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CrowdPitch

July 9, 2010

This afternoon, I decided to check out CrowdPitch, an event organized by FundingUniverse and hosted by Amazon’s AWS team.  FundingUniverse sponsors about 50 events per year.  There were five presenting companies, all of which were fantastic and had very well thought-out business plans.  The judges were also notable and gave excellent feedback.  I thought I’d share some of my notes to those of you who are interested.

Judges:

John Cook (TechFlash) – John is one of the co-founders of TechFlash, a news site targetting tech startups.  He has a background in journalism as well, and used to be a writer for the Seattle PI covering techie news.

Lucinda Stewart (OVP Venture Partners) – This VC firm has offices in Seattle and Portland and has been around for 25 years.  They specialize in funding early stage IT startup companies.

Jeff Barr (AWS) – Jeff is a technical evangelist for Amazon Web Services, which is heavily used by FundingUniverse.

Tim Porter (Madrona Venture Group) – This Northwest Based VC firms is one of the biggest in the area, with around $700MM in capital.  They’ve been around for about 15 years.

Contestants:

CloudPack – This company specializes in hosting extremely large digital images in the cloud, mostly targeting the medical industry.  These images use JPEG2000 compression and can be several gigabytes in size, and contain multi-spectral, 3D imagery.  They basically target organizations that don’t wish to, or don’t have the resources to host their own data.  They can provide services like annotation, deep-zoom, collaboration and sharing, and management of extremely large files.  Their revenue model is charging companies an amount based on the compressed size of the data they host.  The pitch was well done and on time, however a lot of the slides contained way too much information to read.  The presenter moved extremely fast to fit everything he had to say into his four minute allotted time.  I thought he gave a decent pitch, but had one of the more viable business ideas.  He obviously had found his market, and delivered a good solution to a problem they have.  Since there’s many ways to store huge images online, I wish he had done more to explain the exact feature set his service delivered to provide a competitive advantage.

CupAd – These guys pretty much put ads on paper coffee cups.  Yes, that’s their entire 30 seconds elevator pitch.  The idea is they find a company who wishes to advertise on a coffee cup and then order the cups and give them to local coffee stands for free.  Coffee stands save a few hundred dollars per month getting free cups, and CupAd makes money from the advertisers.  CupAd charges the advertiser about 25-30 cents per cup, and pays around half that to manufacture each cup so they make a pretty decent profit.  They also have the ability to target various demographics, income levels, age groups, etc.  They lined up 88 coffee stands in their first month (mostly by cold calling), and there’s tens of thousands of stands in the area to go after next.  I was curious about the types of cups they would manufacture, such as earth friendly corn based cups, various sizes, etc.  Also, I’m wondering if there’s any barrier to entry in this market or if other copy-cat companies could be successful driving competition in this area.

MobileOn Services – This company allows consumers to create a mobile cell phone app using a web based wizard.  These apps can deliver various features such as displaying data from an RSS feed, maps, calendars, and other data.  The backend generates and compiles source code for different mobile platforms such as iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry.  The idea definitely intrigues me as I’ll be needing a KitchenPC mobile app very soon and am dreading the idea of writing apps for all the various platforms.  The idea was promising, however the pitch was awful.  I was watching the clock, and two minutes into the pitch I still had absolutely no clue what they did.  The presenter seemed to be totally oblivious to the clock, and didn’t even get through half of his slides.  Luckily, he was able to clear up some of the questions during the three-minute audience Q&A and the judges’ feedback.  When I got home, I logged on to the site and deemed the types of apps they can create too limited for what I’d need to do.  Even so, I really want to see someone nail a cross-platform development process for mobile phones.  The fact that this industry exists is valuable information for me.

TextADay – This company is dedicated to mobile giving, such as donating money to a charity via a text message.  This concept has really taken off since the Haiti relief efforts, and this company has setup a platform for charities to accept donations via SMS.  The cell phone providers don’t charge a fee for this, and TextADay will charge 10% of the donation and the charity will keep 90%.  Right now, users can text either $5 or $10 donations, and are limited to $40 per month.  This is a limitation put in place by cell phone companies, as to minimize bill disputes if an unauthorized person gets ahold of your phone.  The pitch was well done, and I think the company definitely has a viable offering.

TShirts4Hire.com – Ever wanted to get paid to wear a T-shirt for a day?  These guys will arrange just that.  As the T-shirt wearer, you get to decide whose T-shirt you’ll wear and how much you’ll charge them.  In return, you’re supposed to walk around all day, talk to people about the product you’re advertising, and talk about the company on social media or a blog.  Advertisers can decide whose “bid” to accept.  They also take care of T-shirt fulfillment for companies who don’t yet have T-shirts to send.  TShirts4Hire takes a fee from the bid amount (I wasn’t sure if this fee was taken from the wearer or the advertiser) and also has some sort of rating system to weed out wearers who try to game the system.  I thought their pitch was the best out of the group.  I knew exactly what they were doing within the first two sentences, and everything was laid out very clearly.

Winners:

Each member of the audience was given two fake $50 bills that were supposed to represent VC money.  We were told to give this money to the presenters we liked best, as if we were investing in their company.  We could either give all the money to one company, or split it up among two companies.  I decided to split up my money between TShirts4Hire (who I thought had the best pitch, but not the greatest business idea) and CloudPak, who I thought had the most viable business but not the best pitch.  The winner was decided by the company who got the most fake money, which turned out to be CupAd.  CupAd received about $4,800 worth of prizes, including $500 worth of AWS hosting, 12 hours of financial and accounting services, and various services from FundingUniverse.

After the presentations, I got to hang out and pitch KitchenPC to several people in the room, all of which really seemed to love the idea.  I exhausted my supply of business cards, and got a stack of other business cards to take home with me.  The next CrowdPitch will be on October 14th, and I’m thinking about trying to get selected to pitch KitchenPC.  We’ll see!

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