March 08 Demo Day at Y Combinator, Mountain View
The first thing that struck me was the quality of the crowd. In addition to the usual VCs (Greylock, Matrix Partners, Charles River Ventures), the room was filled with the likes of angel investor Ron Conway, Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, HotorNot co-founder James Hong, Dave McClure of 500 Hats, and VentureBeat founder Matt Marshall.
Second thing was the quality of the demos. They’re limited in time (seven minutes?), and so the entrepreneurs don’t feel obligated (nor do they have time) to explain every feature of their product, or talk in comically vague terms about all the potential partnerships they’re pursuing. Basically, they offer some context: who they are competing with, who has tried something similar before. What does the service do now, and what might it be able to do in the future? That’s all.
(I’m a big fan of seeing how entrepreneurs respond to questions, so I suggested afterward to Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston that one question from the audience per demo might not slow the pace too much…especially if the answer had to be given in one minute or less.)
From a Boston perspective (the lens through which I see the world these days), a couple things were interesting…
First is that Y Combinator works with two classes of start-ups each year – a summer crop in Cambridge, and a winter crop in Mountain View. The Cambridge crop presents their demos in Cambridge, and then flies out west to present again in California. But the Mountain View crop presents twice in California (no trip east for them.) The first presentation, apparently, is to people who’ve previously invested in Y Combinator companies. Today was the second presentation.
Livingston told me that of the 60 start-ups that have been through the program, only two have decided to stay rooted in the Boston area: Tsumobi and Bountii. (She wasn’t counting the 20 start-ups in the current crop.)
Two start-ups in this Y Combinator class had Boston roots, and both plan to try to make a go of things here in the Valley.
One is Tipjoy, founded by Ivan and Abby Kirigin, who previously worked at iRobot and Nokia. They quit their jobs late last year to develop their idea – an easier way for fans of Web content (whether music, blogs, or videos) to leave a tiny monetary tip… like 10 or 20 cents… as a thank-you for creators of content they enjoy.
The Kirigins still have a house in Arlington, but they’re planning to extend their lease here in the Valley for six months, to see what happens. “This is where 90 percent of the funding is,” Abby told me. “There are more angels in Silicon Valley, because you have lots of people leaving larger companies with money to spend time investing,” Ivan said.
The other is Kirkland North , which is developing a game called Turf, played both online and in the real world. The game started at Yale, spread to Harvard, and is being rolled out to more schools by a small team that includes three ’07 Harvard grads. Co-founders Matthew O’Brien, Andrew Fong, and Hugo Van Vuuren met while living (and playing Halo together) in Quincy House.
O’Brien was far from subtle in making the comparisons to Facebook, noting that Turf had spread among Harvard undergrads even more quickly than Facebook. “We’re not trying to be as big as Facebook,” he said. “We’d be happy to be 1/15th as big as Facebook.” (An allusion to the company’s $15 billion valuation.)
Some other cool ideas from today’s batch of demos:
Wundrbar is a tool bar that tries to anticipate tasks that you want to do (like booking a flight or adding an event to your calendar), and bring them into a single page through clever use of APIs.
Chatterous lets you initiate conversations with your friends through their preferred mode of communication: IM, e-mail, SMS, etc.
Webmynd creates a visual record of your Web browsing history that can be easily navigated… so that without creating scads of bookmarks, you can go back and find stuff that’s relevant to you.
Omnisio lets you annotate, tag, and comment on videos from any video site, and also edit highlights out of longer videos.