If you read my blog and haven't found your way to Switchyards or an installment of the Consumer Show yet, what are you waiting for? I write about this every month, people. You know where it is, and you know how awesome it is. Get yourself to downtown already. It's where all the cool kids are.
PSA over. Let's get down to the pitches!
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Activvely: The premiere social-pairing app that connects you with people who want to do what you do! | Founder and CEO Stefanie Jewett moved to a new city and wanted to connect and explore with like-minded people, but couldn't find a way to do it. Shockingly, there wasn't an app for that. So, she started activvely: (Yes, the colon is part of the name. I know it feels weird but let's go with it. Pretend it's a trendy little exclamation mark or something).
With activvely:, you just download the app, log in through Facebook, and tell it a little about yourself. What do you want to do (hiking, tennis, etc), when do you want to do it (are you a morning person? after work?), and how (maybe you like running in small groups, or maybe you're looking for just a single buddy). You set the activity, as well as preferred gender and age for matches, and then it works a lot like Tinder, where if you both thumbs-up, you'll get a match screen and can start chatting. It's like a dating app for exercise buddies, kind of (in fact, right after I wrote this in my notes, Stephanie actually called it the "intersection of health and fitness and online dating").
What did they do really well? Their level of focus. They've been laser-focused on their targeted demographic and know who they want to use the app. Then, they've marketed directly to that target, from online social media to physically going out to the ATL BeltLine, King of Pops yoga, etc. They're ready and poised for growth.
What can the community help with? Like them on Facebook and Instagram, and take out your smart phones right now (no, seriously, Stephanie and her friends mean RIGHT. NOW.) and download the app. Then, tell a buddy about it. They launch this week!
— activvely: —
If health and fitness is a $40 billion industry ($10 billion of it on mobile), and online dating is a $2 billion industry (with one in five young adults using it), then this is certainly a hot location to target.
Currently, activvely: is in MVP mode. They have 17 different fixed activities that are based on survey feedback of what types of exercise people want to do with a buddy, but they're open to adding more as people use the app and give feedback. They are starting with one-to-one connections versus groups, because they believe getting people to try something new is more palatable on a one-to-one basis. You can only choose one activity at a time, but once you match up for that activity, you can go back and change it to get new matches on the updated criteria. And on the near-term roadmap, they plan to provide suggestions for nearby activities once you find a buddy to match to.
If you don't know how to do an activity but want to learn, never fear: Activvely: also assists with that, allowing you to state that in your profile so that your "mentor" matches know up-front that they're taking on a newbie. There's no pressure and no strings attached to say "yes" or "no."
The activvely: team like Atlanta as a home base because with the busy airport and conferences, they feel business travelers will provide a constantly generating revenue stream. Though the app is currently free, once they have their user base set they plan to move to a "freemium" version where you get to see a full profile but cannot reach out without the subscription. They also like Atlanta because they feel it's a fairly physically fit city already.
I'll be honest, I wondered about that, so I found the most recent 2011 CDC data measuring adult obesity prevalence, which includes a measure of physical activity for metropolitan areas and geographic regions, and Atlanta didn't even rate in the top 50. It wasn't the worst, but definitely not the best. But who's to say that maybe the reason more Atlantans don't get outside isn't the lack an exercise buddy? If that's the case, they should try activvely:, where you don't have to do it alone.
Farrago Comics: Provides great comic books and graphic novels from top creators and publishers – for free! | Farrago CEO and co-founder Martin Fleischmann sure knows how to make an entrance: With a Batman costume and "evil henchmen" to knock out, of course! (Seriously, you should check out that tweet.) He also had a back-up Farrago Comics cape once the costume was removed, though the battle took a toll and he had to pause to find his equipment, because "even superheroes need a slideshow clicker."
What did they do really well? Their development has been relatively cheap (so much help from the TenRocket team!), which has enabled them to build the initial content management system and reader with not a lot of money. They've grown the content quickly, to 600-plus books, and gotten creators and publishers a lot of exposure. They've had a great reaction from the media (like the Washington Post), though they've held off on a PR blitz until they got through Beta testing. Essentially, they got a lot farther on $250k than they'd planned.
