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My Review on October 2010 Seattle CrowdPitch

October 14, 2010

I just got back from CrowdPitch, Funding Universe’s event to allow startups to pitch in front of a live audience and receive feedback from both audience members and a panel of judges.  Overall, I had a great time but did not get to stay as long as I wanted.  Parking was an issue so I could only find a two-hour spot.  I did get to see all the presentations and was able to talk to a couple of the founders and give some in-person feedback.  I also got to chat a little bit with Alex Lawrence, one of the founders of Funding Universe, who I hope to be able to keep in touch with.  I just sent him a long email about getting traction for KitchenPC, I hope I’ll get back some optimistic feedback from him!

Like the last time I blogged about CrowdPitch, I’ll go over the presenters and share my thoughts on them.

Bada8.com

Bada8 is a company specializing in travel between the United States and China, and also within China.  From what I understood, they do everything from arrange tours within the country, setup business travel, arrange for hotels, and basically do anything you’d need if you needed to travel there for any reason, business or pleasure.  Apparently, their advantage over other travel agencies is they do more for you, know the locale a lot better, and have business partnerships with various important people.

I think, overall, their company is going somewhere.  It’s a huge market and they already have revenue, and I think they’ll end up doing well.

Honestly, I did not like their pitch in the least.  The pitch started out very nervous sounding, with pauses for perhaps over five seconds while the presenter looked up at his slide deck.  For a company that has been around for almost 3 years, I think they should have their pitch nailed forward and backward by now.  The presenter did NOT state the problem up front, which should be within the first 10 seconds of any pitch.  He spent probably half the pitch on random facts and numbers that I don’t care about, and were too fast for me to really grok.  I was not clear in the least on their business plan, and think they have a long way to go before they’ll convince any VC firm to cough up money for them.  They need some serious coaching to organize a slide deck, and to practice their pitch in front of a mirror about 100 times to get it smooth and seamless.

My Score: 2/5

Green Planet Ziplines

Ok so these guys somehow combine zip-line based amusement parks and green environmental stuff.  To what extent, I’m not entirely clear.  I guess their parks are all carbon neutral and sustainable and stuff.  Their idea is to build a zip line park in Port Angeles, which has a cruise ship terminal and is in other ways a great location.  The closest zip line park in the area is all the way up in Victoria, BC.  They seem to have a great management team with lots of experience in this industry.

To be honest, this pitch didn’t really capture my attention.  It’s not a technology company, and thus I would be very surprised if a VC firm would invest in it.  It seems like a typical business you’d just go to a bank for.  There was some discussion around this in the panel, and the answer seemed to be “We’ve been trying that with no luck, banks have all gone bankrupt or they’re dealing with bad loans.”  I got somewhat of a desperate vibe from the pitch, and the whole thing just reminded me of some guy who wants to start an amusement park, has a good plan, but needs money.

I also have to wonder if there’s really any need for franchised zip-line parks.  Do people really go out and zipline all the time?  Or is it something you do like once or twice in your life while you’re on vacation in some tropical area?  I don’t really rate it as an activity you just go out and do, like mini-golf or bowling.

I wish this guy all the luck in the world with his venture, but I’m kinda wondering why CrowdPitch chose him to present to an audience of computer techie people.  It sounds a bit mean, and I by no means am saying I don’t like his idea or don’t think his business plan has any merit, I’m just wondering if CrowdPitch is an appropriate platform for him.

My Score: 3/5

Shirts for Greeks

Yes, like many others I thought this said “Shirts for Geeks” as well.  I liked these guys quite a bit.  Their pitch was excellent, and finally one that started right up front with the problem!  They create attire for both fraternities and sororities, such as tshirts, hoodies, jerseys, etc.  In order to do that, you have to be licensed to use their trademarks; thus not many companies can do this.

One thing I liked about their pitch was they had some pictures on their slidedeck of some of their items.  I think the presenter should have been wearing some, but instead he chose to go the professional route and wear a suit and tie.  One thing I liked about their business vision is they hire people to be “in the know” about events and goings-on around campuses.  These are their eyes and ears on campus, and gives them a competitive advantage knowing about trends, upcoming events, etc.

They also employ a vertical hierarchy; that is, they design, manufacture, sell and ship everything in house.  The other competitors out-source all that stuff.  This gives them the ability to handle custom changes or orders for cheaper and deliver a better product.  There was some discussion in the panel about whether this is or is not a real advantage, but if it drives down their cost, and they have the numbers to back that, then I like it.

Their business does seem to be getting some traction.  They did about $300k in sales the first year, and only sell at University of Washington, and dominate about 20% of that market.  They’re looking for $150k in investing to continue to expand.

