Startup Riot 2012 Atlanta

Wow, Startup Riot 2012 was easily the best one yet. Almost all the startups were true seed-stage ventures with working prototypes and everything ran smoothly. This year had 30 presenting companies instead of 50 with three minute pitches followed by three minutes of questions from the four-judge panel.

On a personal note, I was able to give out over 400 copies of my new book Startup Upstart. Please leave a review of it on Amazon.com, if you liked it :-).

Here are notes from the Startup Riot 2012 Atlanta presenting companies:

CubeVibe

  • SaaS for HR
  • $6b industry
  • Only 1 in 3 fully engaged employees
  • Trend of empowered employee
  • Focus on employees as value centers
  • Replacing SuccessFactors in a beta customer
  • Target 20-1000 employee companies

Getone Rewards

  • Mobile marketing and digital loyalty for retail locations
  • Simple app, detailed reporting
  • 100 different locations deployed
  • Raising $500k

Inquire.ly

  • From Scotland
  • Capture data by forms, email, or API
  • Data is centralized and secure
  • A simple CRM
  • Built-in nudges/reminders
  • Between Wufoo and Salesforce.com

Scholr.ly

  • Change academic research publishing
  • Difficult to search research
  • Tools to improve search of related papers and authors
  • Launching today

Synkup

  • Scheduling is a big time suck
  • Scheduling tools aren’t for ad hoc meetups
  • Targeting adults 18-44 with smart phones
  • Opportunity for reservations, deals, tickets, etc
  • Give the gift of time

Body Boss

  • Get lean and sexy without guess work
  • App tells you what to do
  • Personal fitness training system
  • Android app but iPhone app eventually

Lifekraze

  • Place to encourage and motivate others to do their best
  • Gamification of life initiatives
  • Earn points and get rewards
  • 1.8 million page views
  • 100,000 accomplishments
  • Users in over 100 countries

Rent Post

  • Property management app
  • SaaS app for landlords
  • Property manager, vendor, tenant, property owner
  • Manage work orders, vendors, bill pay
  • Market opp: 40M rental properties and 100M tenants

Extrafeet

  • 7 employees
  • Gaming studio
  • Location based offer network
  • First game is Plan X
  • Free to play and then sell virtual goods
  • $14 per player on average
  • Huge smartphone market

SalesLoft

  • $30b year spent selling
  • Scans Internet for data sales reps need to know
  • Prospect ranking and customized alerts
  • On the Salesforce.com AppExchange
  • JobChangeAlerts.com free tool

TicketStreet

  • Winner of MAKE competition
  • Location based ticket sales app for venues
  • Helps fight scalper problem

Badgy

  • SEO for social
  • Make the most of social feeds
  • People pay attention to the stream and not ads
  • Fans need to carry the conversation
  • Help marketer increase engagement
  • Raising $800k to make self service
  • 52,000 badges served
  • 20% response rate

SynkMonkey

  • Making plans, made easy
  • Calendaring, texting, and mapping
  • Mobile calendar invite
  • iPhone app

CallRail

  • Track calls from ads
  • Uses Twilio
  • Tracked 50,000 phone calls
  • Local businesses need call tracking for their online ads
  • Most small businesses use the phone to talk to prospects
  • Sell through marketing agencies

Team Fenom

  • Woman’s sports content
  • 88% of news for men’s athletics
  • First online community for woman’s sports
  • Raising $500k and looking for corporate sponsors

Donny’s List

  • Categories of learning
  • Profile pages of available tutoring
  • Live video conferencing with an expert
  • Collaborative whiteboard and chat
  • 500 experts ready to go

We & Co

  • Build relationships with service provider like barrios to
  • The experience of being a regular
  • On iPhone plus HTML5
  • Uses Foursquare API
  • Check in and then thank the person
  • Insider perks for loyal customers

YouEye

  • Online user testing videos
  • Create a test in seconds
  • Share a link or hire testers through Task Rabbit
  • Hear and see the tester through a web cam

Driverly

  • Selling your car sucks
  • 25M used cars sold last year
  • When to sell app based on mileage, gas prices, new model introductions
  • KBB info is often stale and doesn’t forecast

Tunefruit

  • Music licensing
  • Millions of people create music and want to license it
  • Existing services are poor
  • Modern music marketplace
  • Launched 45 days ago

TagSeats

  • Want to buy tickets near friends for Linsanity
  • Interactive seating charts and social sharing
  • Tag seats for an event and share over social media
  • Profile pages for users
  • Raising seed round
  • Launch in 5 weeks

Passport Parking

  • Parking lot management software
  • Usually hard to change parking prices
  • Customers aren’t served well
  • Real-time information for providers
  • Integrated platform as a service

Boca

  • GetBoca.com
  • Mouth in Spanish
  • Mash up photos with voiceover
  • Real estate agents can do voiceover on photos and turn into video
  • White label and freemium model
  • Raising angel round

