AngelPad, the San Francisco-based accelerator founded by former Googler Thomas Korte, held its sixth demo day yesterday. I wasn’t there (I know, it’s super-embarrassing), but I did get to meet with Korte and partner Carine Magescas today to talk about the newest batch of companies.
Magescas said that in the three years since AngelPad was founded, “the premise of what we had in the beginning has been validated.” That premise breaks down to three main ideas, she said. First, she and Korte “push [the startups] really hard.” That’s particularly important in the company’s early stages, Korte said, because it can be hard for the founders to get honest feedback from their family and friends, and because making a relatively small change can have a big effect on a startup’s ultimate trajectory.
Another reason the partners might be particularly tough on the startups is because they’re investing their own money. There’s no separate fund — at least not yet. (When I asked, Korte said, “There hasn’t been a fund to date,” followed by what may or may not have been a significant pause.)
Second, Magescas said, “We are a really small family.” Twelve startups were chosen from thousands of applicants. The first AngelPad group had eight companies, and there was one with 15, but they’ve settled on a dozen for the last few classes. That allows the AngelPad team to spend a lot of time working one-on-one with each company.
“I feel like it’s better to spend more time with less companies,” Korte said, adding that he’s realized that having a long list of well-known mentors isn’t as useful. There are outside experts who come in and give talks on a specific subject, but it really falls to Korte and Magescas to work closely with the founders. When you have too many different people offering “cookie cutter advice,” Korte said, “It hurts more than it helps.”
Third, they said AngelPad has always had a strong focus on business-to-business companies. In fact, there’s not a single consumer-focused company in the current class, according to Korte — some of them might offer consumer products as part of their business, but none of them are focused on building large-scale, free services that make money from advertising. At the same time, Magescas said they’re open to consumer startups, they just have to be “really good.”
So that’e the vision. Here are the companies, in alphabetical order:
Audience.fm uses data from existing music services to help bands and marketers reach their desired audience. For example, if a band was making a tour stop in San Francisco, Audience.fm could identify the band’s biggest fans, and they could offer free or discounted tickets.
Boxbee is a storage startup that delivers boxes to its customers. You fill the boxes with whatever you want to store, then Boxee picks up them up. It won the best new startup prize at this year’s Launch conference.
Chasm.io is a content marketing network, where influencers and brands share content that they want to see promoted. Rather than getting paid for sharing sponsored content, it’s more of a quid pro quo system, where influencers are rewarded for successful sharing with points that they can redeem to share content of their own.
DroneDeploy has built software for commercial drone operators (just to reemphasize — commercial drone operators, not military ones). The founders are former Googlers with machine
learning PhDs from Cambridge and Edinburgh. We covered the company here.
Fieldwire is a mobile task management system designed for workers who are out in the field. For example, it could be used by a team of construction workers while they’re on a construction site.
HumanAPI aims to build an API for accessing all the data that’s being gathered on various health devices, sensors, and services. So instead of figuring out how to work with dozens of different devices, a medical provider could just pull data from HumanAPI.
Iterable is an email marketing startup founded former Google and Twitter engineers. Customers can test different emails and also personalize the messages to each user without any coding.
Pogoseat integrates with existing ticketing solutions and apps, allowing them to offer seat upgrades. Partners already include Ticketmaster, the Golden State Warriors, and other NBA teams.
Roobiq aims to build a layer of voice commands and natural language processing on top of existing CRM systems, so a salesperson who’s out taking meetings could update their CRM from their phone without slowing down to type.
SensorTower has built a marketing platform for mobile app developers, allowing those developers to track and improve their rankings on different search keywords.
TheShelf is a collaboration platform where fashion brands can interact with fashion bloggers. There are already 1,500 bloggers on the platform.
TrulyWireless has built an enterprise phone system that’s cheaper than traditional systems and runs entirely on smartphones.
Interested investors can find the AngelList profile of each startup here.
Video ad network Tremor Video has filed for its long-awaited public offering. The company’s shares will trade on the NYSE at TRMR and it wants to raise at least $86 million.
