GoComm

GoComm

During the 2012 Democratic national convention in Charlotte, NC, Travis Dredd was in charge of relocation when weather forced conventioneers to move from a football stadium to a basketball stadium overnight. The lack of tools for notifying all the stakeholders and coordinating the move prompted him to found GoComm, a real-time news feed for organizations mounting large events.

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Simple Legal

Simple Legal

Law firms overbill their clients by 10 percent, on average, and figure they can get away with it by flooding customers with voluminous and impenetrable invoices. Simple Legal has built software to read and analyze these documents, giving legal clients a dashboard that helps them manage their spending. In one pilot test with a Fortune 500 company, Simple Legal says, the software was able to identify $110 million in overspending.

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RealCrowd

RealCrowd

Investing experts say it's a good idea to put part of your portfolio into real estate. But real estate investing is difficult for non-institutional investors. RealCrowd aims to fix that by helping small investors put money into a curated, online selection of commercial properties such as office buildings. "Real estate is one of the last markets to be disrupted by technology," says RealCrowd co-founder Adam Hooper. "Somebody in this space is going to build a multi-billion-dollar company."

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Apptimize

Apptimize

A/B testing tools like Optimizely are helping Web-based retailers, marketers, and publishers improve their sites based on real-time measurements. But A/B testing hasn't really come to the world of mobile apps, where a growwing percentage of e-commerce transactions now happen. Apptimize, which describes itself as "Optimizely for apps," allows marketers to change and test visual elements in apps---words, buttons, colors, font sizes, and images---without having to wait for developers.

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Watchsend

Watchsend

Watchsend is a tool for mobile developers. Once installed as part of an app, it can record users' actions and play them back for developers in the form of "videos" that reveal exactly where and how users are getting tripped up or abandoning their tasks. "Traditional reporting tools like Mixpanel and Flurry won't catch this stuff," the company says.

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Graft Concepts

Graft Concepts

The backplate of a smartphone case is "one of the most visible and sought-after pieces of real estate in a person's life," claims Graft Concepts. That's why the company has invented an iPhone case that unsnaps to make room for interchangeable backplates. The company's biggest customers so far are bands using the company's technology to design and sell branded cases for their fans.

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Glio

Glio

Calling itself "Yelp for Latin America," Glio wants to provide better local information to the people in places like Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, where "there are more cell phones than people," according to the company. Glio already contains 200,000 business listings, and more than 100,000 people have used the app in the last month, the founders say.

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Toutpost

Toutpost

Toutpost entices average Internet users to write short reviews of consumer products using an "x versus y" voting format---say, PlayStation versus Xbox. Using the reviews, the company automatically builds "landing pages" on the Web for each product, in theory creating a new entry point for shoppers. "We will make money for the same reason Google makes so much money---we will control all this valuable traffic," the founders say.

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SpoonRocket

SpoonRocket

SpoonRocket, which delivers organic meals door-to-door for $6, opened seven weeks ago in Berkeley, CA, and is already delivering 850 meals a day. The startup says it can keep the cost so low because "we control the entire process: we write the code, we make the food, and we do the delivery." The company claims to be handling more orders in Berkeley every day than rival online-menu site GrubHub does in a month.

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Prim

Prim

For $80 per month, Prim subscribers can have their dirty laundry picked up, laundered, folded, and delivered, all within 48 hours. The company has built an online scheduling system and delivery network that can negotiate bulk rates with local mom-and-pop laundry shops.

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7 Cups of Tea

7 Cups of Tea

The dirty little secret in mental health services, says Glenn Moriarty, is that most people don't need a diagnosis and full-on psychotherapy---they just need someone to talk to. Moriarty's startup, 7 Cups of Tea, offers people who need help one-click Web access to a network of 160 counselors who have been trained in non-judgmental "active listening." Just seven weeks after its launch, the company is handling 1,800 calls per week, according to Moriarty.

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StatusPage.io

StatusPage.io

StatusPage is what the name says: it helps Web-based companies publish and maintain status pages that tell users (both inside and outside the company) which online services are working and which aren't. Companies like Citrix, Disqus, New Relic, and Shopify are already using the system "to make sure the right customer gets the right message" in case of a service outage.

