It’s hard to walk away from the annual Techstars Seattle Demo Day without feeling like Mark Cuban on an episode of Shark Tank.
The entrepreneurs participating in the 3-month accelerator have been practicing their pitches for weeks, hammering out their business models and trying to come up with a five-minute presentation that explains why they’re going to become the next startup superstar.
All 11 teams pitched to investors on Tuesday afternoon. That night, they calmed their nerves and took the stage again at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood to show the local tech community what they had come up with.
“Great companies don’t come out of nowhere,” Techstars Seattle Managing Director Chris DeVore told the crowd. “They are built brick-by-brick, on a foundation of community. The stronger that foundation is, the stronger the companies it can support. Everybody here is a member of the Seattle startup community and we are incredibly strong. So we’re here tonight to celebrate and thank you for making Seattle a place where it’s possible to build a company that matters.”
Concur co-founder Raj Singh, who sold the Bellevue-based travel expense company to SAP for $8.3 billion last year, gave a 10-minute keynote speech before the pitches and offered advice to the entrepreneurs.
“You have something to be very proud of,” Singh said. “The first step in the journey is often times the most difficult. What you’ve already done makes you special and makes you unique and you should be proud.”
The GeekWire team watched all 11 pitches on Tuesday and came up with some of our favorite presentations. Read on for our picks, and scroll through to learn more about each team from recent installments of our Startup Spotlight series.
Jacob’s top pitch: Candy Jar
From the pitch: “A simple idea could transform the entire candy industry into a single handful. You see, we’re not just another e-commerce company that sells or resells the one-size-fits-some products from yesterday’s world. We transform those products into something meaningful. … On candyjar.com you select a jar. That determines the quantity and variety of the candy you will receive. It starts at $19.99 and you get eight choices. From there, you select your favorite candies from hundreds of different options and we put it in the jar and ship it to you. It’s that simple but it’s fundamentally different from what anyone else in this space is doing.” — Candy Jar CEO Rob Fletcher.
GeekWire’s Jacob Demmitt: “It took Candy Jar less than a minute to grab my attention as it started right off with some impressive stats. The startup has already bootstrapped its way to launch and sold $250,000 worth of candy in just a few months. It has brought in 6,500 customers, and 46 percent returned to place multiple orders within 60 days. The company went on to tell a compelling story, tying it all back to the sweet treats we can all relate to. Who hasn’t wandered the aisles at the grocery store, wishing there were more options? I certainly have.
I was left convinced there’s a market for a candy-centric e-commerce platform, and I think Candy Jar its well on its way to toward building just that. I do wonder how big something like this could possibly become. It seems like a niche product that’s perfect for gifts, but likely won’t be stealing market share away from convenience stores anytime soon. This may not be the next Uber, but I see a clear path toward it becoming a success nonetheless.”
Taylor’s top pitch: Lightboard
From the pitch: “With Lightboard, we are an enterprise design solution and a collaborative hub backed by a network of designers. For our customers, we are their design team. We are knocking out project after project for them.” — Lightboard CEO Brad Bouse.
GeekWire’s Taylor Soper: “Bouse clearly defined the problem early in his pitch and described how Lightboard offers a solution that brings together on-demand designers who help companies with their graphic design needs. He used an example of a potential customer, Gary, who runs a 1,000-person engineering firm that needs design help. Loved this part from Bouse: ‘What we’ve given Gary is a button he can push to order design on demand.’
Bouse had another line that reminded me again of other on-demand marketplaces like Uber: ‘It’s a good deal for customers and a good deal for designers.’ The Code Fellows co-founder answered the basic questions you’d have about what problem this company is solving and how they’ll make money doing it. I also liked his analogy that compared Lightboard to a just-in-time manufacturing factory. The numbers were nice, too — after three months, the company received 700 applications from designers, completed more than 100 projects, and made $70,000 in revenue.”
Honorable mention: ZIIBRA
From the pitch: “The problem is, in the beginning phases of an online retailer’s life, their focus is strictly on acquisition, where they get stuck in a cycle of frustration for more money and more energy goes into acquiring traffic, but their sales and conversion rates just plateau. We know that in order to maximize their business and grow it, they need to focus on conversion and retention — that is what sophisticated online brands are doing to maximize their customers’ lifetime value. They know that spending time and money on customer acquisition is like filling a leaky bucket if you’re just churning out new users.” — ZIIBRA CEO Omri Mor.
