Tech entrepreneurs were busy in 2014, building startups and raising money for products that could make it big in 2015.
While no one can predict the future, there are a handful of startups we are especially excited to watch in the coming year.
This unscientific list, compiled by VentureBeat’s staff from their own reporting, is an eclectic list of startups that we think are especially promising. We did the same thing last year, picking 26 amazing startups to watch in 2014. How did we do? Check out our analysis of our 2014 picks. (And we’ll do the same thing with this list next year.)
We’ve divided this year’s list into three sections: consumer-focused startups, enterprise startups, and companies focused on the increasingly hot sector of marketing technology.
So read on to find out what companies we’ll be watching in 2015.
Consumer and social media companies
The current climate for streaming music services is healthy among consumers, but not so much with artists. That said, 8tracks managed to build a business that is much less hindered by music licensing costs than the majority of similar services. Like Pandora, 8tracks doesn’t provide on-demand access to a library of songs. Instead, the service relies on people who are awesome at building playlists. Recently the company took on new funding, and added a ton of recommendation features to help people discover better playlists. When you combine this with the company’s highly impressive ability to attract the 18-32 demographic (made up of lots of college students) coveted by advertisers, it’s very likely that we’ll see lots of sparks flying from 8tracks in 2015.
Austin-based Atlas Wearables doesn’t just log the number of steps you take, it records exactly what exercise you’re doing, whether you’re performing it properly, and what you need to do to push your body to get a complete workout. Meanwhile it is also slowly building what it calls a Motion Genome Project for the purpose of identifying every conceivable physical activity using only the data collected from these wearable trackers. The startup’s tech could prove crazy useful for a variety of scenarios, like tracking a police officer’s activity down to identifying when they shoot a gun. Atlas, which saw one of its early founders get poached by Apple, has raised $1.5 million to date.
Publishing startup Blurb is hoping to disrupt the book publishing business by giving authors more control — and more profits. The company invites authors tmake all the business decisions surrounding a published book (paper quality, colors, number of units, etc.), and even cut a deal to distribute those books to retail stores as well as digital copies in Amazon’s Kindle store. Blurb only makes money when a book is sold, which seems to be working out pretty well considering that the startup is profitable. Blurb founder and CEO Eileen Gittins told VentureBeat the company has some big plans for the next year that should make Blurb more attractive to Hollywood (among others), and we can’t wait to see what they are.
Imgur is the world’s preferred choice for image hosting services, and over the last year has seen its own community grow leaps and bounds, not to mention that it sees 60 billion page views every month. This past year Imgur — the startup that didn’t need funding — raised a $40 million round to transform itself into a powerful business that doesn’t rely solely on programmatic advertising to make money. More recently, the San Francisco-based startup hired former Pinterest marketing and ad head Steve Patrizi to launch a new native advertising platform expected to launch in mid 2015. Point being, Imgur is worth keeping an eye on.
If you can’t keep up with everything your digitally-enhanced social circle shares on social networks every day, you are not alone. Nuzzel’s purpose is to fix that by aggregating links to news articles that have been shared most often by people you follow on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Founded by Jonathan Abrams (the founder of Friendster), Nuzzel is working on adding more integration with other social networks in the near future. It’s a ridiculously useful service, as we’ve written about many times in the past, and we’d be surprised if it doesn’t make a huge splash in 2015.
Product Hunt, in simple terms, is a “Hacker News for products,” a community-generated leaderboard of new, hot, or little-known products, tools, and services. The community, which founder Ryan Hoover and his tiny team vet, is made up almost entirely of players from within the startup community: developers, product managers, designers, investors, tech product enthusiasts. It picked up two rounds of funding in 2014: A $1 million seed round in August, and a $6.1 million series A in October. We expect big things from this increasingly vibrant community of technologists.
David Tisch, an angel investor at Box Group and former TechStars NY managing director, set out to create Spring, a mobile marketplace that gives brands a simple way to let consumers shop with them. It is a pseudo-social network that allows you to follow fashion brands and easily buy products directly from them. It’s not serving as an intermediary like flash shopping sites — Spring holds no inventory; it just connects you with a brand’s existing e-commerce infrastructure. Any products you purchase are shipped directly from their brand (which also means you’ll have to deal with them for a return). Spring launched in August, and we hear that it’s picking up a lot of users, so keep an eye on this one in 2015.
Gossip is always gold! After Secret raised $8.6 million in March, and Whisper raised a massive $36 million in May, anonymous messaging app Yik Yak announced in June that it had raised $10 million for its own slice of the anonymous messaging pie. Then Yik Yak picked up another hefty $62 million in November. There are just a couple of problems: In December, experts discovered a really gaping security flaw in the Yik Yak app. And the app is a favorite tool of high-school pranksters who use it to call in fake bomb threats, gaining them a day off of school. If Yik Yak can quash these problems without becoming so uncool that its users abandon it (as they seem to have done with Secret), well, it could be a real threat in 2015. No wonder we hear rumors that Facebook wants to acquire Yik Yak — or maybe take it out, with its secret sharing app called Rooms.
Business infrastructure companies
We were impressed by BetterWorks, which spent a year in stealth, crafting a web-based service big companies can use to store employees’ goals and measure their progress. In September, BetterWorks finally released the app to the world, and announced a $15 million round of funding from big-name investors that it took on last year but never talked about. John Doerr and Bing Gordon of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers led the round. Joe Lonsdale from Formation 8 also participated. With top-tier investors like that, we’re looking for big things from BetterWorks in 2015.
