I was going to open with the fact that this was the second sold-out Consumer Show in a row (which it was), but turns out that it was also the last of four sold-out events in a row, counting the July Consumer Show and the last two "On Doers" episodes into that total. Clearly, Michael Tavani and Dave Payne are doing a lot of things right with Switchyards events.
THE PITCH RECAPS:
BashBLOK: Make your bash a smash: Set a budget, organize tasks and collaborate with others for free. | Ever tried to juggle a limited budget, debate over location bookings, and argue over competing decoration and theme ideas, all while using different platforms to communicate with the multiple people "helping" plan the event? Do you feel like it's sucking all of the fun out of the special occasion?
What did they do really well? Creating original and compelling content on their blog and on social media, and connecting with their audience.
— BashBLOK —
Not to worry, BashBLOK co-founder Brittany Garman agrees with you. Brittany (whose walk-on music was a little Justin Timberlake that encouraged the crowd to get up and "just dance, dance, dance") describes BashBLOK, as "if Facebook, Pinterest and Mint.com had a baby." She wants to combine the project management aspect with the fun side of event planning, for small-scale events (think much lower than the 2,000-person parties many large event planners handle). With BashBLOK, users are guided through the process of planning, using a "Bash Board" for each event that has category collections, inspiration blocks, budget tallies, tagging options and more — for free! Users can even pull in local files or third-party connections such as Pinterest boards, and collaborators can comment to each other and discuss specific pieces of the event.
I'll be honest, my favorite part was the task page, where you can really tell that Brittany is a designer by trade and her co-founder, husband Will Garman (not her brother!) has a project manager background. The page is incredibly user-friendly: The tasks are categorized and match to the budget, and are broken down into individual items and overall cost, with the spend for each represented by bars that change colors depending on how close to the budget limit that item is. Bestill my OCD little heart!
Brittany says 45% of people who are planning a wedding use social and an online tool, but that drops to just 17% for all other events — and BashBLOK's target is to capture that leftover market. The company is finding customers mostly through social media right now, though they're also looking into partnerships with vendors, and are targeting consumers and smaller event planners who need less robust tools than the current premium-priced options. Although the company doesn't currently offer a "freemium" plan (it's simply all free for now), they do bring in revenue from ads on their high-traffic blog and an affiliate marketing program behind the scenes. They also eventually plan to incorporate vendors for purchasing products through the site, as well as an Evite tie-in.
And lest you think they are missing a demographic, they have been trying to think of ways to, erm, "attack the boys," as an audience questioner phrased it. Brittany said they've made the site gender-neutral, and their male-centric blog posts get hits, but the main issue has been that "guys kind of don't care" enough to plan like this. As the possessor of a husband who doesn't exactly plan things, I can only offer up bachelor parties and fantasy sports draft nights as suggestions for targeting stereotypical straight guys. (As Brittany said, "Maybe they can event plan what kind of keg to get?") Collaboration is the key to the right beer choice, guys, so maybe give BashBLOK a spin for your next sports get-together!
La Belle Bump: Unlimited maternity styles delivered to your door. | Founder and CEO Anita Rajendra's presentation of La Belle Bump was so impressive, my finance-loving guy friend (hi, Selim!) who was checking out the show told me it was his top pick of the night. He doesn't have kids, but he saw the possibilities in rentable maternity wear immediately. That's some pretty powerful stuff there, Anita!
La Belle, which Anita calls "Trunk Club meets Rent the Runway for pregnant women," is a unique marketplace intersection of clothing rental, stylists and maternity wear. To explain the dilemma La Belle is solving, let's use Jenny, their hypothetical target client. Jenny is in her early 30s, already has a toddler, and she works full-time. With a new baby on the way, her issue is what to wear. Buying is an expensive, complicated, short-term investment hassle that clutters up her closets with items she can only wear a few times as she goes through her pregnancy, and she can't use clothes from her earlier baby (if she even kept them on-hand) because styles have changed, her body has changed, and it may even be the wrong season. But she still needs new clothes to wear, and especially a professional wardrobe for work.
What did they do really well? They knock it out of the park with customer service, and have gotten countless emails thanking them for the amazing experience. La Belle provides premium, personalized experiences: The first package has a little gift for the mom and partner coupons, nicely done up in tissue paper, and then six weeks before the due date they send a baby book. Each package has a handwritten note, and they send multiple follow-up emails.
