Diversity of ideas and founders is the 500 Startups way. So it’s fitting that the accelerator’s 11th Mountain View batch would feature an extraordinarily wide range of companies; from those tackling huge problems like recruiting and health in the Arab world, to more “niche to win” businesses focused on picture framing or cookie delivery. Investors I spoke to weren’t particularly excited about this Demo Day’s set, but time will tell if some can expand into adjacent markets to become the type of startups VC drool over.
500 Startups partner Sean Percival explained that some of the ideas might seem small because his incubator prefers companies with live products and “we’re really looking for early traction.” That contrasts sharply with fellow accelerator Y Combinator, which has begun investing in hard-science companies in areas like nuclear energy that can take years to get to market.
Percival was proud to note that 37% of this batch’s startups have at least one female founder. “We’re a more welcoming place” he tells me. To keep up that diversity, not just in gender but race, location, and ideas, 500 Startups has been traveling around the world doing info sessions in major metro areas to teach entrepreneurs about the benefits of accelerators. Many startups feel like they might have been around too long to join something like 500 Startups, but Percival insists that “Unless you’re Series A, you’re not too late.”
500 Startups has now invested in 400 companies across 17 cohorts from its Mountain View, Mexico City, and San Francisco locations. Here are our picks for the top companies from the 11th Mountain View batch, followed by the others in the class:
Vaivolta – Construction equipment rental marketplace
Brazil is booming. There are cranes everywhere. There are over 200,000 construction companies in the countries. The number of construction equipment rental companies grew from 1000 in 2008 to over 5000 now, and they all need equipment. Vaivolta wants to replace the traditional model where one company owns equipment and rents it out, and instead creates a fluid marketplace for rentals across providers. Customers can choose based on different equipment models, reputation, services offered, and price. It’s a $3.5 billion a year market that’s growing, yet it lacks the marketplace technology that has been so successful for companies like Airbnb, Vaivolta wants to take the headaches out of wearing a hard-hat.
Doughbies – On-demand baked goods
While grocery and meal delivery services like Instacart and Sprig are blowing up, no one is touching baked goods. That’s why Doughbies built a system that can delivery fresh-baked cookies and other confections in under 20 minutes. Baked goods are supposedly a $50 billion a year business, while food gifting is another $21 billion. Doughbies is growing 120% a month. It booked just $7,000 in revenue in January, but it has 90% gross margins and is only operating in four zip codes for 20 hours a week. I’m a chocolate chip cookie fanatic, and when I tried theirs, I was very impressed. And the company was certainly a hit of 500 Startups’ Demo Day, as it pulled an ‘Opera’ and had a cookie waiting beneath everyone’s chairs at the end of their pitch.
99Gamers – community marketplace for buying and selling video games
Games are pricey to buy new, but players can quickly get bored with them, making gaming an expensive hobby. 99Gamers can help gamers buy cheaper and sell their old games. Since the marketplace uses a proxy digital currency called Coins, there are no transaction fees for buying and selling. Sellers just pay shipping. The catch is you can’t cash out. You have to spend your Coins on more games. With 240,000 members it’s already the biggest dedicated video game re-sale marketplace, and 99Gamers has a stunning 97% margin. Its goal is to displace eBay with a community just for game lovers.
AppZen – Expense report automation, auditing, and fraud
Expense reports are annoying, time-consuming, and rife with fraud. There’s $441 billion a year in fraudulent expenses. AppZen’s artificial intelligence system can fix this by replacing human expense auditors with algorithms. AppZen’s engine can detect wrongful charges for strip clubs, expensive lunches with friends, groceries, and more. The startup claims to offer instant ROI through audit time savings of 50%, and 80% saved employee time. AppZen’s already done $445,000 in bookings for its enterprise SAAS product with customers like Gartner and LinkedIn. AppZen could make you and your boss stop dreading expense reports.
The Rest Of 500 Startups’ 11th Mountain View Batch
PlotBox– SAAS for cemeteries and crematoria
Cemeteries use paper and old school spreadsheets to manage their land and know where to dig. But these outdated systems can lead to errors and expensive lawsuits when graves are dug in the wrong place and someone’s Rest In Peace is disturbed. PlotBox offers a SAAS for cemeteries and crematoria that helps them manage their land and bookings. The startup can use drones to quickly scan cemeteries for free plots much faster than traditional methods. It scanned a 50 acre cemetery via drone in 30 minutes when it would have taken 100 hours normally. PlotBox has $280,000 in closed sales already, and is hoping to kill the old cemetery management systems to bring technology to a $3 billion US market.