A New York City startup, Cartonomy raised $1 million in December, with plans to launch next year. It offers an online version of a shared shopping cart, letting a group of people toss their product choices into the cart and then bundling up their purchases for lower prices and more efficient shipping. The inspiration came when founder Jack Lowinger tried to find something in a university’s supply closet, and realized that the institution’s purchasing processes were completely out of whack. The platform already has a catalog of over 11 million products, thanks to partnerships with Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Sears, Office Depot, Staples, and Drugstore.com. The company plans a public launch in early February.
Cratejoy thinks the future of most business lies in monthly subscriptions, and as such, has built a “subscription as a service” platform that makes it easy for new and existing companies to launch one. Cratejoy helps business owners of subscription services manage shipping and packaging information, product inventory, communication with subscribers, and more. The Austin, Texas-based startup has raised $6.2 million, and has about 1,000 clients, with hundreds more signing up each week, Cratejoy founder Amir Elaguizy told VentureBeat recently.
Docker created a way of packaging up application code into containers, making it easy to transport applications from one server environment to another. That helped the company pick up $40 million in funding in 2014. And since it became freely available in March, startups have been assembling products based on it, sometimes under the phrase “Docker-as-a-Service,” including Orchard and Copper.io’s StackDock. Big companies have leapt to embrace Docker containers, too. We wrote about why Docker was so hot in December 2013, and it shows no sign of cooling down yet.
Corporate messaging tool Slack announced in October that it had closed a $120 million round led by Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins. The round valued the company at $1.12 billion, post funding — a massive valuation for an eight-month-old company with fewer than 300,000 users. Slack was quick to point this out in its press release: “Having just launched in February, this milestone marks Slack as the fastest growing SaaS company ever.” If Slack doesn’t do some amazing things in the coming year, Google Ventures and KP are going to look pretty foolish.
A type of artificial intelligence, deep learning involves training systems on lots of information derived from audio, images, and other inputs, and then presenting the systems with new information and receiving inferences about it in response. Technology companies like Google and Facebook have been making technical advances and acquisitions in the field, and a few deep-learning startups have appeared.
But MetaMind’s technology may have some advantages, drawing as it does on New York University professor and Facebook employee Yann LeCun’s breakthrough convolutional neural networks for mining pictures as well as founder Richard Socher’s own recursive neural networks, which have achieved breakthroughs in text processing. Our December story on MetaMind tells you everything you need to know about this rising star.
Mixpanel, a company providing A/B testing tools for apps and websites, raised an impressive $65 million in December, entirely from existing investor Andreessen Horowitz. With an $865 million post-money valuation, the company is getting close to the “unicorn club” of companies worth $1 billion or more.
When we last spoke with cofounder and chief executive Suhail Doshi, the company that made its name helping startups optimize their websites based on how visitors interacted with them was shifting full-force towards mobile with the launch of its first A/B testing tools for mobile apps. A16Z’s investment is a recognition of what we’re hearing: Entrepreneurs are taking a shine to Mixpanel’s tools — enough so that the company has been profitable since 2012.
Marketing technology companies
Grow launched its platform in early December, offering business intelligence (BI) dashboards that surface the key data from a variety of tools used by small and medium-sized businesses.
Grow’s service, which ranges from $39 to $1000 monthly depending on number of users and dashboards, allows companies to readily access the data in more than two dozen common tools, including Salesforce.com, Zendesk, QuickBooks, and others. Grow says a dashboard can be up and running in half an hour or less. The target company, Nelson said, has annual revenue of $1 million to $50 million, and between 10 and 30 employees. If Grow can succeed in reaching SMBs with its lower-cost and simpler approach to BI, it will have a huge market at its disposal.
You might think that native advertising is all about clickbait: Getting people to click on something by teasing them with a headline that promises more than the article actually delivers. But InPowered begs to differ. It recently launched version 2.0 of its platform, which premiered in April, with a pricing model that charges advertisers based on readers’ engagement with their content, not just clicks. In other words, content that is the opposite of clickbait. With native advertising being a hot topic for marketers today, we expect InPowered’s model will attract a lot of interest in 2015. Read more about InPowered on VentureBeat.
“Digital outdoor advertising is mostly really stupid,” Pecabu CEO and founder Rob Smith recently told VentureBeat. “There’s no feedback, no results, no targeting, no metrics.” Pecabu aims to change that, with digital billboards and signage that can detect whether people are actually in front of them — then combine that information with demographic data to give advertisers some idea of who they’re actually reaching.
Mobile marketing platform Swrve recently decided to open up its platform for real-time data sharing with other marketing tools, such as marketing platform Marketo and data visualizer Tableau. The interconnection goes in both directions: For instance, Marketo can trigger Swrve to perform in-app messaging, giving Marketo a capability it didn’t have previously. By contrast, competitors such as Kahuna, AppBoy, and LeanPlum are relatively closed. Swrve’s move to openness — combined with a $10 million round it picked up in September — position it well in the increasingly complex world of mobile marketing.
Barry Levine, Harrison Weber, and Jordan Novet also contributed to this story.