Twenty pitches is a lot to sit through, but it’s a great way of taking the pulse of some of the most promising ideas trends and talent in the startup community. As ever, a good pitch doesn’t mean a good product, and vice versa. There were presentations today that were slick and funny but failed to succinctly explain the product, while otherwise were softly spoken and modest but quietly impressive at the same time. These three sites, plus 17 others, are buried in intensive mentoring sessions all afternoon.
Some, like Croatian Farmeron, were both. The team, most of whom have grown up with families involved in agriculture, have achieved the increasingly hard task of identifying an as-year undisrupted market with massive potential for what I hesitate to call a Web 2.0 interface – light, easy to use and consumer focused service. Farmeron provides an adaptable data management tool for farmers with a delightful, fun interface a world away form dull, agro-industry rivals – of which there are only two. Very impressive.
Anything that tries to solve the burden of email is worth watching, and ReplyDone is trying to help by learning how you respond to common emails and intervene to automate those replies. Simple, and brilliant. It’s starting life as a Gmail plug in but there’s potential here, at least until email is usurped by something that was actually designed to handle our communications, rather than something that just ended up doing it.
Italian site iubenda is a customisable, embeddable tool for the small print on your website. Great idea, bypassing costly lawyers. For most smaller websites, that will be a real benefit.
Mini Seedcamp, London
• CityMapper (London, UK)
Travel tool. CityMapper combines buses, tubes, bikes, taxis and walking to suggest the best routes through the city. How is it different to otters apps on this space? By focusing on design and usability, claims co-founder Azmat Yusuf, a VC turned entrepreneur. With partner Mattias Linnap, who is studying at Cambridge for a PhD in location tracking, CityMapper claims to have a better routing algorithm than the competition, creating use cases around navigation. There’s potential for building an ad network around movement in cities, using navigation is a platform. Expanding in the US would be boring; CityMapper wants to pursue growing markets in megacities like Istanbul and Jakarta.
• ComodIT (Liege, Belgium)
IT management tool. ComodIT co-founder Laurent Eschenauer believes IT should be comoditised, greatly simplifying management of corporate IT systems through a web user interface. "The idea is to formalise, integrate and orchestrate your company’s IT system," said Eschenauer, who says ComodIT has started direct sales and is targeting mid-sized firms. A software-as-a-service version is due out next year and ComodIT is hoping to stake out a chunk of the bn IT management market.
• ContactUsPlus (London, UK)
Customer service tool. Ever contacted an e-commerce website but had no response? ContactUsPlus estimates that 27% of consumers have had that experience and 45% have abandoned their shopping carts. In the context of a market that has lost £12.8bn in sales, there’s a big opportunity to help firms provide the customer support to complete those sales. ContactUsPlus provides a toolbar that can be added to the top of site, explained co-founder Adi Ben-Ari, inviting consumers to email, live chat or speak to a customer service rep. Response rates are shown to the customer, along with average response time. "We think this adds a new dynamic, a game dynamic, to sites to make them more responsive," said Ben-Ari.
• Crowd (Paris, France)
Photo-sharing service. "Crowd is the closest thing to ubiquity until we sort out teleportation," begins Gabriel Hubert, with no shortage of gusto. Crowd lets users experience and share locations through real-time, geo-tagged photo sharing. There’s potential for geo-targeted ads, and to bring in online newspapers who could offer a live feed from professional photographers at news events. Crowd currently has 80 beta testers. Strapline: The World. Live. Now.
• CubeSocial (Basingstoke, UK)
Professional relationship management for social networks. CubeSocial’s pitch is about new ways for professionals to win new businesses, and they think the way to do that is through social media. CubeSocial filters the most relevant content from networks, filters out the noise, "join the right conversations" and form the right relationships. Financial services, lawyers, accountants, consultants – these professionals are the target group. There’s a focus on Twitter and LinkedIn and co-founder Linda Cheung (former Morgan Stanley executive director) and Mark Bower (former lead program manager at Microsoft) think there’s far more potential in social networks than pushing daily deals to Facebook fans.
• EarningsCast (London, UK)
Shareable, interactive media tool for earnings calls. Earnings calls are the most valuable interaction between investors and a business, but calls are not very accessible, recordable or personalisable. EarningsCast’s attempt to solve this is a management system that lets investors organise a portfolio of earnings calls with private chartroom, integrated live commentary from social networks, and shareable and embeddable files. Co-founder Madhusudana Ramakrishna said the plan is to make money by running advertising around these calls with a freemium model, and the private beta has engaged 3,000 companies so far. Public beta starts next month.
