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July 19 2011

The Interconnected World of Tech Companies [INFOGRAPHIC]

The “tech world” is really more of a “tech family.” Between digital giants’ appetites for acquisitions and the tendency of their ex-employees to start new companies, it’s easy to see how nearly every blip in the ecosystem is closely related.

We’ve mapped just a few of these family ties between “Xooglers,” the “PayPal Mafia”, “Softies” and the many other tech connectors who have yet to be nicknamed.

Our guess is that if you gathered a handful of tech veterans in a room, you could keep the tech connection game going forever. So while this graphic is hardly exhaustive, we’ll keep it going in the comments — feel free to add connections to the list!

Infographic design by Nick Sigler

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, BrianAJackson

More About: amazon, apple, ebay, facebook, Google, infographic, paypal, tech, tech world

For more Startups coverage:

July 17 2011

8 Crucial Elements of Startup Success

Bill Clark is the CEO of Microventures, a securities broker/dealer that uses crowdfunding to allow investors to invest between $1,000 and $10,000 in startups online. You can follow him on Twitter @austinbillc.

Most people understand that a high percentage of startups never make it. So what if you could give yourself a leg up on the competition? Below is a list of tips that may help your startup get to the next level. These ideas are not revolutionary, and many successful startups already have these qualities. Why not ensure yours does too?

1. Hire Great Coders

If you don’t have the skills to code, make sure you find someone with a solid programming background who can implement your idea. You want to make sure that person has built successful websites with features similar to your own vision. That way, you know they have the right skills for your startup. An inefficient coder will take a long time to launch the site, wasting time by making minor changes and fixing bugs. You will lose valuable time and potentially miss the opportunity to capitalize on first-to-market advantages.

2. Launch Your Product Site Quickly

Sometimes you’ll encounter a last-minute opportunity to add features to your product. However, this can delay the launch. You might consider it worth the wait, especially if the added features will further engage customers. However, make sure to launch as soon as possible with the critical functionality. You can always make later changes to improve your site and product. Furthermore, you’ll be able to start gathering valuable feedback from your customers. If you’re insecure about a hasty launch, let customers know they’re viewing the beta version of the site, and they can expect improvements soon.

3. Identify Your Users

If you’re developing a product, make sure you truly understand the needs of your end users. You might assume that potential customers are seeking your particular solution, only to discover after launch that your product might be too expensive or doesn’t precisely repair the problem. Make sure that you take some time to understand exactly what your users need, and what they are willing to pay for.

4. Don’t Target a Small Niche

Solving a problem for a targeted niche is not a bad idea — the smaller the niche, the less competition you may face. The downside is that you might not gain enough users to render a profit. Make sure to perform market research to understand the scale of consumers interested in your product. Also, plan to expand the niche once you service its need. When you evolve your original idea into adjacent markets, you will increase the probability of exponential growth.

5. Raise Enough Money the First Time

As most startups know, determining how much money to raise is difficult. Raising enough money in your seed round will carry your business through inevitable growing pains and redesigns, but it’s important to retain enough money to develop the final product your users will love. You don’t want to spend all your time convincing investors to sign that next check that will keep the company afloat. Investors would rather you spend it further developing the business and getting them a timely return on investment. You want to raise enough money initially so that you can hit a major milestone and have something to show investors.

6. Don’t Waste Money

As obvious as this one sounds, startups waste money every day. They often overspend on things that can wait until later, or on a tool that doesn’t get them the expected results. By outsourcing a variety of activities, however, startups are now becoming less expensive to launch.

One area in which startups waste money is hiring too many employees too fast. You need to make sure you can fill up the entire day of each (indispensable) employee. Early on, only hire people who add required functionality that cannot be fulfilled by current staff. You should also determine whether a person can be hired as a short-term, temporary resource (i.e. outsourcing), or whether hiring a full-time employee is the right, long-term solution. Employee salaries contribute to high overhead expenses, and should be carefully controlled at the beginning of a successful startup.

7. Have Multiple Co-Founders

A startup can be very time-consuming. Although you envisioned its concept, you may lack the required skills to launch your idea into reality. Therefore, divide the work among trusted partners with necessary skills sets, and be able to bounce ideas off each other freely.

Dave McClure states that the ideal startup has a hacker, a hustler and a designer. The hacker can code, the hustler brings in the business, and the designer architects the concept to make it appealing to a consumer or investor. You may have one or all of these skills, but often not enough time in the day to wear all of the hats. If you can’t convince a co-founder to come on board and fill a role, it may be a red flag that your idea needs tweaking.

8. All Or Nothing

We’ve all heard the saying “don’t quit your day job, kid,” but in the world of startups, any time spent focused on outside tasks is an opportunity for competitors to beat you to market. You need to focus all your time on your startup if you want it to succeed. And this may mean quitting your day job.

If you’re building a product, targeting customers, and trying to attract investors all in your spare time, you don’t have your priorities lined up. If you dedicate all your time to your startup, you will have more drive to successfully get it to market, because now your livelihood depends on it.

This list doesn’t guarantee that you will succeed, but it will give you some benchmarks to compare yourself against. Can you think of any additional characteristics that successful startups have going for them? If so, leave them in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, RichVintage

More About: business, finance, launch, MARKETING, startup, tips, web

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July 15 2011

HOW TO: Establish Business Credit

Nellie Akalp is CEO of CorpNet.com. Since forming more than 100,000 corporations and LLCs across the U.S, she has built a strong passion to assist small business owners and entrepreneurs in starting and protecting their business the right way. LIKE the CorpNet.com Facebook page for exclusive discounts and giveaways! To learn more about Nellie and see how she can help your business get off the ground quickly and affordably, please visit here.

For the small business owner, trying to navigate the credit and lending world can feel like a vicious Catch-22. Most commercial banks and traditional lenders are reluctant to loosen their purse strings until you’ve proven yourself with a strong credit history. But it’s difficult to develop that good record when no one will lend to you in the first place.

Many small business owners rely on the strength of their personal credit to fund their businesses. But when you use personal credit, your mortgage, auto loan and personal credit cards all affect your ability to qualify for a business loan. Using business credit separates your personal activities from that of the business. Your business credit is dependent on your company’s payment history, assets, cash flow and other financials. It doesn’t include your personal debts or other personal financial obligations.

A strong credit history is the foundation for success, as it can lower your interest rates and give you access to more capital when needed. To start building your business credit, here are the initial steps you should take.

1. Set Up a Business Entity

There’s no such thing as a business loan or business credit for a sole proprietor — that’s a personal loan. In order to receive a business loan or investment, you must separate the business from its personal owners by setting up a legal business entity — a corporation or LLC, for example. Your CPA can advise you on the best legal structure for your particular situation, as your choice in entity can have some pretty significant tax implications.

2. Get a Tax ID Number (EIN)

Every business must have a tax ID number, just like each individual has a social security number. The Tax ID number (or EIN) is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS to business entities operating in the U.S. You’ll use this number to open your business bank account and build your business credit profile. Apply for your business’ EIN online through the IRS site — and don’t worry, the process is fast and simple.

3. Establish a Business Bank Account

Your business needs at least one bank reference. Ideally, if you need to apply for a loan, your bank account will be at least two years old (of course, there’s not much you can do to change this situation other than apply for a business bank account as early as possible). More important than your account’s lifespan, your business bank account should show a cash flow capable of taking on a business debt. Of course, the optimum average daily balance of your account will depend on your type of business and the amount of financing you’ll be seeking.

4. Get Listed with the Business Credit Bureaus

Dun & Bradstreet is one of the main business credit bureaus and runs its own business credit score. D&B gives businesses a separate credit file number (known as a D&B or DUNS number) that rates your credit profile. Go to their site to find out if your business is already listed and has a score. You can also begin the process by applying for a free DUNS number once you’ve established your business entity and have your EIN. The number is how lenders will determine your business’ credit worthiness (most business credit card and lending companies will ask for your D&B number during the application process).

5. Establish Business Credit History

Check if your trade vendors are reporting your payment history to one of the major reporting companies, like D&B. Just like with your personal credit score, the more vendors that report a good payment history, the better your business credit will be. It’s common that small trade vendors won’t report your payment history to D&B. In this case, you should compile a trade reference sheet with at least three references (include their name, contact information and credit limits) to augment your official business credit report. In addition, you should open a business credit card (in the name of the business) and use it wisely — meaning keep your balance low and always pay on time.

6. Maintain a Good Personal Credit Rating

When you’re a relatively new or small company, creditors are going to be looking at the personal credit of the person who owns the business (or any shareholders with more than 20% ownership of the company). In today’s lending environment, you should expect to be asked to sign a personal guarantee on any kind of loan or credit of the business. This isn’t always mandatory, but it has recently become common practice in the lending industry. As a result, anyone with a 20% or higher share in the company should keep a close eye on his own credit rating.

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t build business credit overnight. Business owners should think about their business credit from day one. Even if you’re self-funded now, you never know what challenges or growth opportunities will develop down the road. Having access to credit can only help you adapt to changing conditions and position yourself for success.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, idrutu

More About: business, credit, establish credit, finance, loan, startup, tax id

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July 08 2011

Space Exploration: 9 Private Sector Companies Ready to Take Off

When Atlantis launched on Friday morning, it was the last of NASA’s space shuttle flights.

The event marks the end of a 30-year program that has put 777 people in orbit.

But it is not the end of space exploration in the United States. Companies have been engaging in a private sector space race alongside and in partnership with NASA for quite some time.

SEE ALSO: Space Shuttle Launch: Photos from the Final Atlantis Flight

In April, NASA awarded four of these companies $269 million to develop spacecraft, and companies in the private sector have also established expertise in other aspects of space travel, like space suits and climate control. Some are even famously selling tickets for consumer space flights.

Here are what some of the most established and most promising of the space startups are working on.

1. Armadillo Aerospace

What it does: Builds reusable rocket-powered vehicles.

Claim to fame: An exclusive agreement with Space Adventures, a consumer space travel company. "Eventually, we wish to provide a platform for civilian flights to suborbital space, and ultimately, we plan to reach orbit," reads the site's FAQ.

2. Bigelow Aerospace

What it does: "Expandable space habitat technology." The company creates space stations that have more breathing room than your everyday "aluminum can" International Space Station by using inflatable components. Eventually it hopes to lease space on one of its stations for experiments and research. Two prototypes are already in orbit.

Great Expectations: "We anticipate construction of our first space station to begin with a Sundancer launched in early 2014, and that by 2015 the station will be available for client use," says Bigelow's website.

3. Blue Origin

What it does: Develops vehicles and technologies to lower the cost and increase the reliability of human access to space.

What Amazon and space have in common: Blue Origin is owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos.

4. Oribital Sciences

What it does: About 3,700 employees help make space launch vehicles, missile defense systems and satellites as well as offer space technical services at this more than 29-year-old company. It's like a department store for space.

Claim to Fame: In 2002, the company signed its largest contract ever: $900 million to develop, build, test and support missile interceptor booster vehicles for the Boeing Company.

5. Paragon Space Development

What it does: Makes environmental controls for extreme and hazardous environments, like space.

Claims to fame: Paragon is responsible for the first full-motion, long-duration video (4 months, 60 total minutes) of plant and animal growth on orbit, the first multigenerational animal experiment in space and the first commercial experiment on the International Space Station.

6. Virgin Galactic

What it does: Sells tickets for consumer space trips. The company has already sold about 430 tickets.

Cost per ticket: $200,000

7. XCOR Aerospace

What it does: Flight vehicles, piston pumps and rocket engines. And of course, consumer sub-orbital space travel. Its two rocket-powered vehicles, the X-Racer and EX-Rocket, have safely completed 67 piloted demonstrations.

