Y Combinator's August 2008 Demo Day in Cambridge
1. The Boston VC community has finally woken up to this event, and the promise (and engineering skillz) that many of the YC start-ups show. Represented in the audience today were Matrix, Sigma, Kepha Partners, Spark Capital, and a zillion others -- many of whom weren't present last August. General Catalyst sent at least three folks, including co-founder Joel Cutler. More conspicuous this year were the VC firms who didn't sent a partner or associate, like Polaris, Prism, Highland, North Bridge, and some alleged early-stage funds like .406 Ventures and DACE Ventures.
2. Many of the start-ups were focused on radically simplifying the sign-up process to use a new Web service, or set up a new blog or Web page. I found myself wondering, "When will a YC start-up figure out how to enable me to join a new service before I've even heard of it?" Maybe in the Spring 09 crop...
3. I think Paul Graham is the Schumpeter of the 21st century. Every start-up seemed to be trying to destroy (or at least improve upon) something that has been around for a couple years....including Evite, Monster.com, Reddit, Blogger, existing digital photo frames, and Tumblr. That's a good thing, but it was funny to hear Posterous, the first start-up to present, diss Tumblr with Tumblr investors (two guys from Spark) in the audience.
Here's the video I shot at the event, followed by some notes on all of the non-stealth companies that demoed. (Video includes TicketStumbler, Fliggo, Picwing, MeetCast, CO2Stats, Job Alchemist, Slinkset, Frogmetrics, Anyvite, Popcuts, Snipd, and Ididwork -- though not in that order. There's also a brief cameo from John Puskarich, co-founder of Bountii -- a Y Combinator alum.)
- Posterous was first out of the gate, and impressed a lot of people. A slick, simple way to start and maintain a blog using only your phone (or any device that can send an e-mail). Handles photos, MP3s, and video really well. Great company name, too. Already covered by TechCrunch and VentureBeat.
- TicketStumbler is, simply, Kayak for sports tickets, searching lots of sites across the Web and then helping you sort the options, for instance, that exist for seeing the Red Sox game. (Where do you want to sit, and how much do you want to pay?) Covered by TechCrunch here. They say they are already profitable.
- Fliggo runs an existing video-sharing community ... planning to introduce something new soon, geared to people who're dissatisfied with YouTube. A bit more about what they're up to is in the video, above.
- Picwing is trying to do for photo frames what Apple did for MP3 players... marry nicely-designed hardware with easy-to-use software. Frame is $249, and has a Linux computer inside. Their demo involved shooting a (blurry) pic of the audience and then having it appear a few seconds later on the frame. Neat! The somewhat cyncial VC next to me seemed ready to place his order.
- MeetCast: trying to make Web conferencing simpler than WebEx yet more sophisticated than Tokbox. Start a conference in a few seconds... invite people to call in or participate via video... or share presentations or docs from their desktops. This was one of those apps that you really want to get your hands on to see if it's actually as easy-to-use as the demo made it seem.
- CO2Stats felt like the most mature start-up of the bunch. And they have an actual business model that involves people paying money for a valuable service, not simply placing "targeted ads" on Web pages, or hoping someone will buy them before it becomes obvious they can't produce revenue. They certify that a Web site is run with green power, and will actually sell the site renewable energy credits to offset the site's carbon footprint. Already profitable, apparently the early leader in its space, and just signed IBM as a customer. I suspect they will be acquired before 2008 is out...
- Youlicit: Trying to best Mahalo and Squidoo by using algorithms rather than human editors to create guides to a given topic (like "picking up girls".) The results are similar to the topical directories that humans built for Yahoo in the mid 1990s. Maybe Yahoo should throw everything away and simply buy Youlicit? They'd hardly have to change the ticker symbol...
- Job Alchemist: Helping blog publishers make more money by putting targeted job listings on their sites... and collecting a bounty when a candidate gets the job. Also makes setting up niche job boards easier. Can't wait to try this.
- Create Digg-like rating systems, or votable lists, in a few minutes with Slinkset. Another thing I need to tinker with for InnoEco.com.
- Frogmetrics uses Nokia N810 devices (about $350 each) to collect survey data from consumers after they've engaged in transactions. Six employees.... they say they're already profitable... and just landed a Fortune 150 client. They say their survey response rates are better than 90 percent... and that they use the N810 because they think people are less likely to swipe it than an iPod touch, which is cheaper. Establishments can collect e-mail addresses from their customers, and also analyze how people rate individual employees or product quality at a particular time of the week. Like, does a restaurant's food get bad ratings on Sunday night, but great ones on Monday? They've been testing it in two Cambridge restaurants, which they wouldn't name.
- Anyvite is yet another Evite-killer. Focused in part on making invitations easy to create and respond to on mobile phones. Covered here on TechCrunch.
- Snipd is doing content-sharing/social bookmarking, with a focus on honing in on specific passages of an article, or segments of a video, that users find most interesting. That lets other users hone in on the "hot zones" of a video -- the part that other users found most compelling.
- Ididwork allows employees to track what they've accomplished, and publish it to a Facebook-style feed page. Managers can also use the system to review employees, giving them more frequent feedback than the quarterly review. Already profiled on TechCrunch.
- Backtype wants to be Google for comments, hunting down blog comments and making them searchable and trackable (so you could track all of my comment posts across any site, or create alerts about a given company that may be mentioned in comments.)
- Popcuts is a bit like the music site AmieStreet, except they reward people who purchase music early (and presumably tell their friends about it) by giving them a cut of future sales. If a song takes off, not only could you have the 99 cent purchase price refunded, but you could earn a return for being a "taste-maker."
A few other presenters are still in stealth mode, and we were asked to leave their presentations off-the-record. We'll see if folks do that...
Here are some of the people I saw in attendance:
David Beisel of Venrock, Don Dodge of Microsoft, Bijan Sabet and Rob Go of Spark Capital, Jeff Yolen of Sphere, Saar Gur from the California office of Charles River Ventures, Steve McCormack from Commonwealth Capital, Margaret Lawrence from Pilot House Ventures, Matt Witheiler from Flybridge, Tali Rappaport from Matrix, David Baum from Stage 1 Ventures, Jonathan Golden from Greylock, Jonathan Seelig from Akamai, Bill Warner of Warner Research, David Hornik from August Capital, Rich Levandov from Avalon, Neil Sequiera, David Orfao, and Joel Cutler from General Catalyst, Matt Hjerpe from Atlas, Jeff Glass from Bain Capital Ventures, Roger Krakoff from Sigma, Fred Wilson from Union Square, Dharmesh Shah from HubSpot, and Jo Tango from Kepha.
Also saw John Puskarich from the shopping search site Bountii, a Y Combinator graduate from a previous class. They've gotten some angel funding. John, an MIT alum, has been working in Cambridge, with his co-founder Samir Meghani in the Bay Area. Sadly, John told me today he's heading west soon to keep building the company out there.
We'll see if some Boston investors put money into this summer's batch of start-ups...and maybe keep them around the neighborhood. So far, Bijan Sabet of Spark is the one Boston-area VC to put money into a YC company, I'm In Like With You, which is actually based in NYC.
Here's some previous InnoEco coverage of Y Combinator and video with Paul Graham.