What can the community help with? They need help spreading the word about La Belle, and they're also looking for companies to partner with to offer discounts to employees as part of a maternity package.
— La Belle Bump —
The solution? Rent from La Belle Bump, which offers affordable, stylish clothes that Jenny can exchange whenever she wants, giving her access to an unlimited closet that's delivered directly to her door — one that's built on her size and style preferences, and curated just for her. La Belle's options include one special occasion box (which is a formal item, much like Rent the Runway), and two monthly subscription-based plans that allow unlimited styles and up to three or five items of clothing at a time, respectively. The mothers can exchange items or keep them as long as they want.
Maternity wear is a $2.4 billion industry in the U.S., and 70% of La Belle's initial survey said they'd try the service. They've had a 96% retention rate since they launched in 2015 (with lots of positive customer feedback!), and are now doing a soft intro of nursing wear, expanding their revenue stream. And there's not a lot of competition: Existing competitors have high prices, limited inventory and no "true" stylists because they use computer models. They're also not exactly paying attention to clients (tending to send summer apparel in winter, for example), so La Belle is outdoing them on the customer service side as well.
So let's talk pricing, because I know that's what you're wondering about: The highest-priced La Belle plan is only $99 per month, for five items at a time. Each of those items is approximately $150 retail (a typical maternity wear cost per item), so that's $800 per month if the mother had to buy a whole new wardrobe that fit her changing body, one that she actually could wear to work and feel professional in. With La Belle, she can have a stylish, properly fitting wardrobe for the entire duration of her pregnancy for just $900.
I know, right?
I can guarantee I'll be buying a subscription or two as gifts for pregnant friends, because all I can think is how I would feel if I couldn't fit any of my clothes and my choices were to go into penury for one or two stylish pieces that I won't fit for long, or wear stretchy pants to business interviews. I'm sold here, y'all!
Lawn.com: Affordable lawn care. No long-term contracts. | Okay, let's just get this out of the way: According to co-founder Charles Lumpkin, Lawn.com does not have an app. They do not have any plans to have an app. You cannot book through their Web site. You must call them, at their call center, and schedule your lawn maintenance there. I repeat: You must call them. You cannot book online. There is no app.
What did they do really well? Customer acquisition via their call center, rigorous price control and the ability to scale fast.
— Lawn.com —
Lawn.com is all about customer service, on a very personal level. They believe in speaking directly to you, "with a warm voice that understands your situation," they spend a lot of time double-checking their contractors' work, and they even guarantee your money back if you're not happy. They're "customer-service-centric" and "call center forward."
In fact, according to Charles, "Phone calls are the new black."
So okay, whether you believe this or not, let's talk details. To book through Lawn.com, you call them up, explain your needs, and book an appointment. Lawn.com covers everything else for you, from the hassle of payment (no more leaving checks under your doormat), to scheduling and consistency (no more praying the lawn guys actually show up that day), to getting what you expect (they have a feedback loop with customers and inspect the finished result for quality).
Charles says call centers have a 34% conversion rate, much higher than any other booking method, and this works especially well in the scattered lawn service market. He's passionate about his company, the URL (he calls it a "premium asset with intrinsic value," which I agree with) and about the call centers, and you can feel it in his presentation. The audience seemed skeptical, though, asking how Lawn.com compared to Uber, which also consolidated a scattered market. Charles says Uber is transactional and cell-phone-based, whereas with lawns consumers execute once, making it call-center-forward and not dependent on cells. Hence, no app.
I'll be honest here: I'm also skeptical. When I'm booking a service, I will actually pay more not to have to talk to someone (and I like people!), and I value anything that allows me to use my time efficiently, and put down in writing what I want, so there is no misunderstanding and there's a paper (well, electronic) trail. I use a mobile banking app, Hux, Instacart, Amazon Prime Now, OpenTable, DoorDash and Fandango, etc., and I am seriously considered using Tydee so I can use an app to get my trash from my door to a Dumpster 500 feet away. If given a choice, I will take livechat over listening to call center hold music. Every. Single. Time.
So I have trouble picturing regular usage of something that makes me have to stop what I'm doing, check if it's inside business hours, and then spend 10 minutes explaining things on a phone call. Of course, it's entirely probable that my father-in-law, who loves his lawn, is the right target: He very likely would much prefer talking on the phone to someone warm and friendly, to book a service that's quality-checked for him. So maybe I'm just not the target audience, and if so, more power to the Lawn.com team. I wish you guys well, because I do adore some solid customer service, and I hope I'm way off base here. Also, gotta love the URL!