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Kivo

Kivo

Kivo hopes to change the way businesses manage documents using ideas from the Git system for version control in software coding projects. "We're simplifying the user experince of Git and making it work for anyone who works on documents," the founders say. Kivo plugs into Microsoft Office programs like PowerPoint and tracks individual changes, rather than forcing users to create a new version of a file after every revision. The system is in trial runs at big firms like Deloitte, Accenture, and McKinsey.

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Teleborder

Teleborder

Teleborder wants to give companies hiring foreign workers a way to outsource all the gnarly immigration paperwork. Employers need only log in, tell Teleborder who they want to hire, and then check a dashboard; behind the scenes the company’s software handles all the government forms involved in visa applications. For $5,000 per employee, Teleborder says it can halve the time it takes to win a visa.

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Floobits

Floobits

Floobits argues that Google Wave was a good idea, badly implemented. It’s promoting a new set of Internet communications protocols, similar to the ones underlying Google Wave, as the underpinnings for new forms of collaboration, starting with an application that helps pairs of developers collaborate on coding projects in real time. “I know this sounds insanely ambitious,” says Floobits co-founder Geoff Greer. “But the Web is not the last protocol. Whatever replaces it, in the beginning, will look exactly like we do today: a couple of talented hackers building tools for people like themselves.”

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Easypost

Easypost

Shipping is a critical part of e-commerce, but it’s tricky and expensive to integrate e-commerce systems with the software backends at big shippers like UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service. Easypost provides a set of application programming interfaces, or APIs, that make this integration much easier. That lets companies more easily compare rates across different shippers, for example.

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Standard Treasury

Standard Treasury

Speaking of APIs, the banking system is another sector that needs more of them. Standard Treasury offers APIs that make it easier for Web developers to build banking-style transactions right into their online applications. Using the company’s APIs, a startup could more easily accept payments using electronic check (ACH) systems, for example.

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Amulyte

Amulyte

Standard alert pendants for seniors won’t work without a nearby base station, meaning they’re useless if people fall when they’re away from home. Amulyte’s pendant uses the cellular network, as well as Wi-Fi and GPS, to direct first responders to a fall victim’s location wherever he or she is. Amulyte plans to charge $149 for the device, plus a $29 monthly subscription.

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Le Tote

Le Tote

Le Tote calls itself “Netflix for women’s fashion,” and for once the comparison is apt. The service sends members a box with three garments and two accessories; women can keep the items as long as they want, and when they’re done, they send the items back and get the next box.

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Ixi Play

Ixi Play

Ixi Play is developing a line of small tabletop robots that help children learn to read emotional cues. The way co-founder Bart Dirkx explains it, a child holds up a card; the robot reads the card and mimics an emotion; and the child mimics the robot. “You don’t have to give a screen to little kids,” Dirkx said. “This is how the power of computers can reach your children.”

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Butter Systems

Butter Systems

If restaurants put their menus on tablet computers, people would order more food, it would be easier to translate the names of foreign items, and restaurants could flash promotions. Butter Systems is using inexpensive Android tablets to build a system that allows exactly that. The system will soon be live in three locations, and 11 more are on the way.

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Asseta

Asseta

Big companies have a lot of unused but perfectly serviceable capital equipment, but they’re no good at using eBay or other existing marketplaces to get rid of it. Asseta is building an online marketplace for used capital equipment that hand-holds owners as they create listings, in return for a 5 percent commission on sales. So far it sports more than 28,000 listings.

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Hum

Hum

The founders of Hum believe that e-mail is the wrong tool for most project-related business communication. They’ve come up with a cross-platform, real-time chat system that organizes short messages into threaded conversations. “We know you’re attached to your inbox, but as you use Hum you start to use your inbox less and less,” the founders say.

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True Link Financial

True Link Financial

“Don’t scam my gram” is the motto at True Link Financial. It offers a credit card for seniors that can block spending if a charge exceeds a personalized limit or involves blocked merchants or known scammers. In addition to seniors with cognitive impairment, the company thinks the cards could be useful for addicts, teens, and small businesses.

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LocalOn

LocalOn

LocalOn helps Web businesses share promotions, events, and deals with local merchants through a network of local newspapers and business associations. “We bring it to these aggregators, and they sell to the local businesses for us---they already have the working relationships,” the founders explain.