Spindows

  • Video-based speed networking
  • High interaction and high discovery
  • Don’t invite people but rather tags
  • Focused on corporate internal networking through video
  • CEO worked at Accenture with 200,000 people and only met 100 after 10 years

Kanjus

  • Kanj.us
  • Digital loyalty marketing
  • Punchcards are antiquated
  • Smartphone loyalty program
  • Incentives customers to be loyal and to share
  • Charge fee per punch per location
  • Give merchants a month to pay
  • Raising seed round

Thru View

  • Hard to program remote for your TV
  • Custom app that uses smart phone video so that customer can show support the issues
  • Help support agents see what the customer sees
  • Target is telecom
  • Save companies millions in fuel costs alone

Via Cycle

  • Grab a bike whenever you need one using your phone
  • Won MIT clean energy prize
  • Redesigned bike share by doing individual bike locks with GPS for tracking
  • Everything managed in the cloud
  • $80,000 through grants already
  • Raising angel round

Huge City

  • HugeCity.us
  • Goal is to be best events site online
  • Ran into pack of zombies in Atlanta but didn’t know about it
  • Site shows events as a list and on a map
  • Working on event recommendation engine
  • Raising $500k angel round

Agent Piggy

  • Financial education for kids
  • Earn, spend, donate, save
  • Kids and parents have separate dashboards
  • Partnered with BBVA
  • Online piggy bank for kids
  • Looking for friends and partners

Treasure Hunt

  • Dealing with deal overload
  • Finding a deal is rewarding
  • Transform neighborhoods into augmented reality treasure hunts
  • Win prizes from merchants, get points
  • Merchants control offers on the fly

Via Cycle came in 1st place, SalesLoft in 2nd, and Driverly in 3rd. All teams did a good job.

Startup Riot 2012 was great and I highly recommend attending future events.

What else? What are your thoughts on the startups that pitched?

Automated Billing for Startups

Automated billing is hard — very hard. When starting out the tendency is to try and guess how things might work when it comes to billing and to start building a module for it. Don’t. The best thing to do is to get the product in the hands of customers and then iterate based on their feedback.

More often than not the product pricing and billing nuances will change several times as you work towards product/market fit. Time spent on a billing module, that needs to be modified with each pricing change, will actually make you more reluctant to change the pricing model because it’ll involve more billing module rework.

The best thing to do is to bill by hand or use a semi-automated tool like CheddarGetter until you have enough paying customers that you’re confident it’s worth the time to build a billing module or write logic to integrate with a billing system’s API. Avoid the temptation to write a billing module too early.

What else? What are your thoughts on automated billing for startups?

Platform-as-a-Service Options like Heroku for Startups

Aarjav asked about Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) options like Heroku in the comments of yesterday’s post Cloud vs Colocation vs Managed Hosting for Startups. PaaS is great in that it offers the benefits of cloud computing with easy scaling up and down while encapsulating many of the more tedious system administration functions present when doing it yourself.

Heroku, owned by Salesforce.com, is one of the best known PaaS providers, especially in the Ruby community (they support other technologies as well but Ruby is still the most prominent for them). As an example, if you write a new Ruby on Rails application, to run that application you have to set up an environment and maintain it. Manual setup might take an hour if you know what you’re doing or 5 – 10 hours if it’s your first time. With Heroku, you can get things running in 5 minutes in a super simple fashion and as you scale or need more horsepower the process of resizing an instance or adding more instances is much simpler than a traditional cloud or dedicated server model.

Heroku runs on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS), so it is even more expensive than AWS EC2 instances, which are much more expensive than managed hosting which is more expensive than colocation. Out of the box, Heroku is great and fits in with my recommendation for startups to start with the cloud. Heroku does do things like kill web requests that take longer than 30 seconds, which forces code changes like using more background jobs, which is the right way to go but might cause more code refactoring sooner than desired.

Startups using a language like Ruby and a framework like Rails are well suited to start with Heroku and graduate from there as their success permits. Startups using a language like PHP have PaaS options like PHPFog to use as well to cut down on administration time and focus on building a business. Long term, PaaS falls under specialized cloud solutions and so the same thoughts around constant availability vs burstable needs, etc still hold true.

What else? What are some other considerations for Platform-as-a-Service options for startups?

Cloud vs Colocation vs Managed Hosting for Startups

With all the talk about cloud computing it’s easy to forget that there are two other common types of hosting for startups: colocation and managed. In a cloud computing environment the servers are virtualized such that a physical machine is often shared by one or more customers and it’s easy to scale up or down as needed (shared hosting and VPS setups fall under cloud computing). Colocation and managed hosting are similar in that the physical machines are dedicated to the customer, but differ in who’s responsible for the actual hardware costs and maintenance, and thus the monthly fee. Colocation is a bring-your-own-hardware approach whereas managed hosting is renting the hardware from the provider.