In the meantime, I'm going to go pull up an app on my phone. I'm sure there's something I need delivered to my door.
Materiall: Perfect pieces, perfect prices: Design your perfect room. Then explore furniture at your price point, inspired by your tastes | Materiall (pronounced "material," not "materi-ALL") is a personal search application company that helps consumers find products where look is the first and most meaningful consideration. They're starting in furniture, which co-founder Kyle Norton said was an industry with problems: It's incredibly fragmented, has an inefficient word-based search, and poor search and purchase tools that were built in the 90s.
What did they do really well? After originally getting stuck in a "learning loop," where they talked to people and kept testing even though they saw the fit, they've now learned what's enough to indicate when they should move on to the next stage.
What can the community help with? If you've got an iPhone and iTunes, download the app and check it out, and send feedback to the team to tell them what you think. And if you like it, share with others!
— Materiall —
In contrast, Materiall tracks users as they react to what it shows them, and then uses "nerdy math" (Kyle's words, not mine; you know I like nerdy algorithms) to try to figure you out and determine what you're looking for, and then recommend an option from one of 40+ retailers they currently partner with. They even collaborate with retailers who have physical locations, so consumers can check out pieces online and touch-test them in the stores.
With 80% of furniture buyers starting online, and 95% of the $50 million furniture market is shopping without designer support, consumers need a partner. They can use Materiall to shop the look and budget, and the app supports them on the digital and physical journey with a recommendation engine and extremely effective retargeted ads that feature exactly what they're looking for, finally sending consumers to the right brick-and-mortar affiliate store.
Materiall has been heavily product-focused on testing, and now is working to acquire more users. They've been focused on using life events on Facebook for targeted ads (picking up consumers just as they are ready to make a big furniture purchase), and have spent a lot of time getting face-to-face in front of people in furniture stores. They have a core demographic of young professionals (slightly heavier in college-educated women) in urban areas, who have money but value efficiency, so they're working to increase targeting in that area.
I love this idea, and will be trying it out for my next furniture purchase. I mean, if you could find your next couch "within 10 swipes and in under 30 seconds," wouldn't you?
SidePrize: Let SidePrize handle your fantasy league dues for free | SidePrize is "an add-on to your existing fantasy league that helps ensure fantasy league collections [and] allows league members to enter real money weekly competitions." With the average player participating in 2.5 leagues, Adam Wexler, his co-founders, and VP Adam Lewites are going all-in on the fantasy sports industry.
What did they do really well? Perseverance. After some fantasy sports legal hiccups that coincided with the Dodgers Accelerator last year, they had a high burn rate and had to do some layoffs. Some investors wrote them off, but they think of themselves as a payments company, not a fantasy sports company, and now things are looking up. They're hoping for a "real raise" during the coming football season.
— SidePrize —
SidePrize exists at the intersection of online payments and fantasy sports, where $40-70 billion is spent annually. Instead of managing messy spreadsheets, clunky sports apps, and keeping up with which league members have or haven't paid, SidePrize plugs into the biggest existing fantasy sports providers and handles tracking and collecting for you, as well as some in-season action with side bets. Built on a partnered PayPal integration, the app lets players easily transfer money for challenges, and helps commissioners ensure everyone is paid up.
The company's monetization structure is evolving: Previously based on transaction fees which proved to be a hurdle to adoption, they now charge on the withdrawals, essentially only docking the winners. The next step will be connecting with Yahoo or other large providers and being the in-platform payment link, and the provider would then cover the fees.
Most audience questions centered around the legality of the business, as there have been various state and federal rulings over fantasy sports and the difference between Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and season-long fantasy sports. SidePrize is essentially just the payment system, and has worked through an approval process for PayPal (so you won't get banned for using them). And not to worry, if they get shut down for any legal reason, all the money from users is segregated into separate accounts and would be promptly returned (unlike some other recent apps in the headlines).
With a husband and friends who have been fantasy sports commissioners multiple times, I tried to share SidePrize as a solution (and don't get me wrong, the idea of an app that would handle the payouts and tracking sounded great!), but it seems that, so far, the fees are a block to adoption. SidePrize, I'm crossing my fingers for a Yahoo Sports integration, keep us posted!
Okay, guys, that's a wrap for the sixth Consumer Show at Switchyards; see you there next time?