After three long months of toiling away at 36 Cooper Square, TechStars NYC’s spring 2012 class is finally ready to say, “Hello, world.” Or rather, “Show me the money.” This morning, 13 startups will present their exhaustively-rehearsed pitches to a crowd of more than 700 for the program’s third Demo Day. (Check out our live-blog from Webster Hall.)
Back in March, managing director David Tisch promised us his most visionary class yet. “They all take big swings,” he told Betabeat. “I think the ideas are all going for something big. I don’t think there are lot of safe bets or small bets.”
It certainly seems like a more ambitious lot. The companies were chosen from 1,600 applicants. Five of them have a female cofounder; four of those cofounders are CEOs of their startups. (Initially, there were five female CEOs, including StockTouch cofounder Jennifer Johnson, but after being accepted, StockTouch did not end up participating in the program. Mr. Tisch told us the decision was mutual.)
Some of the startups have already raised funds, including announcements from Condition One, Rewind.Me, and Bondsy this week. For the rest, the pressure is on. Luckily, they’ve had mentoring from Alley bigwigs like Kevin Ryan, Dennis Crowley, Fred Wilson, and David Karp to prepare them.
Which startup scored The Thin Red Line director Terrence Malick as a client? Which founder was embedded in Afghanistan? Which service is helping your favorite hipster brunch spot in Wiliamsburg? Which founder pissed off the authorities in Rio? Which startup started as a hack at a GitHub conference? Which founder insisted we use a still from a Wes Anderson flick to illustrate his company? Only the slideshow will tell.
Jessica Roy and Adrianne Jeffries contributed to this story.
Condition One (powerful immersive experiences)
CEO Danfung Dennis traveled a very unusual path on his way to Startupland. As an acclaimed photographer, Mr. Danfung covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for publications like The New York Times and Newsweek, before taking his Oscar-nominated documentary "Hell and Back Again," to Sundance and Cannes. But it was his drive to capture the full picture of battle that prompted Mr. Dennis to found Condition One, an immersive video player that dropped our jaw a bit when Mr. Dennis gave us a demo. The player can be embedded into an iPad or iPhone app--move the iPad up and you get a view from the top of the scene you were just watching, swing it to your right and you can see what's happening on the side of the image that would otherwise be off camera. It's heady stuff, which likely helped get big name clients like Mercedes, Discovery Communications, XL Recordings, The Guardian and Popular Science to sign up for its pilot program. The company is taking a different approach by attacking the software angle, relying on the specialized cameras and lenses that are already on the market.
Pre-Demo Day Investment: Yesterday, Condition One announced that Mark Cuban led the company's $500,000 seed round. The money was used in part to hire CTO Julian Gomez, a computer science Phd who started his career at NASA, before moving on to Google and Apple, where he paved the way for OpenGL, the current standard for 3D graphics. Smart allocation of resources, if you ask us.
Lua Technologies (communication and project management for mobile workforces)
We’re pretty sure we’ve never come across a project management tool with sex appeal. That is until Lua. The company’s cofounders met after college on the set of Terrence Malick’s upcoming film “To the Wonder,” starring Hollywood heartthrobs Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams where they saw firsthand the inefficiency of organizing a mobile workforce using existing pre-planning or post-production software. CEO Michael DeFranco saw the same communication breakdown working on music videos and films at his alma mater, Weslyan University. Lua Technologies replaces old-school schedule print-outs and walkie-talkie systems with a mobile app that can easily update everyone on set to last-minute changes with push notifications or email. The company charges a monthly subscription fee, but is looking for an annual licensing deal with some studios. They’ve already lined up a handful of studios and are working with music tours and professional sports teams. Mr. Malick wasn’t just their inspiration--he’s also a client! He is using Lua on the set of his new film “Knight of Cups,” with Christian Bale and Natalie Portman. “When we started working with him, he was using a typewriter in 2010 to write his scripts in the movie. Now he bought an iPhone and that's that,” said Mr. DeFranco. “We didn't reach out, it was the other way around.”
Pre-Demo Day Investment: Mr. DeFranco told Betabeat that both former 20th Century Fox president Strauss Zelnick and former Tumblr president John Maloney have invested in Lua.
