Yesterday marked the second demo day for Santa Monica’s MuckerLab accelerator. Mucker is one of the most respected startup labs in Los Angeles, but also its most understated. The group, which host one class of no more than ten companies every nine months – a far more subdued rate that most in the industry – is known for keeping its doors closed and its heads down during the company building process. “This class we didn’t even let VCs in to visit our companies during the three month accelerator period,” says co-founder and managing partner William Hsu. Hsu, and his fellow managing partner Eric Rannala were both previously at Ebay together, and bring a reputation for product expertise and discipline that MuckerLab companies have reflected.
MuckerLab’s inaugural class of eight companies graduated in April to much fanfare. The class included Surf Air, Wallaby Financial, Lifecrowd, Instacanvas and others. Since, they have raised a combined $15 million in venture capital from the likes of Greylock Partners, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Founders Fund, First Round Capital, Bullpen Capital, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Lightbank, and Anthem Venture Partners, among others.
The fact that MuckerLab has demo days at all is a bit of an oddity in LA. Of the four prominent accelerators, Launchpad LA, Amplify, and StartEngine being the others, only it and StartEngine follow the rigid class-based model ending with a demo day. The others operate more fluidly and prefer to introduce their graduating companies to the world, and to investors, on a more rolling basis as dictated by their individual progress.
“I think it’s absolutely a positive,” Hsu says. “I think it gives companies something to work toward. If they raise money early, great, then it’s simply a coronation. If not, then I think it makes them work harder.” He admitted, however, that he doesn’t believe the existence or lack of a demo day would affect the fundraising outcomes of his companies in any way.
With the closing of its Winter 2012 class, MuckerLab will begin accepting applications for Summer 2013. The accelerator will join Launchpad LA, 500 Startups, AngelPad, and TechStars, among others, by accepting applications through AngelList for the first time.
Yesterday’s event was packed, as was the inaugural edition, with equal parts local and out of town investors and mentors, and the standing-room only crowd of approximately 200 seemed to leave impressed, based on my own unscientific inquiries.
Without further ado, meet the graduating companies:
You’ve likely heard of Rent The Runway and the Recycled Bride, for women’s fashion. The Black Tux is doing the same thing for men’s formalwear. Customers can rent custom fitted tuxedos online for approximately 50 percent of the brick-and-mortar price and with a lot less headache. This was one of the most talked about companies by investors after the event. Personally, I’ve seen enough menswear ecommerce plays struggle, that I’m inclined to be skeptical. But the company has massive margins and is one of the first to apply this model to this category.
Blayze was founded by a former YouTube employee to help content creators develop and manage audiences on the video platform. The problem, which they’ve seen firsthand, is that YouTube channel owners build up massive followings but have very limited ability to analyze, target, and monetize that audience. Blayze allows media companies to buy and sell audience with its more than 200 million viewer network. With all the buzz going into original content creation on the YouTube platform, and persistent questions around its lack of monetization, Blayze would appear to offer the right solution, at the right time, in the right market.
Coming from inside Sony, Enventum’s founder is painfully aware of the poor ROI on corporate event spending. The enterprise event marketing and engagement platform allows Fortune 1000 brands to amplify marketing dollars by capturing, organizing, and driving engagement around event photos during and long after events. This may not be the sexiest company in the bunch, but the fact that enterprises spend $20 billion annually on events and are leaving tons of ROI on the table may say otherwise. Enventum’s current customers include, Anheuser Busch, Diageo, Arena Football, Hilton, and Starwood Hotels, among others.
I’m telling you right now that unless you’re 16 this is not for you. But the teen and young adult crowd are loving the social discovery site GetMeRated. Rather than connecting with just people you already know, GetMeRated aims to allow users to “express themselves through photos” and find new friends within the mobile platform. The hook is that each picture comes with a question, sorta like Hot or Not – more than 9 million have been shared to date. Simple asks like “What do you think of my shoes?” have led to massive engagement. If you’re ready to write this one off, know that the platform already has 150,000 users and is growing at a rate of 70 percent per week. Its engagement has been growing at more than 1,600 percent per month and users are spending an average of more than a Pinterest- and Tumblr-besting 170 minutes per month in the app. So yeah, I don’t claim to get it, or to care personally, but those are some flashy early metrics.
