Unlike previous Triangle Startup Factory (now The Startup Factory) Pitch Days, I wasn't close to any of the founders in the class. At all. Like the name change, my lack of prior knowledge about the current class says something positive about the evolution of TSF, in that their reach has expanded far beyond the city limits of Durham and the confines of the Triangle.
More than half of their applicants come in from outside the Triangle now, and I expect that ratio to increase with future classes.
I had, of course, come to know a few of them via ExitEvent and at various networking opportunities. So I went into this Pitch Day not quite rooting for anyone so much as rooting for everyone. I'm at a late stage growth startup (Automated Insights) who has chosen to stay in Durham despite some dramatic attraction from New York and the west coast, so wins for Durham are inevitably wins for us.
The corollary is that a loss for Durham is also a loss for us, so there is a lot of risk inherent in the expansion of this year's Pitch Day as the anchor event for the glitzy, hypey two-day Paradoxos celebration that it kicked off. If Paradoxos comes off well-attended, useful, and with the same amount of buzz coming out that it got going in, then it adds to the wind behind Durham's back for entrepreneurial growth.
Oh, we need to stop calling it SXSE. For that matter, we need to stop comparing our zeitgeist to that of Austin or New York or the Valley. It implies a neediness and makes us look like Reno to the Valley's Vegas. And for the record, every event with more than two stops calls itself SXSWhatever.
TSF did a fine job of kicking off Paradoxos. The move to the Carolina Theatre was warranted, and the room filled. The companies all pitched well, with a practiced, if sometimes over-practiced ease, and the speakers, Scott Case and Paul Singh, are well known names from outside the region.
But here's what you're waiting for. The five startups in the TSF Spring 2013 Class and how they performed.
BringMeThat were introduced by Tobi Walter from Shoeboxed. I wrote about BringMeThat prior to Pitch Day, not as a favorite, but as the team I had had the most exposure to. Their product purports to bring food delivery to any area of the country with a turnkey solution. They were quick to define the problem, explain their solution, give a nod to discoverability in a crowded market, show how they differentiate, and chart their traction.
TabSprint was also quite impressive. They have an app that allows you to order and pay for a product while avoiding any cashier line, thus saving you and everyone else potentially tons of time. Scott Maitland from Top of the Hill introduced them, fittingly enough as this product would do wonders in bars. They very succinctly got through the problem and the solution. They also gave a nod to their competitors and described their advantage. They should do well.
Vacation Futures was introduced by Rich Harris. Their pitch was long on the problem, that of moving unused time at a vacation property, but I think that problem is already known to be a nightmare. They seem like they have a remedy, but my question would be how their solution becomes a solution, or if its just a mutually assured reduction in pain points. I also wonder how their process integrates with some of the gigantic real estate companies who control major portions of resort areas. Good team here, and I think they're likely to have answers to those questions.
Taggs was introduced by Jim Russell from McKinney. I agree that images are the next big thing in social media (with video, as in Vine, right on its heels). It's an interesting concept, and my one question here is how much of social engagement is strictly personal. Is social media marketing a morass because it's misunderstood, or because social media is ultimately about you and your friends? This philosophical argument is one I believe will make or break any social media marketing solution, but I do believe brands will and should buy into the Taggs solution.
Tuee was introduced by Eric Boggs. They spent a lot of time on the problem, that restaurants have no idea how they're performing on a day-to-day basis, and their solution is a tablet and app to survey the customer immediately after their experience. I would like to have seen some study of retention. In other words, would regular (or even non-regular) customers continue to use the app often enough to make the data worth mining. What happens when the app becomes ubiquitous? Will it still be just as novel to rate the service you just experienced every time you experience it?
Ultimately, it's so hard to judge a startup in eight minutes, but if these presentations are indications of the potential of these companies, they all served themselves well. The proof however, is in that long runway that Chris Heivly and TSF constantly talk about. Judge these startups in six months, when these questions get answered.