Last Monday, Entrepreneurs Roundtable’s latest pitch event hosted an eclectic group of startup hopefuls at Microsoft’s midtown office, each intrepid brand reaching for niche markets that might leave some investors bewildered. Prada dog accessories? Smartphone ads that pay their consumers? Most of the night’s entrepreneurs rooted their unconventional ideas in current multi-billion dollar industries and buzz-word services. But inevitably, their successes will come down to how well they conveyed not only their market potentials, but also the validity of their products.
Managing Director and Vice President at Time Warner Investments Allison Goldberg was the guest speaker and pitch mentor of the night, introducing the event with a brief history of her career and Time Warner’s investment practices. Goldberg looks to align TWI with disruptive startups. Recent acquisitions include video game studio Hammer & Chisel, which is releasing a tablet-ready take on the popular PC game League of Legends, and sprawling YouTube brain trust Maker Studios. More important than these properties’ projected financial reach – Hammer & Chisel founder Jason Citron broke into app gaming with his OpenFeint software– was their potential as consumer services. Goldberg said that the studio’s upcoming game, Fates Forever, was mostly completed by the time the acquisition was underway; Maker had already established its YouTube empire. Goldberg says that while TWI once looked for traction and revenue in a potential investment, they’d rather meet startups “earlier rather than later.” If a startup with an install base is beginning to gain traction in some respect, ways to optimally monetize it can be divined after an investment acquisition.
Anastasia Roumelioti, the first entrepreneur to pitch that night, pitched Lady & Lara, her website that features designer fashion and accouterments for your pet. The online retailer purports to already receiving about 300 hits daily and has brokered exclusive deals with Nicole Miller and Fallon jewelry. Roumelioti and her team anticipate launching bigger, more varied names, including Coach and Harley Davidson once Lady & Lara generates greater brand awareness.
Yunha Kim, co-founder of mobile advertising app Locket, also relied on the strength of pitching a launched project. Locket, which pays users one cent for each ad the app places on their smartphones’ lock screens, already has over 3 million users and has begun featuring content from major companies like Dominos and Lionsgate Films. We’ve written about them here before.
Kim remarked upon the intensive, murky crunch sessions it took for Locket to reach its current phase. But that intensive brand development made for a more fluid and concise pitch, allowing Kim to convey a clarified game plan for the future of the app, which resembles a dynamic rewards program that will allow customers to use their earned currency instantly with their favorite retailers and charities. When questions regarding their competition were raised by the audience, Kim admitted that she’s still attempting to figure out who that might be, but building a brand before the competition seemed to be a more than achievable focus.
Julia Katherine Wetherell’s company, MyDROBE, is there to help the fashion-challenged dress themselves. It’s a connected closet where users upload images of their clothing and connect to other customers and “Style Mavens” from fashion and entertainment who’ll help them figure out what to wear when, and what goes with what. Wetherell claimed that MyDROBE’s mavens have attracted new users to the platform, while partnerships with retailers will allow them to better market to customers with the unique user data the company collects: details on the fashion products users already own.
Bluwired Tech’s Andrés Padilla-Andrade wants to offer businesses customizable software tools that allow users to create programs that track and regulate any asset they want – be it patient biometrics or farm crops – and collect data on them through cloud computing. While Padilla-Andrade mentioned larger companies like General Electric as desired clients, Goldberg and the audience suggested trial runs with smaller companies could lend essential experience and credibility to a startup of its scope, something which Padilla-Andrade is already negotiating.
Jon Parks also championed the cloud as a means to mend the snail mail woes of data sharing in the sciences, allowing research organizations and individuals to upload their findings to Simbiot, his subscription-centered database service. As a Bloomberg-styled subscription service, Simbiot has the potential to make a vast amount of HIPPA compliant, peer-reviewed data available from any wireless device.
Alberto Gomez, founder of Boutique Universities, plans to provide an in-store education service that teaches customers about a given brand while bringing potential customers into stores during slower working hours. While the company has been networking through “Study Hall” seminar events, Gomez’s pitch mostly extrapolated on the future framework for the company, once it enters the retail space.
Beyond mock-ups and abstract promises, the strongest investments potentials need to speak – and more importantly, perform – for themselves.
Photo credit: @arjunraime