Saturday, July 14, 2012

How a Start-Up shouldn't End Up. A cautionary tale

This sad story reminds me of the down-spiral of DeLaurean and Josh Harris from Jupiter. This, however, is pure pulp and probably opens the door to a number or other outrageous stories.

And yes, it could be a movie. More Hollywood that Start Up Dotcom ever was...!

Monday, July 2, 2012

PITCH iEvening June 25th Report

The theme was all about finding a missing element – the one that sells.

The winner was MyBillRegistry. They did it with a great presentation. On the surface, this was not the prime application for an Angel event since it occupies the intersection between education and the cash starved student. Instead of sending money which could go astray or forcing the students to beg, you can pay down their bills directly. It is like America’s new begging bowl, full-time rent party for family, a gift registry for bills.

What sold it was the momentum of their partners in banking and education publishing plus their enthusiasm.

So what was missing? The vision of other kinds of bill-sharing and that could make this really big. Schools could use this to help raise money for educational material. Or perhaps it was just a reflection of our slugging economy the requires young people to get support from their extended families.

The runner up, Hashtips is selling an intelligence system based on parents’ interests in products which then delivers to them reviews and buying opportunities using semantic analysis and other tools. The idea is great and is easily understood as a kind of Pinterstest for parents buying for kids. But that is also the problem, how do they coexist with Pinterest which could also incorporate their own version of this technology into their site? What’s missing is the Social Media coexistence strategy.

Another great contender, Bump Agent, offers to turn airline reservations bumps into a kind of marketable commodity. The problem may be that it is too dependent on airline cooperation and not enough of a marketing plus for passengers. Adding gamification could make the difference.

Ladybug Teknologies is in the business of introducing breathalyzers to bars and consumers. This is an obvious need for all kinds of reasons – not the last of them being the ratcheting up of DUI enforcement and penalties. They have consumer products –$2 single use items that seem promising and certifiably accurate kiosks. However, they are licensed technologies and angels rarely invest in licensed deals, they want you to own the tech. The bigger issue, which applies to their in-bar kiosks, is that people don’t love these things. Are they are like seat belts – no one really asks for them so you need laws and other techniques to get them adopted. Or is this more akin to a party spoiler - like having a scale at buffet. What missing element would make you want to weigh yourself? Gamification, perhaps. Weigh and win a prize!

City-Car is one of these ideas that seemed quixotic when it started out around 20 years ago. Then along came Zipcar and all of sudden, the concept of interval ownership of cars seemed possible. Or did it? The angels thought not. This is a classic “crossing the chasm” issue for a class of new ideas. When one of a class makes it, does it mean other will. Start-ups often look at the breakthrough companies that have done the seemingly impossible and say “well if they can, so can we.” But can they? In this case the flaw is comparing partial ownership to partial rentals (zipcars). If they can make a case for a different kind of psychology about car ownership – as in driver no longer take pride in ownership - and the dispersion of vehicle assets across peak hours, they might have a shot.

Mr. Phone Game is an interesting idea about bringing poplar game shows to the cell phone. Here, the game calls you. It lacks a visual interface - after all, most people will wind up with smart phones and a few test customers that show that it really works. On the other hand they just may need a couple of really good clients and investors may not be required.

Gyaneek is a search engine focus on high value products like houses or cars. It was developed by a genuine ad agency database scientist. It just needs an ad person who knows how to sell. The issue is positioning and marketing. Not to many start-ups have been able to crack the Search Engine game. This is one place where have just 1% is a very big deal. But neither Google nor Bing are giving up anything unless you can make an incredibly compelling case.

I will be appearing at the Health 2.0 Shark Tank on July 18 - and back with more Entrepreneur events in August.