Want a tour of Switchyards?
(And who doesn't?) You're in luck, Tavani runs them three times a week. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him you want in!
Proving that once was not just luck, the second Consumer Show at Switchyards yet again drew a hefty crowd and five top-notch startups to pitch. As Michael Tavani (apparently frequently) says, Switchyards is focused on getting the best ingredients to galvanize the B2C scene, and that was more than evidenced by the turnout last Thursday night. From Kanye walk-on music (don't worry, they stopped before it — allegedly — got "dirty" at the one-minute-mark) to live demos of body wipes (yeah ... that is exactly what it sounds like), the presenters engaged the audience and dug deep to answer tough audience questions. (No, but seriously, I think there was an investor plant this time. She asked some hard questions!)
Okay, I know what you're here for. Without further ado, here are your five presenters:
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Hux: Book the perfect cleaner, again & again. | Talk about a team that hustles! I have run into Hux everywhere recently, from back-to-back startup events (hey AJ, I see you out there!) to Hux cleaners making condos sparkle in my building, and their determination is paying off with a 5-star Yelp rating, Silicon Valley venture capital backing, and a recent expansion into Charlotte. And really, this is not a surprise — the process to find, vet, quote, book and pay a reputable, reliable and effective housecleaner is a struggle. As co-founder Stanley Vergilis said, this is an $800 billion local service industry problem, and one which Hux is solving, really well.
What did they do really well? Nailing the product. The Hux team spent two years building the site, and as a former provider in the service industry, Stanley knew the customer issues. They spent time making sure they had a product people loved.
What can the community help with? Hiring. With that recent round of seed funding, the team is expanding, so if anyone is interested in joining, please reach out!
— Hux —
With Hux, the "Uber of local services," you can go through all of those steps above and book online in just two minutes. No back-and-forth, no worrying over checking references, just quick, convenient, industry-disrupting, high-quality service. Make any changes you need, at any time, and handle it all with the app.
Many audience questions centered around expansion plans: They've just moved into Charlotte and are testing it as a market similar to ATL (and verifying the incremental costs); they're still targeting primarily condos for the moment (there's less to go wrong with small units); and they're remaining focused on house cleaning for now but may expand into other services later. Their cleaners are also heavily vetted, and must pass an aptitude test that is quite comprehensive (Stanley himself had to take it six times to pass!).
There were also concerns around whether the Hux cleaners are employees or independent contractors (shades of Uber!), and I thought Stanley's answer was excellent: It's all about control. Do you tell them how to do their job? If so, they're an employee. If not, they're an IC. In Hux's case, the cleaners don't get told how to do their job by the company; they have a personal incentive to do it properly because positive public feedback equals more business. (And if you're still not convinced, an audit on the topic said Hux was entirely compliant. Rest easy.)
Hux wants to be your total cleaning service solution, and is only going to get better with repeating the process and constantly adjusting based on feedback. So the next time you need someone to clean your baseboards (because, have you looked at them lately? Ew), you know where to go.
Vocatio: Discover your talent. Find your fit. | You know how when you're a college student, everyone tells you to do what you love? Okay, but how do you know what that actually is? Don't worry, college students, Vocatio's got you covered. They want to "bridge the vocational engagement gaps between students, employers and educators by leveraging content, assessments, and data analytics to improve the sourcing and matching of talent with employer opportunities."
What did they do really well? It's easy to assume that we "know" millennials, but they read between the lines to build brands. Vocatio has done a great job at emotionally connecting how millennials relate with how they view brands, and realizing not only that messaging and brand is important to them, but also how they process it.
What can the community help with? They've already raised a quarter of a million dollars through angel investors, and are looking to raise more, as well as looking for talent to add to the team as they grow.
— Vocatio —
I know, that was a mouthful, but what it boils down to that they take millennials and figure out who they are, what they want, what talents they have and where they want to go, and then match them with employer opportunities (with a proprietary "career readiness and engagement algorithm" and some licensed rights to trade technology, of course).
Why the focus on millennials? Because currently, they're the business problem: Founder Patrick Jones says companies are spending $60 billion to find and hire them, and yet most stay less than a year. Top-tier students are quitting top-tier jobs and walking out because they are not finding meaning in those jobs. "What you do" has contextual meaning for millennials (especially those with Liberal Arts degrees); their natural motivation to work has a higher attachment to needing a concurrent purpose.
