Monday, May 3, 2010

Social Matchbox – Spring 2010

I spent last Thursday night at the Spring 2010 edition of Social Matchbox, a semi-regular gathering of DC-area startup community where some companies launch and others get limelight. This time there were 10 presenters broken up in 2 equal sessions with networking time in around them. While the official event recap (with pictures) is available on their blog, below are some of my personal notes about the products & companies(in the order they presented).

Presentation-wise nobody was anywhere close to decent. Presenters either had horrible slide decks or lacked passion. So unless I point something out it is safe to assume that the presentation was poop.


These guys are working to create a new forum platform. Their key selling point is that any forum can be embedded on any site and accessed with one login. The money-making side of the business is enterprise solutions, but they are yet to define their niche. From my understanding, ShoutReel can take the space between corporate-oriented microblogging platforms & customer-feedback systems. But the space is very narrow and they need to start working on the marketing copy & tailoring to the paying customers ASAP (the product already works well enough).

Official event notes


The idea here might seem interesting – a semi-anonymous relationship issues advice forum – I had a strong feeling that this may have been tried already. (Coincidentally, Killer Startups featured Arguments and Answers on Friday.) While I would appreciate solicited independent advice on my relationship, I have a whole bunch of issues with such a service: privacy of askers (the service is the same as showing the dirty laundry & there’s an option to show the names) and the advice quality (the Internet is full of trolls who are looking for opportunities to defame others anonymously). I am also not so sure about financial viability because I don’t believe that ads alone can pay all the bills & other value-added services (analytics/expert opinion/etc) must be tested with a broad sample of potential customers.

Official event notes


This one made me go “Wow” and I was able to pick up my jaw from the floor only at Q&A. The product (I can’t call it a company yet because I don’t see them branching out much) allows websites to load faster by using a network of servers all over the world and some compression technology. Once the smoke from the hot performance numbers & stellar (albeit absolutely passion-less) presentation settled, the ugly truth came out. First, the technology cannot really be patented because Heliograph is not the first mover (in fact, there are 2 or 3 other competitors). Second, the pricing, at least in my opinion, is off the wall: $39/mo. for the cheapest plan on top of the regular hosting fees. I need to see ROI numbers before I believe in the success of that price because smaller e-commerce players might not win this much and the larger ones have enough resources to create such a system in-house. However, this price is significantly less than what Heliograph’s competition charges so I might be wrong in my conclusions.

Official event notes


The problem is simple here (it’s as old as the Internet itself): leveraging the world knowledge to find the right answers to questions. They pull questions out of Twitter for now and will somehow get them answered. That “somehow” puts the whole concept viability under a huge question. In addition, I don’t see much difference between it and any of the existing QA services because all depend on experts participation.

Official event notes


They won the Founder’s Award (i.e. received most votes from past participants), which came as a surprise to me. Ringio is a cloud-based phone exchange (PBX) that integrates customer relations (CRM) features. Despite taking the full 5 minutes of the allotted time and not being done, they still didn’t prove their value proposition to me. From what I understood, the unique thing they do is pulling up the CRM information automatically while the phone is ringing by matching caller ID to records, which they name “rich calling”. This saves a couple of seconds per call (i.e. instead of saying, “Could you please hold on while I pull up your account information?”). The only real benefit I saw was routing sales calls to lead owners, which is great when there are no direct numbers. They are also planning to integrate social media streams into the CRM to have some personal connection with customers (I’m not so sure that anyone would like a random customer service rep reference the latest tweets during a call – that’ll be creepy).

Official event notes

Cardagin Networks

This was the most passionate presentation of them all. It’s always a pleasure to see founders who are truly excited about their companies & products because they present solutions to their own problems. So “Card-again” is a mobile application that digitizes store loyalty cards solving several problems along the way: 1) customers never forget their loyalty cards; 2) store owners save money on printing and managing paper cards; 3) store owners get access to business intelligence about their customers they had never had before. I had mixed reactions to this one for personal reasons: I’m excited about business use of QR codes, but I’m somewhat upset because this is a partial competitor for one of my ideas. Keep your eyes open for this one because they will be getting a lot of publicity in the next year.

Highlight of the presentation: the public was in disbelief when during the Q&A the presenter told that Foursquare is crap because it’s only popular in barely half-a-dozen large cities.

Official event notes

Starfish Retention Solutions

All I can say is that it’s a great product with a great mission. SRS makes an analytics system that helps identify students with poor academic performance before they are put on academic probation & eventually drop out. The system helps more people get education and helps schools get more revenue by keeping more people enrolled. I had one unclear point: involvement of social networks, which turned out to be inattentive listening on my part – there are social networking elements for connecting students with help, but no privacy-violating integration with social networks.

Official event notes


I’ll be blunt: this is one of the worst products I’ve seen. They are trying to bring the Internet surfing to TVs. I could understand custom firmware or a small home-theater-PC type box, but all they do is a Mozilla-based browser for regular computers with an integrated on-screen keyboard that needs a mouse to be controlled. Their perceived edge is in the presence of HDTVs & their ability to bring Hulu into the living room. They also claim their on-screen keyboard to be revolutionary so they are patenting it (software patents are a sign of idiocy in my book). I honestly can’t believe that someone nominated & voted for them to present.

Official event notes

Where Mark

Yet another entrant to the augmented reality game, which has become rather popular with the introduction of iPhone. It does the typical matching of the physical world with online streams of data (no fancy mash-ups noted). The edge is in harnessing the power of social connections on Facebook for targeted location-based advertisement. I didn’t get the novelty from their presentation and the website has no concrete info on anything. Another downside is that a Facebook account is required to take advantage of all features (saving & sharing locations). When I asked why only Facebook, they replied because it’s the only 400,000,000-members-strong social network out there, which makes no sense to me.

Official event notes


This company has gotten its fair share of coverage in iPhone publications. They make a program that replaces all barcode-based store club cards with an on-screen barcode. The software also has the ability to pull relevant store coupons and collect some business intelligence. CardStar has some competition brushing points with Cardagin, but I frankly don’t see them evolving much beyond what they already do.

Official event notes

P.S. I also got my limelight by asking too many tough questions – random people asked me during the networking time how I come up with them. The secret sauce is simple: listen to what is being said and filter it through your current knowledge.

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