We visited the Y Combinator demo day in Mountain View today, where 19 start-ups showed off their products to a group of investors and other entrepreneurs. The start-ups have emerged after eleven weeks of work, so these are very early-stage companies. Some of them haven’t launched yet, and requested they not be written about until they’re ready.
Eight of them have launched, or are otherwise ready to say something. We decided to force ourselves to rank them in order, based on whether we’d buy stock in them right now. The order below by no means reflects where they will end up, because some with brilliant ideas will flame out for lack of execution, and less slick companies may turn out to be gems later on. Keep in mind that their demos were only seven minutes long, so we’re going from limited knowledge:
1. DropBox — This company initially appeared to be yet another online file storage and sharing company, akin to Omnidrive, Sharpcast, and a whole host of others, but the simplicity and elegance of its interface, which blends seamlessly into both Windows and OSX, sets it apart. You put a file into your DropBox folder, and within seconds, it is synced across your PCs, and available if you go offline. Should you accidentally erase a file, DropBox lets you undelete it, or roll back to a previous version, all in a matter of a few clicks. This market is crammed with competitors, but we think DropBox might have what it takes to be more than an also-ran. It was built from the ground up on Python, and ready to do quite soon what others have been promising for a while. It is quiet on other features.
2. Fauxto (pronounced “photo”) has created a web-based photo editor powerful enough to rival Photoshop. In the demo, the founders took the Google logo, stuck it on Steve Ballmer’s forehead, matched the logo’s background to his skin color, changed his eye color, shifted the image to grayscale and, without leaving the interface, uploaded the revised photograph directly to Facebook. Fauxto also allows two people to work on a photo at the same time. Best of all, it’s free, which is how it wants to eat Adobe’s lunch.
3. Fuzzwich is the most amusing concept of the bunch. It has created a tool, called the Mini-Vid that lets you create very rudimentary animated clips and publish them on social networks (see an example at far bottom of this post). You choose a set of five characters (or animals, robots, etc) from a long list, press record and use the mouse to move them around to insane music. You can then add in dialogue bubbles. The company hopes to turn this tool into a vehicle for user-generated advertising by letting you add products to the animations, dressing, for example, one of the characters in an Adidas track suit. Considering how easy it is to make the characters say vulgar things, though Fuzzwich might have a hard time getting mainstream brands on board.
4. ClickPass is making OpenID easier than it is currently implemented, with one-click technology. They haven’t launched yet, so aren’t saying any more.
5. Cloudant wants to “revolutionize the home router,” and promises that “the home user will no longer see painfully slow downloads.” The demo suggested that this claim may live up to the hype: While downloading a large file, Cloudant’s router delivered download speeds that were three to four times faster than the regular. The company hopes to make a serious dent in the router hardware market and then use the routers they’ve sold to build a peer-to-peer content delivery network. It hopes to raise $500,000.
6. Adpinion — This company has a great idea. It gives visitors to Web sites a way to vote thumbs-up or thumbs down on an ad, depending on whether they like it or not (see image below) That way, advertisers will know to stay away from you in the future. Further, it is developing a recommendation engine that tracks the sort of ads you tend to like, and then serves them to other users that have shown similar interests. A smart idea that no one is doing so simply. The challenge, though, is to get advertisers and publishers to buy in to this. There are big ad networks that could potentially replicate this.
7. Versionate — The company is offering another online office suite. It builds upon Microsoft Office, and lets you share them documents easier online than Microsoft’s own sharing software, Sharepoint. See screencast here. Versionate supports Word, Excel, PDF, OpenOffice, Powerpoint, though also works if you don’t have desktop applications. It will import and display your files right inside the browser. This actually looks like a company that can execute. Reason this company isn’t ranked higher is the very high number of competitors. For most of us, existing products work well enough, and while sharing isn’t offered very well by other players, most of us are willing to bumble around with “good-enough” products we’re already using.
8. Anywhere.FM — This company’s slogan is to be “iTunes for the Web.” It lets users upload songs from their iTunes or desktop collections to a Web-based account, so you can access your tunes from anywhere. It lets you share your music as a “radio station” to friends, and you can access their stations. You can also browse the site’s community for genres of music you like. The site looks like it works well. The reason it ranks this low is, again because there’s a whole lot of competition on all sides, from Internet radio companies like Pandora or Last.fm to music storage/player companies like imeem, Mp3tunes, Maestro, MediaMasters and Streampad and many more.
9. Reble — Like Anywhere.FM, this company is fighting in a very tough, crowded space, music, which is why it ranks at bottom. It wants to build a P2P music sharing service that is legal, which is hard to do. (It notes how P2P is incredibly popular and efficient, as evidenced by the 13 million users connected any time with eDonkey). To make it legal, it lets users stream music using their friends’ computers. The founders are from MIT, and their presentation was clean. The showed a search of music online that was very quick and easy. This company could easily prove us wrong, and have the last laugh. And to be sure, like the other companies on this list, its ahead of much of the YCombinator pack, which still hasn’t launched.
(This was co-written with Dan Kaplan)
Finally, here’s the Fuzzwich example: