Y Combinator’s Summer 2011 Demo Day: The Definitive Debrief, Part 2

The Y Combinator startup incubator program in Mountain View, CA, is getting so big—63 companies presented at Demo Day this Tuesday, about half of them on the record—that we couldn’t squeeze summaries of even the on-the-record subset into a single article. Part 1 of our YC S11 debrief appeared yesterday and covered the first half of the alphabet, from Aisle50 through MongoHQ. Today we cover the second half, from Munch on Me through ZigFu.

Each listing includes a link to the company’s website, the names of its co-founders, the tag line provided by the company, and my summary. As a new element this time around, I’m also including my quick personal take on each startup.

Munch On Me

Jason Wang, Richard Din, Tony Li

“Get your Nom On.”

Munch on Me is a Groupon-inspired daily deals startup focused on specific restaurant dishes. The company argues that deals from Groupon and LivingSocial aren’t ideal for restaurants, since many deal buyers are bargain hunters who don’t contribute to repeat traffic. Munch on Me works with restaurants to pick a single dish and promote it for an entire week. The startup says that 75 percent of members who redeem an offer end up buying something else at full price, and that 100 percent of its early testing partners have stuck with the service. Munch on Me offers deals in six cities right now, and plans to expand to 30 over the next year.

My take: I was a little surprised by how many YC companies this year were simultaneously criticizing and imitating Groupon.


Chris Tam, Paul Chou

“Yelp for individual service professionals.”

Once you know that “individual service professionals” means bartenders, realtors, musicians, sales associates, and other people whose success depends on the quality of their interactions with customers, you understand what Opez means when it says it’s the equivalent of Yelp for these workers. At the Opez site, customers can leave reviews for specific professionals rather than their employers or venues, allowing them to build up a following that can boost their careers. Professionals might also be able to distribute promotions to their followers, “turning them into miniature Groupons,” in Opez’s words.

My take: Clever, but how often do you get the name of your bartender and remember to (or want to take the time to) write a review of him when you get home from the bar? Also, LinkedIn has a pretty big head start as a repository for professional references.


Jeff Widman, David Turner

“Analytics to help marketers be more successful in social.”

Facebook provides owners of fan pages with an analytics dashboard called Insights that can show trends in things like how many people visited a page or contributed content. But by grabbing other data available through Facebook’s public application interfaces, PageLever says it can assemble much richer analyses that help companies attract and engage more fans—for example, by advising them on when to post a newsfeed item to reach as many fans as possible. Disney, Starbucks, MTV, Nike, Target, and YouTube are already using the tool, and the startup says it’s bringing in $25,000 per month in revenue.

My take: With so many startups offering social media analytics tools for marketers, it was only a matter of time until one came along focusing specifically on Facebook fan pages. For companies with the kind of brand recognition that can bring them hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, I’m sure the extra data is worth the modest cost ($34 to $94 per month).


Hamilton Chan

“The QR code infrastructure for businesses.”

Paperlinks wants to “make the real world clickable” by making it easer for advertisers to generate their own QR codes—those funny-looking square barcodes that mobile phone owners can scan to obtain Web links or prompt some other action. Nestle, LiveNation, and GNC are already customers; one Paperlinks client, a takeout restaurant, is using the technology to create outdoor “vending machines” where customers can place their orders by scanning a code. “It’s one-click shopping for the real world,” says founder Hamilton Chan.

My take: QR codes, near-field communications tags, and other carriers of digital information are going to become far more common in marketing and commerce. Much of the work of generating these codes will probably fall to advertising agencies or printers, but Paperlinks looks like a good DIY option.


Tikhon Bernstrom, Kevin Lacker, Ilya Sukhar

“Heroku for mobile apps.”

Developers who write Web apps don’t have to take on the tedious task of maintaining the servers where those apps run, or the databases and other software the apps call upon; they can outsource all of that to platforms such as Heroku and Engine Yard. Parse provides a similar service to mobile app developers. It handles data storage, retrieval, synchronization, social sharing, notifications, user authentication, and other details that tend to be common elements in mobile apps, freeing developers to concentrate on the apps themselves. Google Ventures, Menlo Ventures, and individual investors have already put $1.4 million into the startup, which caters to both iOS and Android app developers.

