I had the pleasure of attending Ultra Light Startups February Investor Feedback Forum at NYU this past Tuesday. The event was co-hosted by Graham Lawlor and Howard Greenstein and featured pitches from eight startups and an investor panel that included Arie Abecassis of DreamIt Ventures, Jordan Bettman of Bain Capital Ventures, Eliot Durbin of BOLDstart Ventures, and Mark Lodish of Solon Mack Capital. Each startup delivered a two-minute presentation that was followed by QA from the panel and audience, and then investor feedback.
My Bill Registry – a crowd sourced bill-paying platform targeted at college students.
Feedback: I’m not sure that someone who needs help paying their bills translates well to a crowd-source platform. This seems very personal and like something you should just be asking friends and family for help with. Concerns about privacy are an issue here as well.
LienLog – an online tool for tax lien investors.
Feedback: I really know very little about the nuances of the tax lien market and cannot properly assess if this business captures the necessary tools to make informed decisions. Tax lien investing is a sophisticated niche that I’m sure requires an extensive due diligence process, which this tool seeks to centralize. Landing some strategic partners that use the software will be critical for the trajectory of this company.
Minteye – A graphical take on the beloved CAPTCHA technology. Minteye incorporates advertising into the user experience with a distorted image that the player manipulates via a slider to unlock a brand’s given image.
Feedback: It seems to me that there are several companies trying to make a better Captcha by using advertising instead of the barely visible letters we’ve become so accustomed to, thanks to the team at Carnegie Mellon that coined the term in 2000.
I recently came across Adcade, which I think has a really unique UI experience in this space. On Adcade’s demo is an image of a tired Andy Roddick sitting on a bench with a Gatorade bottle on the ground. The text reads “Pass Andy the Gatorade” and once you drag the Gatorade to Andy the CAPTCHA unlocks. Really neat stuff and a clever use of product placement.
I think Minteye’s social graph incorporation with Facebook Like is interesting, but will brands measure Likes generated on a CAPTCHA, or CAPTCHA substitute as active engagement?
Merocrat– The Elance of fashion creatives.
Feedback: How will offline contact be handled through the platform? Dealing with something related to design, especially fashion design, might require more detailed communication than the platform may be able to handle. Circumnavigation after the initial transaction could be a problem.
I’d be interested to see if the platform could be leveraged to include manufacturing. There are quite a few challenges to getting something produced and design is only one of them.
Epion Health – Mobile healthcare point-of-care solution for providers and patients.
Feedback: This is a very crowded space. What are the differentiators of this solution? Currently distribution is limited to providers, as direct offline contact with providers is required so that a practice can be set up. Business development and discovery can get quite expensive and time consuming under this model.
Considering a “freemium” model with wider distribution through established channels and touch points might be a good way to entice adoption and build traction.
ThreadMatcher – A curated site providing a personalized shopping experience.
Feedback: The business is currently structured as affiliate revenue driven, which may not be sustainable in the long term. Curation blended with commerce is now becoming commonplace.
The team behind this will need to focus on what differentiates the “ThreadMatcher experience” versus other destinations in this crowded space.
Standbuy – A crowd sourced fundraising platform that seeks to mitigate large expenses cancer patients incur from their various treatments.
Feedback: This is an interesting concept that hit home for many. How Standbuy will prevent unscrupulous individuals from misusing the system and raising funds under a guise remains to be seen.
Standbuy may also face some difficulty with the potential stigma of building a for-profit business around a platform that manages donations related to cancer treatment. A charitable component could help.
Handybook – The Uber of finding handymen and cleaning services.
Feedback: The entrepreneur used the beginning of his pitch to announce his recent $2 million funding and explained that his reason for being there was not to raise funds but to find technical talent. This caught the panel and audience a little off-guard.
Advice to the entrepreneur…Go seek a technology recruiter. A great one can be reached here. Please have some respect for the audience, panelists and organizers and do not hijack a pitch. Despite the ploy, the entrepreneur went on to do a great job of articulating the business to the audience.
Service Magic and Angie’s List have attacked this space with different models and Handybook’s main differentiator may be its scheduling function. On the handyman side, I’m not sure what sort of adoption they can expect in urban areas with larger rental buildings that have established superintendents.
The winner of the evening, who will now have the opportunity to pitch in front of some notable investors in the Alley, was Sashka Rothchild of Standbuy. Minteye and ThreadMatcher tied for second place.
The audience also had the opportunity to weigh in on who their favorite investor on the panel was by voting. On this evening, Eliot Durbin emerged as the fan favorite by a slight margin.
There are quite a few businesses that have terrible models and great execution teams behind them that drive success. The opposite is true as well – great ideas with poor execution. I firmly believe that all feedback is constructive, as a wide array of perspectives often propel entrepreneurs to refine their ideas and create a cohesive plan that they are then able to execute on. Ultra Light Startups is a great and quick way for entrepreneurs to get this type of valuable insight, from both vetted investors and the general public.