• EnergyBob (Munich, Germany)
Smart heating meter. This is a smart domestic energy control system, adjusting your heating through The EnergyBob server which talks to Google’s Latitude’s API to determine when you’re on your way home, and when the heating needs to come on. The price is €99 installation and then €9 per month. There are rivals, but a rich potential market of 300m European homes and partnerships with European telcos and utility firms.
• Farmeron (Osijek, Croatia)
Agricultural data management tool. The Croatian team behind Farmeron want to help farmers struggling with boring data management, putting a useable, simple interface on a business management tool. The team come from families with agricultural backgrounds but are trained programmers and have already raised €12,000 funding. In an industry where there are only two major competitors there’s the opportunity to exploit a huge market worth .34bn a year in agriculture and food advertising alone. Farmeron will offer animal and grain management (down to a field that lets users assign names to each animal. Nice) and production planning and performance. The tea is planning to launch the site latter this month.
• Fractal (London, UK)
Email design tool. Fractal wants to make it easier to build and distribute email newsletters that work across multiple email clients. Co-founder Abs Farah said it’s a massive problem that isn’t addressed by current solutions, and is providing the service to marketing clients who can package Fractal as one benefit to their clients, as well as direct to designers. Fractal’s beta version launched eight weeks ago and version two is due out in two weeks. Farah quoted LinkedIn Reid Hoffman: "If you’re embarrassed by your first version, you’ve launched too late." "And we’re terribly embarrassed," said Farah. Fractal has finally settled for a cost of a 0 base fee, plus 0 per 1,000 API requests and a subscription model for regular users.
• Gnergy (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Energy efficiency service. "Our vision is to enable people to make better energy efficiency decisions," said Gnergy co-founder Martin Gogov. Current solutions demand expensive smart meters or geeky engineering apps. Gnergy, however, asks questions to build a profile of your home and suggests steps for energy efficiency. There’s a gameification element where customers are motivated to create the most efficient home possible. Gnergy is freemium: free for consumers, and paid for industry professionals.
• iubenda (Bologna, Italy)
Small print for websites. Any website in the world has a legal obligation to respect privacy, but most companies have the choice of either paying an expensive lawyer or copying and pasting privacy terms from another site that might not be relevant. iubenda offers a customisable, easy to embed tool to frame legal T&Cs for websites, and charges a small subscription fee. "We make lots of money!" co-founder Andrea Giannangelo gleefully exclaims. Six weeks since launch iubenda has already delivered to thousands of sites. And the goal: Conquer the footer of every website in the world.
• Myows (Singapore)
Copyright management. Both founders Max Guedy and Chris Human have experienced their deisgn work and photography being reappropriated, but found it expensive and time-consuming to resolve infringement the traditional way. Myows – my original works – lets users store their copyrighted material (photos, artwork, music, videos) in one place, prove ownership of those, organise contracts that prove ownerships, manage rights and pursue infringements. In beta test until now, Myows is already storing 18,000 registered works and has solved 72 infringement cases.
• OpenSignalMaps (London, UK)
Real-world maps of mobile signal coverage. Coverage is unpredictable yet vital for mobile users, but coverage maps from operators are useless. OpenSignalMaps is crowd-sourcing coverage information instead – in real time, and for free, explains co-founder Sina Khanifar. OpenSignalMaps’s Android app has had 800,000 downloads, and the site 40,000 site visitors per month so far. But the team of four Oxford physics graduates wants to do more with this data. For B2B, data could be sold back to the networks, who typically outsource this kind of data research. iPhone and Blackberry apps are coming soon.
• ReplyDone (Vienna, Austria)
Email efficiency tool. Ben Freundorfer thinks replying to emails is a waste of time, because humans are good at creating new content, and computers are good at finding old text. So ReplyDone intelligently suggests your reply. Starting as a Gmail extension, ReplyDone will learn how you reply to common emails and suggest replies. The long-term vision is more ambitious, and doesn’t represent current email systems at all but is an intelligent, auto-responding email client of the future. Amen to that.
• RolePoint (London, UK)
Employee referral platform that uses social networks. HR managers can encourage staff to refer candidates they know, including the 85% of workers who are ‘passive candidates’- the ones who don’t know they are secretly open to new job offers . Co-founder Chris Le Breton said RolePoint will charge set fees to its target medium-large consultancies depending on organisation size. The target is initially the US. Talent, the strapline goes, knows talent.
• Sntmnt (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Market information service. Dutch startup Sntmnt helps pick stock to invest in by picking through market and online activity around companies and trends. Machine learning and predictive analysis tools are used to give a prediction of the "bullishness" of a particular market, accurate to 61% so far for the next 7 days. The Sntmnt team has been working on this for three months, but co-founder Vincent van Leeuwen says there’s huge potential in a market where many of the rivals are academics who have tried unconvincingly to commercialise research tools.