MarkedUp is a desktop software analytics tool built by developers, for developers. Despite the fact that the desktop software market is orders of magnitudes bigger than the mobile and SaaS markets, it has the worst analytics tools. With the introduction of desktop app stores for both Windows 8 and Mac OS X, sufficient standardization exists to change this. MarkedUp has been doubling its user numbers every 10 days since launching its Windows offering in September.
Panjo was the most widely mentioned “favorite company” among investors I spoke to following the pitch event. The startup offers a marketplace for the 350 million worldwide auto, sports, and hobby enthusiasts who spend $15 billion buying and selling between themselves each year. Anyone who’s ever been on a fan-boy forum, knows the passion these audiences exhibit. Panjo has been funneling that into a commerce marketplace that has generated 25 times better sell through rates than eBay in several cases. The site is currently generating $300,000 in monthly gross merchandise sales. If you read me regularly, you know my feelings on affinity networks (hint: I’m a big fan). Panjo taps into all this and, at least early on, is reaping the rewards of doing so.
Fashion and fashion accessory subscription sites have been sliced and diced in nearly every way possible. Believe it or not, RocksBox has actually come up with a new wrinkle. The jewelry rental and purchase platform allows members to receive multiple pieces of designer fashion jewelry each month at just $19 per month. Members can wear this jewelry for up to three months and then return it and get new items. If they like an item, they can purchase and keep it for an average price of $70 per piece. The site has accumulated 500 beta members in 40 states and has seen retention rates of 85 percent and purchase rates of 18 percent. Although early, these are fantastic numbers if sustainable. Jewelry is an extremely high margin item and the company’s inventory is durable, meaning they can rent the same piece multiple times. If the service can keep the product quality up and the pieces on trend, this could be a real money-maker.
Like Blayze above, Subblime makes it more profitable for content creators to operate on YouTube. (Look for this to be a big theme in LA in 2013.) This startup focuses on delivering product recommendations. Think of it like “Oprah’s favorite things,” for YouTube channels. Online video personalities and brands can develop extremely loyal followings, making the opportunity to drive commerce enormous. The company executed a test campaign with one of its founders, WhatsUpElle, which generated impressive 20 percent clickthrough rates. Subblime has assembled 120 channel partners, who collectively have more than 16 million unique subscribers. If these channels deliver advertisers even half the engagement of WhatsUpElle, it would be among the most effect advertising strategies on the Web.
TouchFrame is bringing the advertising power of game shows to the mobile ecosystem. The app publisher and platform is partnering with TV producers and YouTube channels to help create, distribute, and monetize new game show concepts as interactive mobile apps. Rather than yelling answers at a TV screen, viewers can now participate and play alongside celebrities in the games. The company launched its first title, a quiz show game called Braindex, today with 9 episodes available at launch – including one with “Iron” Mike Tyson – and three new episodes to be released weekly. The company partnered with 51 Minds Entertainment to create Braindex.
Younity is tackling a big problem that affects nearly everyone in the western world. The more computing devices we use – more than 220 million people in the US alone have three or more devices – the harder it is to keep out files synced across devices. Enter the personal cloud. Younity is a platform-agnostic answer to Apple’s iCloud that is free and has no storage limits. The company is able to do this because it doesn’t move your files to the cloud. Rather, it uses your own local device storage as a cloud server and virtualizes files between devices when you attempt to access them. Since launching five weeks ago, more than 55 million files have been synced across its servers and 70 percent of web users have downloaded the mobile app on one or more platforms.
[Image Credit: Wikimedia]