Cost per ticket: $95,000

8. Spaceport America

What it does: Maintains a spaceport (like a seaport for ships or an airport for airplanes). Consumer space flight company Virgin Galactic recently signed a 20-year lease agreement to make the spaceport its headquarters.

Claim to Fame: The first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

9. SpaceX

What it does: Space transport. Eventually wants to put a man on Mars.

Famous Founder: SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk, the cofounder of PayPal and Tesla Motors.

More About: astronomy, Atlantis, List, Lists, Science, space, startups, tech

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11 Startups That Found Success By Changing Direction

Nicholas Thomas is the Director of Business Development at Docudesk Corporation and is passionate about user experience, design, and innovation. You can follow him on Twitter @nicholaswthomas and read his blog at NicholasWayneThomas.com.

Although some discount “The Pivot” as an overused buzzword, for a startup, pivoting can mean the difference between becoming the next success story and joining the deadpool. The principles behind the pivot apply to any industry. With lean resources, fickle users and quickly changing markets, startups have the most to gain from pivoting, and the most to lose from missed opportunities.

The reasons for changing course are often varied, and there are many factors to take into consideration when making the decision. Some companies have discovered that their products need to be significantly tweaked — or even scrapped all together. Others found that they had the right products, but have marketed to the wrong audience. For some, the only thing they had right was their team.

There may be some valid criticism in the over-usage of the term. Some of what can be identified as pivoting may just be the natural evolution of the company. The technique is not new though, and many established companies look significantly different now than in their early days.

Fortunately for today’s startups, pre-existing companies provide examples of successful adaptation.

1. Yelp

When most people need recommendations for a good doctor or a good movie rental, they ask their friends. Jeremy Stoppelman started a company and asked millions.

Along with cofounder Russel Simmons, the company began in 2004 as an automated system for emailing recommendation requests to friends. Although the duo received $1 million in funding from PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, the idea fell flat with their audience.

However, users did viewed the system in a way they hadn’t expected: by writing reviews on local businesses just for fun. They decided to change course, capitalizing on the new “blue ocean strategy” of online reviews for local businesses. The original “Friendster Yellow Pages” now sees over 50 million users a month, with 17 million reviews online.

2. YouTube

Lean startup wisdom says to start small and focus on niche markets. But when you have a great team in place though, focusing on the bigger picture can be worthwhile.

Founded in 2005, YouTube began as a video dating site called "Tune In Hook Up," similar to HotOrNot.com. When the site failed to gain traction, the founders scrapped the idea, and instead focused on simply sharing videos online.

Acquired by Google for around $1.65 billion in stock, YouTube users now upload over 35 hours of video per minute.

3. PayPal

Arising from the merger between two companies specializing in financial services (X) and cryptography (Confinity), PayPal originated as a way to exchange money via Palm Pilots. Peter Thiel is credited with seeing the potential to solve a much larger problem - an easy way to transfer money online.

After securing a relationship with eBay, PayPal was soon handling over 40% of eBay transactions before being acquired by the company in 2002 for $1.5 billion. PayPal now has over 100 million active accounts, and is again bullish on the mobile strategy, expecting to process over $3 billion in mobile payments in 2011.

4. Woot

A successful pivot can begin as a simple means to an end, or as a solution to a purely internal problem.

Woot.com began in 2004 as a way for Matt Ruttledge’s 12-year-old wholesale electronics distributor to clear out unsold inventory. The result was a new model for online shopping that combined bargain hunting with scarcity and urgency, all while maintaining a sense of humor that would become a company trademark.

After establishing the framework for daily deals sites and expanding their offering, Woot was acquired by Amazon in 2010 for $110 million.

5. Flickr

A great example of a feature becoming its own product, Flickr’s roots lie in the development of an online role-playing game from gaming startup Ludicorp.

Recognizing they had developed a solution to a much larger problem, Caterina Fake and husband Stewart Butterfield decided to scrap development of the game, and focus instead on the larger potential of simplifying photo sharing on the web.

Ludicorp never actually published a game, and Flickr was purchased by Yahoo! in 2005 for an undisclosed sum.

6. Groupon

Sometimes the idea can be completely right, but the target market completely wrong.

Founded in 2006, The Point began as a platform for mobilizing groups of people towards action for various causes. Groupon was initially just one subset of another site, (even launching at groupon.thepoint.com).

The group buying aspect struck a nerve with users much more so than the social and political concept the platform. As founder Andrew Mason put it, “The Point should have been the book, and Groupon should have been the company.”

7. Shopify

Shopify is another example of a company born from solving an internal problem, but recognizing a bigger need.

In 2004, Tobias Lütke and Scott Lake needed an online shopping cart for their new snowboard business. When they found no suitable choices available, Lütke decided to write his own, and make his solution available to other small companies running into the same issue.

Shopify now hosts over 10,000 stores and is processing over $100 million in revenues.

8. Twitter

Outside pressure can go a long way in sparking truly paradigm-shifting innovation.

In 2006, podcasting startup Odeo was quickly made irrelevant after the release of iTunes and other competition. Seeing the writing on the wall, Twitter began as a side project originating from “hackathons” to identify viable new opportunities.

Twitter now has over 200 million users, with secondary market trading placing the company’s valuation around $7 billion.

9. Ignighter

Allowing your users to influence the nature of your offering can be rewarding.

Launched in 2008 as a dating site for groups, Ignighter grew modestly in the U.S., adding 50,000 users in its first year. The idea of a dating site for groups rather than individuals caught fire in India though, where the site began adding as many users in one week as they had previously added in an entire year.

In 2010, cofounder Adam Sachs made the company’s pivot official, stating, "We are an Indian dating site."

10. Intagram

At nine months old with 1.25 million users for every employee, Instagram proves that the team can sometimes be more important than the product itself.

Founder Kevin Systrom started Burbn to learn programming outside of his marketing day job, aiming to blend elements of Foursquare and Mafia Wars in a mobile HTML5 app.

After receiving funding from Baseline Ventures and Andreesen Horowitz, Systrom added cofounder Mike Krieger to the project. The duo decided to take a mobile-first strategy by scrapping the original code for a native iPhone app. The resulting feature-rich app felt cluttered, inspiring the team to remove everything except the most important features and rename the app to reflect the new use case: Instagram.

11. Turntable.fm

Although no more divergent than Twitter was to its inception at Odeo, Turntable.fm’s origin is at least equally disparate, and for the time being at least, much more mysterious.

Born out of the mobile bar code-scanning startup Stickybits, the buzz and exclusivity surrounding Turntable.fm has quickly overshadowed its parent.

What makes this pivot intriguing is not just the divergent nature of the products, or of the established players Turntable.fm is challenging, but is their team’s reluctance to talk to the press about it.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Liquidphoto

More About: business, flickr, groupon, Ignighter, instagram, List, Lists, paypal, shopify, startups, turntable.fm, twitter, woot, yelp, youtube

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July 07 2011

10 Top Tech Entrepreneurs Share Their Favorite Food Trucks

The Social-Savvy Food Truck Series is supported by the Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Truck. For more information on the scoop truck and where it stops, click here.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have much time to eat. Therefore, your life is made a lot easier and more efficient if your lunch is on wheels and can come to you. Enter the food truck, which has become a go-to lunch staple for busy entrepreneurs.

Read on to see what meals on wheels are fueling innovation at successful startups from San Francisco to Boston.

1. Naveen Selvadurai, Foursquare -- New York

"Calexico: Delicious, delicious Mexican food in SoHo for when I'm working at home (rare) or have meetings down there. It's been a staple in the neighborhood for a while."

2. Mike Krieger & Kevin Systrom, Instagram -- San Francisco

"3-Sum Eats -- the BEST deviled eggs in the world, and an out-of-this-world BLT with truffled mayo. I'm only allowed to go once a week (doctor's orders)." - Kevin

"Chairman Bao has amazing timing -- either they're nearby for lunch (Pork Belly Baked Bun is one of the most delicious things I've ever had) or at the Bloodhound bar, so you can wash your Bao buns with Recoils or bourbon. They're really Twitter-savvy, so you can always figure out where they are. Also, they have a special place in my heart because we went there for lunch right after we launched and told them we were from Instagram, and the lady at the window said, "Oh, the photo app?" When the food trucks know about you is when you've made it in SF..." - Mike

3. Soraya Darabi, Foodspotting -- New York

Kelvin Slush is located in the Flatiron district, all too conveniently close to the Foodspotting NYC HQ. The ginger and mint slush is so cooling in the summer time –- particularly the peach variation, which has a lot of zest. It’s an ideal mid-afternoon pick me up.“

4. Tony Haile, ChartBeat -- New York

"Wafels and Dinges are the best. I was introduced by @ninakix one late summer night and dream about their waffles. You gotta keep it pure -- the liege wafel with some butter and sugar is all it takes."

5. Dan Leahy, Savored -- New York

"Tough question, but I'd have to say Mexicue takes the cake. Big fan of Mexican food and love barbecue, so it's hard to beat a combination of the two. Plus they're outside our office in Flatiron a lot and there's a cool vibe with the truck and the people who work there. I typically mix and match, but my go-to's are the short rib and the BBQ chick tacos, as well as the pulled pork sliders."

6. Katia Beauchamp, Birchbox -- New York

"Going to have to give a shout-out to the Rickshaw Truck! My favorite food in the world are dumplings -- who doesn't love an efficient and flavor-packed pocket of food and sauce! I mean, it is a wrapper of happiness. Our first "office" for Birchbox was in DUMBO, with the generous and wonderful drop.io team. There was limited access to multiple lunch options, and on one desperate day, we tweeted at the Rickshaw truck, and they came to DUMBO! They recognized a dumpling emergency -- our hero!"

7. Seth Priebatsch, SCVNGR -- Boston

"Clover [Food Lab] is awesome. They basically create unbelievable fresh food, served up quickly and, bonus points, they use Square. So I can pay with a card and feel kinda like an 'in-the-know' hipster here in Boston ... even if only for a moment."

em>Image courtesy of Donald Rockhead

8. Josh Williams, Gowalla -- Austin

"LuLu B's in Austin. The Lemongrass Pork is pretty much to die for."

9. Adrian Salamunovic, DNA11 -- Ottawa and Los Angeles

“The best food truck ever without question is: Koji BBQ out of LA. It's an amazing fusion of Korean and Mexican, and half the fun is using Twitter to find out where they will be so it ties in some social media fun. Kogi is not exactly a secret -- it’s super popular -- but it’s amazing.”

10. Andrew Cohen, Bitly -- New York

"My pick is the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck ... try the earl grey ice cream!"

Series Supported by Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Truck

The Social-Savvy Food Truck Series is supported by the Ben and Jerry’s Scoop Truck. In New York City or San Francisco and want a free scoop? Follow @BenJerrysTruck and @BenJerrysWest for details!

More About: Birchbox, bit.ly, chartbeat, Food truck, foodspotting, foursquare, gowalla, scvngr, Social-Savvy Food Truck Series

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July 06 2011

7 Winning Examples of Game Mechanics in Action

Gabe Zichermann is the author of the books Game-Based Marketing (Wiley, now available) and Funware in Action (Manning, Q3/2010). He is also the CEO of professional mobile social networking startup beamME and frequently muses about games and the world at funwareblog.com.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. In other words, it means taking the best lessons from games like FarmVille, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds, and using them in business. Whether targeted at customers or employees, across industries as diverse as technology, health care, education, consumer products, entertainment and travel, gamification’s impact can already be felt.

