Y Combinator’s Summer 2011 Demo Day: The Definitive Debrief, Part 1

8/24/11Follow @wroush

Y Combinator unleashed its latest class of startups on the world yesterday at its summer Demo Day in Mountain View. The famed venture incubator, which provides mentorship, networking, investor access, and a modest cash stipend in return for an equity stake in each company, admitted a record 63 startups this time around. That’s up from 43 in the winter 2011 batch, and 34 in summer 2010.

To accommodate all those entrepreneurs, Y Combinator has had to expand, literally. For the second time, the organization has moved the signature orange wall in its common room about 30 feet to the west, roughly doubling the amount of space for work tables—and for Demo Day seating for investors and journalists, which is always at a premium.

Summaries of the YC startups’ pitches start below, one paragraph each. But fear not—you won’t have to wade through 63 paragraphs. That’s because a record proportion of this year’s startups, 33 out of the 63, asked to stay off the record, meaning they haven’t launched their services or they’re not ready to have it known that they took part in Y Combinator. Also, I just couldn’t get through all 30 summaries last night, so I’m dividing up this debrief into two parts. Today it’s A through Mo; tomorrow, Mu through Z.

I’m trying something new this time around. As in the past, each listing contains a link to the company’s website, the names of its co-founders, the tag line provided by each company (when there is one), and my summary. What’s new is the final line—my quick personal take on each startup. The presentations were admittedly brief (about three minutes each), so I’m not ready to form final judgments about any of these companies. But as they say, first impressions matter.

Aisle50

Chris Steiner, Riley Scott, George Korsnick

“Groupon for groceries.”

The founders of Aisle50 argue that newspaper circulars are losing their effectiveness and that large food manufacturers are looking for new ways to promote their products, including e-mail and the Web. Whereas the incumbent digital coupon provider, Coupons.com, simply reduces an entire circular to a few Web pages, Aisle50 crafts a single, custom page for each promoted product and features one discount per grocery chain at a time. When a member buys the currently featured product via credit card at the Aisle50 website, a matching credit is applied to his or her store loyalty card. The startup is currently working only with the Lowes Food chain in North Carolina, but will soon add hypermarket chain Meijer. A “giant pot of money” is waiting to migrate from paper coupons to digital platforms, the startups says, and it wants to become “the premier way for food manufacturers to market their product.”

My take: Reminiscent of YC S10 startup Anyleaf, which is also out to kill the supermarket circular, but Aisle50 has the Groupon twist. Y Combinator seems to return to certain themes again and again, as if searching for the right solution.

Bushido

Sean Grove, Kevin Zettler

“An app store for the cloud.”

To get their Web or mobile apps distributed, developers have to worry about lots of things outside their areas of specialty, such as hosting, authentication, and billing. Bushido says it can take an app written using the Rails programming framework and “wrap” it in a software package that takes care all of that, liberating developers to focus on their software. Over time, the startup says it will accumulate “all the apps, all the users, and all the data,” giving it an understanding of a “data graph” that will be as powerful as Facebook’s social graph.

My take: Probably the brashest and most cryptic pitch of the day. The company clearly hopes to bask in the glow of Heroku, the Ruby on Rails hosting service that was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2008 term.

Can’tWait

Eric Florenzano, Eric Maguire

If the names Eric Florenzano and Eric Maguire sound familiar, it’s because these are the same two Erics who worked with Leah Culver to launch Convore, a YC W11 company that specializes in IRC-style group chat. That probably makes them the first startup founders to participate in two consecutive terms at Y Combinator. This time around, they’re going after the movie business—specifically, trailers. The startup’s iPhone app (coming soon to Android) lets users browse and watch movie trailers, share their favorites with friends, and set reminders so they won’t miss out when the movies hit theaters. Florenzano calls it “the best marketing platform Hollywood could hope for” and predicts studios will pay the startup handsomely to feature their trailers. In the future, the company plans to take on video games, consumer electronics, and other product categories where pre-orders are prevalent.

My take: It will be interesting to see what company Florenzano and Maguire start for YC W12.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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