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Startup round-up

Om and I are exposed to many startup companies each week. In this week's episodes we discuss notable newcomers making an impression in the new year.

The DEMO conference kicked off today in Phoenix showcasing 70 companies in short 5-minute launch presentations. Each company spends $15,000 for the privilege of presenting in front of 700 journalists, venture capitalists, and potential business partners. A few interesting companies are announced at the DEMO conference but we chose to focus on the bootstrapping startups building a business for the same price as a marketing presentation at DEMO or the Web 2.0 conference.

Our startup round-up podsession is 22 minutes in length, a 10 MB download. I was using a loaner computer today and the audio quality is not our normal clarity. A full transcript will be available tomorrow.

Companies mentioned

  1. MooBella. Linux-powered premium ice cream vending machine.
  2. StreetDeck. All-in-one mobile electronics package. GPS navigation, DVD video, picture browser, and digital music player with WiFi synchronization.
  3. 30 Boxes
  4. FeedLounge. Premium online RSS aggregator for $5 a month.
  5. MovaMail. Java-based IMAP client for your mobile phone.
  6. Bones in Motion. Track location-based information on your mobile phone. Runners and bikers can track their pace and progress and review their map on an overlay.
  7. Eqo. Presence-aware mobile communication using Skype and your cell phone.
  8. 37 Signals. Productivity services for small businesses.
  9. Zimbra. Open-source groupware software for small businesses.
  10. Joyent. Groupware software for small businesses as an appliance or hosted.
  11. Automattic. The corporate side of open-source blogging platform WordPress.

Transcript

Om Malik

Hey, I'm Om Malik.

Niall Kennedy

And I'm Niall Kennedy. You're listening to Om and Niall PodSessions.

Om Malik

Hey Niall, how are you?

Niall Kennedy

Hey Om, I'm doing well, how are you?

Om Malik

Have you recovered from your cold?

Niall Kennedy

Yeah, I'm doing better.

Om Malik

You are? Green tea and honey did the trick right?

Niall Kennedy

Green tea, honey, whiskey, all sorts of remedies!

Om Malik

As long as whiskey was involved, I'm good with that. Talking about whisky, the other great - I don't know what's the word I'm looking for here - help me - Ice cream. We have an ice-cream related startup come on at us.

Niall Kennedy

Yeah, it was pretty interesting. A company out of Massachusetts. Well, first lets introduce the show and let people know what our theme is. Today, we're going to be talking about startup companies - who's hot and what are some neat things to check out. The DEMO conference is going on this week but companies that we're paying attention to didn't pay us $15,000 to get the message out. We're just talking about their goods and letting you guys decide.

Om Malik

We just like them.

Niall Kennedy

Yeah exactly.

Om Malik

How about that!

Niall Kennedy

So, MooBella was one of the companies that demoed this morning. Showing off ice cream early in the morning is a little bit tough, it's more of an after dinner treat. These guys have a Linux-powered ice cream maker. They take some fresh ingredients -- cream, mixing in raspberries, things you might find in a creamery, chocolate chips that kind of thing -- and they mix in and they make a custom ice cream mix right there in the vending machine. Takes about 45 seconds, they do an instant freeze on it, give you the ice cream right in a cup. They're looking to put this into colleges - right now it's in Brandeis and they'd love to have it in every single Starbucks in the country. We'll see if that happens! Basically they see it as self service ice cream. Premium product without the labor costs.

Om Malik

Mmm Mmm

Niall Kennedy

And they have low fat options.

Om Malik

C'mon That's just not even something that bothers me anymore! I'm headed towards TeraOm anyways, so what the hell! Bring it on!

Niall Kennedy

All right, there's another company that took my interest looking at all the demos today. This new product's called StreetDeck. It's an all-in-one car entertainment system. This thing has navigation, vehicle diagnostics, satellite radio, satellite imagery, music center, DVDs and my favorite is the syncing ability. You can sync via WiFi when it's in range. You can pull down your latest music files, your latest movies, you can also load stuff up on USB stick. That sounded pretty sweet!

Om Malik

Where are they based?

Niall Kennedy

The name of the company is Mp3Car? I think they are a Silicon Valley company (actually in Maryland)

Om Malik

How long do you think before they show up on Pimp My Ride?

Niall Kennedy

They're entirely Windows XP based. Pimp My Ride isn't happening anymore. They shut that down.

Om Malik

Then you and I should start "Pimp our Cars" or something!

Niall Kennedy

Definitely. We could have a South-Central flavor to it.

Om Malik

Hey, I'm brown enough! What can I say. Anything else which caught your fancy?