While some have criticized the concept of gamification as shallow or demeaning, the initial findings from gamification specialists are nothing short of astonishing. Regardless of your business model, the following seven gamified innovations should inspire you to strategize via game analysis.

1. Make a Market: Foursquare

The first incarnation of the location-based networking field was littered with carnage, leading many to write off the entire concept. But Foursquare’s founders, veterans of the now defunct Dodgeball, succeeded with an ace in the hole: game mechanics. Exposed to the concept while working at Area/Code (Zynga’s recently acquired New York City-based game design shop), Dennis and Naveen concluded that mobile social networking would work if you were to change the dynamic from multiplayer to single player.

Instead of depending on the action of the crowd to provide intrinsic reinforcement (e.g. “Hey, you’re around the corner. Let’s grab a beer!”), Foursquare overcame the empty bar problem by becoming a single-player game. The user competes for badges and mayorships whether or not anyone is there to meet him. In the process, Foursquare proved that location-based networking wasn’t doomed to fail, that simple game mechanics can affect behavior, and that you can engage 10 million customers — all while raising $50 million.

2. Get Fit: NextJump

When you listen to NextJump CEO Charlie Kim describe his zeal for physical fitness, you immediately understand the energy that has propelled this interactive marketing platform into one of the nation’s fastest growing businesses. But keeping fit isn’t just Kim’s personal goal — he told me it’s also a practice he believes his employees should value as a tool for improving their lives, reducing company insurance costs and preventing employee absenteeism. To achieve those goals, NextJump installed gyms in its offices, and built a custom application that enabled employees to check in to each workout. Ultimately, they rewarded the top performers with a cash prize. After implementation, around 12% of the company’s staff began a regular workout regimen.

But Kim wasn’t satisfied. By leveraging the power of gamification, he retooled the fitness “game” to become a team sport. Now NextJump employees could form regionally based teams, check in to workouts and see their team performance on a leaderboard. Leveraging the game themes of tribalism and competition had an astonishing effect on behavior. Today, 70% of NextJump employees exercise regularly — enough to save the company millions in work attendance and insurance costs over the medium term — all the while making the workplace healthier and happier.

3. Slow Down and Smell the Money: Kevin Richardson

In many countries, speed cameras snare thousands of drivers each year — a quick shutter flash earns a miserable ticket in the mailbox. In some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, ticket amounts correspond with the driver’s salary, rather than his speed. But Kevin Richardson, game designer at MTV’s San Francisco office, re-imagined the experience using game thinking.

His innovative Speed Camera Lottery idea rewards those drivers who obey the posted limit by entering them into a lottery. The compliant drivers then split the proceeds generated from speeders. Richardson used gamification concepts to turn an negative reinforcement system into a positive, incremental experience.

When tested at a checkpoint in Stockholm, average driver speed was reduced by 20%. If the plan were scaled across the U.S., the results could mean thousands fewer injuries, millions of dollars worth of reduced costs and substantial environmental benefits.

4. Generate Ad Revenues: Psych & NBC/Universal.

Psych is a popular program on the USA Network, but these days, creating value for TV advertisers means connecting to the web and social media in creative ways. Enter Club Psych, the online brand platform for the show, and among the first major media platforms to get gamified.

The brainchild of NBC/Universal executive Jesse Redniss, Club Psych implemented gamified incentives to raise page views by over 130% and return visits by 40%. The resulting rise in engagement has generated substantial revenue for the company, bringing registered user counts from 400,000 to nearly 3 million since the launch of the gamified version. The media conglomerate has since embraced the strategy across properties, bringing gamification to ratings leaders like Top Chef and the The Real Housewives.

Other content publishers, like Playboy, have seen similar results. Their Miss Social Facebook app has achieved an 85% re-engagement rate and 60% monthly revenue growth with gamification.

5. Make Research & Evangelism Count: Crowdtap

Getting product feedback is a costly and challenging effort. Therefore, most marketers have come to loathe ineffective surveys and expensive focus groups. Enter Crowdtap, the hot New York City startup launched earlier this year that reached $1 million in revenue and 100,000 users in just over 90 days. The company offers consumers gamified rewards to complete research tasks and to share brand advocacy with others — something mere market research simply cannot do.

Through the use of gamified, virtual rewards, the company has been able to raise average user participation by 2.5 times, thus reducing research costs by 80% or more for key clients. By targeting consumer rewards along a motivational (not demographic) axis, CEO Brandon Evans reports that competition-oriented users are four times more likely to create quality comments and 12 times more likely to refer others to the platform. Instead of competing against the system, they challenge themselves and peers to excel — an extraordinary achievement by any measure.

6. Save the Planet: RecycleBank

Modern life is wasteful, and easy fixes are rare. By tapping into people’s desire for reward and competition through gamified experiences, governments, utilities and entrepreneurial powerhouses are rewriting the rules of sustainability — and making the world a better place.

In a Medford, MA pilot program, households competed in an energy smackdown in which the winning family managed to lower its carbon footprint by 63%. In a program called Putnam RISE, Indiana families are making thousands of pledges to reduce power usage through a competition. The schools whose families conserve the most energy receive a cash prize. And across the country, incentives experts at Recyclebank are using the power of gamification to radically improve home environmental compliance. So far, they’ve utilized game mechanics such as points, challenges and rewards to drive breakthroughs. For example, the project has seen a 16% increase in recycling in Philadelphia, where the recycling rate has broken 20% for the first time in history.

7. Make Teaching Fun: Ananth Pai

As former globetrotting business executive turned elementary school teacher, Ananth Pai has seen it all. But when he inherited his class in White Bear Lake, MN, Pai realized there had to be a better, more engaging way to teach. So he grouped students by learning style, and retooled the curriculum to make use of off-the-shelf games (both edutainment and entertainment) to teach reading, math and other subjects. Students play on Nintendo DS and PCs, both single and multiplayer, for example. Their overall point scores are tabulated and shared using leaderboards.

In the space of 18 weeks, Mr. Pai’s class went from below third grade average reading and math levels to mid-fourth grade. The classroom success is supported by video interviews with his kids, who say “Learning with Mr. Pai is fun and social.”

In addition to these seven great tips, dozens more success stories pour in each week, underscoring the tremendous investment of time and money into gamification. Gartner Group estimates that by 2015, 70% of the Forbes Global 2000 will be using gamified apps, and M2 Research forecasts that U.S. companies alone will spend $1.6 billion on gamification products and services by that same year.

Gamification spans the gamut — from the hundreds of startups that launch with game mechanics incorporated into their products, to the big brands that make gamification a hallmark strategy. Regardless, the message is the same: the future will be more connected, more social and more fun than ever before.

More About: competition, foursquare, game mechanics, games, gamification, incentives, social media

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June 24 2011

10 Things to Include in Your Startup Pitch Presentation

presentation image

Bill Clark is the CEO of Microventures, a securities broker/dealer that uses crowdfunding to allow investors to invest between $1,000 and $10,000 in startups online. You can follow him on Twitter @austinbillc.

When you pitch to investors or venture capitalists, assume that you are not going to have a lot of time. Investors constantly get pitched, so it’s important to catch their attention quickly and engage them by keeping it simple.

SEE ALSO: Mashable’s Startup Investment Tips Series

Have a presentation (a “pitch deck”) prepared with which you can pitch your entire idea and business plan in less than 20 minutes. You should also be able to provide more details if questions arise. Decks should be about 10 pages long, but what should they include? Here, we’ve listed the 10 components that investors care about the most and how you should approach them.

1. Cover Page

The cover page should have your logo, business name and a tagline. Your tagline should give insight into your company and be easy to remember, for example, “We are the Groupon for X.” Remember to include your contact information — you would be surprised how many people forget it. Especially if your deck was forwarded, it should be easy for a person to track you down.

2. Summary

Summarize all of the information before you present it, and use this opportunity to get your audience interested in your company. Talk up the most interesting facts about your business, as well as any huge milestones you may have hit.

3. Team

Investors are not only putting money toward your idea, they’re investing in your team. It’s important they know the people who are going to make the concept successful. Make sure to include your background too, and how it relates to your new company. Highlight any of your team’s successful exits. Investors like to see that you can take a company to acquisition.

If applicable, emphasize that your team has worked together in the past or for a long period of time. It shows you can and like to work together. If you have any important advisors, list them, but make sure they know you’re using their name.

4. Problem

You need to be able to explain the problem your concept is going to solve. Further, you need to prove why investors should care about solving it with your product or service.

5. Solution

This is the value proposition you are bringing to the table. It should solve the problem you just mentioned. If you have a demo of your product, this is the time to show it. Include any case studies to show that your product has worked for existing customers.

6. Marketing/Sales

You’ll want to show the market size for your product. This can include profiles of target customers, but be prepared to answer questions about the cost of acquiring these customers. Not knowing this information is a red flag to investors. If you already have sales, you can discuss your growth and forecast future revenue.

7. Projections or Milestones

It is difficult to create financial projections for a startup. If you don’t have a long financial history, your forecast is really just an educated guess. Instead, you should present the milestones that you’ve already reached. For instance, include that you acquired 1,000 customers by X date, that you have a partnership with company Y, that you signed a major customer or that you will be cash flow positive by Q3.

8. Competition

Every business has competition even if you think you’re offering something new and unique. List your competition and why your product/service is different from their model. If your competitors have been acquired, list acquisition prices and who acquired them.

9. Business Model

Every investor wants to get his money back, so it’s important to tell them how you plan on generating revenue. Show a list of the various revenue streams for your model and the timeline for each of them. How will you price your product and what does your competition charge? You should also discuss the lifetime value of your customer and how you will keep him engaged.

10. Financing

If you have already raised money, you will want to talk about how much, who invested and what you did with it. If you have not raised money yet, talk about what you have accomplished with minimal funding. If you have personally funded your startup, make it known. Investors like to see entrepreneurs who have invested their own money. If you’re pitching to raise capital, list how much you’re looking to raise and how you intend to use the funds.

Preparing the Presentation

The above topics are critical when pitching an investment community, but be ready for questions. Learn a bit about your audience and anticipate their own passion points. Here are three talking points to keep your investor engaged and interested.

  • Include any press you’ve received on a backup slide.
  • Highlight any large barriers to entry in your field. They indicate that you have limited competition, that your concept has first-to-market exclusivity for a longer period of time.
  • Investors are always thinking about the exit, so have a strategy in place and be able to talk about it. It helps to list any companies that may acquire yours, including similar products that have been acquired in the past.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, davidf

More About: business, investors, pitch deck, presentation, startup, startup investmenttips, talking points

For more Startups coverage:

May 25 2011

5 Ambitious Social Good Startups Created In a Single Weekend

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Can a startup go from concept to launch in 54 hours?

Startup Weekend is an organization that answers this question with a resounding affirmative, and it does so many times each year in cities around the world.

At a typical Startup Weekend, ambitious entrepreneurs, developers, designers and marketers meet up for around-the-clock hacking, beginning on Friday afternoon and ending on Sunday.

As the hacking draws to a close, each nascent startup prepares a presentation and pitches their idea and product to an audience of press and investors.

Not only does this organization foster radical creativity and lightning-speed entrepreneurship and team-building; it is also responsible for getting some very interesting, community-focused ideas off the ground in just 54 hours.

And Startup Weekend is a truly global initiative, with upcoming events in Mongolia, Hamburg, Toronto, San Francisco, Madrid, Boston, Denver and more.

Some big-name, successful apps, such as Foodspotting, have come from Startup Weekend events in the past. But some of the more under-the-radar apps and teams are working on solutions to real problems in their communities. Here’s a quick look at a few change-minded companies or products that have come from Startup Weekend so far.