My Score: 4/5

Viafo

The one sentence pitch for Viafo is, “We make building mobile solutions easy.”  This mobile platform company is definitely in a hot market, and will have a lot of competition.  From what I got from the presentation, they want to make integration of various mobile services a lot easier by being the “proxy” to broker communications.  For example, if I wrote a KitchenPC Mobile App (there’s one in the works of course) and I wanted to allow users to post recipes they plan to make on their Facebook page or Twitter feed, I could tie into the OpenGraph and OAuth APIs and have at it.  However, when those APIs change, or something goes wrong, stuff can start to get messy.  The idea seems to be that I can instead integrate with their API and just “click” which services I want to post content to.  Ideally, they would make this experience work better than integrating directly in with a bunch of different frameworks.

The pitch was very well organized, and the presenter had the unfair advantage of having a British accent (Note to self: Hire a British co-founder.)  I understood the problem right away, but he totally lost me on his exact solution.  I got to talk with the presenter a bit after and gave him one idea.  I think he should make up a fictional app to use as an example, and go over how the architecture would work.  What features could this app now have thanks to his solution?  My brain, I think, would connect with those sorts of examples a lot better than a bunch of PowerPoint bullet points.  He mentioned that he could actually use real-world examples as soon as his current customers launch their products.

His business plan seems to also target enterprise level customers.  However, I think he’ll run into some friction getting those customers unless he has some mad sales skills.  It seems to me that building on this platform now makes his online services a point of failure for a ton of mobile apps.  If his site ever goes down, ever loses data, ever introduces any bug that causes apps to stop working; he’s lost a ton of credibility.  He needs to be able to convince his customers that they can “trust” his company to build a scalable solution (handling any amount of trafic they throw his way) and it will be fault tolerant and highly reliable.  Luckily, he had a huge list of founders and advisors who have the experience in this industry to perhaps provide this level of credibility.  Even with this, I think it’s a hard sell and he might want to go after smaller customers as well.

My Score: 4/5

Wisemuv

Wisemuv, pronounced “Wise Move” is a startup that will help you make decisions fast.  I thought this pitch was the best out of the group.  He immediately identified the problem, and started to lay out a solution.  However, the idea is one I’m unsure of.  The deal is, people make all sorts of important decisions all the time.  Should I take job offer A or job offer B?  Should I move to New York?  Whatever the decision is, Wisemov helps you compile various data points to help you make a decision.  Interestingly enough, some of those data points can be from within your social network (Like “Phone a Friend” on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”)  You can pull certain contacts to provide personal feedback, or even pull complete strangers for advice as well.

This is definitely an interesting idea, and I plan on checking out the site to see what it’s like.  I’m trying to imagine if this sort of thing can really replace “gut instinct” as a decision making tool.  Some people make decisions more emotionally, while others (myself included) more logically.

One thing that would have really helped him (which was brought up wisely by the panel) would be a live demonstration.  Even if he just had some screen shots of his site demonstrating a typical question, it would go a long way to allow the audience to conceptualize this idea.  My brain had a hard time imagining what this site would be like.  Until I use it, I have no idea if it would be useful to me at all.

I’m also curious if he has statistics on how many people end up going with the decision route proposed by the site, or if people have already made up their mind and just want some data to confirm their gut feeling.  Either way, I think I’ll check out the site and see what the deal is.  I think if the implementation is well done, it could be something people use.

His revenue model seemed to be based around the collection of trends and statistics to sell to other companies.  I had a similar idea for that sort of revenue model when I thought KitchenPC would make money by tying into online grocers.

My Score: 5/5

My vote?

I gave my money to Wisemuv, mostly because I thought the pitch was the best and I liked the originality of the idea.  I don’t necessarily think that this idea is the most likely to succeed, but I decided to make my decision based on the quality of the pitch, which was fantastic.

The winner ended up being Viafo, which was my second choice.  I almost split my money between the two, but figured I’d just go with a single choice this time.

Afterwards, I didn’t stick around too long.  I was hoping to get a chance to chat with Andy Sack a bit, but he took off immediately (He’s probably busy with that whole TechStars thing) and my parking was about to expire.  Overall, this was another fun one and I’m looking forward to the next one.  It also gave me an idea of how far I still need to go with KitchenPC.  I really have no numbers, no revenue projections, no profit model or anything.  I’d love to present, but I think I’d get my butt kicked without these things, so I’ll have to work on getting a bit more traction and then see where I’m at from there.  Also, I need to find that perfect, preferably British business partner to stand much of a chance of getting any funding anyway.  I think patience is the key at this stage of the game, and luckily I can survive for a bit longer without any funding.

That’s it for now!

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3 Comments
  1. I was also at this event and I share your general impressions of each pitch. I’m also enjoying your candid blogging about your new start-up. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet at some future networking event.

  2. Dan Wiliams permalink

    The Blog is correct.This was the wrong place to pitch Zipline. This pitch was more about cyber space. However, The company has since landed partners who are well informed in this industry.

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