My take: Paying a specialist to handle the server-side back end of your mobile application will be as common as paying a Web hosting provider to serve up your website. Parse won’t be the only such company, but it seems to have first mover advantage.


Paul Stamatiou, Akshay Dodeja

“The easiest way to send prints.”

If you upload or e-mail your photos to Picplum, they’ll print them and send a selection to the recipients you specify every month. It’s as simple as that. The company designed the service for busy new parents who wouldn’t otherwise have time to send pictures of their kids to the grandparents. It costs $7 per month to send 15 4″x6″ prints.

My take: I can see the attraction of the automatic monthly plan for busy parents. But in most other ways Picplum seems similar to other online photo printing services such as Snapfish; it may need to do more to differentiate itself.


Muzzammil Zaveri, Ethan Fast

“Optimize and monitor your Javascript.”

There’s a downside to the fact that modern Web technologies allow so much code to be executed in the browser rather than on the original server: developers can’t see what’s happening, so they’ll never know when things are going wrong. Proxino uses proxy servers, intermediate servers between a Web server and an end user, to monitor code running on client machines and inform developers when errors occur. Proxino shows developers exactly where an “exception” or error occurred by highlighting the affected function in the code.

My take: Sounds like a great tool for small businesses and independent developers. This kind of thing is standard practice for Web giants like Google, and it’s time the techniques were available to the common programmer.


Jayant Kulkarni, Adam Regelmann

“The online marketplace for life science supplies.”

Quartzy’s founders are former biology researchers who know how ill-equipped most academic and commercial laboratories are to track and manage their inventory of supplies such as chemicals and antibodies. They’ve built a free online program that helps with this. But the software has a Trojan-horse aspect: it’s designed so that it can be converted into a marketplace where labs can also buy supplies. Some 5,000 researchers are using the system, including folks at places like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, UCSF, and the NIH.

My take: It’s great to see companies like Quartzy and Science Exchange (see next listing) recognizing that business practices in the research world are ripe for disruption.

Science Exchange

Dan Knox, Elizabeth Iorns, Ryan Abbott

“An online marketplace for outsourcing science experiments.”

Science Exchange is one of only two startups in the entire batch of 63 companies with a woman co-founder: Elizabeth Iorns, a former cancer biologist. The company notes that 20 percent of commercial scientific research is outsourced to contract research organizations with special equipment and expertise, but only 2 percent of academic research is ever outsourced; its hypothesis is that a lot more science would get outsourced if there were a convenient marketplace, preferably one integrated with university purchasing systems. That’s what Science Exchange is. Since coming out of private beta testing just a week ago, the company has signed up 1,000 researchers, who have outsourced $100,000 in services; the startup makes money by charging a commission on signed contracts.

My take: Academic research is a strange cross between high technology and medieval university politics. Any service that helps to modernize the process will benefit scientists, patients, and funding agencies, and (ultimately) taxpayers.


Michael Dwan, JP Ren

“Where you’ll keep all your photos.”

Cloud-based photo storage and sharing services like Flickr and Photobucket have been around for years, but most people never bother to upload their images, meaning they sit forever on personal computers, where they’re vulnerable to theft or disk failure. Snapjoy says it designed its new online photo storage system to be simple and easy to use—you still have to upload your photos, but Snapjoy automatically arranges them into groups by date. And it’s free for now, with no storage limit.

My take: I’m on the lookout for a new photo storage and sharing service, as my longtime favorite, Flickr, seems to be on the downswing. Snapjoy could be it, but so far the feature set is limited-it’s really just a place to back up your photos in the cloud, with the added ability to view them and share them with one person at a time.


Jason Chen, Byron Milligan

“Google Wave Done Right.”

