Washington DC based LaunchBox Digital, an early stage investment firm and incubator founded in 2007 by John McKinley, Sean Green, and Julius Genachowski (now the new head of the FCC and divested from LaunchBox), just wrapped up its second annual 12-week program. Modeled after Y Combinator, LaunchBox invests seed capital of around $20,000-$25,000 into teams, and provides them with 12 weeks of education, mentorship and access to a small army of advisers.
Drawn from a pool of over 275 applicants, eight teams were selected to make up the class of 2009. (For the class of 2008, read last year’s post). Below is a brief description of each with notes written by LaunchBox founder John McKinley, as well screencasts of their products and links to their websites.
SEC Watch deals with a big problem facing individuals interested in research and investing—a mountain of invaluable data exists in SEC filings, but those filings are really difficult to deal with as an information source.
Why does this all matter? Well, if you had looked at AIG’s filings, for instance, you could have found information about their sub-prime mortgage exposure almost a year before things blew up. It was just buried in a footnote.
SEC Watch brings state of the art search technology, combined with user annotation and sharing capabilities to the problem, and has crafted a compelling product that both retail and professional investors and analysts can use. It is easy to track companies and keywords (e.g., “subprime”,”litigation”, etc.), and get automated results in near real-time when filings are posted that match your criteria. You can then dive down to the relevant sections, and annotate a given filing for your own personal use, your team’s use, or to share with the public.
Bandsintown addresses a big shift in the whole economics of the music business. Nowadays, 70% of a band’s income comes not from music sales, but from touring. That’s up from 20% only four years ago. Ticket sales have never been more important, but the marketplace for tickets has become incredibly fragmented. There are 70+ separate ticket marketplaces on the web. That makes for a bad experience for a fan, but also a bad experience for music sites trying to encourage ticket sales for all the different artists they feature.
Bandsintown has dealt with this problem by building interfaces to 62 different ticket marketplaces, and then exposing all ticketing information as a simple to use API that music sites can integrate. They have increased their traffic to over 500K monthly unique visitors in the five months since they launched their API, and have a global partner base (including Spotify, the Hype Machine, and PureVolume among others).
Bandsintown automatically plugs into music players such as iTunes, last.fm, Pandora and other sites to learn your artist preferences, and then lets you track your favorite artists (and related ones) and receive alerts when events of interest are coming to your area. They are also preparing to release a new iPhone app (it’s awaiting approval from Apple) that lets you see local concerts based on your musical tastes and geo-location— think of it as Urban Spoon for live music.
There is lots of other good stuff too, like live event twitter integration to allow you to easily track both yours and others’ concert experiences. If you love live music, you’ll love Bandsintown.
Social Collective addresses the huge market of conferences and corporate meetings. There are an incredible 1.2 million conferences and corporate meeting in the US each year. It is a huge industry—close to $11 billion is spent worldwide. The problem is that in these tough economic times, revenue for event producers is down, and the demands from attendees and sponsors is up, as they want more for their dollar.
Social Collective is a browser-based service targeted at event marketing and the enhancement of the event experience for both attendees and sponsors. They powered SXSW this year, as well as the Oracle Open World and other big events.
They bring innovation to a pretty under-served industry by allowing things like crowd-sourced agenda design, social graph importing for attendees to reach out to friends and associates attending the same event, marketing tools for pre and post event awareness building by conference organizers, and tools for vendor communications and networking with attendees.
The service has been great in helping both long-standing events re-invigorate themselves, as well as first-time events get their word out to the marketplace. They have both web and mobile experiences covered, and do some really nice things like allowing you to build your own tailored agenda for an event, and then import it into your online calendar. (FYI, this custom-agenda function was very popular at SXSW, with over 60% penetration).
TapMetrics is a tool designed by a team of iPhone application developers that brings together sales data, user feedback, software metrics, and other information into a consolidated dashboard to allow developers to manage a portfolio of applications quickly and easily.
