Y Combinator’s Winter 2011 Demo Day: The Definitive Debrief

3/24/11Follow @wroush

The Y Combinator venture incubator program, now finishing its sixth year, seems intent on growing until it breaks. And in fact, it may be reaching that point already. There were 43 companies in the Y Combinator Winter 2011 (YC W11) batch; that’s nine more than the Summer 2010 class, and one side effect was that each company at this week’s climactic Demo Day presentations had only 2 minutes and 10 seconds to talk about its business. At the same time, so many investors wanted see the presentations that the startups had to go through them three times, at a Tuesday matinee, a Wednesday matinee, and a Wednesday evening show.

I went to the Wednesday afternoon session, and my summaries of the pitches are below. Reflecting the Y Combinator philosophy, the YC W11 companies are nearly all Web startups trying to disrupt existing markets or industries by finding efficient new ways to connect people or organize information. But within that framework, they run the gamut from charity to gaming, from e-commerce to electronic medical records, and from Web application hosting to telephony. It’s an impressive bunch overall; I’ve already profiled a couple of the YC W11 companies and will be looking at many more over the coming weeks.

After listening to all 43 presentations and then sitting down to write a summary paragraph about each of the on-the-record companies, I can tell you one thing: two minutes isn’t really enough to describe a business in any detail. In fact, anybody who makes an investing decision based on a Demo Day pitch alone deserves to lose his money. To figure out how these companies’ products and businesses really work, in almost every single case I had go to the companies’ websites or talk to the co-founders. So, if you’re thinking about investing in or emulating one of these companies, don’t go by pitches, or even by my writeups below—do some homework of your own.

Some Y Combinator companies choose to present at Demo Day but remain “off the record” because they haven’t formally launched. That was the case with an unusually high number of YC W11 companies—19 out of the 43. This certainly made my job easier, since it meant I only had 24 profiles to write. But it also meant that I can’t tell you yet about some of the most interesting companies in this batch. So stay tuned.

At the top of each summary below, I’m supplying a link to the startup’s website, the names of the co-founders, and, in italics, the company’s one-sentence tagline or self-description, drawn either from their pitches or their websites. (Y Combinator is very big on taglines.)

AppHarbor

Rune Sorenson, Troels Thomsen, Michael Friis

“Heroku for .NET; Azure done right.”

You’d think that it woul be easy for developers to deploy software written in .NET, the Web application framework from Microsoft, on Windows Azure, Microsoft’s the cloud services platform. AppHarbor’s contention is that it isn’t, thanks to a bunch of oddities unique to Azure, such as the requirement that Azure apps use Microsoft’s database system, SQL Server. AppHarbor is an application hosting service for .NET applications that’s designed to “make .NET deployments fun and fast,” according to the company, just as Heroku and EngineYard help builders of Ruby on Rails applications get their sites online quickly and easily. Already, the service claims to be supporting 1,000 active websites.

Beetailer

Laura Valverde, Juan Gallego, Miguel Martinez

“Bring your store to Facebook.”

Beetailer says it helps companies with existing e-commerce sites create Facebook versions of their online storefronts in just minutes. But in the process, said co-founder Laura Valverde, it helps retailers tailor their stores to fit the types of experiences Facebook users expect, and it sets up Facebook-specific analytics and promotional campaigns. “Retailers think selling in Facebook is easy, but it is not,” Valverde said. “We provide tools that solve this problem.” Launched just a few days ago, Beetailer says it is already supporting more than 900 stores within Facebook.

Comprehend Systems

Rick Morrison, Jud Gardner

“Clinical reporting and visualization made simple.”

Founded by two computer-science majors with backgrounds in clinical trial management and the pharmaceutical industry, Comprehend Systems is building a system that aggregates data from multiple, disjointed databases and allows users to visualize it in real time. The company is aiming its product first at the market for managers of drug trials, who often use separate and incompatible databases to track recruitment data, clinical data, safety data, and reporting systems. If it works in the pharmaceutical industry, the startup has plans to apply its reporting and visualization system across many industries.

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Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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