Niall Kennedy

I got to see a demo of 30 Boxes, it's a new calendar app that's pretty sweet. We're now starting to see premium apps come around that people are willing to pay say $5 a month for a premium service. 30 Boxes is along that same area. They're looking at charging say for it as a premium service. Other things we've seen come along in that same area like FeedLounge is a paid service for online RSS aggregation. Anyways, back to 30 Boxes, it's a social application. It's something very different. Normally a calendar is something you just keep to yourself - you have it on your Palm device, you have it inside of iCal - it not something we're really used to sharing and sending notifications to people - and that's a very neat thing.

Om Malik

I think what they're doing - they're taking the sharing of calendars part of the enterprise and putting it into our daily lives. So that's why it's a pretty cool company. There's three of them, they're bringing a really great product. I'm still sticking to my prediction they're going to be the Gmail of calendars. They've really made a calendar not suck! That is the most important thing. And the sharing and aggregation and all those things are just so intuitive that you don't have to think too much. You can just look at it and pick it out. 30 Boxes, 30 days. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. And the best part about them is they didn't need gazillions of dollars to bring out a calendar app.

Niall Kennedy

$20,000 bootstrap. Pretty amazing!

Om Malik

Isn't that what the whole Web 2.0 thing was supposed to be?

Niall Kennedy

Definitely!

Om Malik

And it's gotten out of control right now

Niall Kennedy

It's also taking advantage of the power of the always-on Internet.

Om Malik

Absolutely!

Niall Kennedy

You need that in order to have web-based apps like this. You call up the calendar, you get directions, you get the Google map to find out exactly where are you going to dinner tonight. You can e-mail to connect instantly with other people. I really like their profile feature. You're able to fill in profile information about the different people you're interacting with, seeing their photos from Flickr or their latest blog posts and I think that will be really interesting as they add the ability to have an API and add in more information to 30 Boxes. You might want to find out about someone, like the last time you had a Skype call with them for example.

Om Malik

I think one thing that was a little missing in their application, and I'm sure they're working on it is the ability to sync with your cell phone. I don't think syncing with your computer is that important, but syncing with your cell phone is a crucial feature for any calendar app.

Niall Kennedy

I use that all the time, I sync my calendar with my phone and when it's time for me to go to a location I can pull up what's the address, what are the notes about it. Because I have it on my phone is definitely an influence on how I input the data.

Om Malik

So so far we've talked about three companies, two we've both given two thumbs up. MooBella and 30 Boxes. I've got another one for you - this company up in Vancouver called MovaMail - I heard about them a couple of days ago. What they are is basically a tiny Java application - you can start it in any form that supports Java. And basically it's an IMAP client. It turns an IMAP into a near Blackberry kind of experience. It's fast, it's very lean, mean, it's very easy to use, it's very intuitive and the best part, it's from Vancouver - like Flickr. They can't do anything wrong, and if you're going by the Flickr yardstick, this must be great.

Niall Kennedy

It's where Tim Bray lives as well.

Om Malik

Tim Bray lives there. Dick Hart lives there as well. So, I think these are interesting kinds of applications. This is also a bootstrap company. They've been out for two months or so - two and a half months - and 400,000 people have downloaded that application. And it's not free. The first 60 days are free, then it's $30 a year for the service. It automatically finds your Gmail account if you have one, you can put in your user ID and everything and you're ready to go. It's so much better than Google Mail. It's so much better than Yahoo's own wireless e-mail client and so, so much better than Hotmail. So if you're one of the masses who don't have fancy smart-phones, this is a pretty good application.

Niall Kennedy

There are some pretty good J2ME apps coming out for cellphones. Opera Mini is another really good example of something that's really caught on that's based on J2ME. One that I saw yesterday that I really liked is Bones in Motion - and this is a location based app. It's meant for people who are 'outdoorsy' - doing marathons, doing hiking, that sort of thing. You throw the cellphone in your bag and it tracks where you went running today, what was your training regimen like, keeping track of that - it gives you an audible beep as you go along about if you're above or below pace, which is great for bicyclists and then the whole thing, once you're finished - it uploads to a central server where you can share with others. It even does an overlay on a Google map. They've really thought this thing out about how people would like to use this app.

Om Malik

Aren't there like GPS applications - like standalone GPS devices which do that?

Niall Kennedy

Not built-in to a cellphone. If you're going for a bike ride or you're going for a run you're always concerned about the weight that you're carrying - so are you going to carry car keys, are you going to carry house keys or wallet etc. So the more devices that you have on you - Garmin has a humongous wristwatch that you can wear - but have it integrated with the cellphone - and the cellphone already has the ability to tie into a data network and upload right away.