1. ThinkSmartGrid

Founded: Chicago, 2010

The Idea: Billions of investment dollars have found their way to the smart grid, yet its promise is still unfulfilled, even after 20 years of vendor demand and consumer education. ThinkSmartGrid was founded to work with stakeholders in the green tech and clean tech industries to identify, qualify and deliver messages about an intelligent electricity network.

This startup provides strategic consulting regulatory representation for alliances and suppliers looking to succeed in smart grid initiatives. It works with technology suppliers and utilities to develop and influence Smart Grid standards.

The startup has already closed a six-figure funding deal and expects to close at least two more this year.

2. Sparkrelief

Founded: Denver, 2010

The Idea: Sparkrelief builds web apps that crowdsource disaster relief.

These apps draw upon a collection of real-time data sources to present timely and important information. Sparkrelief also centralizes and organizes relief information on housing and other resources for disaster victims to quickly find help.

Finally, the startup allows the more fortunate among us to help those in need through donations of money, shelter, food, clothing and other resources.

3. Pocket Tales

Founded: Indianapolis, 2008

The Idea: Pocket Tales is an educational gaming platform that combines highly engaging content with interactive gameplay to create immersive learning experiences for kids.

Motivating kids to read is a huge tenet of early education. The founder of this startup writes on the company’s website, “We’ve always liked books, but reading them just wasn’t enough. We wanted there to be more things happening. We wanted to discuss books, share them and get at the ideas they contained — so we created Pocket Tales.”

This startup’s product turns book reading into a game for children and their friends. It’s a unique way for kids to engage with the books they read in a deeper way, to discover their next favorite book, and to make and get recommendations for new books.

4. Sit For Something

Founded: Minneapolis, 2010

The Idea: This startup takes a unique and palatable approach to fundraising. Sit for Something uses movie theaters to raise money for good causes. The company’s current focus is education.

Sit For Something’s founders say their idea reduces the effort and initial funding it takes to pull off a fundraiser. Event organizers don’t have to contact theaters or wrangle for movie licenses. The idea also enables the fundraiser to target just about any demographic.

5. Hand Things Down

Founded: Seattle, 2010

The Idea: Hand Things Down is a social application that enables busy parents to post, trade and give away their kids’ old and outgrown clothing, furniture, toys and more. The concept is as green as it is community-focused. It’s also a great money saver.

Series Supported by BMW i

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @bmwi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

Top image courtesy of iStockphoto, sodafish

More About: Global Innovation Series, Hand Things Down, Sit For Something, social good, Sparkrelief, startup weekend, startups, Think Smart Grid

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May 17 2011

April 27 2011

Chicago-Based Startup Incubator Adds 10 New Companies to Its Roster

Excelerate Labs, a startup incubator and accelerator in Chicago, has announced its newest batch of startups for the summer class.

This will be the incubator’s second class. Its first one, in 2010, has raised $7.2 million in venture funding and hired 65 employees since its demo day. Excelerate Labs is led by Sam Yagan, co-founder of OKCupid, and Troy Henikoff, co-founder of SurePayroll.

“In 2010 Excelerate itself was a startup,” Excelerate Labs CEO’s Henikoff told Mashable. “We had to figure a lot of it out as we were going. Now with a successful year under our belt, we can build on what we learned from last year and do an even better job this year.”

Along with a $25,000 seed investment, all 10 startups in this year’s class also get office space, legal assistance and mentorship from Chicago entrepreneurs.

Thanks to the success of Y Combinator, the startup accelerator that boasts Reddit, Justin.tv, Dropbox, Airbnb and Heroku among its alumni, other cities have been launching their own incubators to develop entrepreneurial talent. Chicago’s tech scene has been booming in recent years with the unprecedented growth of Groupon.

Here are the 10 startups in Excelerate Labs’ newest class:

A Space Apart: A mobile app attempting to create local experiences and communities around specific places or events.

BabbaCo: Creates functional and “super cute” products for parents and their children.

Beyond Credentials: Helps students create digital resumes (“pitch pages”). One of its unique factors: It only allows students and alumni from a top 300 U.S. university.

Buzz Referrals: A server that creates custom referral programs based on social media.

CookItFor.Us: A website for sharing recipes, CookItFor.Us is an attempt to connect fine diners (“cravers”) with amateur and professional chefs (“makers”).

Exchangery: Helps create regulator and technology-friendly commodities exchanges.

Food Genius: A mobile app that provides dish suggestions and matching coupons.

Joystickers: Focuses on creating products that help people interact with their touchscreens. Its big product is “Flow,” a paintbrush for touchscreens that already has some momentum on Kickstarter.

MapDing: A location-based marketplace only for smartphones. Users can set notifications for when items they’re looking for become available.

Power2Switch: A portal and dashboard that helps people manage their energy costs. It also finds users cheaper alternatives to their current electricity supplier by analyzing billing info and other data.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, danleap

More About: A Space Apart, BabbaCo, Beyond Credentials, Buzz Referrals, CookItFor.usE, Excelerate Labs, food Genius, Joystickers, xchangery, y combinator

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April 13 2011

March 29 2011

6 New Apps for Uncovering the Best Local Knowledge


At some point after Quora launched in 2009, the Q&A concept has moved from the realm of stodgy forums to burgeoning tech trend. Meanwhile, hoards of startups are taking cues from buzz-generating location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla by adding location to everything from to do lists to shopping.

It’s no surprise that the latest generation of startups is combining these two concepts.

These six new location-based Q&A services send questions about places to locals likely to have the answers. Some of them, like Localmind, even go so far as to track down potential answerees, while others solicit more general suggestions.

1. Loqly


Loqly users can find local businesses via a Google-powered search, browsing by popular categories or by asking for a referral. Each business page has an option to share, mark as a favorite, or view its Yelp reviews. From the same business pages, users can ask specific questions about the business to other users in the area. “What days of the week do they have free salsa classes?” or “What are some good strong beers here?” are some sample questions.

People can also use Loqly for more general recommendations like “What is a good sushi restaurant in the area?” After users tag the question with a city and category, Loqly adds it to a question queue for local users.

2. Crowdbeacon

Crowdbeacon helps users track down answers to location-based questions by directing them to local experts nearby. When users first download the app, they’re asked to identify their location and broad categories for which they feel comfortable answering questions. These sections include active life, beauty, restaurants, shopping, etc.

When you ask a question, you identify which category experts it should be sent to. Founder Robert Boyle’s vision is that some respondents will be local businesses who have whatever it is that you’re looking for and can offer you a deal. There are about 100 such businesses currently participating in New York — home of the just-launched startup’s strongest user base.

If you happen to live elsewhere, you might need to recruit some fellow users before you get regular responses to your questions.

3. Ditto

Launched in early March by Jaiku founder Jyri Engestrom, Ditto encourages users to state what they’re going to do before they do it. They can either push these statements to their friends or to strangers nearby. The idea is that others who see something like “I’m going to breakfast” will naturally respond with something like “Oh, I know a great place.” Better yet, they might offer to join.

Ditto is unusual among location-based Q&A apps in that it covers activities in addition to location. Users can just as easily solicit book and movie recommendations as they can restaurant and bar recommendations.

4. Loqize.me


Switzerland-based Loqize.me is a Q&A service exclusively for location-based questions. Founder Philip Estrada Reichen was inspired to start the company after he moved to New York City. Most of the questions he asked using social media had to do with where to find things (a haircut, dinner, a place to watch a game, etc.) in the city.

“The way I solved it is I posted questions on Facebook, I tweeted, I asked my friends, but there was no real easy way to get these sort of questions answered,” he says.

Loqize.me is still in private beta. It allows users to tag their questions with a location. Users who “follow” that city or that user will see the question in their feeds and have an opportunity to answer it or to read others’ answers. It’s also possible to browse the questions by most recent or unanswered questions.

5. Hipster


Formerly stealth startup Hipster gave the world a peak at its location-based Q&A service at SXSW this year with a trial version dedicated to the conference.

If Yelp and Quora had a child under the influence of GPS, it might look a bit like this web app. Users see newsfeeds of popular, recent and friend activity. They can also follow people, categories, neighborhoods, and specific questions to create a “My Topics” feed.

The app integrates with Foursquare, Facebook and Gowalla accounts to let users follow locations that they’ve checked in to.

6. Localmind


Localmind’s specificity sets it apart from most other location-based Q&A services. When you launch the app, it presents you with a list of locations that other users near you are currently checked in to. You can send those specific users questions about their current location. You can build karma points by answering these questions, replying you’re busy, checking in, and inviting friends to join. Users who rack up enough points earn titles like “expert,” “champion,” and “legend.” When users reach the expert level, they’re able to answer questions regardless of whether they are checked in to a specific area.

“One vision we have for the expert layer is a crowdsourced customer support network, where your customers answer questions on your behalf, and are recognized for it,” explains founder Lenny Rachitsky. “Recognition could be [as] simple as a deal/coupon, or as interesting as a plaque on the wall at the venue that we ship to the venue.”

Localmind was smart not to launch its own check-in service. Accepting check ins from Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook gives it a broader reach and increases the chances you’ll find someone to answer your local question. There’s also an option for people who don’t use check in services to sign up using their Twitter accounts.

Interested in more Startup resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, cosmonaut

More About: Crowdbeacon, Ditto, foursquare, hipster, List, Lists, Localmind, location, Loqize.me, Loqly, q&a, quora, social media, startups

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March 09 2011

13 Potential Breakout Apps To Watch at SXSW 2011

There are few conferences as notorious for launching startups from obscurity to relative mainstream as SXSW. Foodspotting, Foursquare, and Twitter are just a few of the companies that attribute at least part of their launch success to the conference.

“If you hit the right 100 people at SXSW with, let’s say, Twitter, you can effectively hit everyone there if you have a strong impression on 100 people,” says Tim Ferris, who presented his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, at SXSW 2007.

What will be the Twitter of SXSW 2011? There are plenty of companies that could possibly make a big splash at this year’s conference, most of them mobile apps. Our 13 top picks are listed below.

1., 2., 3. and 4. Group Messaging Apps

Free group-texting app GroupMe launched in August as a simple way to text a group of people at once. They’ve raised $10.6 million in funding and added features for sharing current locations and photos within groups.

Since then, the group-messaging space has all but exploded with the arrival of numerous serious contenders. Fast Society, another SMS-based service, launched in September, allowing users to set a time frame for their group conversations and offering conference calls and location sharing.

IM app Kik was downloaded more than 2 million times in the three weeks after its October launch. The app functions instantly, like BBM, rather than relying on asynchronous and and often expensive text messages. This week, the app announced an $8 million round of funding, as well as group and photo features.

And then there’s Beluga, which allows users to end instant group messages, photos and location information across multiple platforms. The messaging app launched in December only to be acquired by Facebook in March.

So far there’s no clear leader among these group messaging apps (and a heap of others), but SXSW — a massive conference that requires massive coordination among teams — makes an ideal place for one to emerge.

5. HeyTell


It’s possible that all of the group-texting apps at SXSW will be out-staged by an even simpler group-communication tool: HeyTell. The free app simply turns Android phones or iPhones into walkie talkies. The app already has more than 4 million users.

The company recently rolled out a new feature that allows users to HeyTell message other users nearby. Which could either be very useful or very obnoxious in a high-density setting like SXSW.

6. Yobongo

Yobongo offers a slightly less intrusive way to make serendipitous connections than broadcasting out of a stranger’s walkie talkie. The app places nearby users into a chat room with each other (this introduces a potentially problematic provision: In order to be useful, other people in the room need to have downloaded the app). Chat members can see each other’s avatars and start private conversations aside from the group.