Tremor Video, which runs ads on more than 500 Web sites and mobile apps, disclosed in its S-1 filing that from 2011 to 2012 its revenue increased from $90.3 million to $105.2 million. During that period, its gross margin improved from 35.2% to 41.7%, due in part to the adoption of its performance-based pricing models, while its net loss decreased from $21 million to $16.6 million.
Since its founding in 2005, Tremor Video has received a total of $116 million in funding from Canaan Partners, Masthead Venture Partners, W Capital Partners, Meritech Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, General Catalyst Partners, as well as investors Jason Glickman, Mark Pinney and James Rossman. Its IPO will be underwritten by Credit Suisse and Jefferies.
Tremor Video is among several video startups that are anticipated to launch IPOs this year. Bloomberg reports that YuMe and Adap.tv have also began planning public offerings as they look forward to strong growth in the video-ad market this year thanks to a boom in online commercials.
Clichs exist for a reason: They usually contain a grain of truth. VC Fred Wilson explains when conventional wisdom is just that–wise.
Choosing the road more traveled isn’t always a bad idea, according to venture capitalist Fred Wilson.
Wilson is the managing partner of two VC firms–Flatiron Partners and Union Square Ventures–and author of the blog AVC. His blog has featured several posts on the subject, highlighting situations in which the conventional wisdom is… well, wise. Here are three instances, compiled from Wilson’s “VC Cliché of the Week” blog series, in which following the norm isn’t such a bad thing.
When it comes to raising money, a rifle shot is better than a shotgun approach.
Why you should embrace it:
Netting VC funding is tough. But you can save yourself–and your investors–from wasting time by thinking carefully about the firms you want to target when fundraising, writes Wilson.
“There is a tendency to build a short list around brand name firms,” he writes. “How many times have I heard, ‘We need a top tier West Coast VC in this round’?”
While the top tier West Coast firms are often good investors, he explains, their brand reputation doesn’t necessarily make them the ideal investors for your business. Wilson suggests building a short list of firms that are already highly likely to be interested in your venture, and concentrating your efforts on those groups–rather than making scattered attempts at the big name firms.
Getting it right the first time will make a big difference, he says.
It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
Why you should embrace it:
“Call it the Napster effect,” Wilson writes. “You’ve got to steal the labels wares, because you’re never gonna get a license.”
According to Wilson, technology is moving fast and savvy entrepreneurs should focus on innovating first and creating a rule book later. In instances when you are pioneering uncharted territory, he advises, the best thing to do is hit the ground running–and make adjustments as you go along. If you can gain enough support from your customers, you can actually influence the way “rule makers” react to your product–just look at share economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, for example.
“That’s why YouTube is going to win bigtime. They’ve built the audience. They’ve built the value added services that make their service fun to use. And eventually they are going to get the content owners to play ball,” writes Wilson.
People fear what they don’t understand.
Why you should embrace it:
To illustrate this point, Wilson cites a real-life example from his earlier days as an investor:
Once upon a time, we had a very early stage company in our sights. We met the company shortly after it was formed, became users of the service, promoted it to a lot of our friends, and got to know the management team really well.
When it came time to consider an investment, we did what all good VCs do: We got on the phone and called 10 people in the industry that we knew really well to get their take on the company’s service. We heard pretty much unanimously that they would never use it. We passed on the investment.
But it was a huge headfake.
According to Wilson, within six months, all of the people that he had called became customers of the company–despite their initial reservations. Wilson suggests that his own proselytizing may have been the very thing that changed their minds.
“When you get unanimous rejection you are actually hearing fear,” he writes. “And fear should be interpreted positively, not negatively. It meant that all of our friends didn’t understand the company’s service and were afraid of it. Probably because it was highly disruptive.”
The chief creative officer promises a new kind of retail experience.
After conquering the worlds of music and fashion, Jennifer Lopez is taking on mobile.
The star has partnered with Verizon Wireless to launch a service called Viva Movil that is strictly aimed at Latinos, reports All Things D‘s Ina Fried.
“We do things differently, including how we shop for wireless devices,” said Lopez, who will serve as Viva Movil’s creative officer, during a press conference held in Las Vegas. The Latino market represents $1.2 trillion in purchasing power and, on its own, would be equivalent to the world’s 14th largest country, notes Fried.
