An icestorm blew through the Triangle region of North Carolina; schools and business closed down to be safe. For seven start-up founders and a crowd of 150+ potential investors, influencers and peers, a little black ice was the last thing on their mind.
LaunchBox Digital’s Demo Day kicked off with a phone-in keynote by NC Governor Bev Perdue. Following news the day before that Red Hat – NC’s most notable tech start-up of the last decade – would not move thousands of jobs out of state, her tone was filled with optimism, encouragement and appreciation. Long known as an evangelist for innovation in the state, Perdue’s message was clear:
In North Carolina, entrepreneurs are king.
Whether or not the seven LaunchBox portfolio company’s teams felt like royalty, all eyes were certainly on their every move throughout the day. Some ideas were easy to grasp immediately, like Leaguescape’s fantasy sports betting platform, some a little more complex and technical, like KeonaHealth’s consumer healthcare triage minimizing platform (not sure I’m doing the description justice). But one thing was plain as day to all:
Chris Heivly and the LaunchBox team know how to select and nurture great start-ups, and they take care of their portfolio company members like family.
Below is my editorialized recap of the LaunchBox portfolio companies, in the order they presented. For the official descriptions of the companies, go here: http://www.launchboxdigital.com/portfolio/launchbox1/
HealthyMe helps people lose weight. It lives on your smartphone and on your laptop, pushes you advice on a regular basis through text messaging, for example. I think it’s great because it takes that step towards you – “here’s what you need to do right now” – rather than waiting for you to log on. Also, apparently it’s a smart app. It gets to know you over time and can make personalized decisions based on your past behavior.
Bottom line: Users lost 12.5 lbs on average per month, 3x other leading weight-loss methods. If they can keep up those kinds of results, America may actually have a healthy future.
Founder Dan Ziernicki laid it out straight: 35 million people bet on fantasy sports a year, it’s an American pasttime. The online poker market is enormous, and now with Leaguescape, people take their fantasy sports savvy and compete against players online – for real cash. They demo’d a newly re-designed site that (it was hinted) will release in Q1, and I have to admit, the user interface looks like a sophisticated fantasy sports player’s dream come true.
Bottom line: Fantasy sports are ingrained in our culture – players that are highly social, highly competitive and not turned off by the perception that it’s “gambling” will flock to the site. (Like many other online betting sites, Churchill Downs’ for example, Leaguescape is 100% legal).
Arthur Klepchukov has a simple mission – let you filter out the noise on Twitter. As a Tweep myself, I think this is one of those ideas that is so elegant and obvious, it practically has to get acquired by Twitter. Much like Facebook lets you curate your wall and news feed by hiding certain friends, apps or update types, SlipStream adds a hide button to tweets that you see in your Twitter waterfall, and select which aspects of the tweet you don’t ever want to see again. As Arthur put it himself: “It lets you drink from the firehose without drowning.” A perfect example, it lets you highlight text in a tweet, like “4sq.com”, and when I hide it – presto! I will never see a FourSquare post again. Send this tweet: “I need @slipstre_am now to filter Twitter” and he’ll send you a beta invite.
Bottom line: Web theorists say curation, personalization and customization is where we’re headed. SlipStream’s in the right place, at the right time, with the right idea.
I don’t know much about the healthcare market, so I’d advise you to dig deeper into KeonaHealth on your own if you’re interested in the market. Basically we get bad advice when we think we’re sick. Some nurses are too cautious, they think everyone needs to be treated immediately. Some are the opposite, everyone goes home even if half need treatment. KeonaHealth solves that problem, hospitals and clinics get more effecient and thus save tons of money, consumers get better healthcare and live a higher quality life. Nurses also benefit, they learn to give better care.
Bottom Line: Triple-win for the consumer, the practitioner and the provider, its in one of the fastest growing industries, and apparently pays for itself in two months.
Let’s say I’m 32 years old and have 1000 friends on Facebook. I want to know how I’m doing with my funds for retirement, and how that compares to all my friends on Facebook. So I use a FiscalPie Facebook App like Retire Where? and there you go, now I know. There’s a lot of online options out there for money management, but as the founders of FiscalPie put it so well, none of them take into consideration who you are. And who knows you better than Facebook, seriously.
Bottom line: There doesn’t seem to be a true winning solution to the problem of personal finance management for your average person. If they can get in front of enough youngsters getting their first paychecks or exiting their first start-up, maybe this is the solution that will stick.
I mentioned curation before as a common web theorist buzzword, the other one is data. Everyone wants to measure, analyze and report data. Mountains and mountains of data. SpringMetrics appears to apply some kind of magic to these mountains of data, allowing decision-makers to do what they should be doing when they’re busy analyzing mountains of data – making good decisions quickly. Watching the demo, the UI for tracking conversions of say, a shopping cart or sign up button on a landing page looks like a breeze. And their reporting dashboard is barebones with just the important facts, and a focus on where your ROI is coming from.
Bottom Line: In a crowded marketplace like web analytics, these guys make it look easy. As a marketer myself, I want to add all of SpringMetrics conversion tracking buttons to my clients’ sites and give it a test run.
This is another where I’m not 100% sure I grasp the concept, so if you’re curious to get the real facts please check out their site. It seems to me CityPockets solves this problem: Daily deals sites like Groupon and LivingSocial own the customer relationships, and essentially just rent out the privilege to merchants, leaving merchants without much in the way of a long-lasting relationship opportunity. It’s like they’re speed-dating and aren’t get any phone numbers. CityPockets makes sure you get the girl’s number, or in non-analogy format, the customer’s email, social graph and demographics, and a shot at a second date. It works out for the customer too, because you get discounts.
Bottom line: There’s probably going to be a few winners in this space, kind of like the CMS world with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. It’s shifting power to the merchant, let’s hope the merchants treat that power responsibly.
Some Final Thoughts
Events like LaunchBox Digital’s Demo Days always leave me thinking of one key takeaway for would-be entrepreneurs, or anyone pitching a new idea to people:
A presentation is not the same as a demo. If you’re presenting for a room full of people, your passion, your clear solution to a problem or approach to an opportunity, and your ability to use colorful analogies and simple, elegant visuals to communicate your value is what will win over the room (along with good numbers for the investor-types). Save the UI walkthroughs for one-on-one, or direct people to a video after the fact. Don’t waste your slides on product features, why not use them showing us how well you understand your customer instead?
Interested in Submitting Your Company to the Launchbox Digital Program?
According to LaunchBox Executive Director Chris Heivly, they should be opening applications for the 2011 program in April. Put a note on your calendar to check their site in April for updates. http://www.launchboxdigital.com/about/program/