Om Malik

Right. Not that I'll be using this service anytime soon!

Niall Kennedy

Nope.

Om Malik

I can't be caught dead with something like this!

Niall Kennedy

The other cool thing they did on this app is you can take photos with it and upload it. Say these are the photos that correlate to the route. So as you're going for a run you can take photos with the camera phone and it'll geocode that and add it at their location.

Om Malik

Wow. Talking about mobile phones, I've got a good one for you. Another Vancouver company. I don't know, I'm in love with Canadians. They're always so nice to me! This company called Eqo. Pronounced "echo" but spelled Eqo. Another tiny app. Install it on your phone and basically you can start using your Skype as your switchboard. So this application basically allows you to - it uses the presence features of Skype to figure out if somebody is on the Skype network - if they're on or not. So, looking at that, they can take that information coming over the internet pipe and you can use the Skype In feature on your personal Skype account on your computer at home, calling to your Skype number and then the call gets routed to the person you need to reach. So this is a pretty nifty little application because the cell phone carriers are pretty happy. Not only do you have to own the data pipe - you have to pay for it, you're also making a call, back into Skype in so this is one of those curious situations where everybody's making money. Except you're spending a lot of money. But that's OK - if you need to call somebody and get them on Skype that makes a lot of sense and there's a lot of people who actually communicate with their families using Skype but who have to stick around at a certain time for their parents to call for example. We have some friends who do that, who wait for their parents to call.

Niall Kennedy

My brother for example, sends IM from Iraq. If he's able to get on a computer he can IM with my mom, from Iraq.

Om Malik

But this is basically if you are calling somebody on Skype and they're not at home it will exchange it to the cellphone and you can use cellphone to cellphone calls, but you're using Skype as a conduit. This is going to be an interesting one. But the best part about this is not just for Skype, they do this for the Gizmo Project or Google Talk. Basically any community which needs voice interaction and has desire to exchange in that community will find Eqo pretty useful.

Niall Kennedy

This is an emerging trend - presence management. Presence management overlaid with a social networking interface. What services to you have available - whether it's a cellphone, Skype, SIP, IM - how you going to privilege different people on your network to have access to that. So if you make a call to me over Skype for example and I'm not there you might go to voice mail, but if I really like you you might be forwarded to my cellphone. You can set that up and there's room for a middle man to charge a monthly fee on that to manage that entire flow.

Om Malik

There's a bunch of companies that are doing that so that's going to be an interesting one to see. So that's my mobile portfolio for today. What do you think?

Niall Kennedy

Sounds pretty good.

Om Malik

Thumbs up, thumbs down? Like it, don't like it.

Niall Kennedy

Skype In doesn't have much use for me. I make mostly local calls so I'm not really sure where I'd use that service. So I'm not completely thrilled by it. But it has its uses.

Om Malik

Move to Ireland and you will see the value of it!

Niall Kennedy

Well yeah, when I make a lot of calls to Ireland or overseas it starts to make a lot more sense.

Om Malik

And you want to move to Ireland anyway, so just trying to give you an opportunity! Any interesting Web 2.0 companies that you've come across, any RSS stuff? You're the master of that world.

Niall Kennedy

I think FeedLounge is pretty interesting. I've tried them out and had mixed results, but I'm interested in seeing how people are playing the RSS game - like Bloglines or NewsGator, Rojo. It's more than a standard free service. Feedlounge go above that and charge $5 a month for it - that's what FeedLounge is doing. A more graphical interface, more interactive, a lot of tagging and organization for your data and that's pretty interesting that they're able to do that and able to have a subscriber base. The idea's interesting. The actual implementation didn't work all that well for me but I like what they're trying to do and I hope a lot of other companies will start these what I call Pro-Am services, sort of a professional / amateur mix.

Om Malik

I used FeedLounge too and I have a little bit of mixed feelings about it. I like what they've done from a features perspective. I was a little bit lukewarm on the look and feel of it, and I think that's only a matter of time until they get it right. I hope! Talking about FeedLounge and premium services and those kind of things, do you think that Web 2.0's ready to support companies that charge people?

Niall Kennedy

Definitely. I think people are actually expecting that a little bit. For the things you want to use all the time you want some reliability and feel you're becoming a member of a community. A good example would be TypePad, they've got millions of users. People are paying for pro LiveJournal accounts, people are paying for - I paid for a pro Blogger account back when they offered that.

Om Malik

I want my money back for that!

Niall Kennedy

I got a sweatshirt...

