startups

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Aereo Disrupts Television Broadcasting

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Aereo provides a disruptive alternative to cable and satellite television. The company takes over-the-air broadcast television signals and re-transmits them as an online stream to their own customers. Instead of you having an antenna on your roof, you lease a micro antenna (pictured below right) from Aereo that is located at their network operations facility. This facility pulls down all the local signals in the best quality possibly through your micro antenna, encodes the signal for the interwebs, and allows you to watch anywhere (though you are supposed to only watch in your local market).

I have seen the service in action and the quality is amazing.

aereo_antenna_smallShows can be viewed on any compatible television set (through a Roku box or AppleTV Airplay,) tablet, computer or smartphone. Aereo also allows viewers to record their favorite programs through a remote DVR. They charge very low monthly rates ($8/mo in Atlanta) and intend to keep costs down for their customers.

When it was launched, Aereo was sued for copyright infringement by many of the large television network companies. The plaintiffs argued that Aereo is illegally stealing television signals and broadcasting content that it does not own. Aero states that all they are doing is passing the media on to its customers through their leased antennas, which should not be regarded as theft. The courts continue to allow Aereo to operate, much to the dismay of traditional broadcasters, but the battle is far from over. Earlier this month the four major broadcasters asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case.

Aereo

Backed by Big Money

Headquartered in New York City, Aereo was founded by Chet Kanojia, who remains the CEO of the company today. Kanojia graduated from Northwestern University with a masters degree in computer systems engineering. The company is backed by Inter Active Corp (IAC), an internet company chaired by Barry Diller. IAC owns a large number of powerful brands and companies, such as Match.com and About.com. Aereo is also supported by First Mark Capital and First Round Capital. Since its inception Aereo has raised over $60 million.

Aereo’s target market is fairly wide reaching. The technologically savvy who covet the latest devices and gadgets love Aereo, as do the frugal who wish to save money on their television bills. Aereo is available in New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Houston and Miami. They will be expanding to other cities near term, you can check availability here.

What are your thoughts? Should this be legal or not?

silvercar

Startup Profile : Silvercar Wants to Take the Suckiness out of Car Rental

By | startups, travel | No Comments

silvercar_logoEver rented a car from the airport and waited forever in a long line only to get the cheap leftovers? Yeah, we’ve all been there and said some things we shouldn’t have to the poor attendant at the car rental counter.

After repeatedly experiencing this same frustration, Todd Belveal and Bill Diffenderffer were inspired to create a hassle-free, customer-centric alternative. Together, with a small group of industry and technology experts, they launched Silvercar in March 2012 and never looked back. Disruption is the name of the game, and Silvercar is leading innovation in the airport car rental industry, harnessing technology to simplify the process and abolish the “take-what’s-left” notion for good.

A4 Awesomeness

From reservation to return, Silvercar has re-imagined the airport car rental process to ensure the best customer experience. Take their fleet of premium cars, for instance, made up of only one make and model – a silver Audi A4. This is very smart because it benefits both the company and customers, simplifying the process of stocking inventory and preventing the variations typically found in rental pricing and features.

Not completely won over yet? Don’t worry, you will be. To rent a Silvercar, all you have to do is download their app (available for iPhone and Android devices), create a reservation, update your profile and walk to your car. Think about it, you could do the first three tasks while sitting in the airplane on the tarmac, waiting for the disembark announcement. There’s no counter or lines so, once you’ve retrieved your baggage, just walk out the door and drive off in style. Best of all, everything is wireless and paperless because your smartphone does all of the legwork – from unlocking and assessing your Silvercar to receiving your electronic receipt.

And since Silvercar is all about the customer, they made sure not to skimp on complementary features. When you rent a Silvercar, you can expect the following luxuries to come standard:

  • Navigation system

  • SiriusXM satellite radio

  • Wi-fi hotspot

  • Bluetooth pairing

  • Audi quattro all-wheel drive

  • Leather seats

  • Roadside safety assistance

  • Toll tracking – Silvercar remotely searches for toll fees associated with your Audi A4 and bills them to your account.

Gone are the days of having to scramble to fill up your rental’s tank before you drop it off or pay double to have the rental company take care of fueling. As soon as your Silvercar enters the return area, they use fuel sensors to calculate the exact amount of gas in your tank. The company only charges customers for the fuel used during the rental period. Not only that, but they calculate their fuel charge at the local premium fuel rate, plus a flat $5 fill-up fee.

silvercar_foundersBorn in Texas

Based in Austin, Texas and under CEO Luke Schneider’s leadership, Silvercar has four Texas airport locations at Austin Bergstrom International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, Dallas Love Field and, its newest addition, William P. Hobby in Houston. After selling out of their inventory during SXSW, the company decided to keep a large Texas presence; however, they are expecting to be in seven different markets by the end of 2013. So far, no details have been released regarding what those seven markets are, but, I would love to see them expand to SFO or LAX (I’m itching to try Silvercar out during my business trips).

