Meet the latest graduates of 500 Startups - Part 3

Krystal Peak · January 26, 2012 · Short URL:

Here's a look at 8 tech of the companies looking for funding in 2012


It can be dizzying trying to keep up with all the new startups coming out of Silicon Valley.

Founders of 500 Startups, Dave McClure and Christine Tsai, introduced dozens of companies from its incubation project to various venture capitalists in the Bay Area and it was quite a diverse group Wednesday and Thursday this week. 

The latest batch of 500 Startups will continue to pitch to venture capitalists here in the Bay Area and New York this week and in coming days. 

I got a chance to listen to the pitches of 31 companies on the road for VC money and see just what sparked 500 Startups interest. 

500 Startups is an early-stage seed fund and incubator program founded in 2010, which seeds between $25,000 and $250,000 in each of its startups that meet its “Three-Ds” criteria: design, data, and distribution.

The fall batch, which joined the incubator in October, are mostly in beta and have already received hundreds of thousands of dollars each from various angel investors.

I got a chance to speak with Dave McClure during the Demo Day on Wednesday and find out what attracted his incubator to this varied bunch of tech companies.

"We were in search of capital efficient and revenue driven companies from around the world," said McClure. "This helped us discover companies that other Silicon Valley seed funds would have ruled out and helped us build a bridge to the Valley from countries like Estonia, Brazil and Portugal."

In fact, nearly half of the startups have founders from outside the U.S., including the U.K., Croatia, Australia, Bulgaria and Japan -- and eight of the startup have at least one female founder.

Several of the major trends seen in the companies exiting the 500 Startups incubator include work solutions and productivity tools, payment services, education and gamification for children and young adults, and e-commerce reinvention.

Here is at the final eight companies on the road for funding at the moment:

(I posted Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Rota Concursos, founded by Henrique Guimaraes, is a test preparation tool for Brazilian citizens looking to gain a job in the government. With government jobs representing 12% of jobs in Brazil and now 100 million people in middle class, the desire for people to pass government tests has soared in the last three years.

As with many governments, government jobs are attractive, especially since the average pay is $120,000 per year. Rota Consursos helps optimize the time spent studying for these tests and helps individuals in lower income brackets gain access to a better future. The system already has 16,000 users and the CPC is less two cents. The company is already profitable and has clocked $50,000 in revenue.  The Brazilian startup is trying to raise $350,000 at the moment. 

SafeSheperd, founded by Robert Leshner and Geoff Hayes, wants you to have the ease of mind that all your personal data isn't just streaming through the internet. A mass industry has been formed around scrapping together and aggregating your information but the hard part is getting that information back, especially when one of the most effective ways to do that is individually contact 40+ services that each have their own databases.

And to add to the irony, many of these companies require mail correspondence and fazing confirmation -- and might take a month to finally remove your info from their troves. With ID theft quickly reaching the $54 billion mark each year, SafeShepard has built a way to simultaneously clear your data across the web and assure ongoing safety annually. The fee-service is $65 per year and in the first 12 weeks has amassed 5400 users -- and 2.4% have upgraded to premium membership. This online security service is looking to raise an additional $600,000.

Spinnakr, founded by Adam Bonnifield and Michael Mayernick, wants every website to offer targeted content just like all the big boys. While it may feel like every website is sending you targeted content, its really just the top 2% of online companies that have harnessed the power. Spinnakr wants to make it easy and affordable for  the other 98% to keep their site and advertisements relevant by targeting them to the viewership they have. 

The Spinnakr tools will adjust content shown on a website by offering information in native languages, relate information to breaking news they read, and offers job suggestions to people that are job seeking. So far the company has 1,100 users and they have already raised $500,000. The company is now looking to for more future investments. 

Switchcam, founded by Brett Welch, is bringing the live event experience to Internet devices. With more than nine million big events going on in the US every year  -recorded content is being shared in a very fragmented  manner and now there is a better way. Switchcam collects all of the content available at a single event,  aggregates it and then sync them all so that viewers can watch the event from multiple angles and get to switch back and forth in points of view while not jumping back and forth in time.

Welch modestly said that his service is "blowing people's faces off." The service uses some seriously killer software similar to that used by sonar systems but on the totally important recreational video market. While the average time spent of YouTube by a user is 15 minutes, in Switchcam's short existence, it has reached an average viewing time of 25 minutes. The company has build partnerships with music brands such as Lollapoluzaa, Katy Perry to help people view their content and add advertising and marketing opportunities.  This company is currently raising $750,000. 

Tailored, founded by Sara Morgan and Aaron Hall, wants to make planning a highly personalized wedding a pleasure, not a chore. Formally known as DressRush, Tailored has created a highly-visual Web platform that personalizes content based on the bride and her tastes.

As the user navigates the site and picks things that she likes, more suggestions will come her way and she can quickly and easily share with friends and family to get instant feedback on wedding choices. Tailored has already worked with 130,000 brides and moved $120,000 of product. While wedding planning is a $87 billion market, with the average bride spending $28,000 on her wedding, Tailored makes it easier to traverse through all the options to find things that would make the bride happy. Tailored now has 160+ affiliates and snaps up a 30% commission rate. The company has already raised $500,000 and is now raising an additional $1 million. 

Talkdesk, founded by Tiago Paiva, wants anyone to be able to set up a call center in just five minutes. Founded in Portugal four months ago, Talkdesk knows it can take forever to organize a customer call center for a company but doesn't think it has to be that way. In order to build a call center, companies traditionally need to find talent, space, phone numbers, and negotiate call prices. 

This process can be very difficult for a small companies. Talkdesk creates a browser platform to create virtual call center in a few minutes -- you just provide the agents.  The system works for as many numbers as you like (local or international.) Talkdesk integrates with ZenDesk, Salesforce and other systems you may already use and also records and transcribes all communication. The company has set a flat rate per agent per month and a pay per minute rate. It already has 600 companies on the waiting list so far, has raised $400,000 to date, and is looking for additional funding to scale. 

Tiny Review, founded by Melissa Miranda and Dick Brouwer, wants to be the Instagram for reviewing local companies. Now that every phone has a camera built-in, people are snapping shots at most of the businesses they go to and include them in reviews of food, services and experience.

Tiny Review takes this interaction and lets people insert their comment, review or experience right on the picture and post it to the service to share with the world.  All you have to do is take a picture, write three lines and share it. Brouwer believe that "It is the constraint that make it viral." I say -- think memes. People like to share photos of food they eat and can add just a few words to make people understand the expeince. This is a new, viral way of reviewing a place because, unlike Yelp, people love to share a picture with a fun caption and so the word of mouth spreads much faster.

Tiny Review has hosted 30,00 reviews since October and 30% of users create content -- compared to yelp's 1%. Tiny review is calling the sharing they see "Storytelling in this is user-generated ad copy."  The company has raised $300,000 raised so far and hopes to bring the success of Yelp to the viral growth of Instagram. 

Wedding Lovely, fondued by Tracy Osborn, wants to help plan your wedding by reminding you of key to-do items.  With 2.2 million weddings per year, the wedding industry is a serious force but can be completely overwhelming. 

The Knot is the largest player in wedding suggestion space, but the information on its site is optimized for SEO, not user-friendly interaction. Wedding Lovely has been building a personalized email newsletter for couples that walks them through manageable steps and makes personalized suggestions on vendors to use.

So far, more than 700 vendors partnered with them and 8% of accounts have paid for an upgrade. Right now, Wedding Lovely is looking for $350,000 to bring the company to the next level. 


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