Last week TechCrunch UK held the first TechCrunch Pitch! event in London.
The idea came about for this after I went to a number of demo and pitch events in the UK and other European countries and realized that too many startups were not actually getting to the point in their pitch to the audience and potential investors. You have to remember that the concept of pitching, and how to pitch, is deeply ingrained in the US, especially amongst tech companies. In Europe the quality of pitches remains patchy, not helped by a traditional and ingrained European diffidence towards the concept.
This event stripped the whole thing back to basics. The startups were selected by TechCrunch UK (no-one paid to pitch). We hired a sparse, central London venue, invited potential investors, VCs and Angels and asked startups to answer 10 simple questions. This was not designed to be a “glamorous” event – it was designed around quick pitches, networking and informality.
I thought at first that we would only have UK companies wanting to come, but pretty soon it became obvious that startups from other European countries were prepared to fly in. About 120 people came in the end, packing out our small venue (an old church hall bang in the heart of London’s Soho). We ended up with 19 startups, nine doing five minute pitches and 10 “Demo Pit” startups doing short 30 second intros to their companies.
On board as our resident Simon Cowell critic, we had Doug Richard, the UK-based Californian technology entrepreneur, who shot to fame here as the toughest Dragon, on the BBC’s Dragons Den TV series. Here is is in action asking the startups a few tough questions.
At the end, the feedback was that everyone liked the fast pace and the slightly “punk” atmosphere. Some made the point that pitches tended to be better when they were shorter. It went pretty well, and we have lots of feedback now to take the idea forward – and perhaps expand it into other European cities.
In the meantime, please check out the video and pictures kindly recorded by Moblog on our TechCrunch UK account, set up specially for the event. Also check out the Flickr photos from Benjamin Ellis, and Steve Bowbrick. Luckily, Ireland-based startup World TV was front of house to record the whole event, the video of which is embedded below. Click on the full screen version to easily skip from the Demo Pitches to the 5 min Pitches.
The event was organised as a competition with an Asus Eee 900 as the prize. This was won by WatZatSong, who won by a hair’s breadth, as competition from the rest of the top five runners-up was fierce: Weblin, TIOTI, Amazee and Tactile CRM.
Thanks again to all the other startups for pitching (see below for more on them): Wigadoo, MyMart, Qajack, Kappa Prime, Notely, Babbel, TagMan, Kazoome, Betaface, Zendesk, Snagsta, Phreadz, Phonefromhere and Moblog.
Zendesk, a Danish startup, pitch themselves as “Helpdesk 2.0”. They see the problem: there are five billion different channels for reporting bugs and feature requests and for asking questions, whther it be a web startup or a old school business with a help-desk support system. But old school help desk software costs US$ 10,000 in license fees, takes two months to set up and requires extensive training for the customer service agents. But that’s no use to small/medium sized businesses. So Zendesk is a hosted help desk solution which doesn’t require any downloads or installations and can be set up by overnight – without involving the IT department. The Ajax-based user interface resembles everyday web applications. There’s a product tour is available here. There’s some argument in favour of their business. Some studies show that great customer service is the main reason why people recommend a company to others – so the help desk is key here. They’ll have a a free version for the one-man shop. They started in November 2007 and have a small number of active users of the beta so far. They are aiming for 400 paying customers by the end of the year and half a mil in revenue. They raised a seed round of half a mil euros. The feedback from our in-house sceptic Doug was that they faced entrenched competition and any replacement reseller has to be better than the existing solution.
Weblin is another German startup. It makes you and others on a web site visible as small avatars. It’s a bit like Second Life appearing on a Web site. It’s a .exe download which puts your avatar on a site and wraps a social network around it. There is a Facebook App as well. Think of it as a mix of IM and Second life. The Web site where you hang out does not have to include Weblin code. You can have a moving animated avatar from a gallery or a static one. In the ‘lite’ verison of Weblin a web site owner puts a line of code in their site and Weblin avatars can appear on the site.The business model is based on virtual goods you could buy virtual goods like a bunch of flowers for a girl you meet or buy an exclusive avatar. The advertising is focused on locations ( a Brand avatar appears on a car retailer site etc). Founded in the Summer of 2006, launched 2007, backed by T-Venture (T-Online venture unit) Mountain Partners (Swiss VC) and High-Tech Grunderfonds. Team is 24 people in Hamburg. It already has 150 partners, mostly german, but also in Italy, France, and the whole service is available in 8 languages. Doug wasn’t that impressed but the audience seemed to like the concept when it came to voting.