Backing

The privately held startup has grown immensely thanks to funding from some of the world’s most influential investors, led by Austin Ventures. As of July 2013, the startup has amassed $16.5M in total funding, which will help fund the company’s rapid expansion during the remainder of the year.

Silvercar has great potential. Although, those looking for a larger vehicle might not be willing to sacrifice space for simplicity and unbeatable features, so it’s definitely a program tailored for a specific type of traveler. However, as soon as the company expands outside of Texas and more people learn of its streamlined benefits, it will only be a matter of time before travelers come to expect it at every airport – hell, I’m ready for it to be at every airport! Stay tuned and make sure to follow Silvercar on Twitter @silvercar to receive updates on location announcements and promotional codes for discounted rentals.

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Startup Profile : Mattermark Wants to Help VCs Pick Winning Startups

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In order for VCs to compete for deals, they have to actively prospect people, companies and trends well before events like Y Combinator’s Demo Day. Fortunately, many VCs are able to parse through data using software to quantify signals of growing and potentially lucrative startups. One such software company is Mattermark. The company was founded this past June by Danielle Morrill, who previously founded Referly, an online service that offered simple tools for collecting, sharing and tracking links across the web. After Referly shut down and became Mattermark, Morrill’s husband Kevin Morrill and business partner Andy Sparks joined her as co-founders – a great pivot in my opinion.

mattermarkMattermark provides an early-warning system in order to identify and win deals. The software provides VCs with the ability to access data from Twitter, news sites, SEC filings, LinkedIn, AngelList, Crunchbase, and the company’s own proprietary Startup Index in order to spot potential opportunities and track existing startups.For example, Mattermark can identify a startup that is receiving a lot of organic Twitter mentions for early-stage investors.

Currently, Mattermark quantifies the growth signals of 150,000+ private companies and allows for downloadable custom reports, real-time updates, specific filtering, and easy organization and tracking of companies by stage, vertical and geography. The software also can be used to research the background of a potential investment or generate sales leads for clients. Right now, the paid pro account provides full access to all of the aforementioned features, while the free subscription provides a weekly newsletter and access to all company leaderboards. In the future, Mattermark hopes to build custom applications for certain firms.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Mattermark has received $1 million in seed funding. The company is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Ignition Partners, 500 Startups, Jeff Lawson (CEO of Twilio), Dave McClure (founding partner of 500 Startups) Elliot Loh, Eileen Burbidge, Ullas Naik, Michael Liou, Damien Tanner, Matt Monahan, and Carter Rabasa. Fun fact: Andreessen Horowitz, Ignition and NEA all use the application internally. Since the company is so new I foresee a lot more financial backing over the next year. If the VCs see value in the tool they will be likely to reinvest. It’s only a matter of time before the software helps a VC firm discover the next Instagram or Facebook.

I interviewed Danielle Morrill, CEO & Cofounder:

What was your goal in creating Mattermark?

To create a company that is the equivalent of Bloomberg for startups; providing investors with the tools to discover, research and track startups. Additionally we feel investing in private companies is becoming more democratized and want to support new angels, high net worth individuals and others who are exploring alternative investments for the first time.

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What is one assumption that you made when you started that turned out to be completely wrong?

We expected the internal processes and tools of our customers would be much more sophisticated than they actually are today. Most of the time we are working with people who have happily relied on spreadsheets in their firms, sometimes for decades. It’s easy to forget when working in a small technology startup that many more established companies have vastly different business processes. We approach it like anthropologists now, instead of trying to change everything we are more interested in understanding what works and learning why things are the way they are. It is fascinating.

What problem would you like to solve for VCs that you haven’t yet?

We are very early, having launched just 4 weeks ago. The most important problem we want to solve is saving VCs and other startup investors time when they are sourcing new investment opportunities. If an investor does one deal because of information they found in Mattermark each year then the tool is already paying for itself.

In what creative ways are VCs using the data you provide them?

I can’t share that yet, but hopefully we will be able to offer some whitepapers in the future. Startups are relatively long term investments, so it may take until we see some wins before we can tell these stories.

You seem to be a bit of a startup junkie. What draws you to them? 

