile app discovery. During the program the founders decided this wasn't an attractive enough market, and pivoted to build MobIntent, a startup that aims to help clients get the most out of ad campaigns across the rapidly growing selection of mobile ad networks. The company is less mature than several of their peers. “We’re really focused on perfecting the product market fit,” is how the founders explained it to Betabeat by phone. “They are still prototyping and piloting it,” is how one mentor described it. The company has several pilot partners who they believe will help them generate data about the ROI MobIntent can produce, evidence they will need as they try to raise their first seed money at Demo Day. The company will be entering a crowded market where competitors range from other startups to rapdily expanding firms like Medialets to tech titans like Google.
Ordr.In--Restaurant E-Commerce Platform
Anyone who stopped Hackday.tv at General Assembly or the hackNY's intercollegiate hackathon last month is probably familiar with Ordr.In Networks, a restaurant e-commerce platform. Its API was a popular choice for hackers at both events as it aggregates online food ordering systems from around the country. Developers used it to build hacks that let you order in from Boxee or, for dangerously dedicated coders, order in without even leaving Vim. But the business model is aimed at national sales channels. The same way that publishers add job boards for an additional revenue, Ordr.In lets publishers boost income from viewers who might otherwise have left the site to order food. Chains like Wyndham, Travelodge, and Super 8 and sites like Gayot quickly signed up for the service, which can be used on the web, mobile and settop boxes. We hear the startup already has a term sheet from a top five micro VC in New York and big deals coming down the pipe. Mentors like that there are so many services Ordr.In can be layered on top of (like nachos!). It has good user traction and an experienced team, which includes Founder David Bloom, who used to lead the restaurant industry team at American Express. But others say the layer it provides is "too thin." (like bad nachos!) One mentor noted that empowering publishers has been attempted before with both jobs and marketplaces. "But you're never going to go specifically to Eater to order food, nor will you go to Eater to find jobs at restaurants or to buy food." They might get publisher traction, but "they won't be able to get much revenue." As for pivoting to the larger market for online ordering? "Good luck outspending GrubHub and Seamless to acquire customers."
Piictu--Mobile Photo Meme Game
Before you roll your eyes at yet another photo sharing app, consider this: In just 8 weeks of private beta, Piictu managed to pick up more than 130,000 downloads. That might be because it brings a little something meme-ier to the photo game. "You won’t see pictures from last night’s dinner party, Instagram is great for that," say brothers Jonathan and Noah Slimak. Rather, Piictu is more interested in photo interaction. You pose a challenge like, "What's for dinner?" or "Lying down game" (i.e. planking) or "Cute!!!" and users upload photos along that theme. "It's really interesting... it's kind of like a memecreator," said one mentor. "A lot of applications layer gaming mechanics, but we always understood that the reward would have to come from the photo interaction and not from an extra point or badge system," said the brothers. Piictu already raised a $750,000 seed round from investors like betaworks, RRE, Softbank and Buzzfeed's Jon Steinberg. But they're also in "serious conversations" with other firms. So far, about 60 percent of the users are in the U.S. and 40 percent in other countries, like Japan. Most of the seven man team hails from Venezuela, hence the love for Caracas Arepas Bar in Brooklyn above. Mentors note the impressive traction. Some question the "narrow, narrow market." While another says, "If they can harness that for brands you might have something." Besides, "If the meme aspect isn't enough, WTF is Tumblr? It's all memes." One advisor was even moved to quote Chris Dixon, who said, "The next big thing will start out looking like a toy."
SideTour - Peer to Peer Marketplace for Authentic Experiences
This is the oldest and most experienced team, with all of the members in their 30s. “Around here that makes us senior citizens,” joked co-founder Vipin Goyal. The company offers a peer-to-peer marketplace for “authentic experiences”, like a pasta-making class from an Italian chef or a zen tea session from a Buddhist monk. This puts it in competition with local startups like SkillShare and SkillSlate, but at least they don't have "skill" anywhere in their name. With a technical team already in place, the founders have locked down their lead investors for a seed round they will announce on Demo Day, where they hope to fill out the funding. The goal is to get an 18 month runway to build serious traction for their service. There have already been a number of sellout experiences in New York, meaning the company has some small revenue coming in. “The question is how well will they scale the service,” said a mentor. “They seem to be intent on opening in a number of cities, but hopefully they will avoid that mistake and focus on New York first.” Update: Sidetour has indeed finished its seed round, raising $1.5 million from RRE and Foundry Group. TechCrunch broke the news.