• StorkUp (Troon, UK)
Shopping tool for parents. Shopping for baby products for first-time mums is expensive, time-consuming and expensive. StorkUp lets new mums create shopping lists and recommendations for other new mums, with personalised responses, price comparison and then allows them to buy online. Beyond birth, StorkUp wants to create lists for birthdays, school and beyond. The market is huge, with 4 million babies born in the US every year alone and an average ,000 spend in the first 12 months. Big parenting sites like Mumsnet and BabyCenter aren’t product focused and price comparison sites aren’t focused on specific communities.
• TransferWise (London, UK)
Money transfer service. Taavet Hinrikus was the first employee at Skype, but his latest project is a money transfer solution that avoids expensive currency exchange fees. He said he knows of a North American bank that makes 0m profits per year from currency exchange alone. TransferWise is a P2P currency exchange; users say how much they want to send and to whom, transfer the money to a UK holding account, and TransferWise transfers the equivalent amount – based on market rates – to your friend for a flat fee of £1. Most clients are ex-pats, foreign students – and there’s one guy who uses the service to send his alimony payments. This time next year, TransferWise wants to be enabling £300m in transfers and will be adding support for US dollars and Swiss francs.
• Travelstormer (London, UK)
Travel organisation tool. There’s an ugly truth about organising travel for your friends – it’s a big burden, and they are often ungrateful, say founders Colin Armstrong and George Coltart. Travelstormer wants to make the process much smoother, helping organise the research, discussion, purchase of tickets, itinerary building and departure for travel groups of more than three. It’s a very Facebook-like interface with maps for locations of hotels, voting tools to help decide on options and booking incentives that show deals available for various options. A nice touch is that the organiser gets a small commission if the group decides on the option he or she suggested – gameifying the decision making process. There’s a lot of noise in the travel sector but the biggest competitor is email where most research and decision takes place.
• UntapTV (London, UK)
Mobile ad tool for TV. Why isn’t TV more engaging? When we don’t like ads, we find something to do for a few minutes. UntapTV wants to make ads more engaging by giving users incentives to keep watching the TV ads and interact more using their mobile, whether by entreating a competition, playing a game or giving feedback. It’s fast, scalable and brand-specific, says co-founder Tee Vachiramon. Brands can customise the ad experience by using the app, tap social networks and build relationships with consumers. UptapTV has an iPhone app in alpha, is in discussion with various brands over trials and plans to make money through fixed fees or pay per interaction.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
As the third decade of football’s digitally driven global boom approaches there are a great many things that look, if not broken beyond repair, then at least in need of a vigorous reconditioning. The breakdown of the relationship between fans and players was one of the tragedies of the atomised modern game. But against all expectations it has been Twitter – the most laconic, celebrity-driven and, for many, gallopingly inane of the social networking media – that has begun to hurl the odd significant grappling hook across the divide.
Twitter and football: at first it looked like a fling, perhaps even a slightly troubled affair. Finally, and with a notable upsurge in the past few weeks, it seems to have become a permanent splicing together. Initially Twitter had promised to become a mere numerical phenomenon: the towering worldwide followings racked up by the likes of Shaquille O’Neal (3.7 million followers) seemed to stand simply as a testament to the magnetism of sporting celebrity. In the Premier League Twitter is perhaps becoming something else. There is increasingly a sense of rawness to the interaction between players, fans and media. In the most carefully insulated of major sports, Twitter seems to be altering subtly the established dynamic. It is not perhaps yet a tipping point to rank alongside the great staging points in the ascent of the modern superstar footballer, but Twitter is doing one thing: giving players a voice again, unmuzzled by the marketing structures of the plc club. Even crammed into 140 grammatically promiscuous characters, suddenly footballers look a little more likable, a little less remote.
There will continue to be casualties. When Arsène Wenger was asked on Thursday if he objected to his Arsenal players using Twitter he stopped some way short of an endorsement. “It can be very good and very bad. If it can be a positive image of the club [that's OK], it also can be bad,” Wenger said, dismissing the idea that he may make a virtual appearance himself with a wry smile.
Perhaps he had in mind the experience of the Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson. Introduced to Twitter on Monday morning, by midday Gibson had 12,000 followers. Half an hour later he shut down his account for good, stung by the spume of venom from both his own club’s supporters (”team do all hard work keeping possession then u hit row Z every fuckin time!!”) and those of Northern Ireland, whose advances he turned down in favour of the Republic. On Thursday Danny Gabbidon became the latest player to be charged by the FA over a Tweet aimed at his own side’s fans after defeat by Bolton (specifically: “U know what, fuck the lot of you, u will never get another tweet from me again, you just don’t get it do you. Bye bye”).