It’s funny you say that, because I feel like it is impossible to know about even 5% of the startup companies out there. I’m drawn to the ability to shape something that didn’t exist before. Not just the product but the company itself, the work environment, team, culture, processes. I’ve also loved working in big companies, but I think in startups you can do in a month what in other companies can take years. I love the creative process, and making it my actual work instead of just a hobby is the most incredible opportunity in life.

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Startup Profile : Thalmic Labs

By | startups | One Comment

thalmic_labsSailing into the future of human-computer interaction and competing for uncharted territory with stiff competition from Google Glass and Leap Motion’s 3D gesture controller is Thalmic Labs and its flagship product MYO. MYO is a one-size-fits-all armband device that can harness your muscles’ electrical activity, allowing you to wirelessly control your computer, smartphone, tablet or other digital device. That means, with a wave of your hand, MYO will transform how you interact with the digital world.

thalmic_labs_armbandThe Waterloo-based startup, nested in the heart of Canada’s Technology Triangle, has dedicated itself to the development of gesture control and wearable technology since its founding in 2012. The company is an alumnus of University of Waterloo VeloCity and Y Combinator, and is the brainchild of co-founders Matthew Bailey, Aaron Grant and Stephen Lake.

MYO communicates with devices through Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy and features on-board, rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries, as well as an ARM processor. Windows and Mac OS are fully supported, and APIs for iOS and Android will be available soon. Sound too good to be true? Check out the armband in action.

Although it’s not set to launch until late 2013, the $149 device and startup company have had little trouble attracting attention from the tech community. The product has already amassed over 30,000 pre-orders, with 10,000 of those orders placed in the first two days after the product’s announcement – that translates to $4.5 million before the product has even hit the shelves.

thalmic_labs_foundersWith such hype around this ground breaking device, it’s no suprise that Thalmic Labs has attracted world-class investors including Spark Capital, Intel Capital, Formation 8, First Round Capital and FundersClub, along with a long list of individual investors ranging from tech superstar Paul Graham to ATI co-founder Lee Lau and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. In June of this year the startup raised $14.5 million in Series A funding, complementing its initial $1 million angel round in 2012. The cash injection has fueled MYO research and development, as well as talent acquisition.

Hardware is a tricky, unforgiving industry. Luckily, Thalmic Labs is navigating the waters just fine, with raving fans even before its first product launch. It will be interesting to see how MYO will evolve after release. There are definitely a lot of possible opportunities for the device – such as the ability to use two MYOs simultaneously or allowing it to pair with more than one device at the same time. Developers, stay tuned for Thalmic’s developer’s site, which is set to launch soon with more information on APIs and integration.

custommade

Startup Profile : CustomMade.com

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Custom Made Anything

CustomMade.com helps people buy and sell a variety of unique merchandise. Consumers use the website to order custom clothing, musical instruments, jewelry, furniture, rugs and a range of other items. Thousands of independent artisans build the products they request. The website provides a safe marketplace for these transactions.

I orginally found the website when I was thinking about selling some of my woodworking projects online. I love online marketplaces, and this is one of the coolest ones out there for custom physical products.

How it Works

New projects start when buyers post requests for specific items. For example, a person might ask for a rug that is designed to fit an oddly shaped room. The customer may supply details on the desired colors, materials and measurements. He or she can obtain assistance from an employee by using the free CustomMade Concierge service.

Next, “makers” begin bidding on the project. The buyer is free to review each seller profile and purchase the item from any person who submits a bid. CustomMade.com charges the artisan a commission after the customer’s payment is received. As of June 2013, the fee is equivalent to one-tenth of a product’s selling price. The company caps fees at $1,000 per project.

Protecting Users

One of the main benefits of using CustomMade.com is that the company strives to prevent fraudulent transactions. Its policies ensure that sellers are paid and customers receive the products they request. The staff works to find mutually acceptable solutions to disputes. They compensate the buyer if an item is misrepresented or never arrives.

CustomMade.com also protects members by maintaining a feedback system that helps them avoid incompetent sellers. It rewards artisans who achieve high rates of customer satisfaction. People also use this website because the automated bidding system allows them to screen sellers and obtain competitive quotes with relatively little effort.

custommade_foundersCompany Background

CustomMade.com was co-founded by Mike Salguero and Seth Rosen. They purchased the website’s domain name in 2009, according to CNN. After a successful campaign to recruit artisans, the company began to attract large-scale investment. Firms like First Round Capital and Google Ventures invested over $2 million in 2011.TechCrunch reported that investors had supplied the company with about $8 million by April 2012. Today, it has dozens of staff members and over 12,300 sellers. The company headquarters are located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.