Creepy or useful? Networking mecca SXSW will be a great place to find out.

7., 8. and 9. Photo Sharing Apps


Apps that allow users to take and share photos from their mobile phones launched, won funding and updated like crazy throughout 2010. SXSW might help one or more of these apps enter the consciousness of the average smartphone owner.

Picplz and Instagram offer users filters to enhance the photos they take with their phones and options to share them to social networks. Instagram launched in October and quickly became a leader in sheer number of users. By December, the app was seeing two-to-three uploads per second. Picplz, which launched in May, hasn’t reported staggering adoption rates, but has earned respect — and funds — from investors like Andreessen Horowitz.

Meanwhile, Path takes a different approach, creating a selective network of 50 or fewer friends for users to share photos with.

10. Hashable

Hashable Founder Michael Yavonditte describes the check-in service as “check-ins for people.” Using the app or website, Hashable users can choose to broadcast who they’re #meeting, #raninto or had #lunch with to Twitter, or to keep it between their “inner circle” of connections. To make this easy, the app pulls in contacts from Twitter and any webmail accounts the user adds. People can also use the service to make introductions between their connections and exchange business card information.

In the meantime, using the apps will build a database of “relationship records” and allow people to learn who in their network is connecting with whom. At a conference, the app can be useful to keep track of new connections (no business cards to run out of or lose). In fact, the company intends to show off its conferencing functionality at SXSW this year, where it will send 20 of its top users to introduce the networking technology.

11. LiquidSpace


LiquidSpace gives the people who crouch on the floor with their laptops at conferences like SXSW an alternative. The startup, which launched on Tuesday, is like an AirBnB for workspaces. When users open the app, they see a list of available workspaces near them that they can reserve for a set price.

Venues range from hotels with free conference rooms to startups with extra desks. Anyone can list a space, and the venue is free to set its own prices and approve guests.

LiquidSpace is making its debut at SXSW with four pop-up work spaces that can be reserved using its app, including a tour bus outfitted as an office inside. After SXSW, the service will launch in the Bay area with about 50 more venues.

12. Lanyrd


Lanyard is a crowdsourced guide to social conferences. Sign in with your Twitter profile, and the site automatically shows you what conferences people who you follow are planning on speaking at or attending. Since event organizers and other users are encouraged to add conference panels and speakers, your contacts need not be Lanyrd users to be included. Can’t attend all of the conferences that you want to? The site also collects conference videos, slide decks and handouts in a searchable database to help absent users get the information that was presented.

SXSW will be the first test drive of Lanyrd at a major conference, and the startup is treating it as such. In February, it launched an unofficial guide to the conference that shows users which sessions their contacts will be at and allows them to search by topic for conference materials that match their interests.

13. Bnter


Launched in November by the creator of Texts From Last Night, Bnter allows users to post their text messages (from last night or otherwise) on the web for others to read. Users can follow each others’ accounts and comment on the conversations.

SXSW is supposedly a hotspot of interesting conversation, but what if those conversations take place via text message? Will people really want to post them to the web? As of now, witty comments like the one highlighted in the image above seem to dominate the site over, let’s say, discussions about why academic tech research matters.

On the other hand, the massive list of parties planned during the conference do present a ripe opportunity for sharing the former type of content, so SXSW could be a perfect place for this app to hit the big time.

More SXSW 2011 Resources from Mashable:

- 80+ Can’t Miss Things To See & Do at SXSW 2011
- Where to Find Mashable at SXSWi 2011
- SXSW For Startups: Top 10 Questions Answered
- 6 Successful SXSW Startup Launch Stories
- Giant Graphic Commemorates SXSW’s 25th Birthday [INFOGRAPHIC]

Photos Courtesy of Flickr, hive, fd, saxarocks Istockphoto, khz

More About: Beluga, bnter, fast-society, group messaging, groupme, hashable, heytell, instagram, Kik, lanyrd, liquidspace, Lists, Path, picplz, sxsw, sxsw 2011, yobongo

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March 06 2011

SXSW For Startups: Top 10 Questions Answered

As part of this year’s SXSWi, Mashable presents the Mashable SXSWi House, featuring private events, open houses, meet-and-greet opportunities and two nights of parties. Learn more here and register for public events on Eventbrite.

You’ve got an idea. You’re an entrepreneur. You know that if you just get your app in front of the right people, it’ll be well on its way to becoming the next big thing. Naturally, you head to SXSW.  

But what can you really expect once you land in Austin? We discovered 10 essential questions that burgeoning startups want answered before trekking to Texas so they can make the most of their time there. Then we got answers from three startup CEOs who are SXSW veterans: Foursquare‘s Dennis Crowley, Plancast‘s Mark Hendrickson and Klout‘s Joe Fernandez. Here are your most pressing questions, answered.

1. How do I deal with competition at SXSW? The guys who make our biggest competitor app will be down there, too.

The general consensus is that spending too much time worrying about your competition can only distract you. Instead, use it to your advantage. “It’s a good chance to party with them, and the best thing about SXSW is getting to know people as people,” Fernandez says. “Down the road, that makes it easier to collaborate, and to know what kind of competition you’re really dealing with.”  

According to Hendrickson, the overall noise level at the conference will be your biggest obstacle. “Most likely any direct competition will only help you, since it’ll bring awareness to your app as people talk about it and any alternatives,” he says. “It might even be best to ‘deal’ with competition by embracing it and using it as an opportunity to tell people why you’re better. Or simply that you exist.” 

2. Should I be hunting down funding at SXSW? And if I don’t get funding, should I be looking for an advisory board?

With 36,000 people and so many events every day, it might be better to let the funding find you. There’s far more value in the connections you make that could help you down the line than getting a firm commitment from someone.

“I got my first angel check because of somebody I met at SXSW. But no deal got done in Austin,” Fernandez says. “It was basically meeting somebody, and then harassing them for the next six weeks. The goal should be setting things up for after.”

Hendrickson agrees. “Given the general craziness, it doesn’t make too much sense to be hunting down any particular type of person, but keep your eyes open for them in case you cross paths.” 

3. I didn’t get picked as an official SXSW presenter. Am I still relevant, or am I just an outsider crashing the party?

You can be relevant if you make yourself relevant.  

“Naveen [Selvadurai] and I totally ‘crashed’ when we launched Foursquare in 2009,” says Crowley. “I was on a panel to talk about my work at Area Code, but Foursquare ended up being the thing people wanted to talk about. It’s worth noting that when we brought Foursquare to SXSW in 2009, we didn’t know if people would dig it or literally laugh at us.” (Area Code, now owned by Zynga, is a mobile gaming startup where Crowley worked prior to co-founding Foursquare.)

Fernandez recalls how getting picked to present at a prominent startup competition showcase in 2009 wasn’t the big break he thought it would be. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves that this was going to be an amazing moment, and we spent so much time preparing. Then we got onstage at 8 in the morning and there were like 10 people in the audience.”

The best you can do is to make your presence felt by meeting people and networking. 

4. Is there an office space or some type of GnrlAssmbly type service down there?

Everyone seems to have their own way of making things work. The most important thing, according to Fernandez, is to “have somebody back at home staying on top of work. You should go to Austin and concentrate on making connections.”

Some options include the Dogpatch Labs, which will be hosting an open space for entrepreneurs, the Samsung Blogger Lounge, the Wi-Fi in the main convention center, or just a quick trip back to your hotel room if you’re staying in the downtown area. 

5. Should I be recruiting people to work at my startup? How do I go about it?

Much like looking for funding, the conference is best suited for making connections than making commitments. “I’d rather overlap geographically with my co-workers and co-founders, especially in the early stage,” says Crowley. “You may be better off recruiting at home. But there’s no harm in letting people know you’re looking to hire.”

Fernandez’s take is similar. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re always recruiting, but people join you because you have a brilliant idea. It’s also because they like you and they believe in you. SXSW is better to get the second half of that equation. Spend time with people now — you can entice them later with the total idea that you have.”   

6. Hotels are all booked. How can I find somewhere to stay?

All three CEOs offer their own take on how to find accommodations, but the key thing is to just make it happen. Crowley has camped out on friends’ hotel room floors. Fernandez knows people who have taken to Facebook and Twitter to find a room. For those who want something a little more official, try Airbnb or Couchsurfing. There’s no shortage of people looking to rent their place out for the weekend, or looking to save some money by meeting up and sharing space. Crowley offers one piece of hard advice — “At least try to line something up for the first night.”  

7. What’s the most effective give-away? I want people to remember me!

Unless you’ve got something really catchy, it might be nothing at all. Each of the CEOs expressed skepticism that anything truly works, but Hendrickson says people tend to like stickers and t-shirts.  

Fernandez was more blunt about the situation. “The best thing you can give away is a beer. Other than that, I don’t want to carry anything anyone gives me. I don’t even want to carry something I have to give away. I can’t remember anything that’s ever actually made it home.” 

8. What’s the dress code like? I want to make a good impression.

“It’s like spring break for nerds,” Fernandez says. The atmosphere is casual, not unlike a startup office. Plus, you’ll be in Austin in March, and it can get hot. Hendrickson stresses extra-comfy shoes, as you’ll do a lot of walking and standing. “Nicer shirts, shoes and jackets should be packed too, in case you’re invited to a private dinner or two at a nice restaurant,” he says.

Crowley reveals a true insider secret: “Every panel is black tie. If you are not in a tux, you will feel out of place.” (Joking, of course!) 

9. What’s the best way to get around?

“Do not rent a car,” says Crowley. It will be a burden and a waste of money, because downtown Austin is very walkable. There are ample pedicabs downtown that operate on tips, and there’s also a shuttle if you’re staying out of downtown. Between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., there’s the Catch A Chevy service, offering free rides to downtown locations. And of course, you can always find a cab, but it can be tricky at night. Fernandez learned this the hard way.

“When bars close, it can be really hard to find a cab,” he says. “I waited an hour at three in the morning.” 

10. There’s so much going on — how do I know what to do?

Pacing is critical, so don’t try to do too much and don’t try to be everywhere. It’s far more worthwhile to make connections with interesting people than it is to try and take everything in.

“If you end up trying to hop from place to place, you might end up spending a lot of time in lines,” Fernandez says. “You have to pick somewhere and try to let people come to you.”  

Hendrickson agrees that it’s key to only doing what you can. “It’s very tiring. You’re running from event to event, day after day, talking to a lot of people and drinking booze. Let yourself ‘escape’ from the conference at least once or twice for an afternoon so you can reboot, ” he says.

Crowley says that just being friendly and approachable will lead to good things. “The people I met at SXSW in 2006 have been friends for years. For people wondering how you get to know so many people ‘in the industry,’ a lot of that just comes from overlapping year after year at conferences, panels, parties and dinners,” he says. “If it’s your first SXSW, treat it like your freshman orientation at college — just go out and meet people.”

Join Mashable at the Mashable SXSWi House

If you’re going to be at SXSWi, join Mashable at the Mashable SXSWi House. Located at Buffalo Billiards, the Mashable SXSWi House is hosting a variety of public and private events such as VIP dinners, the Geek Games, open networking opportunities and parties, including the third annual MashBash SXSWi party on Sunday, March 13, with music by DJ Chicken George.

Register for public events at the SXSWi Mashable House on Eventbrite. The event is open to all SXSWi badge holders who are older than 21.

Thanks to our sponsors

Come check out the Pepsi MAX Lot at 3rd Street and San Jacinto Boulevard! Follow @PepsiMAX on Twitter for the daily schedule for huge concerts, happy hours, BBQs, games, and giveaways! And, well, lots of free soda..

