If you've met me (or read any of my posts, really), you know all about my enthusiasm for Atlanta Startup Village. And one of my favorite things about it is the visibility and practice it offers to fledgling companies and founders. While it's frequently terrifying, learning about your startup's strengths and weaknesses from an experienced audience is also absolutely invaluable.
However, there's definitely been a heavy tilt towards the B2B tech space. This isn't surprising, considering that it's hosted at the Atlanta Tech Village, but it can also feel like a weird fit for entrepreneurs with a B2C focus or a more abstract concept.
If you're one of those entrepreneurs, fear not: There is now a place for you, too! In keeping with their mission of creating beautiful startups for consumers, Switchyards Downtown Club has just launched The Consumer Show, a monthly pitch event that is — you guessed it —only for startups that build products for consumers.
Structured much like ASV, The Consumer Show features beer (of course), and then five pitches for five minutes apiece, followed by five minutes of Q&A. However, they've added a little twist, as each presenter will also have to answer two questions from the moderator: (1) What can the community do to help their startup the most? and (2) What have they done really well, so what could they give back to other consumer startups?
So okay, let's get down to it! For the Inaugural Edition of The Consumer Show, here are your five presenters (each accompanied by walk-on intro music of their choosing, because, why not):
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Loblolly: A Mattress Made of Dreams | Starting the night off strong with an intro of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " was Mason Poe, founder of Loblolly. The company's mattress, which is a one-type-fits-all "11 inches of sleepy goodness" available in six different sizes, is sold only online and shipped to your door. With no store overhead, the company can cut thousands off the consumer price, which certainly helps with the go-to-market strategy.
What did they do really well? The Loblolly brand and the brand experience. "Differentiating your product isn't just around the logo, it's around the club. Carve out your niche."
— Loblolly —
From a strong tie to the South (all the beds are made in Atlanta, and the name comes from the traditionally Southern Loblolly Pine) to a commitment to building relationships and changing the entire buying experience, Loblolly truly blew me away. I cannot write enough here about how strong I felt their presentation and answers were: They embraced competitor Casper as helping build category awareness, and have a really smart strategy working with Airbnb hosts and other overnight accommodations to build their brand. They clearly had done their research and were ready for detailed audience questions, but were honestly more focused on adoption and customer service than anything else. They know who they are as a company and know where to focus on values, and this is going to pay off for them.
I absolutely loved the pitch, and you can bet they'll be at the top of my list when I start shopping mattresses next! (And "next" may now be "very, very soon!")
5 for Friends: Keeping In Touch Has Never Been Easier | 5 for Friends is "a mobile app that makes it easy and convenient to verbally keep in touch with family and friends ... 5 minutes at a time." Cofounder Scott Speed, who calls himself an "accidental tech entrepreneur," explained that the idea came from a personal tragedy which caused a friend he hadn't spoken with in awhile to reach out. He thought that people shouldn't have to wait for a "big" reason to connect, but that life tends to just get in the way sometimes. (And in fact, Scott says people spend more time texting and scrolling than actually talking on their cell phones! Not that I'm ever guilty of this...)
What did they do really well? Perseverence: The fact that they even got to this point, since Scott was completely new to the tech entrepreneur space, and they had a bad experience or two with finding the right developer. "Lack of experience isn't unique, it's how you deal with it."
— 5 for Friends —
So Scott came up with the concept of 5 for Friends. It makes it easy to verbally keep in touch with friends and family, five minutes at a time, rather than talking to people's voicemails. How it works: You open the app and post out, "I got five." This sends a notification to everyone you've invited into your network, and they can call you for free — from anywhere in the world — for five minutes to chat. Simple, yes?
Scott says they're in Phase One now, and are raising money for Phase Two, where they're be doing some front-end redesigns and add some new user components based on feedback (they surveyed 200 people on the idea before any development, and have been running trials with a 500-user cohort since, which was intentionally small so they could iterate quickly).
The audience questions here were mostly around logistics: How do you get friends on there (when you sign up it accesses your contacts and sends specified invites via text); what happens if you're no longer available (the default window is 10 minutes, so you could have two conversations based on first-come, first-served, but you can change that time frame); how does it cut you off (you hear a beep with 30 seconds left, and it does a "light closing" that thanks you for connecting when you hit 5 minutes). They've also got big plans: Phase Two includes a calendar tie-in and on-the-fly time frame customizations, as well as a potential B2B focus.
Yaystack: The best finds from your best friends | Word of mouth is everything, according to Yaystack founder Trey Roth. As a music producer whose majority of work came from friends' referrals, Trey already knew the power of sharing, but it came home to him when he posted a picture of some little-known headphones on Instagram, and multiple people mentioned they'd purchased the same ones based on his post.