Spontaneously: Social Calendar & Discovery Platform
First Round Capital's Charlie O'Donnell recently pegged the market for services that help users manage their time in the "multi-billions." Spontaneously, which changed its name from Time Stre.am wants to get at a piece of that, namely what the founders call "the availability layer." The startup's iPhone app, which is still in private beta, borrows a page from Gchat, so users have a green status is they're free, red if they're busy, or yellow if they have plans, but anyone's welcome to join. The idea is "future-facing," which helps users make plans beyond just where they are at the moment. Users can share their availability status by SMS and email, so non-members can see it as well. It integrates with your calendar and lets you select whom to send it out to. No "friending" or "following" necessary. The company is product-focused right now, but sees a potential revenue stream in taking a percentage of direct booking for an event, or suggesting venues when the app sees people are getting together. For example, Spontaneously recently met with the founder of OpenTable. They already have $700,000 of the $1 million in documentation phase. "It's beyond soft-circles, it’s almost done," they said Friday afternoon. Mentors spoke highly of Spencer Lazar, a former associate at Accel Partners (brothers Joshua and David Keay are pictured above), but seem a little skeptical as to how the product will turn out. "I think they're a little in the bubble on how real people want to deal with calendaring. People don't do calendaring on the phone. They consume calendars, but they don't choose what do to in the next few weeks when they're out."
Urtak - Polling Tool For Enhancing User Engagement
Urtak is an idea that has been brewing between founders Marc Lizoain and Aaron Gibralter for four years, ever since the pair graduated from Harvard. The concept was to find a better way to capture users' response to online content and build user engagement. The duo came into TechStars and built some quick momentum, raising a seed round which allowed them to hire three additional employees. The money came from Vaizra, the local, early stage investment arm of Vaizra Ventures, a VC fund headquartered in Israel, which is also footing the bill for the Demo Day after party. “They have a chance to raise some good money on Demo Day, but selling to a lot of publishers is going to be harder than this team thinks. You need a lot of great data before you can convince those customers to use you, and you need a lot of customers before you have great data, so that’s their Catch-22.” A valid criticism, although the service is already being used by two large publishers, The Blaze and The Daily Beast, whose audiences tend to generate large amounts of opinionated data.
Wantworthy--Fashion Bookmarking and Discovery
Lauren McDevitt got the idea for Wantworthy, a fashion bookmarking site that lets you save items from across retailers, after seeing friends use a mess of open tabs or even an Excel sheet to keep track of coveted items. So she and fellow co-founder Josh Wais built a personalized home for consumers to organize, compare and even get feedback, when and if they wanted it. Users click on a bookmarklet to add an item, and the site adds a border and resizes the photo to make it look uniform and pretty. The startup's focused on building out the product, but is bringing in revenue through affiliate marketing networks, although that might not be the business model going forward. Top fashion bloggers showcased their own Wantworthy lists for a breast cancer awareness campaign. And Wantworthy figures they have data retailers want because it sees what items you're interested in beyond what you add to just one cart. The aim is build relationships with brands to take a percentage of the transaction. But some mentors worry that it's an awfully crowded market. Even Pinterest is being used a default showcase for pretty dresses. "It's Have to Have... it's Svpply all over again. A million people are doing fashion bookmarking," said one mentor. Others say a competitive field means they're on the right track. "Wantworthy I think is sort of the dark horse. It's one of those products where every girl is like OMG, I want that, I need that." But the mentor noted, "I don't think a lot of people think it's going to be that successful."
Zferral (Ambassador) - Manage Refferal and Affiliate Programs
Founded by a trio who met in the Midwest, Zfferal, which we hear is changing its name to Ambassador, has good traction, with a number of clients using their service and glowing testimonials from tech blogging heavyweights like Robert Scoble. The company--a platform to create, track and manage referral and affiliate programs--has already raised some seed capital from Ludlow Ventures, a Detroit-based fund that backed buzz worthy startup Hipster. Since they have Jason Baptise and Andreas Barreto of OnSwipe as official advisors, you can expect they are probably being encouraged to shoot high with their series A(wesome) on Demo Day.