Bondsy (the easiest way to put things back into the world)
CEO Diego Zambrano first came up with the idea for Bondsy--a social network built for sharing, bartering, and selling things with friends--five years ago when he decided to move to the U.S. from Brazil. The mobile-first product sounds sort of like the lovechild of Path, Zaarly, and Craigslist. Users can snap a photo and post an item they want to make available, but payment doesn’t have to be monetary. Since Bondsy focuses on transactions only with your friends or friends of friends, users can feel comfortable offering payment like buying you dinner, dogsitting, or help with a move. Just tap a “Want” button and fill out a prompt that says, “I’m willing to...” explained Mr. Zambrano. Every offer is a private message to the owner of the item. Mr. Zambrano, who was once sued by the government of Rio de Janeiro for critiquing its penitentiary system with a fake prisoner's blog, said he sees a number of use cases, including parents who want to give away baby clothes.
Pre-Demo Day Investment: Investors have already signed up for this new twist on collaborative consumption. Yesterday, Bondsy announced a round of financing led by Thrive Capital*, with participation from Betaworks, Chris Dixon, GroupeMe’s Jared Hecht and Steve Martocci, and more. The size of the round wasn’t disclosed, but according to a SEC filing, the company raised a $754,466 equity round last month. *Disclosure.
SmallKnot (invest in your neighborhood)
New Yorkers can thank SmallKnot for the comfy new tables and chairs coming to Egg in Williamsburg or the shady awning slated for Kos Kaffe in Park Slope. SmallKnot is a platform that lets locals invest in their neighborhood small business. It’s not a concept limited to gentrifying Brooklyn, land of the artisinal everything, of course; SmallKnot recently opened in Greenville, South Carolina as well. While Kickstarter focuses on the creatives, SmallKnot (like its competitor Lucky Ant) lets loyal customers help out their local business, which might otherwise have to rely on high-interest credit cards or merchant cash advances. Businesses can post projects related to capital improvements that will spur growth and they get repaid in kind, with goods, services, discounts and perks. The seafood company Bon Chovie, for example, is offering donors things like a full day of fishing or fly fishing lessons. Over just a few months, SmallKnot has raised more than $30,000 from nearly 300 local investors, with requests from around the country.
SmallKnot initially launched as a lending platform, but cofounder Ben Rossen said the company switched gears after hearing from users that cash repayments weren’t a big motivation for investing. Mr. Rossen said it also opens SmallKnot up to a bigger base of businesses. “The reality is that many of these aren't particularly well-suited for business loans -- but they still have a passionate, engaged base that would support them in exchange for real value,” said Mr. Rossen. “Switching to in-kind returns allows us to work with many more of those than would be possible if we needed to rate their ability to repay.” Pure financial transactions are still a long-term goal.
Karma (simple and honest 4G provider)
Well shiver our timbers, it’s a telecom upstart in app-happy Silicon Alley! In lieu of “unlimited” data plans and frustrating fine print, Karma offers a users pay-per-use 4G hotspots that encourages you to share by offering free gigabytes of data in a program they call “social bandwidth.” For $69, users get access to Karma’s “blazing fast” 4G connection, which lasts up to eight hours on a single charge. Users pay a simple $14 per gigabyte, no monthly plan or subscription fee necessary. Hotspots broadcast as an open Wifi signal that allows anyone around to connect as a guest by logging in with Facebook. New guests are gifted 100 megabytes free and existing users are rewarded with 100 megabytes for bringing in new customers. Hotspots are tied to a particular owner, rather than a device or network. Although the company was founded in Amsterdam, cofounders and serial entrepreneurs Robert Gaal, Steven van Wel and Stefan Borsje are now based in New York City.
Pre-Demo Day investment: “Close to $1 million” from angel investors including Kal Vepuri, Jerry Neumann, 500 Startups, Collaborative Fund, and more, including both of TechStars’ Davids, Cohen and Tisch. There’s no shortage of praise for the company on AngelList from its high-profile advisors like Venrock’s David Pakman and Boxee cofounder Idan Cohen, who knows a little something about disrupting the incumbents.