Here’s how I think about cloud, colocation, and managed hosting in the context of startups:

Cloud

  • Good for starting out when server needs are unknown and it’s easy to scale up and down quickly
  • Best for environments that have differing scale needs on a regular basis (e.g. imagine you normally need 20 servers but for a few hours each night you need 100 servers to crunch data)
  • Great for an on-demand infrastructure backup (e.g. replicate the database data but don’t turn on all the other necessary servers unless another facility goes down)
  • Higher latency on average

Managed

  • Best for the core infrastructure in a 3 – 25 server environment where a relatively constant amount of horsepower is needed (most startups operate this way) and capital is not as plentiful (renting a server is more capital efficient than buying it when getting started)
  • Cheaper than the cloud on a per-server basis but more expensive than colocation assuming a low cost of capital

Colocation

  • Best for maturing startups that can afford acquiring servers and personnel to manage them
  • Requires more effort and management compared to cloud and managed
  • Maximum flexibility regarding the hardware used (e.g. fancy servers and storage configurations)

In general, I recommend startups start with the cloud using an environment like Amazon Web Services and then move on to managed hosting followed by colocation as the business progresses.

What else? What are your thoughts on cloud vs colocation vs managed hosting for startups?

Site Speed is a Competitive Differentiator

Have you ever left a website because it was too slow? Go ahead, raise your hand — I know I have. The speed of a site is analogous to the travelling speed on a road. If you’re driving along on one road and traffic starts to slow down, you’ll take a different route, if possible. Online, the same thing happens all the time.

37signals has a post up How Basecamp Next got to be so fast without using much client-side UI and the whole post is about making the app fast. Really fast. In fact, after reading the article, it appears one of the main reasons they’re re-building the product from the ground-up is to make it much faster. I’ve used their current product and it feels fine. Making their product 3x faster will make it feel great.

Rigor (web performance management) has a new tool that will grade the performance of any public website and breakdown all the issues, much like YSlow, but this is generated on the server-side so that it is shareable and doesn’t require a browser plug-in. Take a look at speed.rigor.com and give it a try.

Site and app speed is a competitive differentiator and should be treated as such from the beginning. It is much easier to start with a fast site and ensure it remains fast than to retrofit a complicated one later.

What else? Do you agree that site speed is a competitive differentiator?

Startup Investment for Short-Term ROI or Long-Term Enterprise Value

As a startup there are a number of different ways to invest precious capital. Some investments, like building a minimum viable product, are obvious whereas others like buying ads on Google vs LinkedIn aren’t obvious until some modest amount of money is spent. Well, there’s another area that needs more thought from entrepreneurs: investments that don’t have a short-term return but do create significant long-term enterprise value.

Let’s look at an example to see long-term enterprise value in action:

  • On average it costs $500 to generate a new customer that pays $1,000 per year
  • Revenue is recurring and has 70% gross margins, so $500 in customer acquisition gets $700 of gross margin in year one
  • Customers stay for an average of four years ($4,000 in revenue at 70% gross margin results in $2,800) — customers staying for an average of four years implies a 75% per year renewal rate (1/.25)
  • Enterprise valuation for the company is three times the annual gross margin
  • An opportunity arises to acquire more customers at $1,500/each which results in a year one loss ($1,500 > $700 gross margin) but is profitable over the average lifetime of the customer ($2,800 lifetime gross margin) and increases the value of the business $2,100 (3 x the $700 gross margin)

In this example, assuming no cost of capital and no discount for future cash flow, spending $1,500 to acquire a customer that pays $1,000 per year, easily pays for itself when looking at the lifetime value of the gross margin of the customer and the long-term enterprise value of the business, assuming OK renewal rates and readily available access to capital. It’s important to get a complete picture of the value of a customer when determining the amount to spend that still generates a positive return on investment.

What else? What are your thoughts on startup investments for short-term ROI or long-term enterprise value?

Blog Post Number 1,000

A little over five years ago in January of 2007 I set up this blog and published a simple hello world post. My goal originally was to do one post per week but after a few weeks it turned into 1-2 posts per month, if that. Fast forward to August of 2009 and I was inspired by Fred Wilson and him writing a post every single day, 365 days a year on avc.com — I decided to write a post every single day as well. Well, after more than two years of writing a daily post I hit today’s nice little milestone on the journey: blog post number 1,000.

This blog has improved my life in several ways:

  • Numerous ideas that I’ve encountered over the years are now captured in written form
  • Several employees and partners have come from people reading or referred to me by people reading this blog
  • Many of these posts plus new content were turned into a book called Startup Upstart that is now available on Amazon.com (launching at Startup Riot)
  • Friends and colleagues in the community reference blog posts during conversations, giving me a sense of satisfaction that others are reading it
  • Readers submit comments and feedback, helping document additional insights and improving my understanding

My favorite post of all time remains one of the most popular as well: 50 Things Every Startup Should Know.

I’m thankful for the first 1,000 blog posts and I’m looking forward to the next 1,000.