February 24, 2011

5 cool startups at the first Launch conference

Photo of Launch attendees by Keith Powers (CC BY on Flickr)

JD LasicaWith a crowded conference space for the launch of new startups — DEMOspring, DEMOfall, TechCrunch Disrupt — is there room for another springboard for interesting start-ups?

Yep. The first Launch conference, held Wednesday and today at the San Francisco Design Concourse, showed off a wealth of entrepreneurial talent — and proved to be entertaining at the same time, thanks to the conference prowess of founder Jason Calacanis and the on-stage cleverness of judges such as VCs Dave McClure, Yossi Vardi and actor Kevin Pollak, who instructed startup founders to target “the C- to B+ students” who have grown up to become the vast midsection of U.S. consumer culture.

About 1,300 attendees turned out, and more than 100 startups competed for one of the prized placements on stage.

Here are a few of the startups I found interesting, both on the stage and in the demo pit:


Group{in}: Organize your work & personal lives

1Appconomy’s Group{in} is a mobile app that lets you organize your work and personal life into “the groups and people that matter to you” and across the channels you already use. By simplifying group communications across multiple channels, including private in-app messaging, e-mail, SMS, phone Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more, Group{in} makes working in groups easy, efficient and fun. It looked pretty cool to me, though the judges seemed unimpressed.

Give2Gether: Democratized social fund-raising

2Anyone can instantly raise funds for a cause with give2gether, a welcome addition to the social good space. CEO/co-founder Amon Shafir gave me a deep dive into the service, which appears to be much more effective than efforts like Facebook Causes. While the average donor on Causes gives 70 cents for each cause he joins, the average person on Give2Gether has given $75 — about 100 times more — during the early going (about 30 projects). The trick is in sharing causes with your social contacts and monitoring the results in your dashboard. Says the site: “Think of it as the Twitter of philanthropy — a tailored, self-service SaaS platform helping non-profits monetize social interactions. Give2Gether turns strangers into friends, friends into donors and donors into fundraisers, at one-third of the traditional cost.”

News 360: News & multimedia on your iPad

3In the demo pit I met Nina Grigorieva, CEO of Moscow-based News360, who showed off its marvelous capabilities on an iPad. (I’m waiting for version 2 of the iPad before buying one.) It has the same elegance as Flipboard and, unlike News Corp.’s The Daily, it’s completely free and has some nice social sharing features. It aggregates thousands of news sources, tracks your favorite news sources, creates personalized news feeds by topic and lets you share interesting stories with your friends. If you own an iPad, you’ll want this app.

Brand-Yourself: Manage your reputation

4Presented on Day 2, Brand-Yourself is a way for regular people to monitor and manage their online identity and reputation. The Web-based platform helps non-techies brand yourself or brand your business. Grow your online reputation by building positive content around your name that shows up high in Google, “bury” existing Google results, promote yourself to the right people on social media and monitor your progress as you build your personal brand.

DARfm: A DVR for radio

5DAR lets you record, play and pause your favorite radio programs, including talk radio, sports, news, music and other programming. The startup is founded by Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com and Lindows.com.

Other startups worth a look

See the full list of demo pit startups. There were plenty of other startups worth keeping an eye on as well:

Hashable helps you build and track relationships that matter. It’s on the iPhone now and an Android version is coming soon.

LawPivot is a legal Q&A website enabling companies–especially startups–to confidentially receive crowdsourced legal answers from highly qualified lawyers for a fraction of the cost. Currently open only to California lawyers and companies.

TaleSpring allows authors and storytellers to create animated, interactive books that can be published to mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone and Android phones and tablets.

Room 77 is “the world’s first hotel room database and search engine. Find the perfect room with personalized room recommendations at top hotels.”

GreenGoose greengoose.com is a lifestyle app with gaming elements.

Pen.io is a super fast way to publish content online, designed as an alternative to blogs.