Techpear – Job candidate ranking software
Scoring potential employees is a haphazard process that leads to sub-optimal hiring. Everyone has a different idea of what to look for in a job candidate. But Techpear can measure cultural fit, and test a candidate’s knowledge on what they’ll be working on with industry-expert written quizzes. The company found early interest in its product from Slack and Zalora. Hiring the wrong employee can be toxic for a small startup. Big data has changed everything else about business, and now it’s changing how those businesses hire.
Headout – HotelTonight for last-minute tours & activities
Travelers spend $84 billion a year on last-minute activities during vacations. Headout offers a marketplace for buying these tours, sports activities, and cultural experiences. Headout has had 4000 users so far who’ve spent $1.2 million total to book adventures within 24 hours. Headout takes a 20% commission, and plans to expand to 11 more markets this year. Most travel activity bookings still happen offline, but Headout could change that. Other startups like Vayable, Viator, and Peek are competing in the space, but Headout hopes its mobile-first, last-minute approach will make it the traveller’s choice.
eTobb – Arab Doctor Finder
It’s tough to find a doctor if you live in the Arab world. Without doctors they trust, patients go to the emergency room if something goes wrong which can rack up huge unnecessary costs. eTobb makes it easy to anonymously ask real doctors a question for free, browse doctors through its online profiles, and even book appointments. eTobb helps put doctors in the Arab world online so they can be discovered, and help their people stay healthy.
HeTexted – Women’s advice on demand
Women want answers to life’s questions. They can get them from the crowd or field experts with HeTexted. Those questions range from ‘How do I get an ex-boyfriend to stop bothering me?’ to “Should I go on a second date with the guy I met on Tinder?” HeTexted has seen 3 million user sessions, 100,000 questions asked and answered, and has 70,000 hardcore users who’ve visited over 200 times. It’s already been featured on Good Morning America and Forbes, partnered with Conde Nast and Buzzfeed, and grown 51% since joining 500 Startups. The company believes that beyond its service, its viral content has long-term value. HeTexted could turn the whole female gender into a community of mentors.
Cleanify – Comprehensive home cleaning service marketplace
Many home cleaning services are mom & pops that are still offline. Cleanify brings them online alongside franchised shops and online services like Homejoy to create an aggregated marketplace of cleaning services. Users can compare pricing, scheduling availability, and reviews of all the options that serve their location. The company is now at a $2 million run rate and is growing 40% month over month. Rather than get frustrated when you favorite cleaner can’t squeeze you in before your big party, Cleanify can find you the next-best, or an even better service to make your home look perfect.
Connected2.me – WhatsApp with web interface and anonymity
When you use mobile chat apps you can often only chat with other mobile users, and you often have to connect with them on a social network. Connected2.me gives you a unique URL that people can use to message you, and you can also chat anonymously or with a random stranger ChatRoulette-style. The app has 2.7 million users and haven’t done any paid marketing. The company serves ads and also has premium features, making it profitable already. While WhatsApp has just started to roll out a web interface, it’s a huge space where Connected2.me might be able to carve out a piece of the pie.
Blinq – Rapportive for messaging
When someone messages you, knowing what’s been up in their life before you ask can benefit your business or social life. Blinq jacks into your messaging app, and if you press its little dot, it will reveal important information about your conversation partner. It has 15,000 downloads and a 4.5 star rating. Blinq is trying to become the biggest context database ever by listening to your notifications.
Socialight – Social media-based business decision intelligence
If you know what your customers want or what your competitors are doing, you’re more likely to succeed. Luckily they’re blurting this out on social media. Socialight analyzes any set of customers, competitors, or other group of public social accounts, and relays actionable data to its clients. For example, it knows that recruiting ads for software engineers do better with the word “Developer” in Detroit, but “Programmer” in Miami as that’s how people talk in those different locations. Socialight can also use contests, polls, and other interactive methods to pull important data for the crowd. It’s already seen $75,000 in bookings since January 1st from companies like Microsoft, Eventbrite, Udemy, and Castrol. Sometimes the big data you have to analyze is just floating out in the open.
