Today had the potential to be awkward. TechStars New York is debuting its first class of companies just three weeks after firing its Managing Director, Eugene Chung. He had taken over the program from David Tisch, who had run it for the past two years. Tisch had name recognition, tech scene connections, and a larger-than-life personality that may have sometimes even overshadowed the companies in the class. Chung was in some ways the anti-Tisch — he was not from New York, very reserved, and played things close to the vest.
Some speculation as to the reasons he was fired pointed to the companies, but my impression after a number of conversations with people in and around the program is that he just wasn’t a cultural fit. TechStars wanted to show its companies that it took its own advice, which includes “hire fast, fire fast.”
Despite the bad optics created by firing a director just weeks before the demo day, you can’t fault TechStars for making tough decisions. Not to mention, I think the companies in this class are further along than almost any accelerator program I’ve seen. Many had already shipped product by the time they entered the program (including a hardware company) and are in full-on business development mode. Six of them already had capital committed before entering the program.
Chung’s departure seems to have had a positive effect: I’ve found myself in the TechStars offices just about every day for the past week and I can tell a marked difference in the vibe there. (Nicole Glaros, who came in from TechStars Boulder for the transition after Tisch’s departure, has taken over.) The office has been humming with energy as the companies prepare and practice their demos. Today they present themselves to investors and press.
I’ve written about a few of the companies I found interesting this week: Dash, weeSpring, Jukely and Placemeter. Last year I wrote about Faithstreet (worth clicking if only for the amazing Hallie Bateman illustration of “Business Jesus”). I’ll provide a liveblog of the presentations below.
Jukely: Social concert discovery app. (Read prior coverage here.) CEO Bora Celik says other concert discoveries have been trying to answer the question, “Who’s playing?” That’s the wrong question,” Celik says. “We’re answering another one, ” who’s going with me?” Since launching in beta, 15 percent of Jukely’s users have already purchased tickets in the app and over 70 percent of users have returned to the app repeatedly. The company is raising $500,000.
AdYapper: Ad verification to save digital ad spend and save advertisers money. Impressively, the company started Techstars with no revenue and is now doing $10,000 per month in revenue from only two clients. The company expects to have $100,000 a month in recurring revenue by the end of the year. Super impressive, although I have to knock the company for using three demo day cliches at once: First, trot out the Lumascape. Then use the Wanamaker quote. And then, “We solve your problem with one line of code.” Company is raising $1.2 million; already has $1 million committed.
weeSpring: Reviews for kid stuff. Read prior coverage here. In three months, weeSpring has accumulated 30,000 product ratings, which it is syndicating for display on other retail sites. The company is already running pilots with a handful of top brands in the baby market, including Procter & Gamble. The site plans to grow with the families and move into categories as the kids grow. weeSpring is raising $500,000.
Sketchfab: 3D designs for Web publishers. I don’t quite understand how it works but it is pretty damn cool looking. The company’s embeddable 3D models are getting 4 million pageviews a month via partnerships with Quirky, Kickstarter, etc. The company is raising $1 million.
Faithstreet: When I first wrote about FaithStreet, the company was only focused on connecting people with churches. It was ultimately a marketing play for religious communities. More than 12,000 congregations are on the platform. FaithStreet is still that, but now the company has expanded to something much bigger: donations. Americans give $100 billion to churches each year. FaithStreet takes 2 percent of each donation made on its app. The company also acquired a competitor called OnFaith owned by the Washington Post. FaithStreet is raising $750,000 and has $525,000 committed. I’m into it. Who else is doing this for churches, amirite?
Dash: Read a full review of the device here. Points for the “Knight Rider” reference. Dash is a hardware and software combo for tracking your driving, improving gas mileage, crash detection, etc. The business model is to build “the automotive graph” to sell data and tools for enterprises and consumers. The company has pilots and partnerships going with OEM, dealerships, insurers, and marketers. It’s raising $1.2 million with over 50 percent commitment.
Kloof: Facebook for pets. The site grew its audience from 200 people to over a million in 17 days using what it calls “weapons of mass seduction” — ie, images of pets. Pet owners have posted 70,000 photos to Kloof’s Facebook page in just the month since the service launched. The company is focused on growing its community of pet lovers across all devices. Very early stage, doesn’t even have a website yet. Raising $500,000, half is committed.
Javelin: This is the company originally known as Validation Board. Adam Penenberg recently covered the company. Javelin basically took the idea of lean startup methodology and made it into a software, similar to the way Rally Software works for agile development. The company is apparently already generating $1 million in revenue. Within three weeks of launching, the site has signed GE, ESPN, Sony, and other customers representing potential revenue of $3 million this year. The company is raising $1 million, it has already accumulated $700,000, led by Mark Suster.
Placemeter: Waze for places, sortof. I covered their “pivot” here. Turning thousands of publicly available video streams into a smart video layer of data for stores, municipalities, etc. The possibilities for this data to be valuable are many, and Placemeter has a wide variety of pilot programs running, but it is too early to know which ones are the best business opportunities. “Every time we discover a new video feed we discover a new use case,” CEO Alex Winter said. The company is raising $1 million, 50 percent of which is committed.
Plated: Subscription food delivery. They compete directly with Blue Apron. The company launched six months ago and it is growing 50 percent month-over-month. Everything I hear through the grapevine about Plated is that they are kicking ass. They raised a $1.4 million seed round during the program. There was something a little strange about an ex-Marine ordering us to enjoy the finer things in life more. “I bet you think our margins suck!” co-founder Nick Taranto said. Not the case, he explains. The company is raising a Series A soon.
TriggerMail: Smart ecommerce email marketing trying to bring Amazon-like targeted emails to companies that can’t build the kind of targeting technology Amazon has. This includes abandoned carts, product suggestions, and repeated visits. The company came to TechStars with one customer; now it has five. The company is raising $1 million now with $800,000 committed from an institutional investor.
Annnnd, that’s it! Thoughts?