Editor’s note: The following report comes from Don Dodge, who blogs at Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing and is a business development executive for Microsoft. TechStarsis a startup incubator that selects 10 teams and provides funding of $18,000 per team, as well as free office space, operational support, and mentoring from investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
TechStars has now been operating for three years. Three of the original ten companies from 2007 have already been acquired (SocialThing by AOL, Intense Debate by Automattic, and Brightkite by Limbo). Today, TechStars debuted ten new startups from their 2009 class in Boulder, Colorado. The teams presented today to about 150 VCs and Angel investors for the first time. These companies are about three months old and have two or three founder employees. Here are Don’s notes on each of the ten startups to present at TechStars today. (He also did this for us last year).
Next Big Sound – Measures the growth and popularity of music groups across major web properties like MySpace,Twitter, Last.fm, and others. Next Big Sound measures things like number of fans, number of plays, and comments. It’s best understood as a sort of Compete.com for bands. The company hopes to be the de facto standard for understanding band related metrics on the web. They currently track about 500,000 bands. They use the “Freemium model” with free basic accounts, and charge for premium services like more advanced reports, social media impact analyses, and other services. Current customers include Jason Mraz and about 30 other bands.
Everlater – This company enters the crowded but very lucrative online travel space with a site that allows users to richly document their travel experiences. Users can upload stories, experiences, photos, and more directly to Everlater or the site can pull items in from external services such as Flickr. There is also an iPhone app that enables offline recording of travel experiences which can be synchronized and shared later. Each user and trip has a unique URL like this one that can easily be shared with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. Everlater also allows users to share their travel experiences offline by generating and sending postcards, printing scrapbooks, and photo albums.
Vanilla Forums – Vanilla is a popular open-source application that already powers over 300,000 discussion forums on the web. It’s been around for many years. Today, the company announced that it has released a greatly enhanced Version 2.0 of Vanilla both as open source and for the first time as a hosted solution . Vanilla has a business model similar to WordPress. They have vanillaforums.org for open source, free download/use, and vanillaforums.com as a hosted service, but with up-sells for things like domain name mapping, removal of ads, and single sign-on integrations. They should get a good bump in initial sales from the 300,000 installed base of free users, some of whom will be happy to pay for the additional services.
SendGrid - SendGrid is an email service that solves the problems faced by companies sending transactional outbound email (emails delivered by software applications such as sign up confirmations, shipping alerts, friend requests, and notifications). By using SendGrid instead of their current outbound email servers, companies can improve the delivery rates and solve scalability problems. SendGrid also solves many of the common problems faced by companies sending transactional email, such as CAN-SPAM compliance, link tracking, open rate reporting, and more. The company already has nearly 100 paying customers and has delivered over 100 million emails on their behalf.
Take Comics - Provides online digital versions of comic books. The company has relationships with comic book publishers and has technology which converts the print format into pixel-perfect digital formats optimized for desktop and mobile experiences. The comics themselves are visually stunning both on the desktop and on devices such as the iPhone. Comics can be purchased directly through the iTunes style application which also includes a variety of social features and content discovery mechanisms.
Rezora – An email marketing service specifically designed for the real estate market. It’s similar to Constant Contact, Vertical Response and many other similar services but it adds many real estate specific capabilities such as MLS integration and local real estate news feeds. The software is sold to agencies for use by their realtors and can track clicks to help realtors understand what properties, areas, and price ranges their clients are interested in. The company has already signed a major client with 1,100 agents.
Retel Technologies – Provides video surveillance analysis for stores and restaurants. It uses security camera feeds to deliver interesting metrics and analyses such as table cleanliness, service times, and employee activities. Many companies have tried to use sophisticated techniques to process daily video streams from security cameras with varying success. What’s interesting here is that Retel has re-thought the process and delivers human tested results using paid micro-tasks on services like Mechanical Turk. This enables the company to deliver sophisticated reports that include data points such as male vs female ratios, instances of theft by employees, and other actions that only humans can get right. The company charges a flat monthly fee per camera for these services. Retel already has some national chains as early customers and is reporting that $550K of a planned $750K raise is already committed.
TimZon – Pronounced “Team Zone”, this service is billed as “the easiest way to share visual feedback” and is targeted at virtual teams and customer service organizations. The service allows you to record a visual message that can include screen images, audio, video, and white-boarding /annotation., then easily share it as a URL. Because it requires no software to be installed in advance, this is an easy way for organizations to exchange complex visual feedback. The basic service is free to use, but TimZon provides paid packages for companies that want to systematically collect and organize visual feedback.
Mailana – Helps you share what really matters with the people who really matter. It analyzes your communication patterns from email, Twitter, and social networks to determine your inner circle. It then allows you to share your inner circle with the inner circles of your close connections. The idea here is that existing social graphs are too inclusive to be used to efficiently discover connections and expertise. Mailana aims to simplify this by implicitly generating only your “inner circle” based on actual communication patterns, then exposing that only to your most frequent and trusted connections. In theory this dynamic, current, and accurate social graph will expose the most efficient path to needed, trusted connections. The business model is likely to be something like LinkedIn, meaning advertising, and up-sells for premium services.
Spry - Spry provides insight into software development projects by monitoring all the tools and services used by a project team. Spry analyzes the data in real-time, generates progress reports, and enables clear and consistent communication throughout the team. This helps managers and developers make better decisions throughout the process thereby reducing the likelihood of failure and delay. What Spry is doing is analogous to the activity stream on Facebook, but based on the activity of the development tools and services used on a project. Spry is similar to 6th Sense Analytics which was acquired by Rally Software earlier this year. Spry will use the classic 3 tier (free, pro, enterprise) revenue model, with more features as you move up the scale.
TechStars will also unveil nine additional new companies in Boston (this is the first year for the Boston version of TechStars) coming up on September 10th.