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There were quite a few interesting companies presenting their ideas at the Launch Festival in San Francisco this week.

These were the startups that struck me. (I only attended the first day of the conference.) For the purposes of this story, “interesting” means that they caught my eye. It’s not a prediction that they will become huge companies, because it’s too soon to say and there are many risks. This list is based entirely on first impressions, not my usual in-depth analysis of data and products. But I like the problems that they are tackling.

Wanderfly: Travel is one of the largest online markets with advertisers willing to spend money. Yet, no one has done a really good job at trip planning, which is at the top of the funnel. Travel is such a visual, visceral experience, yet most products focus on text. Wanderfly puts the focus on pictures. It also attempts to personalize recommendations based on the traveler. Some people only like to stay in 5-star hotels; others enjoy hostels. I met with founder Christy Liu after the show and she had a solid grasp of the space. The big challenges for Wanderfly will be user acquisition at a reasonable price and balancing the needs of content creators against consumers.

TheComplete.Me: Online dating is another market begging to be disrupted. Match.com is an old model that really hasn’t changed very much, despite big advances in the rest of how we communicate online. TheComplete.Me tries to integrate data from social networks and friend graphs to mimic some off how offline dating works. The big challenge here will be getting liquidity. The reason online daters go to match is that’s where everyone else is.


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Scoot: I’m a big fan of sharing, and Scoot’s plan to put rental scooters throughout the city resonates. It’s reminiscent of bike sharing in cities like Berlin and Washington, D.C. One of the big challenges with Zipcar, Getaround, and other such services in cities like San Francisco, is that parking the cars is a real pain. Scooters largely eliminate that. The scooters are all-electric. The big challenge here is getting the scooters deployed in enough density to be meaningful. I would love to see this done like bike sharing models, where one-way rentals are supported, unlike the Zipcar model. 

City Maps: City Maps is trying to make maps more visual. Instead of looking like computer generated maps that we’re used to seeing on Google Maps, they look like the tourist maps that you might see in a hotel magazine. The big advantage here is that you can pick out neighborhoods that are interesting more quickly. The maps also include tweets and offers from nearby businesses. The challenges here are the cost of data collection and that local is an important part of Google’s strategy. It seems like an acquihire.

Rawporter: With the rise of smartphones, anyone can be a journalist. When the US Airways plane landed in the Hudson river, Janis Krums took the photo seen around the world. If he had been working for a mainstream publication, that might have won a Pulitzer Prize. Rawporter wants to enable news outlets to find people who are near a scene and ask them to take specific photos or videos. Solving the two-sided market problem is going to be a challenge. Without a network of reporters, there is no reason for a news outlet to search the site. Without news outlets searching the site, there is no reason to sign up to report.

Zing Checkout: Zing provides a point-of-sale solution to small- and medium-sized retailers. Unlike Square, it supports management across multiple branches. It also supports traditional aspects of retail point-of-sale, such as receipt printers. I thought its faux receipt with the company’s pitch was a cute touch. The big challenge here, as with any company targeting SMBs, is a high cost of sales.

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