Vocatio bridges the gap between sending kids down the traditional path of "It'll be okay, just go to the job," and the millennial mindset, and gives them someone to trust who "gets" them via inspiration and discovery. (And trust me, Vocatio knows what it's talking about — I practically had to restrain my friend Yvonne from leaping onto the stage to hug Patrick as he presented.) They are even starting as early as high school, so that hopefully they can advise kids all the way through the system until it's time to find a job; this is smart, as they'll be the "trusted brand" way before the kids know they even need someone to lean on.
As Patrick said, "You don't know what you don't know." Maybe the millennials don't, but it certainly appears that Vocatio does.
Giv360: A bold, new way to fundraise. | Who here has had coworkers show up with boxes of candy bars, raffle tickets or bake sale invitations for their kids' school fundraisers? And who here hates that? (No, Girl Scout cookies do not count, sir. They are blessed by angels and sprinkled with fairy dust.) And who here thinks that people would probably donate a heck of a lot more than the cost of a candy bar if this funding assistance were less intrusive?
What did they do really well? They've been able to bring together incredible organizations like Open Hand Atlanta, the Humane Society, and more with local schools; they're also talking to the Atlanta Zoo and the Georgia Acquarium.
What can the community help with? They need community ambassadors. Help support nonprofits by downloading and using the app. They're also looking for some consumer engagement and gamification experts, because "people are tired of downloading apps."
— Giv360 —
Giv360 thinks so, too. People are passionate about their communities' extracurricular activities, but there's no government funding for them, so many parents have to resort to this sort of social blackmail to help schools cover costs. These traditional fundraising methods are expensive, hard to track, and, more importantly, they ignore the opportunity of small businesses, which are truly the foundation of local communities.
Gary Liu and Quinn O'Neill want to change all that — their startup, Giv360, is a fundraising platform that leverages technology to "boost non-profit organizations' donations by tapping into supporters’ existing purchase behaviors and through partnership with local businesses." Users merely download the app, link up their credit cards, and add organizations they support. Then every time they dine or shop at participating local merchants, those stores donate a little right back to the groups of choice. Giv360's mobile app event has a map view and categories to help users find, say, a Mexican restaurant or an automotive shop, knowing that the money they spend there will go back to pre-selected good causes.
Right now, their focus is ITP, but they have some beta testers "in the burbs" (i.e., Henry County and Fayette), and they only just rolled out officially in February after a year of beta testing. One audience member asked if they had thought about software integrations, such as with Google, and the team was definitely open (they offered to buy the guy lunch to talk some more about it). With tokenized, military-grade encryption and a solid revenue concept (1% service fee, and will be rolling out "top of list advertising options" for local merchants in the search portion soon), users are warming up, giving an average of $60/month each.
So don't go back to blackmailing your coworkers with candy bars. Raise money seamlessly, 24/7, and Giv360 instead.
GoodWipes: Get fresh fast. Feel good on the go. | Yes, we are now going to talk about wet wipes. Premium ones, to be sure; flushable and gender-specific ones tailored to particular uses; but wet wipes nonetheless. Co-founders Sam Nebel and Charlie Siciak have no shame talking about this, and neither should you.
What did they do really well? Product development; they've been all sales and hustle and bootstrapped themselves to this point.
What can the community help with? An extension of what they've done well, now they actually need some help. They would like some voices of experience with where they go next, in terms of getting funding, etc. Sales are king, but they need a bigger team.
— GoodWipes —
The two met in college, and bonded over being "habitual baby wipe users." At first, their fraternity brothers made fun of them, but by the end of their time at school, most were converted. Sam and Charlie were baffled by the "social shame of being clean," and the lack of convenient options to achieve this. And thus, the idea of GoodWipes was born. Because they go wherever you go.
At this point in the presentation, Charlie grabbed one of the "really big body wipes" and started doing what he called a "live demo." True story. (Thanks for recording that for posterity, Jason Seagle. Someday, Charlie will be rich and famous and we'll all be able to say we watched him take his shirt off onstage. I felt like I should have thrown something at him but there was nothing at hand except a bunch of samples of GoodWipes ... and I actually wanted to keep those.)
So anyway. The wipes. They're all individually packaged, and all the good things: biodegradable, pH-balanced, alcohol-free, 100% flushable/dispersible, pretty much everything you could wish for. They're gaining social traction (already featured in Men's Journal, GrindTV, New Beauty and LiveStrong, among others), and are working toward the Container Store and Bed Bath & Beyond, and then onwards to airports (GoodWipes has reorders from 75% of their travel space users already).
