Thursday, February 23, 2012

Citybot -- Founder Institute San Diego's Pitch Night Winner

A couple week's back was "Pitch Night" at the San Diego chapter of Silicon Valley-backed incubator, Founder Institute. 6 start-ups competed to win the prize in front of a panel of 5 judges, "American Idol" style. I was one of those judges (along with good friend Kevin Hell, DivX's former CEO and currently CEO of San Diego incubator EvoNexus) and am also a Founder Institute mentor.

So, there we were -- our mission, should we choose to accept it -- was to (1) listen to each company give a 5 minute pitch and demo of their product or service, (2) ask questions, (3) score each pitch on a scale of 1 to 5 -- although our "3's" were taken away so that we were forced to take a stand, and (4) give individualized feedback. To build suspense, we literally used paddles with numbers on them as our scoring mechanism -- and each of us 5 judges lifted our numbers at the same time (so that we couldn't "cheat" by looking at any other judge's score). 5 judges -- with 5 being the highest possible score -- meaning that 25 was the highest possible number. (I personally gave out only one "5", two "4's", and 3 "2's.")

The big winner? Citybot with a score of 21. Check out Citybot (you can sign up for the beta of their mobile app). This one feels real -- it is a mobile application that enables travels to plan their trips over 100X faster using artificial intelligence algorithms. Sounds dry? It's not. Think of it this way -- you are in a city on a biz trip -- you have 3 hours to kill, but don't know where to go. Add some preferences with a couple clicks and, bam, Citybot instantly churns out a personalized itinerary -- complete with directions, descriptions, etc. Very cool -- I would use it. And, Citybot's co-founder & CEO, Greg Solovyev, gave a textbook pitch. He knocked it out of the park. Priceline, Expedia -- take note. And, VCs -- take a look at this one. I certainly would.

Second was Wembli, which scored a close second with 20 points -- and the only time that all 5 judges gave the same score (doing the math, that's a 4 from each of us). Wembli enables users to shop for events with friends -- like a U2 concert -- and buy tix together, parking together, restaurant reservations, etc.

Cluster, an interactive website that gives users the power to turn their memories (photos, etc.) into stylish personalized canvas wall art, came in third with a score of 18. For the family archivist, I could see this take off -- but, not sure if it can be a stand-alone business. I could see it as an incremental monetization opportunity for a company like Shutterfly (which also happens to be a partner of ours at Sorenson Media).

CayaViV came in 4th with 15. This is a company literally on a mission to help breast cancer survivors restore their self-image and vitality with an application that tracks and measures variables that cause poor self-image, gives tools to counter-act that, and gives much-needed "community." All judges saw the opportunity, but we didn't understand the business model and monetization path ... yet.

Coming in 5th was Cameo with 12 points. Cameo is a mobile application designed to help vintage shoppers and vintage store owners connect. Yes, the market opportunity here is surprisingly massive (apparently vintage is a $60 billion market), but so is the competition -- which includes behemoths like eBay. How can Cameo break through this noise?

Finally, Foodsavvi, a company geared to help restaurants connect directly with potential customers by featuring their best dishes across web and mobile applications, finished 6th with 11 points. Many of us (myself included) simply were confused. There may be something here, but it was lost in an unfocused sprawling pitch.

All in all -- great experience. And, congrats on all of these entrepreneurs -- it was a tough venue and tough audience. I give each of them a lot of credit for putting themselves out there and believing in themselves and their vision. After all, this was only one night. All should keep striving.

Google Becomes Virtual MSO -- REAL Google TV Is Nye

Breaking news -- while I have long expected Google, Amazon, Apple and others to officially enter the "real" TV distribution business -- Google is striking first. The age of REAL Google TV is nye. And, Google will become a true virtual MSO soon -- with its first roll-out, as anticipated, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Virtual MSO, what is that? Think of offering a true cable programming package -- including live linear TV stalwarts such as ESPN -- but doing it over the Internet (with Google being the packager of the programming, while the cable company being only the "dumb pipes" on which that programming flows). THAT's a virtual MSO.

Yet more challenges to big cable's ongoing struggle to hold onto its long-established programming business model.

(On the other hand, the content providers are loving this proliferation of distribution outlets -- more and more monetization!)