Google Wave was a good idea executed badly, in the view of the Stypi founders. They’re building a system that brings the best aspects of Wave—namely, real-time collaboration on documents—back to life starting with a specific case, collaborative software coding. The startup’s home page is a document that anyone can edit. In the future the company hopes to support other kinds of collaborative work online, such as 3D modeling.

My take: Other companies have tried real-time collaborative document editing, but Stypi may win through its simplicity.


Kulveer Taggar, Srini Panguluri, Omar Seyal

“The NFC Platform.”

Some new Android phones already have near-field communications (NFC) chips built in, and these chips will likely be inside all phones within a couple of years. Tagstand, which has already raised $550,000, sells NFC stickers (thin, flexible RFID tags) that can be programmed to pass information to an NFC device. It also offers an online tag manager program that lets users reprogram their tags from the Web. “Our vision is for a world of NFC devices, all running Tagstand,” the company says.

My take: NFC is coming. But like Paperlinks in the QR code area, Tagstand will need to show that it’s got the simplest, cheapest technology for managing the tags in order to leapfrog other providers.


Jake Jolis, Mikael Bernstein, Fred Wulff

“The instant way to learn a language.”

My own tag line for Verbling might be “Rosetta Stone meets Chatroulette.” The startup has created a website where users can learn each other’s languages through “dual immersion”—i.e. live Webcam video. An English speakers learning Spanish, for example, might spend five minutes talking with a Spanish speaker learning English. There’s a timer that tells video participants when to switch languages, and a rating system that lets users review one another as language partners. Eventually, the company will use the ratings to create a pricing scheme driven by demand for the best partners.

My take: Brilliant—there had to be something redeeming in the Chatroulette idea. But other startups such as LangoLab, a TechStars company, have tried this exact concept, without getting a lot of traction.


Michael Litt, Edward Wu, Devon Galloway

“YouTube for business.”

More and more companies are embedding videos in their websites, and many of these videos are actually hosted on YouTube. But while using YouTube may be free, it’s a “terrible idea,” according to the founders of Vidyard—the main reason being that when viewers follow a link back to YouTube, the video will be surrounded by other content that’s out of the business’s control. Vidyard offers professional video hosting, with the added bonus of real-time analytics that show who’s watching a video right this moment. Some big companies are already using the service, including Coca Cola and Ernst & Young.

My take: At first blush, this feels like a step backward in time, to the era when companies had to pay a lot of money to companies like Brightcove or Ooyala to get their video online. And the attraction of YouTube is not just that it’s free—it’s also social, meaning your videos can be more easily discovered. But if Vidyard can marry the ease of YouTube with the control and customizability of Brightcove, at a low price, the combination may appeal to a lot of businesses.


Peter Clark, Cesar Alaniz

“Video voicemail.”

As mobile phones with front-facing cameras become more common, more people will want to use the cameras to record brief video messages and share them with friends or family. Transmitting these videos is the problem—it’s currently a bit tricky to attach them to e-mails or text messages. Vimessa makes an iPhone app (coming soon to other platforms) that lets users create and share short videos with friends who also have the app. “It’s the ease of SMS meets the magic of video,” the company says.

My take: There’s lots of innovation going on around mobile video sharing, whether synchronous or asynchronous. Some of it is coming from phone makers such as Apple, some from companies like Thrutu and Tokbox that have telecom industry experience, some from independent developers. I think a small startup may have trouble getting a foothold. Vimessa’s best bet may be to position its technology as a feature of some larger system, and aim for acquisition.


Amir Hirsch, Ted Blackman, Shlomo Zippel

“The market for motion apps.”

Motion control—what used to be called “gestural interfaces”—is finally going mainstream thanks to devices like Microsoft’s Kinect. But makers of motion sensor hardware have been slow to release software development kits that allow independent developers to build their own motion-controlled applications. ZigFu offers a development environment that lets programmers adapt their games or other software for the Kinect and other motion platforms from Asus, Lenovo, Panasonic, and other manufacturers.

My take: With motion sensors likely to be integrated into most smart TVs and game consoles in the future, there’s going to be a huge need for software development tools, and for the moment ZigFu is filling that vacuum.

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

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