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Rich Barton
Rich Barton

SAN FRANCISCO–One of the judges for a round in today’s Startup Battlefield competition at TechCrunch Disrupt was none other than Zillow co-founder and former Expedia CEO Rich Barton.

After the round, which included presentations from startups hawking everything from enterprise VoIP solutions to iPad games, I sat down with Barton to see who he thought stood out from the crowd, and what startups should bring to the table at startup competitions.

What was judging Startup Battlefield like for you? “It was like Shark Tank. It’s like I’ve been on Shark Tank now.”

What companies caught your eye? “The one that I thought was the most interesting was called Fates Forever. This guy Jason Citron, who’s the CEO, is a really compelling guy. He’s building a MOBA for tablets, which is a (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). Basically, [he’s] trying to take something that’s been done on computers and gaming platforms for a long time, and move that onto tablets and figure out all the UI stuff to make it work and is launching a game. I don’t know anything about the games business, but I like the guy a lot.

Anything else? “There was something called Layer, that was the first company that presented, that tries to abstract app communication, so that when an app developer needs to build communications into his app, instead of having to build it themselves or use the native communication stuff that comes with iOS or Android, this is a platform-agnostic, you know, two lines of code kind of thing and you have a full platform. It sounded like something developers might want.”

What are you looking for in a founder when you’re sitting there on stage? “Well, I think the secret to early-stage investing, from my perspective, is one, have a great team…. We’ll use a fishing analogy. You need really great fishermen in the boat, who are going to be creative, and think about how to find the fish. Two, you need a really big pond. You can have a great team of people, but if they’re fishing in the wrong spot, you know, they’re fishing in a little puddle in the backyard, they’re not going to catch any fish. So, a big market, is like a proxy for (Total Addressable Market). Believe it or not, in a short amount of time, even in 6 minutes or 12 minutes with each company, it’s pretty easy to get a feel for team and TAM, honestly. So, I’m looking for that. Another thing I’m looking for these days is mobile first. Anyone these days who’s demoing stuff in browsers on the web obviously doesn’t really get what’s going on in the world right now. You’d be surprised how many people still don’t get it.

If you want to hear more insights from Rich Barton, he’ll be joining venture capitalist Bill Gurley on stage at the GeekWire Summit this Thursday. Tickets are available here.

Editor’s note: Have a burning question for Rich Barton or Bill Gurley? Let us know in the comments or email us driectly, and GeekWire founder John Cook may just ask it on Thursday.

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