Jason Calacanis and Michael Arrington opened TechCrunch50 today saying they wanted to create the “Sundance Film Festival” for the internet industry where companies are judged on merit. Here are our notes on the companies who presented in the first session of the conference, which showcased four startups that pertain to Youth and Culture.
Highlights from the expert panel (Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube; Marrissa Mayer, VP product and search at Google; Ron Conway, prolific Angel investor; Dan Farber, Editor-in-Chief of Cnet) also follow.
Shryk — Web-based financial software called iThryv for children aimed at promoting financial literacy and good saving habits.
Co-founder Shane Kimpton presented how a mythical 8 year old girl “Lacy” would log into iThryv. Lacy has a savings account, 28 bucks in savings and a checking account. The savings are from her parents, desposited to teach her about credit and savings. She “wants” a Barbie Corvette toy and it lists it on her wish list along side her actual spending on recent purchases like toys. She works out she spent 50% on “wants” and 25% on “needs” which turns out not to be a good ratio for good money management. So on the manage money section she works out how to spend her money better.
Another example, “Jay” is 17 and he has a job and a girlfriend. The look of his account is more aimed at his age-group. Research says 25% of 18 to 24 year olds go bankrupt – so this is a way of keeping better tracking on incomes and outgoings. He starts to understand the way he manages his money is ranked against the way other users on the system of a similar age. He gets a score based on this. His score goes up the more he saves.
The founders emphasised that iThryv is not a bank. It’s a platform that sits on top of a banking system which allows banks to build a “customer for life” through the tools offered. They researched with banks and parents and built the site on this feedback. The site can also give suggestions about how to become entrepreneurs.
Blahgirls — Blahgirls is a gossip site that features a group of animated teenage girls who provide opinions on what’s going on in the world of entertainment.
Presented by movie actor Ashton Kutcher, a cartoon video preceded the presentation with some inside jokes about “Silicone Valley”, Jason Calacanis and Mike Arrington (“He looks like Peter Griffith”).
This is essentially a video animation but scripted to report news and gossip from three “interactive celebrity-culture obsessed cartoon girls”. They bring up to date celeb trends and news. The core function is a video player updated regularly. The animated characters are clearly scripted and written to give some witty news about celeb culture. Blah Girls is clearly not aimed at kids. The characters smoke Pot and make jokes about hanging out with celebs.
Kutcher said there is more to it than just video. You log in as a user and say “that video sucks”, for instance. You then get an email back with a URL which sends you to a comment response page. Tiffany – a blah girl – has a response which is unique to the user. So the girls in the show are talking to the user. You can ask the Blah girls for gossip advice, e.g is Google taking over the world? And they will reply “e.g. relationships are like skinny jeans, sometimes you have to starve yourself to have a chance.” The comments get updated weekly (seems a bit slow?).
1. The core, is creating high quality content
2. Interactivity and social engagement for retention – advertising model.
3. Seamless integrated branded content. Vitamin Water is the first partner and they have been built into the shows seamlessly.
The future is domestic and international, TV, Web and games and collaborations with media partners.
Tweegee — A hub for tweens, Tweegee offers the youth market a suite of online tools for social interaction and organization
Tweegee is “the future of social activities for kids aged 8-14″. There not enough stuff for this age group online, says the founders. This is a destination site with content, gaming and social networking. Two kids came up. “I got to make my Tweegee look like me with my hair sticking up” said a young boy, who presented on stage, so the kids can customise their avatar. It also has email, can change the colour of the background and make the text sparkly – appeals to kids. It’s a full email programme but with a very child-friendly interface. There is also some safe pre-written text designed to keep kids safe in their emails to each other. Kids invite other to meet their “buddy machine”. Buddy Meter works out your best friends on the system. The calendar option has birthdays and pitctures.
Avatars can be presented in front of Hockey sets etc. Daily Ratings, megazone. is a place to build you own site – like a sorts portal with live news. A folder allows user to put their stuff inside like songs, movies sand pictures on the PC which can be uploaded and sent to friends. 1GB of space. Safety is a top priority. A full safety features, “patent pending” tools. Gaming: Also features casual games for kids.
