I may regret some of what follows.
As I general rule, I like to let an article I write sit and reread it the next day. The first draft can be pretty <ahem> blunt, so I usually find a bunch of rough edges that need to be smoothed over before submitting. But I have an all-day off-site with the other DreamIt partners tomorrow and since I don’t roll on shabbos, four days is far too long for me to make you wait. So here it is, raw and unfiltered.
No question, Eyal Bino (Worldwide Investor Network) puts on a good pitch event. The Q&A for each pitch ran too long but other than that, everything at Wednesday evening’s Global Innovator Mobile was smooth, standard operating procedure. I especially liked the real-time text-to-vote app that he used to measure audience votes for both the best pitch and the best judge.
The four startups who presented were varied both thematically and geographically. How he lured a Brazilian founder to come to New York during the World Cup is still beyond me.
First up was TransitApp, an app that provides maps and schedules for buses and trains in over 70 cities in three continents. Their user experience is clean, but it is unclear to me (and the judges, from their comments) just what their real advantage over Google Maps and HopStop (now owned by Apple**) is. TransitApp does include actual departure times, but I can get that from the overhead display in the subway (often more reliably than I can get internet access undergound) and every bus stop has a QR code and text-in code that gives me the same data. Furthermore, in real life, it’s pretty rare that the exact arrival times make the difference between which transit option is optimal, so this feature feels to me like a pretty incremental improvement on which to try to unseat two major incumbents. TransitApp would ultimately like to expand into mobile payment for buses and trains. This would be great but, when you think about it, mobile fare payment is really a completely separate business from transit maps and schedules. Building an app that pulls maps and arrival times is a relatively easy programming project; getting a contract out of a city transit authority is a hard, long, slow slog.
** Bonus rant: Hey, Apple! Brilliant move cutting off Android access to HopStop. You just gifted 60% of the market to Google. Did you really think people were going to say, “I really wanted to buy a Samsung S5 but since I can’t use HopStop on that, I think I’ll buy an iPhone 5 instead”?
Next up was youAPPI, a service that makes better content-embedded app recommendations. By which they mean that, if you want to get more users for your app, they are better at this than the alternatives. How? Damned if I know. It basically boils down to “advanced analytics and modeling techniques.” I’m pretty wary of ‘we have proprietary algorithms’ style answers. I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way since an FAQ on their website says, “Yes, we know. Everyone says that. We actually deliver. Really, check us out.” If anyone does, please let me know how it goes.
Third to pitch was Gone!, a really easy way to sell your spare stuff. Take a photo or video, add a short description, and they will take care of the rest. They research the right price for the item, they create a listing for your item, they post the listing on multiple websites, they deal with the potential buyers, and they take care of shipping. Sounds great. Granted, I’m a little biased: there’s a company in my current DreamIt accelerator program called picSell that does something very similar. My problem with Gone!’s presentation was that they left so many unanswered questions. When the judges asked which sites they sell on, their answer boiled down to “a lot.” Would it have killed them to name a few of them? I can only assume that they post to eBay and Amazon and possibly others as well, but I can’t be sure. Similarly, when the judges asked about the unit economics of their high-touch service, they responded, “we make money on every item we sell.” Really? If I sell a 20 lb. cast iron Star Trek commemorative statue (someone buys this junk. Not me, I swear, but someone) for $10 and Gone! sends someone to pick it up, do they really make money on that? That’s hard to believe. I tried to sign up to test it out but it looks like they have been in private beta for over a year. If anyone out there has actually used Gone!, I’d love to hear from you.
Last to present, Nutrino is ambitious, if nothing else. Its goal is to improve our health buy, capturing your food consumption through a grocery list service and a meal planner and a food logging service and an exercise guide and integration with wearable monitors and general health news and advice. On the consumption side, I have doubts that they’ll get a large enough percentage of my total intake to make meaningful recommendations. And even if they did, would it matter? It’s not that I don’t know that chocolate donuts aren’t a nutritious breakfast; it’s that I eat them anyway. Similarly, I have to wonder if what’s holding us back from getting more exercise is not lack of knowledge but sheer laziness. I wish them well, but fear the worst.
You really want to know what it would take to get me to work out? Lock my smartphone until I drop and give you 10.
Actually, that may not be such a bad idea….
Image credit: Worldwide Investor Network Facebook