The whole experience starts with a dashboard that lets you view important information about how your application portfolio is performing, and then lets you drill into each application to investigate any issue that is highlighted. The nice part of the TapMetrics solution is that while it does a great job on the business metrics of running an iPhone application, it does just as good of a job serving the needs of the engineer. Everything from detailed environmental data (which iPhone/Touch hardware is being used, which OS level, which release level of the application), to detailed crash reporting, to application messaging/event logs, and session tracking are supported within the integrated TapMetrics experience. That integration of both business and technical data (including session-level tracking) in a single dashboard is something no one else does today.
They also have a free iPhone app called TapMini that you can use to track sales data for your applications. If you are trying to get more out of your iPhone application portfolio (both in terms of improving the consumer experience and making more revenue), this can be an essential tool.
Unblab is trying to attack the email overload problem by answering the question “What emails should I be reading”? They are approaching this by building a cloud-based service that uses common and user-specific rules to identify and prioritize important email messages. Think of it as attacking the email overload problem from the opposite end of the spectrum as the anti-spam vendors, but using similar technologies.
The latest productivity studies have white-collar workers now spending 4 hours a day in email-related activities, and the volume of legitimate inbox messages increasing 10% per year. The challenge is how to approach better management of that legitimate traffic.
Unblab has two products it is deploying initially to help refine its algorithms and demonstrate the value of its ranking system, which it calls “Importance ranking.”. One product is a Gmail add-on called GTriage, and the other is a mobile app called iTriage. The goal is to get early-stage learnings on the differences of what’s “important” when you are on a mobile device with limited real estate as compared to when you are using a pc-based webmail experience.
The API for the service will be opened up to developers to define their own user experiences (and to allow additional training events/algorithmic enhancements).
KeepFu is a simple note-taking and organization tool to help manage consumer-defined “projects” like trip planning, event planning, and important purchases. The team has built a good Evernote-like note taking tool called Ubernote, and while they got some decent initial traction, they realized there were some key unmet needs that the whole web note-taking space was failing to serve.
Feedback from their own user based shaped this next-generation offering. This new product, KeepFu, is addressing the organization of information, not just the collection of it. KeepFu collects data through one-click and passive data collection while a user reads an email, visits a website, IMs with a friend, or send a Tweet. It then supports a quick drag and drop experience to organize these information snippets into community-created project templates (predefined file folders specific to an activity, like planning a trip). These projects are then easily published or shared.
The goal is to allow information capture without forcing a user to change context and leave the experience they are engaged in, and then support automated and manual classification and organization of the information when it is appropriate, a bit like the weekly photo tagging activity of Facebook users. Simple collection, organization, and sharing is what KeepFu is all about.
Keen Guides started from the personal experience of its founder, a hearing-impaired woman who was visiting a very popular museum in Washington, DC and wanted to have her own tour experience. They handed her a dog-eared pile of paper, and sent her on her way. Trying to come up with a better experience, she went home and made a sign language version of the commentary as video clips she then viewed the next day on her iPod as she toured the Gallery. It was a transformative experience for her, and that’s when Keen Guides was born.
The goals of the company are simple: Leverage new platforms (especially the iPhone) to replace outdated audio wands as content delivery tools. Create self-paced custom tours, based on prior visitor feedback, what time you have available, and your unique interests. Encourage social interaction and sharing of comments, photos, etc., by tour participants. Support access by all, including hearing and vision impaired visitors, as well as non-English speakers.
They are using the iPhone as their initial tour delivery platform, and will support tour content creation (and monetization) by both themselves as well as third parties like DC By Foot. Initial deployments include museums, city walking tours, and college campuses (for orientation tours.).
Legal River is focused on providing a marketplace for matching small businesses with legal professionals. Looking at search queries, you see a lot of businesses searching for uniquely skilled legal professional in areas like patent law, contract disputes, and other specialties.
While there are numerous directory sites for lawyers, they don’t encourage the concept of competing for a given business’s project, and do little to give prior client feedback and other useful data that would help a business owner to make an informed decision.
Legal River has created a marketplace where a business can anonymously post a given project and get competitive bids from multiple subject-matter experts. The system allows easy side-by-side comparison of credentials, prices, and prior client feedback on similar projects. The net result is a better, more transparent process that serves both the business owner as well as the legal professional, who gets access to high-quality local leads.
Legal River has signed distribution deals with a number of sites to both get their service offering in front of small business owners, as well as qualified local lawyers.