As a veteran of Boston Web Innovators Group meetings, I wasn’t sure what to expect at last night’s event. In a down economy, would there be VC interest in early stage startups? Would people come out to check out the latest mobile and web companies? The answer was an overwhelming yes.
Over 700 people attended the 20th Web Innovators Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts last night to see nine early stage companies and to network with the Boston tech and startup communities. Like other WebInno events, the format included 5 minute presentations from three “main dish” startups followed by 30 second pitches from “side dish” companies. After the presentations, attendees could find out more about each presenting company at demonstration booths set up in another room.
Main Dish Presenters
TripChill is a “mobile travel assistant” available on any mobile device. The presentation was focused on the TripChill iPhone application which will be available for $10 in the iPhone Application Store later this month, and the app looked incredibly useful for frequent business travelers. Simply forward your itinerary to email@example.com, and the service will let you know if there are any delays, cancellations, etc. Some interesting features:
- Entering your parking location when you arrive will be stored in TripChill, and you’ll get an email reminder once you arrive
- TripChill will let you know when there are delays and cancellations, and will send hotel reservation information if you need to stay another night, and a list of other available flights if you need to book another one
- Notification options let you select people that should receive emails or text messages when you arrive at your destination or if you are stranded
The Verdict: I was incredbily impressed by TripChill, and would absolutely suggest it to anyone who is a frequent traveler. The service is free to users (aside from the initial $10 download fee), and is funded through partnerships with hotels.com and other partnership deals. Additionally, TripChill will be announcing a concierge service that will cost around $10 per month.
LocalMotors- When I took a look at the presenting startups before the event, I thought that LocalMotors was going to be the most interesting, and they did not disappoint. They had the most ambitious and bold claim: “Local Motors is a next generation American car company. It is the first disruptive entrant in the US automotive industry in decades and it is the first of its kind.”
At a time when the big 3 American car companies are begging for a bailout, LocalMotors is starting a new American car company, and plan to change the rules of designing, prototyping, building and selling cars. Through their site, LocalMotors holds contests to find the best and most popular designs, then they pay the winning designer and actually build the car. Where it would cost GM $50 million in design and prototyping costs, LocalMotors can do the same for less than $10,000.
The Verdict: LocalMotors won the audience award for best presentation, and rightfully so. Their presentation was crystal clear and absolutely confident. Despite the incredible demonstration, many questions still exist: how much will the cars actually cost? How many can they produce? What’s the sale process?
I can’t wait to see what LocalMotors does in the very near future. If they’re able to actually pull off what they promise, this will be a great company to watch.
Crimson Hexagon– Crimson Hexagon is a brand monitoring service for medium to large companies who don’t have the time to manually monitor buzz and sentiment. The company produces software as a service to automatically parse through blogs, forums, twitter feeds and other sources of online content. Their software then categorizes and scores each mention and places it on a negative/neutral/positive continuum. Additionally, the software clusters mentions by category and can follow trends over time. The example used onstage was “Why Do People Drink Gatorade”? Looking through blog mentions, Crimson Hexagon noticed a trend where 14% of people reported drinking Gatorade in order to cue hangovers.
The Verdict: Buzz monitoring is a tough one when it comes to trying to automatically score sentiment. Crimson Hexagon seems to be going after businesses that get at least a few dozen blog mentions every day, without having the resources to manually track and monitor the mentions.
I tried unsuccessfully to get a price for the service, as it won’t be launched as a web service until April. I spoke to a company representative who let me know that right now they’re pricing their opinion offering solely as professional service engagements on a per monitor basis for a few thousand dollars at a minimum, dependent on volume.
Side Dish Presenters
Pixability– Pixability edits videos. If you have a camcorder video, you can pay pixability $139 to professionally edit your footage and send you two copies.
The Verdict– While shooting high-quality video is becoming cheap and easy, the learning curve for using anything above the most basic editing software is steep. At an affordable price point, pixability seems like an attractive offering.
Tipjoy– Tipjoy bills itself as “the easiest way to give and make money online.” Tipjoy is basically a tipping service for content producers. If you own a blog, you can add a tipjoy link, and your readers can leave you money. Tipjoy also has a twitter integration, allowing people to make micropayments and small monetary gifts via twitter.
The Verdict– The micropayment problem has yet to be solved, and the ease of use and simplicity of tipjoy is definitely a step in the right direction.
HelpGuest- HelpGuest is a marketplace for experts. As an “expert”, you set your own rate to answer questions, and users of the service can search for a subject matter expert to help them with any question they may have.
The Verdict– I’ve yet to see a human-powered web service work to scale. This seems a lot like Yahoo Answers, with HelpGuest being an intermediary that does not vet the experts.
infoMED- Through a series of medical questions called infoMeds, the service checks a patient’s symptoms and provides them with personalized healthcare info specific to both the patient’s symptoms and medical history.
The Verdict– When it comes to dispensing medical advice, the site says the following on every page “InfoMedMD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.” However, for $25 you can have a “personal consultation” with the doctor behind the site.
Though the site itself has a nice, easy-to-use design, I’m not sure there’s enough content and usable information to make the site more than a lead generation tool for a single doctor.
genotrope– Genotrope is taking a different angle in the job search space. Rather than listing specific jobs. genotrope is all about matching job seekers to specific companies. Their tool is meant to match people with the right workplace culture rather than just finding them a job.
The Verdict– Like all other job-related sites, the site is only successful if its good at helping people find the right job. The site is very startup-heavy, listing 1717 posted jobs within 50 miles of Boston today.
photrade- Photrade is a marketplace helping photographers decide where, when, and at what cost their photos will be used online.
The Verdict– If you’re someone trying to make a living by selling photos online, I’m sure that it’s very important to be sure your photos aren’t being used freely. But I’m not sure how much of a problem this is, and if there’s enough demand to support a service like photrade.
Like any demonstration event, there were some excellent presentations, and some that didn’t convince me. With exciting presentations from TripChill and LocalMotors to promising and useful demonstrations from tipjoy and pixability, the startups that demonstrated at webinno 20 really showed promise.
Nathan Burke is a blogger and startup marketing consultant. He can be found at blogtring.com, a blog dedicated to social media, web 2.0 tools, and anything beta. He also publishes marketingstartups.com, a site focused on helping startups promote their offerings online.