Om Malik

I didn't get nothing!

Niall Kennedy

So people are willing to pay for the extra services, companies are able to try new things that may not scale too well but because it's a limited base, it's actually paying them to make it work out OK. I like that idea, I want to see where it can go with a variety of companies offering that. I like the idea of there being a business model behind the premium services and than not everyone's trying to compete with Blog*Spot or NewsGator Online or Bloglines.

Om Malik

37signals has been doing that very successfully. I'm surprised that more people haven't done it. It really is - I think somewhere down the line the message got lost that this is all supposed to be - so what if you're small, that you don't have millions of dollars, you can still build a profitable bussiness out of it as some of these guys have.

Niall Kennedy

The thing that surprised me about 37signals is the small business focus and how willing people are to hand over their data about the business. I never would have thought people would be willing to hand over data about their business and hand that over but I was also surprised with Gmail and hearing of companies that are running all of their email through Gmail. We've seen some of those services. Now I think about it, people were paying for premium Yahoo! mail for a while and paying for a Yahoo! account that would get them extra features. That's something that has been around for a little while.

Om Malik

Talking about Web 2.0 companies, one of the companies that I like a lot is Zimbra. I've been using their hosted email and if somebody offers that as a hosted service, I think they can build a nice little business out of it. But that's another business model for some of the Web 2.0 companies out there - to develop apps which can be rolled out by independent application service providers. You used to have ISVs back in the day, now we have independent application service providers.

Niall Kennedy

What Zimbra's doing is I think a larger trend in the market - there is an open source product and they're also making a business out of it, doing the consulting and installing the open source, or in Zimbra's case they will sell you a box that has it pre-installed and that's one of their business models. I'm seeing the same thing with WordPress. WordPress, they have the free version. It's open source. Automattic is the corporate entity that's running WordPress.com the hosted blog service, Akismit plugin and doing WordPress consulting. They're able to have that open-source as well as get paid. And Drupal which has been known as the community site is also going to be moving towards free as well as Drupal corporate doing hosted Drupal installs. This is an interesting area they're going into. Speaking of Zimbra - they're going to be presenting at an event that I'm doing - got to do the plug! - I'm doing called SF Tech Sessions on the 23rd of this month in San Francisco. Zimbra and Joyent will both be presenting their groupware strategies and it's the solution in a box as well as hosted. Joyent will be launching their new hosted platform and Zimbra will be talking about hosting their groupware platform and we'll hear direct from those startups and have some really tough questions.

Om Malik

Excellent. There you go then. We should also point out that in the SF sessions you're looking for companies to bootstrap - that haven't raised lots of money and can't go to trade shows to make their business cases - but if they have something interesting and technology that should be showcased then they should get in touch with you.

Niall Kennedy

Definitely. I wanted SF Tech sessions to be an event where two needs are met: One, there are a bunch of people out there who want to hear about these products, whether they're journalists, small business owners, bloggers who want to be better bloggers or better businesses or better journalists. I definitely want to fill that need. But I was really, really frustrated with conferences charging - in Demo's case they charged $15,000 for people to come and do a five minute demo. And Web 2.0 I heard they were charging $32,000 for their launchpad event. For a small company that's bootstrapping, $15,000 is all of 30 Boxes's development budget, and $32,000 is above, so I don't want to see someone blowing an entire wad of cash to get in front of some of some VCs. I want them to be able to do cooler stuff with less money. And we've done it in the hardware space by getting commodity hardware, the software space by getting open source software, but marketing still has some work to do about how it gets out, and we have the power of blogs behind us and I think we can do some cool stuff there.

Om Malik

I think as Niall pointed out, there's the premium model for people who are selling premium services and there's the open source model which is what SF Tech sessions wants to be so, I hope a lot of people show up for your first event and hopefully you'll find new companies in the months to come and there is any suggestions people have they should send us - and I'm supporting you on this one as much as I can and hopefully it'll go well.

Niall Kennedy

Thanks, I hope so too! And that's the end of this tech session.

Om Malik

Thanks, Niall

Niall Kennedy

Thanks for listening and hope you can start something up!

Comments

Hi Guys. Thanks much for the FeedLounge mention in this podcast. If either of you have the time to share more about the good and bad you've seen while using FeedLounge, please drop me a quick note - that feedback is invaluable to us.

On another note, I wanted to mention that FeedLounge is a 100% bootstrapped operation, and I'd be happy to share thoughts on that with you if you'd be interested.

Cheers!

Hey, thanks for the transcript, i will use it to improve my english.... :-)

Saludos desde Extremadura (SW of Spain)