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Weilos

Weilos

People go to the gym more often when they know their personal trainer will be disappointed if they don’t show up. Weilos thinks the same kind of accountability can help people lose weight. It’s building a network of peer coaches who can help clients shed pounds by providing diet and exercise programs and feedback about progress.

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SoundFocus

SoundFocus

Sound Focus thinks hearing aids are too expensive (they average $2,000). It’s building a line of apps, headphone adapters, and wireless earbuds that can tune music and other sounds to compensate for a user’s hearing loss in certain frequencies. “We are going to make hearing disability a thing of the past,” says co-founder Alex Barun.

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Webflow

Webflow

Webflow is building software tools that give designers a way to build mobile-friendly websites that look good on many platforms without having to hire developers who can translate their ideas into code. “Everything a developer can do in code, designers can do in Webflow,” the founders say.

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Lob

Lob

Lob is a cloud printing service that lets Web businesses build printing functionality into their applications. Customers using Lob-enabled Web applications can have print requests sent to Lob, which receives the documents via the Internet and arranges for them to be printed and mailed to any location in the world.

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Estimote

Estimote

Retailers who install Estimote’s in-store “beacons” can precisely locate smartphone-toting customers and send them customized instant messages based on their location in a store. If a customer inside a clothes store is looking at jeans, for example, the store can send them a discount offer on a specific pair.

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DoorDash

DoorDash

Seamless and GrubHub aggregate menus for restaurants that deliver, but they don’t make the delivery process any easier. DoorDash is building a network of drivers who can spare restaurants that task. In tests in Palo Alto, DoorDash says it has achieved average delivery time of 44 minutes.

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One Month Rails

One Month Rails

For $49, One Month Rails offers a video-based online course that teaches people with no coding experience how to code in Ruby on Rails. Over the next year, the startup plans to develop nine more courses covering other programming languages. “We are taking online education to the real world, where people will pay,” says co-founder Mattan Griffel.

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Regalii

Regalii

Latin American emigrants send $69 billion in remittances back to their families every year, but existing international payment systems are slow and expensive, says Regalii. It’s building a system that lets people pay bills or send pre-paid gift cards for little or no fee. The prototype system has connected 1,100 customers in the Bronx with their families in the Dominican Republic.

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Meta

Meta

Meta is developing augmented-reality glasses that let users see and manipulate 3D computer-generated objects as superimposed on the real world. Cameras mounted on the glasses track the user’s hand movements and point of view. The company has already collected $500,000 worth of pre-orders for its next-generation glasses.

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BloomThat

BloomThat

Though flower delivery was one of the very first businesses to go online in the early 1990s, today’s services are “ugly, slow, and offer horrible customer service,” say the guys behind BloomThat. From the startup’s website, you can order fresh-cut flowers and have them delivered anywhere in San Francisco by bicycle in under 90 minutes. Prices start at $35.

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Crowdery

Crowdery

Crowdery says it’s bringing A/B testing to the world of physical products. Brands can post sample products on Kickstarter-style pages and use pre-order data to predict demand and make decisions about which lines to manufacture. “It’s the only place you can go to get money up front, and where every sale in advance is a data point,” the founders say.

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Datarank

Datarank

Datarank hopes to replace focus groups in the world of consumer product research through smarter analysis of social media conversations. The company isn’t sharing many specifics about its technology, but it says it “prioritizes the best data” on social media to let marketers know which products consumers are most excited about.

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Reebee

Reebee

Lots of shoppers use flyers to plan their shopping trips, and Reebee wants to replace paper flyers with mobile versions that are more customizable. Companies like Home Depot, Lowes, and FreshCo are already experimenting with Reebee’s platform to deliver product information to customers’ tablets and smartphones.

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Hackermeter

Hackermeter

At most Silicon Valley companies, hiring is the number one problem. Hackermeter says it helps companies find qualified software developers who might not turn up via the usual channels by lassoing them for coding challenges that quantify their skills. More than 4,000 developers have signed up to take Hackermeter’s tests, and companies like Square, Asana, and Mixpanel are using the system for hiring.

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Panorama Education

Panorama Education

Founded by a group of recent Yale graduates, Panorama Education is selling schools tools that help them collect and analyze survey data from students, parents, and teachers. “Most edtech companies fail because they can’t close sales, but we are now in 3,600 schools and every customer is paying,” says co-founder Aaron Feuer.