Hangout Industries — Blends social networking with virtual worlds by creating a 3D, online environment where 16-24 year olds can chat and share media.
Built in 6 months, this site is a Web-based virtual world aimed at kids and young adults and allows them to highly customise their virtual space. It combines the virtual nature of The Sims, with the privacy of Facebook, and Myspace’s customisation features. Works on low end PCs/Macs and all browsers. It’s highly immersive, but pulls in real-world goods so the T-shirts are real from Threadless. An Allposters.com deal streams posters direct into the rooms and you can buy them. It bridges offline and online, allowing real products to be bought for you and your avatar. Can customize objects like tables and chairs.
Gravity works on objects. You can also play drums / musical instruments along with a background soundtrack. Can pull in existing social graphs so that you friends can set up a room. You can see the videos your friends have been watching, and see streaming shows into the room. The avatar can be customised with 30 brands and 30 tastemakers, all signed up clients so far.
Panel discussion with judges:
Chad Hurley, co-founder of YouTube
Marrissa Mayer, VP product and search, Google
Ron Conway, prolific Angel investor – 500 investments in last 20 years.
Dan Farber, Cnet, Editor in chief
Chad: I’m most familiar with Blah girls – I think video will be big (he jokes). But seriously this has a great opportunity for advertising.
The others are good, but content and scalability may have distribution.
Hangout I like but – what’s going to cost people get them to engage with it?
Answer: It’s an iframe inside existing social networks.
Marrisa: Biz model?
Answer: Users want cool products, and are willing to pay for it on virtual currency.
iThryv – a concern I have is a lot of the advertising are credit cards and loans which may be problematic?
Answer: Banks and partners would offer their services. It’s about customer for life for the bank, and the bank pays for this service.
I would invest in iThryv but not until you have investors or backers like banks. For the other companies there is a dilemma – for your users you have to get their allocated time for them to move from existing social networks and they will have to reduce their time on others. Tweens are a pretty saturated market so new entrants would have to grab mind-share. With hangout and blah girls: Both are compelling and you have unique intellectual property.
Hangout’s reply: A user would never leave their MySpace page etc. as the site runs as an iframe and or Facebook application.
Ashton/BlahGirls: Our products can also move – we want to partner with YoUtube, and will be launching the first episode of today with them. We can travel anywhere on the web. It’s a video, so it can run anywhere you can host video.
Tweegee: This offers the ability for people to spend time inside.
Ron: You can’t leverage Club Penguin or replace it. It’s one activity the kids might choose among others. Kids this age have the most time on the web to spend so getting their attention shouldn’t be a problem,
All the startups were interesting. Blah Girls has a unique advantage in that it is original content and could become cultish. But the once a week video seems slow and its not that interactive yet. iThryv looks good. Hangout creates a new kind of experience within these existing context. Product placement done well can create a business. Tweegee – I had hard time understanding the business and how it fits against kids’ attention with things like ClubPenguin.
Marrissa: Hard to see the safety aspect with Tweegee….
Tweegee Answer: Kids want to communicate with friends but most sites kids need to choose a pre-written sentence. We give them a bit of free text from a white-list vocabulary, like T9 on a cell phone. You can’t write number to reveal phone numbers etc. This is integrated in all aspects of the site.
Chad: iThryv – why did you create it?
Answer: A motivation was we saw a market for kids understanding financial literacy. The housing crisis shows people are bad at finance. Also, banks have a hard time creating a customer for life. People are now moving away from traditional banks. We did research with kids and parents to see how they use money.
Chad: You’re going to have to simplify the site further for that audience.
Marrissa: I don’t see the value. What bothered me was that it didn’t seem realistic. Kids don’t construct strategy and business plans in the way presented.
iThryv responded; We have more that we could show that could address this.
Ron: Banks and credit card companies would probably have to be the actual investors, rather than VC/Angel.
Ron: With Hangout and Blah Girls: We all know that search and display advertising are big opportunities. It’s obvious there is a new market surfacing called product placement. In Blah Girls you already have the have Vitamin Water company as a client. Assuming the content is high quality, they can drive up the prices. This is a multibillion dollar market on the web being created right now.