Dave McClure’s company, 500 Startups, which provides seed funding and guidance to early-stage companies, recently graduated its Batch 7 group. Starting last fall, the 30 companies went through a rigorous training and mentoring program through McClure’s team. Having attended the batch’s New York City reception, we explore eight standouts from the group.
What is OLSET? OLSET wants you to become a better traveler by personalizing your travel booking for you. It lets its partner organizations learn about a particular traveler’s preferences and categorizes hotel features and reviews to match the two. For the actual booking, it would use either a travel booking site or a virtual assistant app. “It is very rewarding to know that in a few years we will all have a proactive and personalized way to book travel,” says founder Gadi Bashvitz, who describes OLSET as a big data company. OLSET recently launched its first partnership with Any.do and a deal with what will be its first Online Travel Agent, GetGoing.
What pain-point is it trying to solve? According to Bashvitz, travel booking is broken, especially for business travelers. While the information travelers need prior to making a reservation is sitting in other travelers’ reviews, it is not easily accessible. This means that a traveler takes 45 minutes on average to find and book a hotel. This is not just bad for the traveler, but also the travel industry, because four out of every five potential customers who come to a website with the intent to book do not end up doing so.
What is Shortcut? According to CEO Duy Huynh, Shortcut is Siri for the Internet of Things. The program lets a user’s voice interact with various services and devices and gets whatever is requested done. At the moment, it is integrated with the popular mobile devices, including iPhone, Android, and Google Glass, and services such as Locktrion, Nest, Philips Hue, Dropcam, Fitbit, Coinbase, Dwolla, and Foursquare. So feel free to offer instructions such as “turn the light on,” “set the temperature to 70 degrees,” “pay my rent,” or “order pepperoni pizza,” and Shortcut will get it done.
What pain-point is it trying to solve? Huynh says that using 25 different apps to interact with 25 different devices or services does not make any sense and is a waste of time. ShortCut wants its users to forget going through hundreds of screens a day in order to perform simple, everyday tasks.
What is EquityZen? EquityZen has designed a way for companies seeking a second round of financing to take control of secondary transactions by its shareholders. According to EquityZen, this system helps the company, its employees, as well as investors. Employees get to share in the value they work to create while focusing on the company’s growth at the same time.
What pain-point is it trying to solve? Growth-stage companies have difficulty retaining their best employees and hiring attractive talent, according to cofounder Atish Davda. EquityZen tries to help them with both these issues and lets companies control which employees get to sell equity, how much, and when. Davda says secondary markets are broken. “Sellers can get cash, buyers can get access, but the company gets a headache,” he says. “EquityZen is solving this by giving companies control and a reason to conduct secondaries.”
What is LaunchTrack? LaunchTrack makes it easy for organizers to get events online, accept registrations, and organize data. It helps organizers with everything from simple credit-card processing to automated email confirmations — automating these administrative tasks. Founder and CEO Jonathan Cordeau, a former event marketing specialist, says that in the course of producing hundreds of national events he struggled with transactional ticketing companies so much that he had the idea of building his own solution. “We’re taking an entirely different approach to this $36 billion industry here in the U.S. alone,” says Cordeau. “By putting relationships first, we’ve been able to gain traction quickly, and the market is clearly validating our vision for a smarter ticketing solution.”
What pain-point is it trying to solve? According to Cordeau, ticketing industry today is completely transactional. “Every day tickets are sold and valuable customer data is thrown away,” he says. “We believe this information is invaluable, and we’ve built our company to help organizations use the tickets they sell to better engage their customers, produce better events, and build a bigger business.”
What is AdEspresso? AdEspresso is a way for small and medium businesses to get the right results with Facebook advertising. AdEspresso’s target clientele begins with businesses with zero expertise and an advertising budget as low as $1,000 per month. AdEspresso aims to save an advertiser’s time while increasing its return on investment. “Thanks to AdEspresso, in a few minutes anyone can create hundreds of ads testing everything — from the ad’s creatives to the demographic target,” says CEO Massimo Chieruzzi. “Once the campaign is published on Facebook, AdEspresso will provide simple, yet complete analytics with actionable information to improve performance.”
What pain-point is it trying to solve? According to Chieruzzi, small or medium businesses trying to advertise on Facebook with a budget in the $2,000 to $30,000 range need to conduct several tests — both on the creatives and the demographic target — to get the best performance. This increases costs and can also waste a lot of time while making data analysis complex. “Every month, small and medium businesses spend as many as 20 hours of work to perform these tasks with far-from-perfect results,” says Chieruzzi. ”The problem is that all the sophisticated, high-end solutions on the market are targeting the enterprise.” That’s where AdEspresso comes in.
What is uBiome? uBiome uses big data to understand the microbiome, or the billions of microorganisms that live on the surface and within the skin, saliva, gastrointestinal tract, and other parts of the human body. The company provides a kit that makes it easy for anyone to take a sample at home and send it for testing. Microbes perform functions such as digesting food, and have also been linked to mood, behavior, chronic sinusitis, and gut disorders. Samples, which are kept anonymous in large-scale studies, can also be compared to other samples and used for further research. uBiome has formed partnerships with organizations including Stanford, UCSF, the American Heart Association, and Ecover for these larger studies.
What pain-point is it trying to solve? uBiome calls itself an advocate of “citizen science.” The sampling is designed to help participants understand their own body, although the company makes it clear that it does not diagnose or treat any medical conditions.
What is RealtyShares? RealtyShares is crowdfunding for real estate. Investors pool money and buy shares in residential and commercial real estate properties using the company’s online investment platform. Investments can be as small as $1,000 and are made in properties, including single family homes, apartment buildings, and retail centers located across the U.S. According to CEO Nav Athwal, RealtyShares gives investors open access to high-quality real estate investments. “By offering an innovative online investment platform that allows individuals to crowdfund private real estate investments, RealtyShares opens up the $500 billion investment real estate market to a much broader set of investors,” Athwal says.
What pain-point is it trying to solve? According to Athwal, the problem with real estate today is that it is difficult to access good investments, and investing requires a lot of time and capital. RealtyShares hopes to lower the barriers to entry into real estate investing and allow people to invest in real estate like they would in stocks or bonds.
What is Populr? Populr is a platform for creating and sharing one-pagers of information. Designing your page requires no prior design or programming knowledge and the final product is shareable anywhere a link can be posted. According to CEO Nicholas Holland, this is a solution that goes beyond email, PDF’s, and Office-like documents. Populr tracks how long someone views your information instead of just giving a simple ‘email read’ receipt.
What pain-point is it trying to solve? Live web information is superior to a static document, explains Holland. “We are the easiest way to publish information in a format that doesn’t require on-going effort, such as blogs, is mobile responsive, can be shared equally across social media and email, and has simple tools for tracking engagement.”