Sony Electronics is a leading provider of audio and video electronics and information technology products for the consumer and professional markets. Sony is noted for a wide range of consumer audio-visual products, such as the BRAVIA® LCD and 3D high-definition televisions, Cyber-shot® and α (alpha) digital cameras, Handycam® camcorder and Walkman® personal stereo. Sony is also an innovator in the IT arena with its VAIO® personal computers; and in high-definition professional broadcast and production equipment, highlighted by the XDCAM® HD and CineAlta™ lines of cameras and camcorders, and the SXRD™ 4K digital projector. Join the Sony Conversation at Sony.com/Blog.

Skifta is an app-based media shifting service that turns your Android phone into a global remote control. Easily access your digital media from virtually any source and stream to connected electronics in the home. With the DLNA Certified® Skifta app on your phone, you can easily access music, photos and videos from your phone, the cloud, or remotely from your home and stream that media to connected DLNA and UPnP consumer electronics including TVs, IP-stereos like Sonos systems, PlayStation® 3 consoles, Windows 7 PCs, and thousands more. No wires, downloading or side loading. Check it out at skifta.com.

If your website has a play button, it belongs on .TV. Stand out from the crowd with a .TV domain name; tell people you create and share great video content on your site even before they visit. Come visit us in the Mashable House at Buffalo Billiards on March 13-14 for a chance to register a FREE .TV domain name. And, mark your calendars: the .TV AUCTION starts March 9. Bid on desirable, sought-after domain names including air.tv, stocks.tv, who.tv, and more at moniker.com/tv or register the .TV of your choice for while you’re there.

More About: foursquare, klout, plancast, startups, sxsw, sxswi

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March 05 2011

6 Successful SXSW Startup Launch Stories

As part of this year’s SXSWi, Mashable presents the Mashable SXSWi House, featuring private events, open houses, meet-and-greet opportunities and two nights of parties. Learn more here and register for public events on Eventbrite.

Startups vie for a chance to be part of the SXSW Accelerator competition for the opportunity it brings — 41% of the companies that have participated in the first two competitions received funding after the event. Only 40 companies are selected, but that doesn’t mean your startup can’t make a splash in Austin. Just being at SXSWi and exposing a solid product to the conference’s 14,000 attendees and a 1,500-person-strong media swarm can ignite a business.

But it can’t be engineered with snazzy swag and marketing dollars — you have to have great credibility and a great product.

“As a marketer, I’m happy to call out other marketers who think that SXSW launch success can be engineered or bought — it has to instead be earned with so much elbow grease and good will,” explains Josh Jones-Dilworth, who has worked on SXSW’s PR and serves on the SXSW Accelerator advisory board. “If anything, SXSW-goers are marketing-averse, super-savvy and able to triage credibility (or lack thereof) with a sniff.”

Without further ado, here are five companies (and an author) that have effectively leveraged the multi-industry conference into a launchpad for their success.

1. Twitter

Although Twitter is probably the most-cited company when it comes to SXSW launches, it’s not exactly true. “Contrary to common belief, we didn’t actually launch Twitter at SXSW — SXSW just chose to blow it up,” wrote Twitter co-founder Evan Williams in a Quora response to the question, “What is the process involved in launching a startup at SXSW?”

Even though Twitter had launched nine months prior to its debut at SXSW 2007, the conference did help the micro-blogging platform gain momentum.

According to Williams, Twitter paid $11,000 to put a visualization of the service on flat-panel screens in the hallways (“We knew hallways were where the action was,” he says), and created an event-specific feature that allowed attendees to text a message in order to sign up automatically and follow a handful of “ambassadors” at SXSW.

2. Foursquare

Foursquare is another of the most well-known SXSW launches — but unlike Twitter, the location-based service actually did launch at the event. “We started building Foursquare in late 2008, but we really kicked things into gear in early 2009 so we’d have something ready to launch at SXSW — it gave us a deadline to shoot for,” says co-founder Naveen Selvadurai. “We weren’t sure if people were going to embrace us or laugh us out of the room for features like badges and mayorships, but everyone in Austin really seemed to get it.”

The startup raised its first round of funding six months after its SXSW launch.

3. PhoneBooth Free

Phonebooth sent a team of 11 and shipped five phone booths to SXSW 2010 for the launch of its free small business calling service, Phonebooth Free. “The booth itself drove hundreds of people to sign up for Phonebooth Free on the spot, and they told their friends about the product, too,” says Phonebooth Senior Vice President and General Manager Jim Mulcahy. “The launch at SXSW got us several thousand users within the first two days and a ton of visibility with press and influencers. By the end of March, we were still seeing the effects of the SXSW launch on new-user acquisition.”

4. GameSalad


Free game creation tool GameSalad participated in the SXSW Accelerator in 2009. At the time, it had just five employees and was searching for funding to expand.

The Accelerator, which is sponsored by Microsoft Bizspark, is a two-day competition in which selected startups pitch to a panel of VC and angel investor judges for a grand prize of a “most innovative” title. But it’s more than that.

“The night before the Accelerator presentation, all participants were invited to an event called Tech Cocktail, where Accelerator startups were given the opportunity to mix and mingle with the very same VCs and angel investors they would be pitching to 24 hours later,” says Jonathan Hunt, GameSalad’s director of communications. “Within one hour, GameSalad had secured its first investment check.”

Hunt attributes more than $1 million in investments over the next five months directly to the Accelerator contest. Since then, the company has tripled in size, and more than 2% of the games currently available on the Apple App Store were built on its platform.

5. Foodspotting

Foodspotting was a finalist in the 2010 SXSW Accelerator. The company, which makes it easy for foodies to share photos of dished, launched its iPhone app just before the event. It is taking the same approach this year with its Android app.

“We found that the most important thing for us was being present at SXSW and having people see our “I Camera Food” t-shirts — gaining that brand awareness and exposure is key,” says Fiona Tang, Foodspotting’s Community Lead.

6. Tim Ferriss


Author Tim Ferriss gave a presentation about his first book, The Four-Hour Workweek at SXSW 2007 in an overflow room that could seat a mere 100 people. But that talk, combined with some minor marketing efforts, was enough to launch his career.

“If I had not gone to SXSW, I almost definitively can say that I would not have been able to build the writing career that I did, nor the startup, investing and advising career that I did,” he says. “I really view that first SXSW as a pivotal inflection point for me.”

Ferriss says size doesn’t matter when it comes to audience. What matters is that you talk with the right people and make a strong impact on those people — which he did for his 100-person crowd.

“If you hit the right 100 people at SXSW with Twitter and so forth, you can effectively hit everyone there if you have a strong impression,” he says.

[Disclosure: Microsoft BizSpark is a Mashable sponsor.]

Join Mashable at the Mashable SXSWi House

If you’re going to be at SXSWi, join Mashable at the Mashable SXSWi House. Located at Buffalo Billiards, the Mashable SXSWi House is hosting a variety of public and private events such as VIP dinners, the Geek Games, open networking opportunities and parties, including the third annual MashBash SXSWi party on Sunday, March 13, with music by DJ Chicken George.

Register for public events at the SXSWi Mashable House on Eventbrite. The event is open to all SXSWi badge holders who are older than 21.

Thanks to our sponsors

Come check out the Pepsi MAX Lot at 3rd Street and San Jacinto Boulevard! Follow @PepsiMAX on Twitter for the daily schedule for huge concerts, happy hours, BBQs, games, and giveaways! And, well, lots of free soda..

Sony Electronics is a leading provider of audio and video electronics and information technology products for the consumer and professional markets. Sony is noted for a wide range of consumer audio-visual products, such as the BRAVIA® LCD and 3D high-definition televisions, Cyber-shot® and α (alpha) digital cameras, Handycam® camcorder and Walkman® personal stereo. Sony is also an innovator in the IT arena with its VAIO® personal computers; and in high-definition professional broadcast and production equipment, highlighted by the XDCAM® HD and CineAlta™ lines of cameras and camcorders, and the SXRD™ 4K digital projector. Join the Sony Conversation at Sony.com/Blog.

Skifta is an app-based media shifting service that turns your Android phone into a global remote control. Easily access your digital media from virtually any source and stream to connected electronics in the home. With the DLNA Certified® Skifta app on your phone, you can easily access music, photos and videos from your phone, the cloud, or remotely from your home and stream that media to connected DLNA and UPnP consumer electronics including TVs, IP-stereos like Sonos systems, PlayStation® 3 consoles, Windows 7 PCs, and thousands more. No wires, downloading or side loading. Check it out at skifta.com.

If your website has a play button, it belongs on .TV. Stand out from the crowd with a .TV domain name; tell people you create and share great video content on your site even before they visit. Come visit us in the Mashable House at Buffalo Billiards on March 13-14 for a chance to register a FREE .TV domain name. And, mark your calendars: the .TV AUCTION starts March 9. Bid on desirable, sought-after domain names including air.tv, stocks.tv, who.tv, and more at moniker.com/tv or register the .TV of your choice for while you’re there.

Photos courtesy of Flickr, alexdecarvalho

More About: foodspotting, foursquare, GameSalad, launch, mashable, phonebooth, startups, sxsw, tim ferriss, twitter

For more Startups coverage:

January 07 2011

8 Tech Companies to Watch in 2011

Grab your popcorn and Twizzlers, because 2011 is already shaping up to be an exciting year to watch startups and giants do battle for market share and big ideas. If you’re not sure which companies to look out for in the coming year, our writers and editors have submitted their expert picks below.

What do you think? Did we miss any promising tech companies (new or established) that you see making a big splash in 2011? We want — nay, demand — your forecasts in the comments below.

1. Minimal, Inc.

This Chicago-based design firm finished off 2010 by completing the most successful funding campaign in Kickstarter history. Its TikTok+LunaTik iPod Nano watch conversion kits raised more than $940,000 from more than 13,500 backers and garnered the kind of attention that should help launch this company to new heights in 2011. The gadget accessories market has a new player.

~ Josh Catone, Features Editor

2. StumbleUpon

OK, so StumbleUpon has been around since 2001, so it’s not new to the scene. But with Digg’s fall this year and StumbleUpon’s planned release of premium features and publisher pages early this year, it has the potential to scale and be exposed to more users. And considering it’s a big source of traffic for many news sites, it may start investing its time into figuring out how to leverage the site further and connect with its community on the site.

~ Vadim Lavrusik, Community Manager

3. Amimon, Inc.

This Israeli company has perfected its wireless HDTV system over the past years. Imagine plugging a tiny USB device into a laptop, and then displaying its output in full 1080p HD resolution on a monitor 100 feet away, with no lag. Amimon has already introduced one of its own products, but the big deal is the presence of its superior wireless HD standard (known as WHDI, or Wireless Home Digital Interface) chips built inside numerous other products, such as laptops, projectors, TVs and set-top boxes.

~ Charlie White, Senior Editor

4. Bloom Energy

If there is any company poised to revolutionize the energy market, it’s Bloom Energy. The Bloom Energy Server (a.k.a. the “Bloom Box”) changes inputs like natural gas or oil into clean, reusable energy. It’s actually a dynamic fuel cell that creates energy through a chemical reaction. The company has raised more than $400 million to date and is testing its technology with Google, eBay, Wal-Mart and others.

~ Ben Parr, Co-Editor

5. Skype

Its recent outage notwithstanding, Skype has been on an impressive run since its breakup with eBay. Usage is at record levels, and features like group video chat and deep Facebook integration have reminded us that Skype is a top tier consumer and business web company. In 2011, the company is likely to go public, and with it, face a whole new level of scrutiny and expectations. Google will also continue to gun at Skype with enhancements to Google Voice (free U.S. calling for Gmail users through 2011 is an obvious sign of that), making the company all the more intriguing to watch.

