Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Live Notes from TechStars, Part 1

I'm here on the Microsoft campus in Mountain View, watching the company presentations at TechStars. TechStars is YCombinator for Colorado, with Brad Feld substituting for Paul Graham as the godfather. Here's what I thought of what I saw.

Ignighter
: Social network for group dating. Looks interesting, but since I've been married since 1998, I don't have a lot of expertise to judge.

Devver: Developer tools in the cloud (Ruby testing). Instead of running tests locally, you run them in the cloud instead. Great presentation--they use a side-by-side comparison to show the improved test speed, and keep hammering home the key point: Devver reduces the amount of time your developers wait around for test results by 75%. $100/developer/month. I also like the fact that the founders have known each other since the 6th grade. Looks like a winner to me.

Foodzie: Etsy for food. Founder worked at Fresh Market running their e-commerce program; realized that small artisan producers needed a better place to reach their customers. Foodzie provides a custom-branded store, does the payment processing, and provides the shipping label for the producer to ship the product. $0.60 per transaction, plus 20% commission (very eBay). This disintermediates the traditional retail channel, which takes 60% of the retail price.

Great idea, but what is the differentiator? I know that they are different from Amazon, etc. (no warehouse, let producers share their story, community for foodies) but what about copycats? It helps that the team has experience and relationships already. Met as frosh at Virginia Tech.

Travelfli: Mint for frequent flyer programs. Aggregates information from all your frequent flyer programs, notifies you when awards become available, makes it easy to book.

Focused on elite frequent flyers (17 million; 9 trips/year; responsible for 58% of all flights taken--$298 billion/year). This would be a huge benefit for management consultants...maybe promote with McKinsey, HBS, et al?

The team dressed up as airline pilots. Cute, but didn't add much. They have an experienced team, and has an airline exec on board, which is critical. Is there any threat from airline sites trying to block their screen scrapers? I think it's a great product for niche audience.

Gyminee: Google Analytics + Weight Watchers. Track your fitness, use social networking to keep yourself motivated. App is available online and on the iPhone. User-created workouts with video. Interesting, but it seems like a lot of work for people who aren't motivated to get fit. They are getting good traction; 50,000 users, 800 paying users, 1.3 million PV/month. No advertising to date. Focused on the male market, vs. most such services which are targeted at women.

Intense Debate: Blog comments 2.0. Correctly focus on the publisher benefit: "Measurably increases subscriber engagement and repeat visitors." Toni Schneider just announced the acquisition of Intense Debate. Now if only Matt can make the application run faster....

2 comments:

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

Devver - Not a bad idea, but even if your developers time saved is worth 100 dollars a month, I don't know of many ruby shops that will pay it. Their best bet is to allow the smaller shops to all piggyback on one account.

Foodzie - Etsy is a good model to copy, but it's true they have no competitive advantage except eventual network effects. Still, the reason Etsy worked is that is was supportive to very non-technical people, if Foodzie can offer that same comfort to artisans they may do well.

Note: Editing post to remote Intense Debate comment, turns out I had them confused with another company.