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

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Zach Sims, Ryan Bubinski

“The easiest way for beginners to learn how to code.”

Programming is “the only skill that will matter in the future,” the founders of Codecademy argue, yet it’s hard for beginners to learn a new software language from books and videos. Its solution: interactive online exercises that teach coding in short lessons. Early demand seems to indicate the startup is on to something: since launching on August 19, it has amassed 250,000 users who have completed more than 2 million simple Javascript lessons. Already, companies like Microsoft and Groupon have contacted the startup to ask if they can use the platform to teach third-party developers how to use their application programming interfaces. The lessons are free for now, but as the company adds more lessons it will also introduce a pay wall.

My take: If I ever decide to give up journalism, learn Ruby on Rails, and apply to Y Combinator with my Groupon for Medical Marijuana Clinics idea, this sounds like the place I should start.


John Sun, Paul Zhang, Kevin Yu

“Automated credit counseling—Turbotax for debt relief.”

Every year 10 million people in the U.S. shell out $200 or more for credit counseling from a human advisor. But many of the tasks involved in credit counseling—especially gathering and analyzing financial data—can be reduced to software, Debteye’s founders say. They’ve built a self-service platform where users can input their account data, balances, payment schedules, and the like, and get back recommendations about how to pay off their bills, negotiate with creditors, and set up debt management plans.

My take: Highly reminiscent of a YC S10 startup called Ready for Zero, which-wait for it— uses the Web to automate the credit management process. But the business models appear to be different: Debteye charges (unspecified) fees, while ReadyForZero makes money on commissions when it refers customers for debt-consolidation loan or other financial services.

Double Recall

Robert Farazin, Rok Gregoric, Rok Krulec

“A new form of brand advertising for the Web and mobile.”

You’ve no doubt run into CAPTCHAs, the hard-to-read images that test whether you’re a human or a bot before admitting you to a website. You can think of Double Recall’s technology as CAPTCHAs for online publishers, but with two twists: the images are actually advertisements, and they function in place of pay walls. Before readers can proceed to a publication’s content, they have to prove they read and understood the text in the ads, by retyping two highlighted words. This process results in greater recall of an ad’s message, according to the startup—and that means advertisers are willing to pay more for Double Recall ads than for classic Web ads. Up to 12 times more, in fact. The company already has deals with publishers like Forbes and Conde Nast.

My take: As a writer, I’m in favor of anything that helps the publishing industry recapture some of the ad revenue it’s lost over the years. As a reader, I worry that complying with Double Recall’s demands will become tedious and intrusive, but it beats paying.


James Tampin, Andrew Lee

“A customizable chat system for your website.”

Site visitors who can chat in real time with other visitors stay four times longer on average, according to Envolve. Web publishers can go to Envolve’s site to design a real-time chat widget with a customized color scheme and branding, then embed the widget in their sites with a couple of lines of Javascript. Since going into business a year ago, Envolve has served four million users and now handles 300,000 messages a day. Service starts out free, but involves a monthly subscription fee that goes up with the number of simultaneous chatters; Envolve says its largest customers are paying it thousands of dollars per month. “We are becoming the default way for businesses to add chat to their web or mobile offerings,” the company says.

My take: Reminds me of Meebo, but with more customizability and without the ads.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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