Whether you agree with its strategic branding or not, Viva Movil promises a different kind of retail experience. The staff is bilingual, there’s a play station for kids, and naturally, it will carry a range of Lopez-crafted accessories.
Viva Movil’s first bricks-and-mortar store will open in June at a “very busy intersection” in New York, said Fried, with 15 more planned for cities like Los Angeles and Miami.
But while it have retail outlets, the store will sell goods online. The digital site went live on Wednesday. So far, Viva Movil is selling Verizon’s standard shared and non-shared mobile plans, along with a decent lineup of phones that includes the Droid Razr Maxx and Galaxy S III.
JLo said the company isn’t remiss to to launch its own devices, but for now will stick to selling those in stock. Viva Movil will be more social, however, and feature Facebook integration on its site.
The Saturday Evening Post has a prominent spot in the history of American magazines. It’s where artist Norman Rockwell made a name for himself, and it has published classic American authors like Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But if you had no idea that it was still around, you’re not alone — the magazine’s technology director Steve Harman said that many people “are surprised we’re still publishing.”
Yes, it is still putting out a magazine every two months, with a circulation of about 350,000. Subscribers are mostly in their 50s, but The Post is trying to reach younger readers and adapt to the digital world, as recounted in a couple of stories earlier this year. Now it’s taking the next step in that direction with the release of its iPad and iPhone app, which was built by digital publishing company Yudu.
“Lately, there’s been a lot of commitment convert the post into a 21st century media company,” Harman said.
He added that this isn’t The Post’s first move onto tablets and e-readers. It’s already available on the Nook and in Google Play — he said that wasn’t a conscious strategy, but rather a response to overtures from Barnes & Noble and Google. The Post knew it was important to get onto Apple devices too, but it needed to find the right partner to make it happen.
The app itself includes digitized versions of The Post’s issues going back to November/December 2012 — you can enter your existing subscription information, buy a subscription, or purchase individual issues for $3.99 each. The issues themselves are a pretty straightforward PDFs of The Post’s print publication, without additional interactivity or media. Harman said that if Wired represents the cutting edge of what a magazine can do on the iPad, “we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum.”
He doesn’t want to stay that way for long, however — he said The Post chose to work with Yudu because of the promise of adding videos and interactivity. One unique opportunity: The Post already tries to highlight aspects of its long history in the magazine, but the digital versions (which don’t have limited space) provide an opportunity to do that much more of that.
The Post’s broader challenge is trying to court a younger audience without making it seem like it doesn’t value its existing, older readers. I could see that in the May/June table of contents — putting actor Alan Alda‘s face on the cover probably won’t persuade many folks younger than 40 to buy the issue, but there are also stories on Star Trek, Mad Men, and the speed of WiFi in America. And Harman said the magazine’s digital strategy is particularly important for reaching a broader audience. That strategy covers tablet, smartphone, and e-reader editions, and it also includes The Post’s website, which is supposed to be overhauled next month.
Basho Co-Founder Antony Falco has raised $3 million for Orchestrate.io, a database API similar to Twilio in its capability to ease the complexity of adding features to mobile and web applications. True Ventures led this initial round joined by Frontline Ventures and Resonant Venture Partners.
Falco, who left Basho a few months ago, said Orchestrate.io solves the problems that developers face when building feature-rich applications. Often it means adding multiple databases for geo-spatial, time series or any number of other features.
The database problem has been ongoing. It in part stems from the limits of scale with relational databases. Over the years, companies like Amazon and Google reached their own ceilings and were forced to develop new kinds of databases for high-volume queries. The result is a lot of time spent babysitting databases so the applications run well.
Orchestrate.io acts as a service on a service, abstracting the database layer. Twilio successfully simplified the way developers accessed services, such as SMS and voice. Falco sees a service that also allows developers to add features by pulling the data through an API . “The comparison with Twilio and Sendgrid is not around the problem we solve but the pattern,” Falco said in an email interview. “We are taking a complex and burdensome task — running lots of databases — and putting it behind an API that programmers can use to more quickly build apps. Twilio and Sendgrid both do a similar thing, vastly simplifying the complex, for telecom and email infrastructure, respectively.