Audience questions trended toward market specifics for GoodWipes: What's their inventory readiness (they have, and are creating, niche wipes for every use, so lots of peripheral products); are they a luxury item (sort of, but by targeting people who need them implemented into their daily routine, like gym goers or frequent fliers, they're finding people are leaning into the brand ... one audience member suggested the military, which was brilliant); and have they approached Kimberly Clark about packaging (no... but if you know someone, they'll take a meeting!). There were also some questions (including by my friend Mikael) on the true flush-ability of the wipes — while many on the market are not flushable, they say theirs are, and they break down on par with, or faster than, standard toilet paper (Charlie actually put one in a water bottle an hour before the show and it was already broken down).
I grabbed a handful of free samples (they threw them into the audience a la "making it rain"), and so far I've been pleasantly surprised by their softness and effectiveness; they're surprisingly durable for something that's flushable. Anyway, I've got a day trip to Talladega coming up and I figure, what better way to test how well they work than to cram into a car with a bunch of people (who've been out in the sun all day) for a 2.5-hour drive. I'll let you know how they hold up!
Virgent Realty: Home selling without the hassle. | The average price to sell a home is $15,000. The average Realtor spends 15 hours to sell it for you. I'm going to wait and let you do the math on that.
Yeah, I know, that depressed me, too. My hourly rate is nowhere near that!
But not to worry, there is now a solution to that craziness: Virgent Realty. Now, admittedly, the fact that CEO Benjamin Kubic entered the stage on a Beastie Boys song may make me a little biased, but I kind of love this company. They're taking something incredibly tied up in legal jargon and random fees and making it beautifully simple and accessible for pretty much anyone; what's not to like here?
What did they do really well? They've got awesome PR, mostly because of the "mismatch" of the two founders' backgrounds. They've been able to win more than 90% of the stories they've pitched to reporters with that angle.
What can the community help with? Get the word out about the company. The first point of referral for most real estate agencies is your friends, and the second is yard signs, so word of mouth is very valuable.
— Virgent Realty —
Virgent is a digital agency exclusively for home sellers. They charge a flat rate of $5,000 (that's an average savings of $10,000 for you math whizzes out there) for their end-to-end solution, and that's it; no hidden fees. You can list and sell your home online, from any device, and the process is so easy that they say most users never need help (they're pretty low-tech and the app was built based on client feedback). Not to mention that Benjamin says they have exclusively 5-star reviews on all channels. A few more data points for you: Virgent has listed $10 million in properties, with an 82% gross margin, and one acquisition offer. (The only truly surprising part here is that only one person has tried to acquire them.)
The backgrounds of the founders is also really interesting: With more than 25 years of real estate experience, Head of Real Estate Jude Rasmuth is consistently listed as one of the top three volume brokers in Wall Street Journal's "The Thousand," while Benjamin graduated from undergrad in 2010, has an MBA from Harvard Business School and no background in real estate, but says he just knows what he'd want to do if he had to sell a house.
The audience lit up with questions, so let's just sum up a few quick things about Virgent:
- They offer free home valuations, with no risk to the consumer, and those valuations to sales have been approximately 98% accurate due to tax records and other useful markers.
- It is exclusive to use their platform if you list, and they are a full-service, licensed real estate brokerage.
- The industry's average closing is 90 days; theirs is under 30.
- They're focusing on metro areas and suburbs because of the flat fee, so financially it makes sense to sell houses listed for above $170k.
- Their listings are available to buyers through all the traditional ways, like Trulia and FMLS, and they use the normal lockboxes for showings, plus text alerts for scheduling.
- For the buyer agents, there is a standard 3% that Virgent charges, but they give it back if it's not earned. (Beat that, local $15k-charging Realtors!)
- They've spent less than $10,000 in marketing, as there's a strong viral coefficient to the process. They are replacing the traditional real estate agents, not the "for sale by owners."
Virgent Realty is twice as fast, with margins three times as high and leads twice as high, as traditional selling options, and they're looking to raise a $500k seed round. Are you convinced yet? Seriously, either give them some funding or list your house because, either way, I don't think you're going to lose.
That's it for the second Consumer Show recap at Switchyards; see you there next time?