WatZatSong: This is a fun and collaborative online music services emerging from France. Music quizzes are popular, so this is a music gaming community. You sing the song and the community recognises it. Monetized via ads, but also white-labeling for music stores. Singstar etc are doing well with virtual Kareoke, so this has an interesting chance. Winner of the pitch prize (just!).
TIOTI (Tape It Off The Internet, from the UK) is a social network around TV shows which links to online TV services such as Apple, Amazon, AOL and Joost, amongst others. You can’t download the shows from Tioti – it just points to the relevant sources. Thus it is attempting to avoid the legal problems which have dogged other ‘download’ sites. TIOTI wraps all these feeds in social tools, allowing users to recommend shows to friends, to discuss and see what their friends are watching. Think Facebook meets TV on-demand. Doug really liked Tioti – the question is, can they find another round of funding after Pond Ventures? I’ve written about TIOTI form the start, e.g. here, here, here etc.
Snagsta (UK) is still in stealth mode but opened the kimono for TechCrunch Pitch! In essence, Snagsta wants to help you find the things Google can’t. That’s a tall order. Think a mashup of Facebook, Amazon, About.com, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google and OnMyList. However, it’s closest to the latter. Make lists of what you like and Snagsta filters this through your social graph. This seems like an incredibly hard thing to execute, but until Snagsta launches a beta we can all take a look at, who knows.
Phreadz (UK) is a one-man startup which has been likened to Seesmic, but actually incorporates a lot more features, like audio, text, images. It’s all about tracking and “threading” any type of conversation in any media. I reviewed it extensively here. The fact that it was built by one guy, Kosso, is amazing. And out of all the startups presenting he kept most closely to the brief I set, to answer the questions.
PhoneFromHere.com (UK) creates web call me button widgets for use on websites, blogs, social networking sites, etc. that enable visitors to call others while protecting privacy. It has a cool iGoogle ‘Phone Home’ widget so you can use your laptop, headset and internet connection to place calls. PhoneFromHere doesn’t use SIP but an opensource solution to get through firewalls more easily. PhoneFromHere’s pitch is that it web sites can increase traffic and stickiness by delivering live voice chat. Users are not required to download any software, surrender personal information, or even use a phone. PhoneFromHere likened themselves to Ribbit, which BT bought for $55m.
Moblog is a venerable mobile blogging startup in the UK, but the reason they were selected to pitch is that they are relaunching from being a service for client companies to use towards being a full-blown mobile blogging platform. They are launching an API, a hosted solution for anyone to create a mobile blogging community, Geotagging, Integrated blogging through Spinvox (you can create a blog just by calling into the site) and Shozu, Groups, domain mapping. They also do what many web-based startups can;t do which is handle incoming SMS and MMS. You can actually join the site simply by sending an SMS or calling a number in the UK, USA, France, Germany, and Spain. They have a long history of of working with clients like Greenpeace UK, Oxfam, Glastonbury and Channel 4. Doug’s view was that they needed to concentrate on one aspect of this “many-headed hydra” of a service…
Amazee (from Switzerland) gave a great pitch, explaining their very high-concept service which would effectively sit above the growing clamour of social networks and make intelligent sense of it all. Amazee is “a social collaboration platform that empowers people to influence the world by running public projects.” Amazee, based in Zurich, Switzerland, launched 10 months ago and the platform went public in May 2008. Doug’s feedback was that Amazee is a great idea but it’s “too early”. A few people in the crowd disagreed.
Tactile CRM Tactile CRM is a web based, simple CRM for your business, providing a way to track your sales, deals, emails and customer contact.
Wigadoo is a co-ordinated purchasing platform for leisure and travel services. In plain English it means you can pay for something with your friends and Wigadoo sorts it all out.
MyMart is a mobile commerce company enabling people to buy and sell stuff on a mobile. You can snap a photo of something you want to sell and text it to 60067.
Qajack is a Question and Answer video game where you bet on your reputation. Think of Seesmic as a poker game…
In private beta right now, Kappa Prime helps researchers to keep abreast of the latest scientific developments by providing access to the papers and events. It is focused on collaborative bibliography management.
Notely.net is an education market web app along the lines of eduFire, LearnHub, Grockit, aimed at helping students.
Babbel is a language learning website, online since January.
TagMan is attempting to fill the gap between content management, ad serving and web analytics to make deploying online marketing applications and behavioural marketing solutions faster and easier.
Kazoome is a live interactive environment where groups of friends or colleagues can all see the same website, photos or video. It’s like web-meeting software but done soley with a browser and designed for social, ad-hoc get togethers.
Betaface is a facial recognition and rich media indexing service which can also detect gender and age detection, recognise speech and objects.
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