I just got back from the TechStars 2009 Demo/Investor day presentations and I have to say I was impressed. Generally I really like 1 or 2 companies, I'm indifferent to a few and don't like the rest. This is probably consistent with their ultimate success ratios as well. But what the hell do I know?
This year I had a lot less involvement with the companies one-on-one so I went in with no idea what to expect. After spending the morning listening to the 8 minute pitches, my opinion is they all did a great job and most can probably be successful. That's not dig at anyone, really successful startups should "shoot high" in my opinion and part of shooting high is a higher likelihood of complete failure. It's all part of the gig.
If I had to pick four that really resonated with me, they would be:
I think Everlater is the biggest flyer opportunity this year. I think people get really passionate about their travel and I buy that people want a place to document it for all time and share it. This is one of those models where you need tons of people to use it for it to work in my opinion, but I think they would. I would.
Let me start off by saying, I'm not a comics guy. Not even the Sunday comics in the paper. Far Side is the last comic of any sort I liked in any way. But, I love this idea. They bill themselves as the iTunes for comics but I think that sounds too pedestrian to me. They have built a really cool delivery system for comic books that includes beautiful pages, back channel information, DVD like added features, and up sell and cross sell opportunities. Best of all they will be servicing an extremely passionate group of users and for that reason this is a winner in my comic book.
I'm not a huge fan of analytics business models. They typically are uninteresting to me because the companies generally shoot high trying to provide a generic platform for many verticals. As a result they don't really get you close enough to what you want to know without a lot of professional services bolt-ons. And, that's why I love this idea. It's an audience analytics system built for a specific industry, music. I think these guys will KILL IT if they stay true to their vertical. If not, they will be another boring analytics company. Great idea, great pitch.
Vanilla is open source forum software that has been around for a while with a huge free base. These guys are the authors and they want to convert it to a service business with new asked for features and hosting benefits. They are exactly following the Automattic model with Wordpress and I think that's brilliant. This is the lowest risk investment in the bunch that can still return huge amounts if run properly, which I believe they have the DNA to do.
All these guys plus the others are currently raising seed rounds of finance in ~300K range. My suggestion is take a look at all of them. They are many and varied and the best crop yet. Congratulation to David and Brad, this is the best graduating class yet.