~ Adam Ostrow, Editor-in-Chief

6. Tumblr

With $30 million in funding in its coffer and increasing content curation (not to mention 14 book deals born from its blogs), Tumblr could be shaping up into a much more organized — and ad-worthy — hub for entertainment. We’re interested to see if the company spends that money wisely — and how.

~ Brenna Ehrlich, News Editor

7. Clicker

The connected device ecosystem is still evolving, in large part because of the battle over control between content publishers, device makers and consumers. Clicker is managing to avoid the battle itself and is instead focusing on making it easy for users to find content, irrespective of what service that content might use. The company recently branched into recommendations and has mobile apps, supports Google TV and the Boxee Box and has a killer web app.

~ Christina Warren, Mobile & Apple Reporter

8. inDinero


inDinero is looking to replace much of what accountants do for small businesses, giving them a real-time financial overview of their company in the process. It changes how you track cash flows and expenses. It’s funded by Y Combinator and star angel investors and led by savvy entrepreneur Jessica Mah, who graduated from college when she was 19.

~ Ben Parr, Co-Editor

Reviews: Clicker, Digg, Google, Google Voice, Skype, StumbleUpon, Tumblr

More About: business, List, Lists, startups, tech, things to watch 2011

For more Tech coverage:

December 31 2010

5 Predictions for Startups in 2011

How we engage with the people, places and things around us is ever-changing thanks to rapid improvements in mobile and web technologies. The speed at which this evolution takes place will only continue to accelerate in 2011 with the help of fledgling startups who will push the boundaries around geolocation, mobile photos, entertainment services, community and physical-to-digital connections.

What follows is an exploration of five significant startup markets that will grow in significance in 2011. Some of these specialized categories are ripe for disruption and innovation, while others have already produced early leaders that will be difficult to best.

Regardless, the startups iterating in these newly invented product categories will capture our imagination in the year ahead and transform the way we use technology in our daily lives.

Read on for five major trends that will hit startups in 2011, and let us know your own predictions in the comments below.

1. The Rise of Object Tagging

As constant web and mobile users, we’ve all grown accustomed to tagging people and places in photos and status updates. In the year ahead, new services will help us tag real world objects in much the same fashion.

QR code and barcode scanning mobile applications are growing in popularity and purpose, and we’re quickly moving towards a scanning and tagging world where we use apps like Barcode Hero or Stickybits to add our own content to the physical objects we encounter in the real world.

The physical-to-digital connection is what will drive this trend in the new year. Startups such as thingd and Moodstocks have a more grandiose vision around creating digital databases of things, but they’re also creating products that are people-friendly and practical.

We’ve yet to see any one object tagging application or service become a breakout hit, but this will change in 2011 as more consumers warm up to the mobile and social discovery of “things.”

2. Entertainment Services Will Embrace the Checkin

2010 was the year of the checkin. What started as a simple, albeit explicit, way to publicly say “I’m here” mutated into a way for startups to create entertainment checkin services and for companies to build tools to help publishers keep visitors on site.

The entertainment-oriented services are an especially interesting group of services. GetGlue, Miso, Philo, Tunerfish, TV.com Relay and a handful of others have all cropped up with their own variations of the “check in to content, get rewards” concept. Most are successfully inking deals with studios and networks around their entertainment properties, and just recently, GetGlue grabbed $6 million in a Series C round led by Time Warner Investments.

Within this fast-maturing niche is still room for innovation. The opportunities are in motivating user behavior around entertainment content and surfacing fail-proof recommendations.

Somewhere sandwiched amongst Clicker, Rotten Tomatoes, GetGlue, Boxee and Netflix is something that can actually figure out what we really want to watch right now and help us watch it in a fashion that supports the interests of studios and networks. It might be a combination of semantic intelligence, social media and game mechanics, or it could be something entirely new.

There’s certainly money to be had here. Investors are financing these ideas, networks are looking for strategic partnerships and cable companies have money to spend.

3. Website Communities Will Dominate the Digital Experience

The rise of the social web has led to brands and businesses emphasizing Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube and their social presence over their own website. Social will remain a top priority in 2011, but there will be a website renaissance that focuses on bringing the community back to the site.

2010 has laid the foundation for this movement with the emergence of publisher tools that drive website visitor engagement. Badgeville, OneTrueFan, Marginize, Meebo and Envovle, for instance, are all working on their solutions for the website-as-community concept.

Badgeville lets publishers install a plug-and-play product that adds social rewards and gaming elements to their websites — think rewarding user activity with badges and achievements, à la Foursquare. OneTrueFan also applies game mechanics to website content and Meebo will release its own solution for web checkins in 2011.

Marginize’s browser extension pulls social conversations into a site’s margin but its publisher tool eliminates the need for the extension and lets visitors check in, earn badges and rewards, and participate in onsite comment threads that can be pushed out to social networks. Envolve, however, takes a Facebook-chat style approach to website engagement.

There will continue to be rapid innovation around publisher community tools in the new year. I’m not yet convinced that 2011 will be the year web users completely embrace this idea, but this trend will certainly be pushed forward by publishers who use these tools to engineer a more compelling reason for the visitor to stay and engage. Should they do so successfully, the fruits of their labor will be users that remain on site, share their activity with social networks and influence upticks in traffic, and possibly even sales.

4. Private Location Services Become More Popular

In 2011, the location-sharing counter culture will emerge as mobile users demand less social, more practical tools for sharing their whereabouts with smaller circles of friends and family members.

There’s clearly an audience that appreciates the visibility and rewards that come with checkins, and that is not likely to change. But, a growing number of mobile users will want to apply geolocation technology to their personal lives — think keeping track of the kids, knowing that a significant other made it home safely, or sending and receiving timely notifications based on geographic location.

Consumer-friendly Neer is a prime example of how always-on location technology can be highly personalized and yet not overly intrusive. Geoloqi’s geonotes further personalize the experience by allowing you to leave notes for you or your friends at various locations.

In 2011, we’ll see more applications and services emerge with similar purpose due to advancements in geofencing, proximity awareness and mobile device technologies. Perhaps the only barrier to mainstream adoption is the strain that these services place on mobile phone batteries.

5. Mobile Photo Sharing Takes Off

We’re in the midst of a mobile photo sharing boom that has yet to reach its climax. Due to rapid improvements in handset technology, it’s now possible to take a stunning photo and upload it to the web in seconds.

Applications that build expressly around this purpose have cropped up in recent months and prove the viability of this emerging market. Instagram, for instance, has surpassed 1 million registered users in just 10 weeks’ time. With this type of momentum, the startup looks to be an unstoppable force.

But greatness will not be achieved in replicating the features or filters of Instagram, at least in an iPhone app. Android may still be up for grabs, though not if Picplz has a say in the matter.

Purpose will matter just as much as a platform. Foodspotting, DailyBooth and Path all have put their own unique spin on mobile photos. Still, the underlying mobile photo sharing trend can be applied in a number of yet-to-be fully explored fashions.

Because smartphone adoption is nowhere close to capacity, and growth is anticipated in the new year, there’s still time for a few more big ideas around mobile photo sharing to emerge in 2011.

More Startup Resources from Mashable:

- 5 Lessons Big Corporations Can Learn From Startups
- HOW TO: Get the Most Out of a Coworking Space
- 5 Signs That Coworking Might Be for You
- 37 Productivity Tips for Working From Anywhere
- Why Co-Working Makes Sense for Small Businesses

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, LuisPortugal
Images courtesy of Flickr, jcoleman, dan taylor

Reviews: Android, Boxee, Clicker, DailyBooth, Facebook, Flickr, Path, Rotten Tomatoes, Twitter, YouTube, foursquare, iStockphoto, instagram

More About: badgeville, barcode hero, barcode scanning, Envolve, geolocation, geoloqi, getglue, instagram, List, Lists, miso, mobile photo sharing, mobile photos, moodstocks, neer, picplz, predictions-2011, QR Codes, startups, thingd

For more Startups coverage:

December 07 2010

5 Lessons Big Corporations Can Learn From Startups

handshake entrepreneur image

Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, a design and innovation consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients include Starbucks, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, Virgin, Disney, Nike and American Eagle Outfitters.

There’s a stark contrast between the slow pontification of a multi-national company and the focused energy of a small startup poised to change its corner of the world. Business practices obviously change when there’s more to lose, but there is definitely something to gain from adopting the startup mentality of “everything to gain” rather than focusing on keeping the status quo or minimizing potential loss.

Here are five valuable lessons that corporations can learn from their entrepreneurial counterparts in the startup world.

1. Ditch Democracy

Your average, super-charged entrepreneur usually starts his or her journey because of a passion or epiphany. Personal experience, downright frustration, or a simple observation can light the fuse. And, once lit, entrepreneurs are unrelenting in thinking about how to change the world and bring a new product solution to market.

Product development teams in larger companies can benefit from modeling or mimicking the individual obsession and observations of the single entrepreneur. Instead of running projects in a democratic fashion, consider remaking some of your teams into smaller, highly motivated units in order to tap into the passion and drive of your would-be entrepreneur employees.

3M is a global company that has allowed product innovations to come from any corner of the business. The Post-It Note was invented by an employee, not as a product, but as an adhesive spray that would allow you to tack papers to bulletin boards. Though this concept never proved marketable, his subsequent “reusable bookmarks” that colleagues began passing around the office became one of the most successful workplace products of all time.

2. Get Scrappy

freshguide image

When you’re operating on a shoestring budget, there’s motivation to be highly resourceful. Starting a company from nothing, investing life savings and using credit cards to fund product development and payroll makes the clock tick faster and the mind sharper.

Well-resourced corporations with larger teams and bigger operating budgets are typically less courageous, less resourceful and generally take longer to get products to market. Consider setting up an experiment where you find a project that can be run independently from all of the other things going on in your company. Give the project a limited budget, a limited set of resources and an audacious goal. Set the team running and see how masterfully (or un-masterfully) it tackles the challenge and what comes back out as a result.

The team at freshguide.com, an early-stage business in San Francisco’s Bay Area, started its business using the rapid prototyping model of learning what their consumers wanted, learning what moved every aspect of its business and, as a result, evolved its business purpose mid-plan to a more focused and relevant concept.

3. Get Back to Your Roots

Shultz from Starbucks, Clif from Clif Bar and Branson from Virgin were all scrappy, “work out of a garage” entrepreneurs once upon a time. As their companies grew and their stories were told externally, they became inspiring and relevant to consumers and garnered serious fans on the outside.

One thing large companies often lack is the connection to their original story. If there was a passionate founder at one point, his or her purpose has often been overtaken by years of changing teams and Wall Street expectations. Take time to look into the passion that started the company and explore how to bring it back into the organization in a meaningful and current way. Being directed by a purpose creates real connections and opportunities for new thinking. It also gives your employees a reason to come to work and customers a reason to believe in what you’re selling.

Clif has his name on the bar, on the building, and on every product the company makes. The story behind the brand is inspiring and one that everyone working for the company and buying the product can relate to. Clif was a cycling nut and a weekend warrior who wanted a bar made from real food that would give him energy on his rides. His family were bakers, and he had an idea that he tested out with his mom in the kitchen. The rest is history. It’s a story of simplicity and determination that has driven the success of the company from day one.

The Honest Kitchen, a passionate pet food company in San Diego run by a husband-and-wife team, developed their original recipe in their home kitchen to feed their sick dog. Today they allow everyone in the company to bring their dogs to work. Every meeting, whether it’s with the board, a product development team, or investors, is full of pooches — reminding everyone who they’re in business to serve.

