San Diego’s Young & Restless: A Cross-Section of Tech Entrepreneurs
After working over the past two years to help tech startups get started in San Diego, Brant Cooper tells me he’s sensing “a global renaissance in entrepreneurship.” It sure seems that way, if the attendance at a recent San Diego Tech Founders “demo night” is any guide.
San Diego Tech Founders is a virtual grassroots organization that Cooper created a couple of years ago for local tech entrepreneurs on Meetup Group, the social networking platform that makes it easy for people with common interests or issues to get together. It’s only loosely organized, and not well-funded. If there was no Meetup Group, Tech Founders probably wouldn’t exist. Nevertheless, it has become a magnet for a restless demographic in San Diego, young and tech-savvy adults who live online and who want to figure out a way to also earn a living on the Web. More than 900 people are registered members.
Cooper’s optimism about a renaissance in entrepreneurship reflects his perspective as a lean startup evangelist and business development consultant. He’s given presentations and met with clients throughout the United States, and in places like Vancouver, London, Barcelona, Santiago, and Kuala Lumpur.
He says he began to step up his activity on behalf of San Diego’s tech startups roughly two years ago, after publishing The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development with co-author Patrick Vlaskovits. Cooper acknowledges that his business as an author, speaker, and consultant benefit from his work on behalf of San Diego Tech Founders. But, he tells me, “I’m not really doing this to build up my business. I’m doing it because I’m passionate about building up the startup ecosystem here.”
Before moving to San Diego, Cooper spent 16 years in Silicon Valley with software and telecommunications startups. He says he developed enough contacts to bring some Bay Area entrepreneurs to San Diego to speak at Tech Founder meetups, including customer development guru Steve Blank (who inspired and supported his Guide to Customer Development), Lean Startup author Eric Ries, and KISSmetrics CEO Hiten Shah.
But as Cooper puts it, “I heard from some of the entrepreneurs that it was great having these speakers, but they wanted a chance to make presentations on their own and to learn from that.” So “Demo Night” was born and Cooper says he’s been riding a wave of enthusiasm ever since. Close to 250 people registered for a recent Tech Founders Demo Night, including a few curious investors like Greg Cortese of New York-based PAR Technology (NYSE: PAR), which provides software services for the hospitality industry.
So who are these young and restless Web entrepreneurs? Of the seven local companies that were invited to speak, Cooper says he wanted to present a cross-section of San Diego Web startups, from companies that are little more than early stage ideas to more established companies that, as he likes to say, “are just crushing it.” Here’s a summary:
—Tap Hunter. The startup launched its website in 2009 and has been expanding its capabilities as a Web and mobile app to help craft beer lovers find their favorite breweries as well as the places pouring a particular draft (which are often produced in relatively small batches). Co-founder and CEO Melani Gordon says the U.S. beer market is $7.4 billion a year, and “fizzy yellow beer sales are down 2 percent [while] craft beer is up 16 percent in volume and dollars.” Tap Hunter’s free mobile app provides GPS-based listings of beer, taverns, and breweries, and can push notifications when certain batches become available. The startup, funded so far by friends and family, is looking to raise $500,000 in seed funding to expand into other major craft beer markets. Gordon says the cash also would help Tap Hunter move to the next stage, which would expand into whiskey and distilled spirits, wine, cigars, coffee, teas, and other specialty markets.
—TakeLessons. What began in 2006 as a lead generation website for music teachers has evolved into a Web platform and online marketplace that connects aspiring musicians with certified music instructors in more than 2,800 U.S. cities. Chris Waldron, the startup’s vice president of operations, says TakeLessons assesses the quality of instructors who use TakeLessons by collecting information on 17 different data points, and enables users to manage scheduling conflicts, billing and payments “so the teachers can teach.” The company, which raised $6 million last August, now has about 90 employees.
—GOTRIbal. Founder Tanya Maslach says she wasn’t planning on starting a social network when she began searching online for a community of women recreational athletes she could join. When she could find no place “to actually help another chick,” Maslach says, “I’m one of those entrepreneurs who decides to do something when they see something wrong.”
Maslach, a triathlete and former research scientist, says she had been working for years in executive leadership development when she began testing the concept in 2009 of a social media website for the estimated 60 million women who compete as cyclists, runners, swimmers, and triathletes. “Our product is a resource,” Maslach says. “It’s a community.”
—Antengo. A mobile app startup founded in mid-2010, Antengo’s free app is billed as a mobile replacement of Craiglist and eBay classified ads. The app provides a real-time, location-based platform for listing and selling items. Co-founder and CEO Marcus Wandell, who worked previously in digital advertising at Microsoft, says Antengo has counted more than 172,000 downloads of its app and now has about 35,000 active users.
—Saambaa. A mobile app available for the iPhone and Android that makes it easy to network with friends, using social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, and to arrange impromptu group meetups, and to plan and schedule activities, events, parties, and other outings. Co-Founder Matt Voigt says the startup founded in 2010 was listed as a great free app for two months last year on the iPhone App Store. How is Saambaa different from apps like Forecast, Holler, and GroupMe? Voigt says Saambaa is not strictly tied to a social media site like Facebook or Foursquare, and works even if friends don’t have a smart phone by enabling them to exchange text messages with the group.
—Kareer.me. This is a Web-based service that provides job search tools and enables a job seeker to design and customize “Web resumes” tailored for each job application, including personal videos, portfolios for displaying artwork, and other features. Founder Matt Wickstrand says Kareer.me enables users to pull job listings into their home page, and provides tracking and analysis tools that make it easier to manage the job hunting and application process. Wickstrand describes himself on the website as “a founder of Kareer.me and the person originally bummed about the options currently available to job seekers to help them stand out and make their job search easier.”
—uME. An iPhone and Web app that founder Jeffrey Axup describes as “a social network that uses paperless business cards to connect you with the people you want to meet.” The technology enables users to create different card layouts and designs for different purposes, get push notifications when someone views your card, to sort cards by date, email, or location, and even gauge interest by seeing who has viewed your card. It also isn’t necessary for both parties to install the uME app to get contact information.