Nothing makes me happier than seeing startups really nail their pitches. And last week, I got to see three companies I already follow take their pitch game to a whole new level, and discover two new (to me!) companies bring it like they were born to it. Switchyard's monthly Consumer Show: Giving you the chance to confirm and discover which ATL-based B2C startups to keep an eye on since ... okay, March 2016, but every good thing started somewhere.
With a killer lineup and a really impressive turnout for an event that's only in its fourth month, the Consumer Show is truly becoming a coveted destination for consumer and design startups in the area. It doesn't hurt that it's hosted in a space where you can really feel the hustle of the people who are there grinding it out every day, pouring their hearts and souls into their ideas and dreams. That feeling is tangible — I had a friend swing by for last month's event (hi, Mariel!), and though her job in nursing is pretty far from the startup world, even she felt the good vibes in the space, and commented on them more than once.
Anyway! I digress. Moving right along from my fangirling over Switchyards and on to the pitch recaps:
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Chuice: #FuelBetter: The juice you chew! | Yes, you read that right. This is juice. That you chew. (If you're like me, you're imagining something like Jell-O right now. This is inaccurate. It's a drinkable juice, it just has some extra crunchy little seeds in there ... kind of like a glass of water with crushed ice.) Sound weird, I know. But stick with me here, I think you're going to like it.
Chuice says it's "35 fruits, veggies, herbs, nuts and seeds = total body health in a bottle," and their goal is to change the wellness game. They have science behind them, too: CEO Sujit Sharma, who calls himself an "accidental entrepreneur," is a doctor by day at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and founder Ladell Hill (who also founded Taste of Earth) has spent 30 years studying the chemical compounds in plants and determining what our bodies' organs need to run efficiently.
What did they do really well? Finding a good CEO and strategic investors, and taking Chuice from a "lemonade stand" to a business. They're now building the brand and were able to take generations of learning to get the concept on shelves. They are, in fact, relaunching the brand this week!
What can the community help with? Chuice has a mission of helping people appreciate being alive, and they want to assist Switchyards members to take care of themselves. Startup life is hard, and Chuice can help!
— Chuice —
The Chuice team says that obesity is a serious problem, and that in 30 years, America's current approach to promoting food will be seen the same way that society now views old cigarette advertising. Ladell has been trying to formulate a juice that can slow down premature aging for decades (he even says he got shot down by Sanjay Gupta 15 years ago, though they're now friends and Ladell intends to one day "show Sanjay a thing or two about health"), and ended up hitting on something chewable because that helps break down amylase and improves digestion. Chuice is now carried in several natural food stores in Atlanta and has hit the shelves of multiple area Whole Foods.
Audience questions ran the gamut: The amount of protein in a bottle (4 grams, composed primarily of things like hemp seed and walnuts); how to drink it (most people replace one meal a day with a bottle of Chuice, which is quite filling); how they plan to make a $6.99 bottle accessible to people who need it the most (they're relaunching a $4.99, 8-ounce bottle this week, and believe that working to move into mainstream shelves will help expand reach to "food deserts"); and what's proprietary about it (while not proprietary exactly, the process and manufacturing are entirely self-created, and it's taken Ladell 30 years to make it taste good at the same time — it'd be a difficult act to follow).
Chuice is now moving to work on the packaging, hoping to create something biodegradable and good for the environment. They don't intend to expand the current portfolio of drinks, but rather take the time to perfect what they now offer. They want to create a new kind of company that changes people's health and impacts aging. And I think they're going to find believers in their product, not least because Ladell — who practices what he preaches and drinks Chuice for the first half of every day — is 51 but looks years younger. (I'm not making this up.)
So next time you're in Whole Foods, skip the sodas. Make a healthy choice, and chew on some Chuice.
Fittery: Find your perfect fit: Solving the online clothing fit problem | Fittery is one of the companies I mentioned already following; I wrote them up when they placed second at the TechCrunch Meetup back in March, and founders Catherine Iger and Greg Vilines have spent the time since very wisely. Winning a coveted spot in the New York Fashion Tech Lab 2016 class has given them access to retail mentors like Bloomingdale's and Kohl's, not to mention a boost in technology with NYFTL's newest partner, Microsoft.
As Catherine said (and as any man who's tried on multiple brands of 34-inch pants will tell you), "Human bodies come in all shapes and sizes, but the problem is shopping, because clothes sizing is so inconsistent." In fact, in a $64-billion-per-year online clothing industry, returns cost retailers $18 billion (that's approximately a 30% cost, if you were doing the math). Well, Fittery aims to change that, for both consumers and retailers, by creating a world where you order online, and you know it will fit.
What did they do really well? In the beginning, they decided they knew what success looked like — reducing return rates significantly — and they worked hard, with a singular focus, to say with confidence that they could do that.