4. Go Fast

77 kids image

Startups often move at a breakneck pace because they don’t have the luxury of time. Decisions need to be made rapidly. Using a unique blend of intuition and trust, entrepreneurs make fast decisions that don’t rely on thousands of dollars worth of research, extensive approval processes or vetting from all the higher-ups (most times because there aren’t any).

Larger companies are often weighed down by complex layers and processes, especially when it comes to new thinking or innovation. This often results in months of back and forth where very little of tangible value is accomplished. Good ideas lay dormant and often lose steam.

Set tight deadlines that create pressure for teams involved in product development or innovation scenarios. Teach them how to rapidly ideate, building on both good and bad ideas, relying less on judging ideas right then and there, but developing the largest range possible. Set them free from the typical process and let them create ideas based on their own intuition. Even if the outcomes have to run through your corporate process eventually, hold that step to the side as long as you can and see what happens as a result.

In working with American Eagle Outfitters to create 77Kids, my company dedicated a standalone team that immersed itself in the project and the business space. Working with a dedicated team unencumbered by the larger business, but still able to tap into their expertise and resources enabled us to build a business from the blank page to launch in 18 months.

5. Mix It Up

It’s counterintuitive to look at potential competitors and reach out to collaborate, but brands with shared values and complimentary missions may very well be excellent strategic partners. We’re seeing a growing trend in competitive cooperation. It’s most often entrepreneurs who are willing to do this, either out of necessity, desire or shared interest.

Large companies often shy away from working with competitors in an effort to keep their information confidential, ensure market share isn’t lost, and assets are protected. Give the people on your team some freedom to explore potential partnerships with your competition and chart the places you think rich collaboration might happen. You don’t have to act on the synergies if they don’t align with your goals, but even the exploration could yield interesting and new ideas to feed back into your organization.

As a founding member of the CleanWell team, we worked with our friends at IDEO to develop products for a more natural way to clean. CleanWell has been highly collaborative and has been able to take its ingredient technology platform and partner with other disruptive and progressive cleaning companies like Seventh Generation and Method by licensing the ingredient technology and the “Powered by CleanWell” brand to increase their product efficacy. This collaboration benefits all parties involved, most importantly the consumer.

What tips did you find most useful? How else can large corporations benefit from the entrepreneurial spirit? Let us know in the comments below.

More Startup Resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Get the Most Out of a Coworking Space
- 5 Signs That Coworking Might Be for You
- 37 Productivity Tips for Working From Anywhere
- Why Co-Working Makes Sense for Small Businesses
- HOW TO: Choose the Best Workspace for Your Business

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, lisegagne

More About: business, corporations, entrepreneur, List, Lists, small business, social media, start up, startup

For more Startups coverage:

November 27 2010

6 Promising New Companies That Emerged in 2010 [Mashable Awards]

Mashable Awards Image

As part of the ongoing Mashable Awards, we’re taking a closer look at each of the nomination categories. This is “Entrepreneur of the Year.” Be sure to nominate your favorites and join us for the Gala in Las Vegas!

Every year, Mashable covers the launch of hundreds of new companies. While many of these ventures never make it out of obscurity, some of them bubble up and become a regular part of our coverage.

Further, these companies become important components to the ever-evolving digital media landscape, with consumers and businesses alike thirsting to take advantage of what they have to offer.

At this point, it might be too early to project any of the following companies as the next Twitter or Facebook, but as 2010 comes to a close, we feel confident in suggesting the following choices as “Most Promising New Company” in the 4th Annual Mashable Awards.

Of course, our readers get the final say, so be sure to add your nominations and let us know who you think we missed in the comments.


Launched just last month, Instagram has quickly attracted the attention of social media consumers, photo enthusiasts, and reportedly, major investors. The iPhone app, which we described in our initial review as “speak[ing] to the secret photographer inside us all by providing a nearly foolproof way to snap remarkable photos,” added 100,000 users in its first week (it’s since been reported to be nearing 1 million).


Quora made a name for itself in 2010 by attracting the tech elite to its spin on an old idea: questions and answers. With high profile users like Reed Hastings, Marc Andreessen and Craig Newmark, the question for Quora is if it can extend its reach beyond digital influencers while maintaining the high level of discourse that has made it a small scale success so far.


On the opposite end of the Q&A spectrum is Formspring, a startup that has grown to the tune of more than 1 billion questions answered on its platform. Unlike Quora, however, Formspring is all about anonymous Q&A and has leveraged integrations with Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and other major platforms to become an unavoidable part of the social media ecosystem.


Another relative newcomer, cross-platform mobile app Kik is also one of 2010’s biggest breakout stories. The app, which functions much like the classic BlackBerry Messenger, attracted two million users in its first three weeks. Intriguingly, the app might be growing too fast for at least one mobile platform’s comfort; last week, RIM blocked Kik on its network.


GetGlue has been on our radar for a couple years, but the company seemed to hit its stride more recently, capitalizing on the increasingly popular “checkin” concept to more than quadruple activity on the service in a matter of months. GetGlue has also positioned itself to also benefit from the expected rise of “second screen” experiences, allowing users to check in to TV shows, movies and music from their iPhones, Androids and iPads.


Location-based deals were a huge trend in 2010, with big and small brands alike offering rewards to customers that share their whereabouts with friends. Shopkick offers a compelling twist on this idea, utilizing in-store technology to verify a user’s location and automatically check them in to unlock rewards. The company has already raised $20 million, and with deployments at hundreds of Best Buy and Target stores, seems likely to have lots more growth in front of it.

The Mashable Awards Gala at Cirque du Soleil Zumanity (Vegas)

In partnership with Cirque du Soleil, The Mashable Awards Gala event will bring together the winners and nominees, the Mashable community, partners, media, the marketing community, consumer electronics and technology brands and attendees from the 2011 International CES Convention to Las Vegas on Thursday, January 6, 2011. Together, we will celebrate the winners and the community of the Mashable Awards at the Cirque du Soleil Zumanity stage in the beautiful New York New York Hotel. The event will include acts and performances from our partner Cirque du Soleil Zumanity. In addition, there will be special guest presenters and appearances.

Date: Thursday, January 6th, 2011 (during International CES Convention week)
Time: 7:00 – 10:00 pm PT
Location: Cirque du Soleil Zumanity, New York New York Hotel, Las Vegas
Agenda: Networking, Open Bars, Acts, Surprises and the Mashable Awards Gala presentations
Socialize: Facebook, Foursquare, Meetup, Plancast, Twitter (Hashtag: #MashableAwards)

Sponsorships are available. Please contact sponsorships@mashable.com for more information.

Register for Mashable Awards Gala at Cirque du Soleil Zumanity stage (Las Vegas - 2011 International CES convention) [Ticketed Event] in Las Vegas, NV  on Eventbrite

Thanks to our sponsors:

Mashable Awards Gala Partner:

cirque logo From a group of 20 street performers at its beginnings in 1984, Cirque du Soleil is now a global entertainment organization providing high-quality artistic entertainment. The company has over 5,000 employees, including more than 1,200 artists from close to 50 different countries.

Cirque du Soleil has brought wonder and delight to nearly 100 million spectators in 300 cities on five continents. In 2010 Cirque du Soleil, will present 21 shows simultaneously throughout the world, including seven in Las Vegas.

For more information about Cirque du Soleil, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com

Mashable Awards Online Partner:

The Fresh DietHave you ever wished for your own personal gourmet Chef?

The Fresh Diet is like having a Cordon Bleu chef prepare your meals in your own kitchen. There’s no cooking, cleaning, shopping – just fresh prepared delicious meals, hand delivered to your door daily! Whether you want to lose weight or just want to eat healthy, The Fresh Diet can help you meet your goals. The best news, we’re giving away a FREE week of The Fresh Diet every day on our Facebook page. Just click here to become a fan and you could be the next winner. Join now!

Mashable Awards Partner:

Join us at the 2011 International CES®, the global platform for inspired ideas and innovation. With 2,500 exhibitors, CES continues to be the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow and always reflects the dynamic consumer electronics industry. The International CES is not open to the general public and all attendees must be in the CE industry to be eligible to attend the show. Register FREE for the 2011 CES with priority code MSHB, an exclusive promotion for Mashable Readers.

Mashable Awards Category Sponsor:

Research In Motion is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative wireless solutions for the worldwide mobile communications market. Through the development of integrated hardware, software and services that support multiple wireless network standards, RIM provides platforms and solutions for seamless access to time-sensitive information including email, phone, SMS messaging, Internet and intranet-based applications including the BlackBerry® wireless platform and the new BlackBerry PlayBook. For the latest on the BlackBerry PlayBook visit the Inside BlackBerry Blog.

Win an iPad!

Join us on Facebook to learn how to enter Dynadot’s I Can Haz iPad Giveaway!

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Mobile Future is a broad-based coalition of businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals interested in and dedicated to advocating for an environment in which innovations in wireless technology and services are enabled and encouraged. Our mission is to educate the public and key decision makers on innovations in the wireless industry that have transformed the way Americans work and play and to advocate continued investment in wireless technologies.

Our “Mobile Year in Review 2010” animation proves a glimpse into the most notable breakthroughs in the wireless industry this year.

Yahoo! is an innovative technology company that operates the largest digital media, content, and communications business in the world. Yahoo! keeps more than half a billion consumers worldwide connected to what matters to them most, and delivers powerful audience solutions to advertisers through its unique combination of Science + Art + Scale. Yahoo! is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. For more information, visit the company’s blog, Yodel Anecdotal.

Mashable Awards Gala Silver Sponsor:

Aro Mobile is an intelligent mobile experience that includes better email, connected contacts, smarter calendar and improved browsing.

The Aro system automatically learns what’s important in your life—the people, places, dates and organizations you care about most. In your communications, Aro automatically identifies people, places, events, dates,organizations and locations. From any recognized term, Aro offers quick action menus to speed up your day.

The unique Aro experience is powered by advanced web services: next generation natural language processing and semantic data analytics services. Aro gives you the power to see through the clutter and focus your mobile life.

Research In Motion is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative wireless solutions for the worldwide mobile communications market. Through the development of integrated hardware, software and services that support multiple wireless network standards, RIM provides platforms and solutions for seamless access to time-sensitive information including email, phone, SMS messaging, Internet and intranet-based applications including the BlackBerry® wireless platform and the new BlackBerry PlayBook. For the latest on the BlackBerry PlayBook visit the Inside BlackBerry Blog.

Mashable Awards Gala VIP Lounge sponsor:

Influxis image

Influxis specializes in the deployment of creative streaming solutions. Services include large scale deployment, mobile streaming, turn-key applications, and enterprise support with custom network options. With the unique combination of a worldwide network, knowledgeable developer support and nearly a decade of streaming media experience, Influxis is an essential partner to businesses, advertisers, developers, educators, and others who seek expertise in innovative streaming.

Mashable Awards After Party Sponsor:

Research In Motion is a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of innovative wireless solutions for the worldwide mobile communications market. Through the development of integrated hardware, software and services that support multiple wireless network standards, RIM provides platforms and solutions for seamless access to time-sensitive information including email, phone, SMS messaging, Internet and intranet-based applications including the BlackBerry® wireless platform and the new BlackBerry PlayBook. For the latest on the BlackBerry PlayBook visit the Inside BlackBerry Blog.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Sage78

More About: formspring, getglue, instagram, Kik, List, Lists, mashable awards, mashable awards 2010, quora, shopkick, startups

For more Startups coverage:

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