Soper: “A clean and succinct pitch from Mor, who, like Bouce, did a good job describing what problem ZIIBRA was solving. He explained the struggles that small-to-middle-sized online retailers experience with customer retention as they evolve from a small team to a legitimate e-commerce company that needs to figure out how to keep customers coming back. I liked how Mor talked about ZIIBRA offering ‘customer intimacy’ by giving their clients a comprehensive view of who exactly their customers are and how and when they purchase certain products. This was the money line: ‘[With ZIIBRA], they know how to talk to the right person at the right time to get them to come back and spend more.’ Mor also showed how big the opportunity for ZIIBRA is, with more than 440,000 small-to-medium-sized online retailers generating between $1 million to $15 million per year that account for 28 percent of total online worldwide sales.”
Jacob’s top business model: Mentio
From the Pitch: “Mentio is a tool for the 30 million small business owners in America to help them take control of their future and double their chances of survival. The reason we can do this is thanks to the cloud. Financial data is now available any time and in real time. … Within seconds a business owner can connect their financial data to Mentio, where our machine learning algorithms analyze their historical data for trends and patterns and generate predictions. Mentio acts as an early warning system to make them aware of any issues so there’s no surprises and they have lead time upon which to react.” — Mentio CEO Monique Morden.
Demmitt: “I’m not a small business owner, but Mentio was able to get me to sympathize with those who are. Morden told a story about one customer who runs a T-shirt printing company and has a hard time forecasting cash flows. Money is constantly coming and going, and so he uses Mentio to keep track of when he can expect to be paid and when he should be getting ready to make payments of his own. I’ve seen what can happen when I don’t anticipate bills in my own financials, so I can only imagine what that could do to a small business that needs to make payroll.
I was really sold when Mentio said it will offer this service for free. Small businesses have tight budgets and little time to research new products. If you want to win them over, you’re going to have to make it easy. Mentio is doing just that. Of course, there is the question of how the startup plans to make money. It didn’t offer many details beyond saying it has options, such as charging for deeper analytics. I tend to get a little squeamish when I see a startup without a clear monetization strategy, but I’m not bothered by it in this case. Mentio seems to be addressing a real pain point for millions of potential customers — and that’s something to get excited about.”
Honorable mention: Fish Bowl VR
From the Pitch: “[Virtual reality] developers are going to need large, diverse and replenishing groups of people on which to test their content. And that’s where we come in. We build a usability testing platform and seed it with more than 250 early adopters from around the globe. They own the headsets, they own the accessories and they’re available on-demand to provide thorough, precise feedback.” — Fish Bowl VR co-founder Geoff Skow.
Demmitt: “Fish Bowl VR seem like the kind of thing that could be a huge hit if it catches on, but it’s going to be a tough battle to win. The company has an absolutely massive vision for itself as a go-to resource for anyone building VR applications. Fish Bowl says it has first mover’s advantage, but I’m not sure how long that will last as the market gets ready to explode. These kinds of product testing services already exist for developers on other platforms like smartphones, and someone will probably strike gold by bringing the tools to VR. But if Fish Bowl wants to be that company, time is of the essence.”
Taylor’s top business model: AtCipher
From the pitch: “Traditional IT security is no longer functional. Almost everyday, a company, a cloud storage provider, or even a government organization can be hacked. Data center protection is the future for effective enterprise security. At AtCipher, we have the technology that delivers the most scalable and most secure data center protection solution for the cloud without compromising usability. We start with cloud storage, but that’s not the end.” — AtCipher CEO Jack Poon.
Soper: “Poon may have had the most boring and difficult-to-understand pitch of the night — this wasn’t about candy or virtual reality — but the business potential for this startup seems huge. Poon laid out the concrete facts: In 2015, 700 million records were compromised, costing companies billions of dollars — companies that, on average, don’t realize they’ve been hacked until 200 days after a cyberattack.
AtCipher has come up with an innovative solution that adds an extra layer of encryption security and protects a company’s data before it is uploaded to a cloud service provider. Its service ensures that your data is safe from any unauthorized third party. The company has a strong team and sophisticated technology; if it can bolster its marketing and storytelling technique, AtCipher should be generating revenue in no time.”
Check out the rest of the companies that pitched below: