Following three months of mentoring, 11 startups displayed their goods and opened their change purses to a room swarming with investors at TechStars’ Demo Day today at Webster Hall.
As we walked in, the bassline of “Blurred Lines” was bumping and dudes, dudes, tons of dudes were conversing in clumps, decked out in suits (investors) and jeans (founders and interns). Probably less than 20 percent of the room consisted of ladies, while only four of 29 founders were female.
On the ground floor, free snacks and three-for-$20 draft beers, facilitated conversation. In the mezzanine, founders and their friends chilled on haphazard folding chairs, cheering loudly during the demos.
TechStars founder David Cohen told Betabeat this year’s crop of startups — 11 selected from more than 1,700 applicants — were the first group wherein every single company had already secured half of its first-round investment funding by Demo Day. Not too shabby.
Our informal poll of attendees revealed that the shining star of the day by a longshot was AdYapper, which seeks to help advertisers and online publishers get more bang for their buck. With one line of code, AdYapper adds new layers to advertising analytics and enables clients to identify wasted ad spending.
With AdYapper, brands can determine whether “anyone actually sees their ads,” CEO Elliot Hirsch told Betabeat. Currently, only 30 to 40 percent of online ads are seen, he added. AdYapper hopes to change that by enabling subscribers to show below-the-fold ads only if readers scroll down, he said.
Mr. Hirsch, whose history is in advertising at Chicago Tribune papers, swore to this concerned reporter that AdYapper wouldn’t hurt publications. Publishers like Paul Greenberg, CEO of CollegeHumor, are loving the service, he said.
“From Day One, we’ve been wanting online publishing to be profitable,” Mr. Hirsch said. “We’re independent and coming up with tools for folks across the advertising ecosystem.”
Phew, okay then.
The second round of demos started with Foursquare founder and self-proclaimed “huge self-quantifying nerd” Dennis Crowley introducing an animation of the “Knight Rider” car. The car then introduced Jamyn Edis, founder of Dash, a tool for quantifying driving habits.
Mr. Edis’s product is a ten-dollar device that’s affixed under the dashboard of a car to measure a driver’s abilities. Users can share their road trips, compare who’s a better driver among friends, and more. It also alerts designated loved ones via text message if a car is involved in a crash.
While testing Dash, Mr. Edis and co-founder Brian Langel found that –no surprise here — Californians are better drivers than New Yorkers. And finally, once and for all, they’ve proven through hard data that women are better drivers than men — also not terribly surprising.
Next was Klooff, a social network for pet owners. It’ll also benefit those of us who are sick of constant dog pics on Instagram by outsourcing the pet-obsessed. Despite not having its main website set up yet, Klooff seemed popular among other founders and their friends — rambunctious chants of “Klooff! Klooff! Klooff!” from the mezzanine bookended the presentation.
WeeSpring aims to inform new and expectant parents about the best baby gear. Founder Allyson Downey came up with the idea when she was pregnant and looking for product advice. She uncovered an underground network of moms forwarding giant Excel spreadsheets to each other, full of product recommendations. She, her husband Jack Downey and digital strategist Melissa Post went all-in and created the site, which marries social networking with specialized product reviews.
Plated has set its sights on “redefining the weeknight dinner.” Users can pick one of five weekly recipes and have the ingredients delivered to them so they can cook themselves. Founder Nick Taranto says the system is more cost-effective than a supermarket because it eliminates overhead and spoilage.
Javelin seeks to bring principles discussed in Eric Ries’s bestselling “The Lean Startup” to life. Placemeter will use public video feeds to provide data on how many people see billboards, whether your favorite restaurant is crowded, and more. TriggerMail is a service for ecommerce retailers to stop sending you generic junk email and instead notify you about deals on specific products you’ve been eyeing online. Sketchfab aims to ease the 3D modeling game, while Jukely helps friends synthesize their concert schedules. FaithStreet helps users find churches in new cities.
Startup founders who didn’t get into the notoriously competitive TechStars program found a new way to get their foot in the door — by volunteering at the event. Cynthia Schames, founder of Abbey Post, which links shoppers to plus-size boutiques and designers, was one such smarty-pants, getting herself in the room with a bevy of investors in exchange for six-ish hours of her time.
All in all, this year’s Demo Day skewed toward back-end business services. The average consumer won’t have much use for AdYapper, Javelin, Placemeter, Sketchfab and TriggerMail. But we can envision Klooff, Jukely, FaithStreet and weeSpring blowing up among certain groups.
[Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Melissa Post was an engineer, when in fact she is a digital strategist.]