Funnely – Facebook ad optimization for small ecommerce businesses
Most small merchants don’t have the expertise to run great social ads themselves, or the money to pay for expensive enterprise adtech tools. Funnely offers an affordable system that converts an ecommerce site into ads that run to the right people at the right time. Funnely claims to be able to boost sales and conversion rates for businesses, while letting merchants focus on their business not their ads.
Catnip – Snackable viral content reader
Some say our attention span has dropped to just 2.8 seconds, so Catnip is delivering content that fits into that tiny window. It’s app is a feed of the top memes from Reddit, Imgur, Twitter, and other social and humor sites. It’s scored 1 million uses in eight months and claims some stay an average of 13 minutes per day. It might not fix the big problems in the world, but Catnip could brighten the dull little moments of your day.
Coinding – Bringing Bitcoin to the gaming industry
When a gamer loves the game they’re playing, is thankful for a teammate who saved their ass, or wants to compliment one of their eSports heroes, there’s no way to show their gratitude. Most payment systems charge too high of fees to make microtransactions feasible. But Coinding wants to let gamers tip developers and fellow players with Bitcoin since it’s essentially free to transfer. If it works, Coinding could make the gaming universe a little more friendly.
Mountary – DIY picture framing
Finally, lean startup methodology has come to the clumsy picture framing business. Mountary makes it easy to get things framed. You give it your art’s dimensions, and it sends you a kit with a frame, plexiglass, mat, and hanging materials, and you do it yourself. Mountary currently cites 52% margins and big cart sizes in this $2 billion US market. While the idea of a framing startup might seem a little silly, long-term it plans to use the market as a beachhead for invading the bigger home decor business.
Paykind– Send charity donations directly to Africans’ mobile phones
When you make a donation, the dollars could go to overhead, distribution costs, corruption, and more before they reach the intended recipients. Paykind wants to cut out all the middle men for the $42 billion in aid sent to Africa each year. It lets you send an electronic voucher for specific goods or services to someone in need. The voucher arrives on their phone and they can redeem it at local stores. Studies are beginning to show that direct giving works better than distributing funds to traditional non-profits. Paykind makes this kind of charity easier than ever.
Elwafeyat – On-demand obituaries
Arabic for “obituaries and condolences”, Elwafeyat wants to make commemorating someone’s life easier. Right now, obituaries can cost as much as $1500, only show up in limited places like local newspapers, and it can take time to get them written. Elwafeyat’s $50 service boasts a quick turn around time, and will make the obituary available on the web as well. With 30% month over month growth, the company is seeing people use Elwafeyat not just for obits, but to send custom condolences to loved ones.
Astroprint – The cloud operating system for the 3D printing industry
Normally to use a 3D printer, you have to install a ton of hardcore design software and fiddle with tons of settings. Astroprint makes it simple to print your own designs, print remotely, and eventually plans to have a 3D printables design marketplace. It hit its Kickstarter goal in a day and went to raise 400% of what it planned. Astroprint wants to do for 3D printers what Windows did for computers: make them accessible to the masses.
Native Tap – Platform that helps developers test and debug apps on several devices at once
There are currently 1.3 million apps in the App Store and millions of crashes per day. Developers need to test their app in several different devices and platforms to make sure it works correctly. This can take a lot of time and work to stay up on. Native tap is a platform that allows mobile developers to test on over 500 different platforms on one tablet. Developers can access any device they need to test remotely through the tablet app as if it was right in front of them. Native tap supports many platforms including iOS, Android, Mac, Linux and Windows.
Studypool – On-demand tutoring marketplace
Studypool co-founder Richard Werbe was the type of student that other students were constantly asking for help on tests and various questions they were having trouble with understanding in their classes. Werbe thought he should get paid for that and created Studypool with his friend and co-founder Jimmy Zhong to help him and other students do just that. The platform connects students with specific questions to tutors who can give them help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It promises to reduce the response time downy to 11 minutes. Werbe says the company has an $800,000 run rate and that the average transaction is around $13 per question.
Italist – Sources items that are hard to find outside of Italy and makes them available online
The site offers fine Italian men’s and women’s clothing items such leather shoes and sweaters. These are items that you can’t usually get without actually going to Italy to buy them. Founder Raffaele Giovine says it is already the largest Italian luxury marketplace in 50 countries, with 20 brand offerings included on the site. Italist manages all this without carrying any inventory. It is a U.S. based startup with over 100 employees. It has $2 million ARR and 50 percent growth month-over-month.