Rewind.Me (unlocking the value in your past)
Just as the proliferation of daily deals sites necessitated a daily deals aggregator so has the proliferation of tracking apps called for a personal history aggregator to keep tabs on all those check-ins on Foursquare, calories burned on FitBit, flights logged on TripIt, or mile times on RunKeeper. Only in Rewind.Me’s case, the subject is much more fascinating: yourself! Users have been captivated by TimeHop, another TechStars company, that shows you what you were doing on Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter on this day last year. But Rewind.Me has more monetizable goals mind, in terms of a “Klout for the real world,” said CEO Craig Danuloff, who sold his company iCat, one of the first ecommerce platforms, to Intel in ‘98. Users, he explained, could be scored in categories like travel and offered rewards based on a fuller picture of your activity. “This was an idea I had almost 10 years ago. But it was too early,” he told us, adding, “I wouldn’t go so far as calling it quantified self.” Why not? Everyone else is!
Pre-Demo Day Investment: This week, Rewind.Me announced a $800,000 investment that closed earlier this year. The round was led by First Round Capital, other participants include New World Ventures, KBS+P Ventures, as well as angel investors like Esther Dyson and Barry Silbert.
Poptip (socially integrated realtime feedback)
Last December, Markover CEO Kelsey Falter took home the prize in Betabeat’s “The Pitch” competition, all while getting her undergraduate degree at Notre Dame. Since joining TechStars NYC, however, the startup changed its name to Poptip, and expanded beyond Markover’s concept, which broke open the comment box by letting users comment anywhere on a page. Poptip, on the other hand, lets businesses and organization solicit and measure “native social feedback” on Twitter and, in a couple weeks, Facebook as well. A sample question could be the NBA asking its followers which player they'd name MVP. In its current iteration, customers like ESPN and FritoLay can use the Poptip dashboard (or go to Twitter directly) to ask their followers questions using trackable hashtags. Poptip is able to record responses even if followers forget the "#" or misspell a word. "Our algorithm is what is important to us," said Ms. Falter. "We use machine learning and few proprietary scripts that allow us to parse language into results." Just don’t call it a pivot. “I would call it a refocusing,” Ms. Falter instructed Betabeat.
Pre-Demo Day Investment: In March, Markover filed an SEC filing for a $626,984 equity round from five investors. AllThingsD says SoftBank and Lerer Ventures participated.
Marquee (rewiring the way content is delivered on the web)
The founding team behind Marquee, which used to be called DropType, knew they had a good idea when they presented it as a hack at a GitHub conference in Miami and shortly after saw four or five different copycats. “At first it was like, ‘Oh, that kinda sucks, we had something pretty cool going.’ And then it was like, ‘Wait a minute that's sort of validating!’” cofounder Alex Cabrerra told Betabeat. Mr. Cabrerra and his cofounders were trying to solve a problem they ran into running a web development shop in Miami. It was no easy task sharing and tweaking proposals when they had to work with the vagaries of their clients content management systems (CMS). Enter Marquee: a publishing platform designed to be an underlying layer that “understands content” and presents it as data representation of a webpage rather than a page itself so it can be integrated into third-party applications like, in theory, Wordpress and Tumblr, or even ePub and mobi files for a Kindle or Nook, which are both coming soon. “We are much more pure vision of what CMS should be,” said Mr. Cabrerra.
Using a drag-and-drop interface, users can add photos from Dropbox to their webpages and in the next few weeks, content from SoundCloud, Vimeo, and Instagram as well. You can easily resize elements, tweak text, add hyperlinks, and change alignment without knowing code. Considering what a slog it was to format this slideshow, we’re eager to give it a go.
Classtivity (centralized source for recreational and fitness classes)
Yoga and dance studios haven’t exactly embraced the digital revolution. Luckily, Classtivity’s type-A CEO Payal Kadakia wasn’t willing to wait around. She developed a platform to help users find and discover recreational classes in disciplines like yoga, dance, martial arts, cooking, photography, beauty, and fashion on-the-go, at their convenience. The idea came to her while she was doing digital strategy for Warner Music Group--and founding her own Indian dance company after hours. Ms. Kadakia was trying to find a ballet class during her free time to no avail. “I knew which places to go and I was still frustrated,” she told Betabeat. Using a combination of technology and partnerships with companies like MindBody, GrammercyOne, and SinglePlatform, Classtivity currently shows 8,000 classes a week in New York will plans to scale nationally. Profiles of studios feature reviews and helpful information about the staff and even what kind of gear one might need for a particular class.