— Fittery —
Sure, there are a few existing ways to do this: size charts (and who here has ever actually gone and gotten a measuring tape to ensure that chart made sense, and who here has just guessed? Yeah, thought so), and size finders (which aren't trustworthy, really, because it's a size, not a fit; those pants or that dress may still be too long or too short or too wide, whatever). But consumers don't want to put the effort in, and they're sure not going to spend time measuring. Enter Fittery, a plugin that drops neatly into the retailer's Web site and asks just a few quick questions about height, weight, and fit preference. In under 42 seconds, the consumer gets results that are curated to their preferred fit, with a fit rating and analysis of what parts of the item will fit in what way.
Fittery also offers retailers fit insights, because it turns out that brands know pretty much nothing about their customers except what they've bought (shocking, I know). The insights give retailers data for product development, inventory selection ("Carry this brand of shirt and you'll sell 17% more to your customers!") and more. And they've spent hundreds of hours working to ensure their data was right — the industry standard is a 30-40% return rate, and their algorithm reduced it to less than 5%; they also have the best body sizing input, with a benchmark that's 34% better than the industry leader.
There were only a few audience questions, mostly around how they know to trust what the brands say about their sizing (they actually get the spreadsheet that the retailer gives to the factories, which are typically accurate within 1/8 of an inch); what they do for, say, tall men and short women (they're already isolating data for people they're not currently serving as well, and are working on fit demographics for all); how they identify retail partners (NYFTL has been key in helping them locate new brands, and they're using that base to expand their contacts); and plans for in-store kiosks or other physical options (they're already talking with Kohl's and others about what that might look like).
With women's clothing on the horizon as well (they estimated six months), Fittery is going to be coming soon to a store near you. Find your perfect fit.
HireWire: Let your next job find you | If you've ever worked in the service industry or run a restaurant, you know that there are some serious problems with the current hiring process. CEO and founder Chau Nguyen agrees, and says it's not only broken, but way overdue for disruption. His solution? HireWire. It isn't just another job board; it's "an on-demand hiring marketplace where employers can connect with job seekers in real time."
Chau, who sold his previous company, Campus Special, to Chegg, is a self-deprecating kind of guy who claims he usually needs three beers to get up and pitch. He says he only came up with HireWire because 10 days after he sold Campus Special and "retired," his wife told him he had to get out of her hair and do something. He looked around and realized that the hourly hiring system used outdated tools that didn't meet the right needs, and was ripe for change.
What did they do really well? Word-of-mouth marketing. They've been hosting job fairs and doing a lot of guerilla marketing on campuses and around town (though they "know nothing about any signs"...) and have been lucky that by getting employers, those then act as the magnets that pull in job seekers.
What can the community help with? Spread the word among friends, kids or anyone you know working in the service industry to help build their marketplace. They're also looking for good team members who think hiring is broken and are passionate about fixing it.
— HireWire —
With HireWire, prospective employees don't actually apply; they just create a profile in less than five minutes, with a 60-second video interview answering four questions, and specify things like work hours, pay, and travel minimums. Employers can then search a pool of candidates that meet their requirements, and pay to connect with qualified applicants. Instead of taking days to hire poorly vetted applicants off Craigslist, employers can screen and hire in as little as 24 to 48 hours. They find the right people faster, spend less time interviewing, and have a higher conversion rate.
The market is loving it: HireWire launched in January in private beta, and now boasts over 1,000 employers in Atlanta (including Chick-fil-A, McDonald's, Waffle House ... the list is huge!) and more than 10,000 job applicants. (Investors love them, too: They raised a $2 million seed round, and have raised $4 million to date.)
There was a really interesting Q&A centered on the fact that the service industry is rife with high turnover, and how they addressed that for both employers and employees: HireWire says they help reduce turnover by giving companies better insight so they can hire the right employees rather than just being desperate to fill a shift, and the app's next release will include job seeker reviews on employers, which will build trust by allowing them to also address why some jobs didn't work out. They create a world of supply and demand that's not normal in job hunting, for either side. Good help may be hard to find, but I'll bet it's a heck of a lot easier with HireWire!
PRIVET: Put on your PRIVET. Share your life. Not your identity. | PRIVET is a geo-located, self-policing social network where "you can be real, open, honest and anonymous." Cofounder Titania Jordan calls it "Dear Abby meets Cosmo, in real time." It's not the standard highlight reel you see on most social networks, it's your "real reel." And the content is their star performer. To prove it, Titania called up volunteers to read aloud some posts, a la "Celebrities Read Tweets." And I'm here to tell you that there's nothing like hearing Michael Tavani passionately emote a random post about having had to pee for hours, and then give the audience an aside that it's also apparently true.