The Notts County manager, Martin Allen, is another recent high-profile football Twitter casualty. “I just had to stop,” Allen says. “Twitter was fine while I was working in the media and marketing my company X Factor football, but when I left Barnet [two weeks ago] things moved to another level. I got Tweets saying ‘I hope you get CANCER’ and ‘Who wants to come to the party when Martin Allen dies’. I started off really open on Twitter. I’d always follow people back. I had 10,000 followers and I used to enjoy it. But there was just no point putting myself through that.”
So far, so football. But there have been successes too. Aside from his fine form on the pitch, Wayne Rooney’s most significant stride towards reputation-rehabilitation may prove to have been his decision to open a Twitter account. A week later he has close to 320,000 followers and has come across well: relaxed, surprisingly wry, and refreshingly distinct from the angry, smudged, alienated figure glimpsed from afar. This has also been a positive for United, for whom a healing of the distance between Rooney and the club’s fans will be a further balm on the agitation of early season.
“Greater contact with the public can be a good thing if you’re not being perceived in the right way,” says Max Clifford, PR guru to the stars. “Wayne Rooney’s the proof of that. If I was doing public relations for Manchester United I would be delighted he was showing himself to be different to the way he’s perceived. This is his best way to show what he’s really like.
“Twitter makes players more up to speed with what people are saying. They can respond to that instantly. It also gives them freedom to respond to stories in the newspapers. It’s almost impossible to get a tabloid to print an apology or a retraction for a story that’s a load of rubbish. Because of the vast amounts of people using Twitter players can now respond straight away, and if they’re clever even name the journalist responsible.”
Clifford points to Rio Ferdinand as an example of how to master the medium. “Rio Ferdinand is older, more mature and he’s looking to his own future career. He understands the importance of popularity as a marketing tool.”
And what a ferociously territorial marketing tool it is. In the most recent all-comer Twitter-rankings O’Neal continues to top the tree in sport. Behind him Kaká is the highest-ranked footballer at No32 in the world with 3.5 million followers. Ronaldo is at No56 with 2.5 million (more than Bill Gates and Stephen Fry; a little fewer than Soulja Boy and Ricky Martin). Scrolling down past Fearne Cotton (No177, gaining fast on the Dalai Lama) you meet Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Diego Forlán and finally get to the Premier League’s top dog, Ferdinand, steady on 849,000 and No462 in the world, just below Kelly Osbourne. Cesc Fábregas is his next closest Premier League challenger, followed by Jack Wilshere with 460,000 followers, just ahead of Sesame Street.
Glimpsed in the context of this rampaging global celebrity nexus, the clubs’ desire to take charge of the public utterances of their star players starts to look, not just doomed to fail, but also a little outmoded. Naturally, most have now introduced a Twitter protocol for players. “Our policy is we allow payers to use Twitter with common sense,” says Wendy Taylor, Newcastle United’s head of media. “There are subjects we ask them not to tweet about. Team news and injury news should be confidential. Also we ask them not to make negative comments about players, managers, officials, or the FA.” Newcastle have already been stung this way: in January José Enrique revealed that he would miss the following day’s game against Tottenham with injury: to the exasperation of Alan Pardew, who had intended to keep his team a secret.
There has been a widespread perception that Twitter is entirely a media phenomenon; that it is the media, talking mainly to themselves, that harbour the most excitement about this new source of snippets from the table. But Twitter is about a little more than simply sourcing stories; it may even make them a little more interesting to read. The most high-profile media-football exchange to date was the impromptu Twitter interview conducted by the Daily Mirror sports writer Oliver Holt with Michael Owen after Owen had played for Manchester United at Newcastle. After a forthright exchange of views player and writer seemed to agree on one thing: the relationship between newspapers and footballers is deadlocked in a cycle of mistrust and animosity.
There is much to dislike about the current set-up for interacting with footballers: the sponsorial nudges, the time limits, the shared foraging for scraps. It is hard to decide who the real loser is in this communally erected corporate boredom, although it is hard to disagree with Owen’s conclusion that “the people who suffer are fans”. By the same token, it is football supporters who stand to gain most from Twitter – which has already begun to prick the skin of the sealed media bubble and allow some unconditioned air to flood in.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest the younger generation of Twitter-smart fans do not share the sense of alienation from players felt by many of the older Premier League-era supporters. Why would they when the intimate personal thoughts of half the Arsenal first team are available unfiltered and fed directly to their screen? Twitter may be an irritation for some. It may be, by turns, mundane, groupie-ish and infused with sudden swirling weather fronts of venom. But if it can continue to give the players back to the fans, even just a little bit, it will surely have achieved something significant.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010