Seattle Technology Week: TechStars Demo Day 2013 Wrap Report

by Kurt

BusinessInsider suggests we may be in another tech bubble, and while the eleven Demo Day presenters from Seattle TechStars were impressive, the valuations (and the level of fundraising already accomplished pre-demonstration) were also surprising. Each presentation was well-executed and all of the presenters show promise, but, at the same time, it was not clear which, if any, are poised to break uniquely new ground in their respective spaces.

Most if not all covered the basics with enthusiasm and poise, showing the size of their target market, their traction so far, their short-term plans and long-term potential. Their resumes were universally impressive, featuring educations from MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Penn and the other usual suspects, and professional careers spanning Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and more. Before adding a bit more personal reflection into the mix, though, here is a short overview of each of the companies.

Everpath provided a strong start to the evening. While their idea of online adult not-for-credit courses is itself unoriginal, their ex-Amazon team straightforward execution aimed at user-friendly course creation and student registration shows promise.

Cuecard promises ‘mobile first business process solutions’ to connect workers and gather data in the field faster via mobile platforms. The technology looks promising, coming from an ex-Microsoft team, though the talk itself was a bit tech-heavy.

Wire is stepping boldly into the private youth visual messaging space and landed a few apt quips aimed at the likes of SnapChat and iMessage. The enthusiasm of the presenter and clever demos helped carry the show, but adoption will prove the true test of how well they can attract a teenage user base.

Codementor boasts a Stanford background and YCombinator history and is unsurprisingly tech-centric – a platform for micro-consulting among developers along the lines of Google Helpout, Amazon Mayday and Stack Overflow. The idea is to start in a known niche then branch out into other disciplines.

Sparktrend is seeking to connect images to commerce at scale, threading in between massive Pinterest- and Tumblr-scale platforms with lots of users (but no way to buy) and Houzz-style approaches that are hard to scale due to custom content (but more actionable). The idea is interesting, but the challenges of building an affiliate network and understanding the demographics seem vast.

Shippable has a thesis that is easy to understand but details that may have been hard for non-hackers to follow. Their basic message was about finding bugs faster, thus saving costs in later stages of development. The details of how this will work were not entirely clear, however.

ResolutionTube may be in need of a designer or marketer. Their idea of helping service technicians in the field find the right kinds of help and storing logs of the resulting remote assistance sessions seems great as a technology, but the interface looked somewhat unresolved and the logo and company name seemed confusing.

Perfect is a freemium life-logging offering for Google Glass  to allow easy saving, storage and sending of simple best-of clips from a given day – ideally a way to share with less tech-savvy relatives just what is going on in your world. While the demo was interesting, the devil (or angel) will be in the details and deployment.

Vetted bills itself as a curated marketplace for high-end independent consultants, with Microsoft Xbox and oDesk veteran who knows their way around those worlds. The site can be searched by skill set, availability, background, company experience and connections, but still relies on a LinkedIn login to import data, which seems self-limiting. The aesthetics, though, seem a match for the top 10% of high-end business consultants who are the target audience.

Designlab is a learn-by-doing approach to teaching design online with a guided curriculum, task assignments and community feedback component. It is still very much a work in progress but seems to be on the right path, focused on game-like rewards but a professional-looking workflow that results in potentially portfolio-worthy pieces.

InsideSocial is targeting the difficult space of social marketing analytics – actually tracking campaign success through to conversion. They already have some powerful partners which work in their favor, but it remains unclear how they will compete against established players who could move laterally into the same area, including Google, MOZ and others.

Of the group, Vetted and InsideSocial seemed to have targeted the most narrow-but-deep wells outside of tech-centric spaces. Wire and Everpath were impressive but broad in scope and with a number of clear competitors already in play, so it will come down to what their teams can add (or subtract: streamlining and simplifying relative to other players) and how fast they can scale. Perfect and Designlab are promising concepts but it will be hard to say much more until Glass is more broadly deployed (for the former) and the site is more open (for the latter). Resolutiontube and Cuecard are both interesting propositions could benefit from some rebranding, marketing and design assistance, potentially.

Each team was genuinely impressive but it was still surprising to learn that some of their rounds are already oversubscribed and many others close to completion so early in the game. It doesn’t feel like the irrational exuberance 1990s/2000s dot-com bubble, but does seem somewhat inflated. As for the investor perspective: I would consider following up to learn more or investing in them as a class via rather than trying my hand at picking individual teams – a few stood out but I would not trust myself to pick the future winners (or survivors) at this stage. But, if you twisted  my arm (or are frustrated to read all of this and see I am still on the fence), I would say DesignLab, Vetted and Everpath are worth keeping a closer eye on out of the group.