What did they do really well? They've built a product people love. They started out by targeting protective moms, and from there have built a passionate following that rarely has the need to delete a spammy or "troll" post because of the great culture and community.
What can the community help with? It turns out that PRIVET is, essentially, "anti-viral." Users love it, but won't share it with others because they are so afraid that a friend or neighbor will recognize them in the post. PRIVET needs an assist to build up their viral coefficient, and help to figure out how to aid users in forming alliances without breaking their anonymity.
— PRIVET —
The second of the three startups I've been following, PRIVET is also a personal favorite of mine. (No surprise there, I'm the target demographic — female, over 30, college-educated — that makes up 80% of their users). I'm also one of their very active users (32% are in the app daily). I find it funny, and inspiring, and motivational; and sometimes, yes, it makes me sad. But it's also extremely liberating, because you can pour out your heart and soul, rant or vent, and the incredible community PRIVET has built will be there for you. You get the chance to ask and tell what you really think and feel.
The audience was understandably skeptical, in this day and age, whether "anything is truly anonymous." Titania said PRIVET is anonymous as much as anything can be, with controls in place, the existing technology, and a virtuous team. And as for monetizing the data, PRIVET is on it — they ask their users tons of questions with polls, and can then serve up native ads that are much more relevant than other social platforms' options.
Interestingly, PRIVET also capitalizes on the fact that while other social networks build on the "perfect" version of people, it embraces how people really feel. Consumer brands are flocking to the idea that they can target customers who will pay for items that address the areas they wish were different, versus things like tiny bikinis on perfect vacations with perfect partners.
So if you've got something to say and you don't know who to tell, I encourage you to give PRIVET a try. You might just find the answers you've been looking for, and a community you didn't even know you needed.
SwatchPop: Interior Design on Demand | The last of the three companies I mentioned, I first met SwatchPop when they took home the grand prize in March at the TechCrunch Meetup for an extremely slick presentation of an extremely good product.
Founders Kristen Manning Yonson and Jessica Mcrae started SwatchPop based on their own experience struggling with how to style small areas of their homes (yes, they're quite aware that not knowing the right vase to put on a table is a truly "first-world problem"), and how easy it was once they consulted a designer friend. They immediately saw the potential: Working with a professional designer on a whole room or house is expensive and time-consuming, and most people don't need it at that scale. They just want to know how to make their couch look like it does in the catalog picture.
What did they do really well? They pride themselves on delivering amazing customer service. With a background in CRM-driven businesses, and a model that's incredibly subjective, they know that wowing customers is really important. With a repeat customer base of 30-35% each month, they've done very well with limited marketing.
What can the community help with? With their new funding, they want to expand their marketing efforts beyond just social, and need to talk to others who have had success in other areas to get some advice.
— SwatchPop —
SwatchPop is a "realistic approach to home decorating." As a user, you just register on the site, create a design profile, rank a series of looks as love or hate (with comments on what or why), and even link to Pinterest inspiration boards. At that point, you can start a project (they call them "dilemmas") by just picking a room type and a project size; it can be a whole room or just the right rug or paint color. The first dilemma is $49, and the price drops to about $30 per dilemma after that. And then ... you wait just three business days and you get a full solution, renderings, descriptions of the items to buy, where to buy them, and how to style them. That's it!
SwatchPop launched in January 2015 and was profitable by June. In November, they added affiliated marketing streams, and they raised a round of capital just last month, which they will be investing in a new version of the site and some additional algorithms for item suggestions and sales. With more than 2,000 users, 20+ designers, a 15% growth rate month-over-month, and more than 800 projects completed, the company is poised to go big.
The audience seemed a little skeptical of the business model, and extremely concerned about how they planned to scale. Kristen and Jessica agreed that the current Web site has only one "lane" or call-to-action, but that's a target for redesign now that they've had the recent round of funding. They also spend a lot of time blogging and offering tips and seasonal decorating advice, which brings more people in via content, engages them with the brand, and introduces SwatchPop solutions in the process. In terms of scaling, they are seeing the early adopters return and grow their base (though only 5-10% of their current users are men, so they do want to increase that demographic as well), but the main area they want to focus is increased marketing channels since the high click-through rate they now get on Facebook ads has driven much of the business up to now.
The most important point was that they have had no trouble attracting qualified designers (and in fact had to turn off a Facebook ad because so many applicants came in), as they remove hurdles like commuting to clients and the back-and-forth minutiae, and allow designers to do the creative part they love in a condensed cycle. Many of their designers (especially technologically savvy recent graduates) are doing it on the side as an added revenue stream, and SwatchPop is also working to offer a referral program to bring in qualified designers organically. So, audience skeptics, fear not: The supply and demand are there ... by design!
That's a wrap for the fourth Consumer Show at Switchyards; see you there next time?