What did they do really well? They were lucky enough to get some excellent advice from a startup mogul: "Simplicity changes behavior more than motivation." They apply this to everything they do.
What can the community help with? They want to work with cool vendors, so they curate heavily. They need recommendations: Send Trey (firstname.lastname@example.org) three companies you think are cool and worth sharing.
— Yaystack —
Yaystack believes that right now, companies are retaining all the monetary value from your recommendations, but you deserve access to that value as well. People trust friends' opinions; they process the information via relationships in entirely different ways than they process regular ads. And in the Yaystack world, sellers reward and buyers are rewarded.
So how does it work? In the app, you see posts with offers that can be redeemed only once you've shared them with friends. Out with the spam-like Groupon deals of old, and in with deals from people and companies you know and love! (For example, you can get a free meal for sharing an offer for a particular restaurant.)
Yaystack has been in beta in 2015, and officially launched last week. They've had some good local buy-in from vendors, and are running a marketing test with Chick-fil-a right now. Although Trey says they had the wrong method at the beginning, they've learned a lot and keep the mantra of simplicity at the heart of everything they do — they're banking that only a few clicks to monetize your recommendations is the next big thing, and I think they're probably right.
Faretrotter: Search planes, trains, and automobiles and so much more | As an ardent planner-of-everything, the entire concept of Faretrotter makes my OCD self supremely happy. As founder Justin Hill says, "Planning is hard." It's difficult to go from Point A to Point B, and account for different currencies, languages, preferred means of transportation, etc. He had a moment of realizing this while struggling to travel across Europe, and he wondered, why can't this be better? He saw a huge opportunity to aggregate the travel industry and experience.
What did they do really well? Being resilient and getting over brick walls. They had several restarts to find the right fit.
— Faretrotter —
Now here is what I will say about Justin and the Faretrotter crew: They are serious about this shit. They're not just taking an idea and running with it. They are digging down into the very baseline of what this app should do — what puzzle are they solving? Why? What are the pieces? He went from the idea in 2012, to working through the puzzle in 2013, to going back to ATL to build in 2014 ("the dollar lasts longer in Atlanta, and if you're going for funding, you should get the most out of it"), to a successful One Spark pitch in Jacksonville in 2015. And what did they do after One Spark? They scrapped the whole thing, despite positive feedback. It just wasn't right.
So they went back to square one and worked through it from the very beginning. In October 2015, they began looking at the problem of SEO. When you're planning to travel, what's the first thing you do? You go online. And how could a newbie to the scene make a dent in search results? Well, they did some media hacking and came upon an abandoned hashtag by a company who got bought out. So now they're the self-proclaimed "Commandeerer of #PriceMyTrip." (Honestly? Kind of love this.) And as of Thursday night, they relaunched as a brand-new enterprise, and you can Tweet at them using #PriceMyTrip with your trip parameters to get a customized travel quote.
Go on, you know you wanna try it out!
Nuryl: A brain training app to ''super charge'' your baby's brain | I think the premise of Nuryl is best quoted from their Web site: "Nuryl is an education-based company that uses High Information Music to stimulate your baby’s brain and boost cognition. Nuryl integrates principles of infant learning identified from decades of research in cognitive development into a music training curriculum." Essentially, the founders (Mike von Grey and Rick Beato) posit that a certain type of music, introduced during the "window of earning opportunity" (prenatal in the second trimester through the first year postnatal), can significantly impact the learning, development and retention capabilities of children.
What did they do really well? They had a good idea that's catching on.
What can the community help with? They are moving into "hyperdrive" on the app and looking for high-end game developers. They are banking that Switchyards, as a nexus for people who care passionately about these things, can help them find the right developer.
"We know how to start companies, we know music and its impact on the brain, but we are not deep techies. Rendering in consumer-based must be simple, elegant and flawless, and we couldn't translate the vision into reality."
— Nuryl —
Since I'm not a scientist or anything like that, I'm not going to weigh in on if this works or not (they referenced a variety of research not only in the presentation but also on their Web site to back up the hypothesis), but I will say that their business theory holds true — people will pay to avoid death, and for their kids. I'd say that the success of things like Baby Einstein are certainly proof of this, not to mention the rapid adoption of Nuryl's beta product and the 33-million-plus views of the video Rick's son, Dylan, demonstrating perfect pitch and other memory skills.
The majority of the audience questions centered around the reproducibility of the effect on Rick's son, as several people seemed dubious of the sample size of three kids being enough to go to market on. However, the founders said Nuryl has been approached by Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Vanderbilt and others, which indicates to me at least that there's some scientific basis to build on.
So if you're an experienced game developer looking for the next gig, Nuryl could very well be something to seriously look into.
Overall, Switchyards delivered yet again on a well-done community-building event, not only showcasing new startups but also growing the networking base for consumer companies. I'm looking forward to the next one in April, see you there?