We were a little skeptical about the product--pretty as it is--until Ms. Kadakia gave us a demo and lo and behold, even the rinky-dink yoga studio down our block in Brooklyn was right there in the system. It doesn’t hurt that Gotham Gal and investor Joanne Wilson is also a fan.
Moveline (a radically different way to move)
Moving is always near the top of the heap for most-stressful life events, but Moveline is focused a particularly painful subset of that category: the long-distance move, which can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000. The current system is dominated by the five major van lines who work with regional players--and take a significant cut of the sale. If you’re the one moving that can mean having five separate agents to come out to your house to do an inventory just to get a fair quote. Moveline’s mobile app makes it easier by letting you use your iPhone or other device to do a video inventory, which the company then sends out to regional movers, giving users quotes on a truck rental, container or freight and bypassing the big guys. “Regional companies like it because it's more tonnage they can take without having to build their salesforce,” CEO Frederick Cook told Betabeat. The startup has spent awhile in private beta perfecting the technology and building its network of regional providers. Thinking about changing that Alley into a Valley? We’re sorry to see you go, but Moveline is starting with outbound New York moves.
10Sheet (revinventing the bookkeeper)
What would a small business owner rather deal with? The hassles of hiring a bookkeeper to pour through scraps of paper, or an app that lets you snap photos of your receipts and assembles them into financial statements for $69/month? 10Sheet is hoping you’ll trust the latter. The startup, which was launched in Vancouver, has spent the past two years using machine learning and computer vision to build a “bank-grade secure environment” to make this possible. Clients can add their accounts (data is transmitted using a 256-bit encryption) and 10Sheet assigns each business a human bookkeeper who can match, say bank and credit card statements or deal with any discrepancies. “What we don't do is force you into support forums, or force you to send us emails,” cofounder Jordan Menashy told Betabeat. The startup already has 50 small businesses using their software, and currently doubling that number every week. The Canadian team is also staying put. “There was a decision made by our team, our family, our pets to all centralize out here,” added Mr. Menashy.
Pickie (personalized shopping magazine)
Pickie shows you things you might like to buy based on information you give it about brands and categories, as well as what your friends on social networks like. "We're a personalized magazine where all the items are buyable and the products and content are personalized to you," said cofounder and CEO Sonia Sahney Nagar, worked as a project manager at Amazon. One of her two cofounders, Ryan Weber, worked with retailers at big data shop Applied Predictive Technologies. As a social shopping app, the team has an easy route to monetization through transaction or referral fees as well as targeted advertising. "Everything in Pickie is a buyable item, and we publish a new edition every day," Ms. Nagar said. Pickie is "an aggregator," she said, which means "the more social shopping sites that crop up, and the more products people are talking about on these sites, the more products/content there is for us to pull in." Pickie has put an emphasis on the iPad, so imagine potential customers lounging around on their couches, lazily swiping with one hand through pages of dresses and funky lamps, hopefully with a glass of Pinot in the other.
Wander (a beautiful way to share and experience the world)
Not all who wander are lost, though we have to admit that we may have thought Jeremy Fisher, CEO of Wander, was leading the Internet around with nowhere to land. Wander’s fabulously successful viral marketing campaign earlier this year--which consisted solely of a splash page with fancy typography, an incentive-less sign-up process, and a self-described “utterly pointless leaderboard”--seemed more like a scheme than a business plan. But today, Mr. Fisher--who previously helmed Dinevore before shutting it down and entering the 2012 TechStars class with Wander--is ready to announce what the startup actually does.
Wander is a travel app that consists of a Wanderlog, which is sort of like an aspirational online travel journal. “The places you’ve been and the places you dream of--all the places you’re connected to and the story that tells,” reads an overview, sent to us by Mr. Fisher. Like Foursquare, each place--Paris, for example--is tied to every user’s post about Paris by including asterisks. *Paris* would become a collaborative visual journal of that city. The app has shades of Instagram--lots of modernist fonts imposed over sepia-toned travel photos. This should resonate well with the Tumblr crowd.
Pre-Demo Day Investment: Back in April, Wander scored $1.2 million in funding from SV Angel, Google Ventures and other top-shelf funds.
Oh hi, we made you a cheat sheet.