At 7:50am this morning I arrived at Webster Hall in Soho and promptly joined a line mixed evenly with startup founders and suites (having once been one, I have full license to stereotype). On the former's faces were a mix of fear and excitement, while the latter, if I even need to say it, dollar signs. Lots of dollar signs--because this was one of the most anticipated events in NYC tech and a 'Sweet 16', if you will, for the next crop of tech darlings.
I was quickly ushered upstairs to the 'friends and family' section, where I looked down upon NYC's who's who of tech titans. To say there was a lot of tech firepower at the event would be an understatement. CEO's of CollegeHumor, Zappos, RentTheRunway, and Etsy were in attendance, and those were just among those who graced the stage to introduce the startups.
Excitement reached a fevered pitch as smallknot kicked off a series of 13, 6 minute demos, split into two halves by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's rousing speech about the importance of company culture and corporate core values (and his mysterious Vegas project). I won't list all of the startups, but below are the ones that stood out for me:
Classtivity "Because finding a class shouldn't be harder than taking one"
A simple solution to the poor experience of finding local classes. Similar to Skillshare, but more focused on existing local businesses who don't have the resources or clout to properly market themselves. Profits are made via partnerships/referral fees, and the company has an impressive team capable of crunching the national data sources already on the web.
Lua "Communication and project management for mobile workforces"
A pitch that started out slowly, but rapidly picked up steam after explaining logistical nightmares surrounding the massive crews that make media, sports, and entertainment look easy. They need to communicate, and walkie-talkies just don't cut it anymore. Impressive traction (including the Olympics and Batman movies) and over $2.5MM raised to-date catapults them above the plethora of project management competitors.
Moveline"A radically different way to move"
It's always a bit awkward to be introduced as having failed numerous times, but the team behind Moveline seems to have found a golden ticket by axing the many middle-men in the moving process. With transparent ratings and direct connections with providers, it will be nice to feel like I'm buying a service designed in 2012, not 1970. Did I mention they claimed a margin of 900+%...?
Pickie"Personalized shopping magazine"
Last, but not least, Pickie, an iPad and iPhone app that crunches the product picks scattered across social networks into a beautiful aggregated experience. Great for my life, bad for my wallet.
I'd be remiss not to mention my favorite line of the event, Karma's "we're the ghostbusters of telecommunication companies", Diego Zambrano's lack of footwear on stage, and the best pitch the world has ever heard about bookkeeping by 10sheet.
A rarity in today's me-too startup landscape, this crop of TechStars showcased 'how it's done' with fully-fledged, beautifully designed (seriously), high-traction money-magnets with the potential for becoming household names. Startups without these advantages should be terrified.