Orchestrate.io uses in-memory technology for its service. “Memory — storing indexes and hot data in memory — will be critical to performance,” Falco said. “There are three tiers – the active data and indexes in memory, disk storage for durability and data less often accessed, and as data ages and becomes inactive, a cheaper tier of fault-tolerant storage. The more we serve reads out of the memory, the better our performance will be and, without a lot of latency, users will be able to execute relatively rich queries that might require three or four queries, made sequentially, to separate databases.”
Orchestrate.io is using open source databases to build the service. “We aren’t going to build databases,” Falco said. “The databases themselves can change; we are not tied to any one database. Riak (a Basho service) is of course ideal for this use case — for forming part of the foundation of this service. But other than that, we aren’t really tied to any one thing.”
The company will use multiple data centers for its service to help get the data as close as possible to the application and the user. That makes sense considering the potential performance issues that may come when a large enough group of users are using a service that is just in one place.
For example, an application may be installed in Amazon Web Services East region, and there might be a large number of users in London. Orchestrate will have a large enough data center footprint across different providers to accommodate users no matter their locations.
The interesting story for me is about the future of the database. The real gold is in the data, but it is like a pool of oil without a way to access it. Databases access the data, organize and make it available for query. It’s inefficient. And that’s just when a developer is dealing with one database. Add a few as the features build out and the developer faces a Rube Goldberg system. It’s about getting the work done, not herding cats in a data center.
The future of retail is at the intersection of e-commerce and bricks-and-mortars, says co-founder Neil Blumenthal.
When Warby Parker opened a flagship in New York City, many people were shocked. No one expected the digital eyewear disruptor to expand their business to a bricks-and-mortar store.
Speaking at Internet Week this week, Neil Blumenthal, one of Warby Parker’s founders, said the move was strategic.
“We believe the future of retail is at the intersection of e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar,” he said. “People think it’s crazy that we went and signed a 10-year lease in SoHo, next to Ralph Lauren, across the street from the Apple Store. But we have actually been dabbling in bricks-and-mortar for about three years, almost as long as we have had the website open.”
When it launched, the start-up offered customers the option to try a number of glasses at home, he explained.
“That in itself was a physical form of sales, but what happened was that within 48 hours of launch, we were overwhelmed by demand and had to suspend the home trial program. And people would call up and say, ‘Hey, can we come to your office and try on glasses?’ And we would say, ‘Uh, we are working out of my apartment.’
“People would come in, and we would lay out the glasses on the dining room table. And we thought it was going to be a sub-optimal experience, but it ended up being a very special experience in that we could build relationships with our customers. They could try on all the glasses. We started to realize maybe there was a place for traditional bricks-and-mortar retail.”
The idea for the Warby Parker showroom and pop-ups was born. When those raked in profits, the company decided to open a flagship to anchor the brand. Now, thanks to word-of-mouth and foot traffic, it’s become a profit center, driving nearly 50 percent of their sales.
“Our philosophy from the get-go has always been: How can we grow this primarily through word-of-mouth?
“It’s about how can we create special moments. When you walk into the store, most people are really surprised, because it doesn’t look like any place they have ever been that sells eye glasses.”
Seva Call founder Manpreet Singh says what you do matters more than what you wear.
In Silicon Valley, the classic suit and tie has long given way to hoodies and sweatpants. But Manpreet Singh says he’s fine with that.
The founder and president of Seva Call, a Potomac, Maryland-based site that connects customers with service providers, tells The Washington Post that long hours and focused attention require maximum comfort. Getting dressed to the nines? Well, that’s just a distraction.
“I have no idea how I, or anyone else, got any work done at my old finance job,” he recalls. “Today, if we’re all putting our best foot forward professionally, no one cares whether or not that foot is clad in shiny leather wingtips.”
To promote a culture where everyone is “comfortable being comfortable,” he says Seva Call discourages guests and even job applicants from dressing up. Every minute spent thinking about appearance is time away from putting in work.
“The right balance is one that allows everyone to focus on the work,” he continues. “So far, I’ve managed to work with a team that’s smart enough to know where that balance is. And it has nothing to do with whether or not to wear shoes.”