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Casetext

Casetext

In the legal profession, no oligopoly is more hated and feared than LexisNexis and Westlaw, the leading publishers of databases of case law, federal and state statutes, and other public records. Casetext---started by the former presidents of the Harvard Law Review and the Stanford Law Review---is out to challenge LexisNexis and Westlaw by building a crowdsourced body of annotations by attorneys and professors on over a million federal and Delaware court cases.

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Buttercoin

Buttercoin

Buttercoin wants to make international remittances cheaper using Bitcoin, the virtual currency, as an intermediary. By changing dollars to Bitcoin and then changing Bitcoin to Euros, for example, it’s possible to avoid the money-changing fees typically charged by banks and credit card companies. “By removing the friction of sending money across borders we are disrupting a $500 billion annual remittance industry,” the founders say.

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CoreOS

CoreOS

CoreOS, led by former Cloudkick founder Alex Polvi, is building a version of Linux that supports massive clusters of servers, like those operated by Google, Facebook, and other Web giants. “Previously, only Google needed something like this,” Polvi says. “Now there are many companies with massive server farms.”

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Lumoid

Lumoid

Lumoid is bringing a Zappos- and Warby Parker-style, try-before-you-buy experience to consumer electronics, starting with camera gear. The company ships a box of products to members; they can purchase the items they like immediately, and ship the rest back.

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Senic

Senic

Precision digital measuring devices are replacing old-fashioned physical measuring devices in most workshops and construction sites. Senic is building precise distance, temperature, and pressure sensors that upload their data to smartphones. Its first product is a laser range finder that can measure distances up to 60 meters and report findings to iOS or Android devices via Bluetooth.

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[Headline updated to reflect accurate startup count of 45, not 46. That'll teach you not to do math in your head at 2 in the morning.] One secret to getting through yesterday’s Y Combinator Demo Day, if you were one of the 800 people enduring three hours of presentations at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, was to ignore the perky “We’re X for Y” shorthand summaries employed by so many startups.

“We’re Yelp for Latin America,” said one startup. “We’re Git for documents,” said another.  “We’re eBay for capital equipment.” “We’re Stripe for shipping.” (Also: “We’re Stripe for printing.”) “We’re Uber for flowers.” (Also: “The Uber of food.”)

Such comparisons get a startups’s idea across quickly, without stretching the listener’s mind too much; they’re used to pitch TV shows and movies for exactly the same reason (“it’s Annie Hall meets Splash“). But these glib descriptions are usually incomplete, even misleading. Worst of all, they make it sound like today’s Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are no longer innovating, but simply recombining bits of previously successful companies into Franken-startups.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The 45 startups that debuted publicly at yesterday’s pitchfest were, as a group, as daring and impressive as any I’ve seen (and I’ve been going to YC demo days since 2010, when they were a lot smaller and less organized). There were companies out to replace e-mail, go Google Glass one better, and change the very protocols underlying the Internet. Others, meanwhile, are trying to stir up backwaters like the legal profession, banking, real estate, restaurants, mental health services, international money transfers, and the laundry business. For every predictable social-media-analytics or try-before-you-buy e-retail startup there was something genuinely surprising, like the True Link credit card for cognitively impaired seniors.

I’ve summarized all of the public pitches in the captions for the slide show above, in the order they were presented. (Three companies gave off-the-record pitches.) My picks for the companies to keep a close eye on: Amulyte, Ixi Play, Hum, True Link, SoundFocus, Crowdery, and CoreOS.

Here’s another tip for audience members struggling to stay alert through dozens of demos: ignore the charts claiming “30 percent week-over-week growth” and “a $4.5 billion total addressable market.” If a tiny, early stage company sells one widget in the first week of its existence and two widgets in the second week, it has achieved 100 percent week-over-week growth. If its product serves a major market, and it’s the lucky outlier that ends up making other offerings look obsolete, then yes, the company may eventually be able to put b’s in front of its illions. Until then, such bluster says nothing about its real merits.

YC teams are evidently coached to dazzle the gathered investors with lots of dollar signs, and to brag about any goofy metric that’s at hand. If I were presenting, I’d want to talk about my product and how it’s different. But then, I’m a storyteller, not an entrepreneur.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.