Jason should be commended for the low cost of entry — DEMO charges about $20,000 I think, and TechCrunch Disrupt nearly $1,000. Quality, not entry fees, is what should matter when presenting best-of-breed startups to the public, and Jason nails that. Watch archives of the sessions on Launchconf’s YouTube channel.

Suggestion to Jason: Someone on your team should have been updating the website with information about each of the featured startups as they were presenting. It’s difficult — especially from home — to keep track of the names and urls of the startups making presentations.

Second suggestion to Jason: Zero women among 15 grand jury members? What about Debbie Landa, Jasmine Antonick, Christine Herron, Kim Polese, Esther Dyson, Susan Mernit, or a few dozen other possibilities? You guys should make it a priority.

All in all, Launch is a fantastic addition to the conference circuit and a valuable new way in which startups can gain visibility and traction.JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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14 thoughts on “5 cool startups at the first Launch conference

  1. JD – Thanks for the mention of Appconomy's Group{in}! Many were impressed with the app and our business model potential, including Yossi Vardi, Shel Israel, and others from the media and judges group, and people from Microsoft and others. I'm glad many saw past the McClure side show to see the value of the app. This is only beta and just the beginning of what we are going to do with it.

    I am also eager to keep you posted on our progress and upcoming releases. Appconomy is only 3 months old, has funding, paying customers, and is about to release Group{in}!

    • Thanks, Brian, for pointing out that not all of the apps and startups are public yet (though all soon will be). Good luck with Appconomy, you're off to an awesome start!

      • Thanks JD. Also, I totally agree with you point on the need for more women on the judge and grand jury panel at Launch. There are more than enough qualified women in tech out there!

    • Ah, thanks, Serena. Looks like it's available for iPhone and Windows Phone 7 and should be released for the iPad very soon. The dangers of being on the cutting edge!

    • Actually, I saw the numbers for some of the campaigns and believe it's true, BUT this is an incredibly small pool — maybe 35 campaigns — vs hundreds of thousands for Causes.

  2. I went to their website and checked out the campaigns on the home page. They list the high donors for each campaign. Some of the highest donations are $100,000, $50,000, $26,316, $25,000 $21,547, $20,000, etc. So it is possible if you have these kinds of donors to have a $75 average.

    I'm surprised that if they have 35 campaigns like this we haven't heard about them before now. I think it would be interesting if you would talk to some of the charities that used Give2Gether that are not on the main page. If they are pulling in these kinds of numbers with the majority of their customers, I expect we'll see a lot more about them in the blogosphere.

    Meanwhile, I think a little more investigating is in order. I don't believe they have the real numbers to back up this statement for more than the campaigns they showed you. Any chance you'll do a follow up?

    • Hi Joe. They just launched — that's what Launch is for, for new startups. I spoke with them at length and they promised to send more information (they're based in Israel). I think we'll be hearing a lot more about them.

  3. Great to see some coverage of Launch, particularly since techcrunch seems to be boycotting it!

    One note on your point about the jury – don't you think the jury is best selected based on ability/relevance/availability rather than by gender? Which jury member do you feel didn't deserve their place?

    • Sandy, I'm incredulous that you think the 15 guys selected for the grand jury here are more qualified than any single woman VC or tech entrepreneur in all of Silicon Valley. I even named a few of the obvious choices off the top of my head, and one of the startup CEOs above concurred.

      I've put on a lot of events and always make a point to instruct the team to add this as one of the criteria to emphasize. Do we really need another panel of all 30something white men to pass judgment on the next generation of startup products and services, particularly if they do hold the power in the board rooms? A promising new conference should make an extra effort to provide a counterweight — which I think they will next time.

      Newspapers learned 20 to 30 years ago about the value of diversity. With newspapers in decline, it's important not to forget those lessons.

  4. They've been in business since at least 2009. How did they end up at LAUNCH? You can't believe everything you're told, especially by someone who's trying to sell you something. Independent research would make this a more believable story.

    • Hi Emily, sure thing. Alas, I'm heading to the NTC conference in Washington DC March 16 so have to miss SXSW this year. Hope to return next year. Have fun!