What can the community help with? Try it out now (and grab a reward from their Facebook page that'll only be offered to early pioneer members). They're also looking for investors for a $500k late-stage seed round to launch them off and push into a big Series A. They'd especially like to find some backers in ATL, as NYC and LA have been better for comic app funding so far. Join the fight for comic book freedom!
— Farrago Comics —
Martin and his co-founders have created the first free streaming app for comic books, because they want "free comics for all!" And that "all" is a pretty big audience — more than 110 million Americans, approximately one-third of the entire U.S. population.
In recent years, geek culture has gone viral, taking over popular culture in many ways and blurring the boundaries between mainstream and nerd culture (take a look at the insane growth of Comic-Con if you don't believe it). But the comic book industry has still been dominated by the names everyone knows (hello, Marvel and DC), who have no reason to change the $4-per-issue approach because much of their money comes from movies and other licensing of the comic book characters. That purchase cost is the same online as print, which means only 12 percent of sales are digital, and many users turn to pirated electronic versions instead of paying up.
With Farrago, that can change. They have no per-book costs, no monthly fees, and no hidden charges. What they do have is a Spotify-like streaming model that features a full-page ad every fourth page in their content, which has already grown to more than 200 titles and 600-plus books (the creators of those also earn a 50 percent revenue share). They have plans to move to a premium subscription model that would remove the ads for paying customers, and readers will be able to earn rewards or credits by things like taking surveys and buying more content and merchandise.
This is key: Those surveys and downloads then provide data, which can be sold to creators and publishers (who want detailed audience metrics), and film studios (who need to discover new talent and content). In fact, one audience member asked about original content, given the success of those on services like Netflix and Hulu. Martin responded that Farrago already had one original series from some high-level artists and writers, called Shrinkage (no, not the Seinfeld kind; yes, this got a laugh from the audience ... which is apparently made up of 12-year-old boys), and they plan for more once they're up. This will also allow them to target more diverse, under-served demographics and minorities (which is a huge issue in the mainstream comic world).
With excellent early market and public relations validation, Farrago looks like it can successfully create a new digital age of comics. In a land where the traditional comic book industry is in a decline, the creators and fans need a hero ... okay, and maybe a sidekick. Sidekicks are important. And, you know, they could always be the behind-the-scenes financial genius kind of sidekick. (Somebody's gotta buy all those capes, after all.) So the real question is, which one are you?
Gradschoolmatch: We connect students and graduate programs | Brian Clark, president and co-founder of Gradschoolmatch, asked the crowd what percent of college graduates they thought go on to attend grad school. I heard everywhere from three percent to 40 percent get thrown out, but nobody was anywhere close to the real number: A full 55 percent, which equals approximately 1 million new graduate students each year.
What did they do really well? Created an opportunity. Instead of just one door opened to undergraduate students, they've provided a big opportunity for programs to recruit students while opening multiple doors.
What can the community help with? Switchyards is great at feedback, and they welcome it. While the app is currently optimized for desktop, they have a lot more to do for the brand, messaging and experience to get mass adoption. They will be having a focus group on Friday, 9/16, and would love input on UI/UX, brand expertise and more. They also are hiring part-time for marketing and communications, so send them any recommendations or referrals!
— Gradschoolmatch —
What Brian and his co-founder, TJ Murphy, also know is that there are more than 40,000 graduate school programs out there. They know this because of how they met: Brian was a graduate student at Emory who had just gone through the school selection process, and TJ was a professor in the Emory school of medicine.
Brian had a background in collegiate athletic recruiting, and he knew how those programs operated versus how graduate programs operated. For example, TJ couldn't find pharmacology students, although if they knew what they were looking for, students could find TJ — the key words there being, "if they knew what they were looking for," as pharmacology requires a blend of several skills and isn't necessarily a career that leaps to students' minds. Not to mention, TJ was competing with universities like Duke or Vanderbilt for top candidates in a very small pool: The pharmacology PhD program brings in about 10 students per year, and pays about $80,000 to each. So the selection is incredibly influential to the program, yet there are few ways for the faculty and program coordinators to help find the right students.
From the student side, if you were to look for biomedical sciences options with a Google search, you'd have more than 2,400 programs to choose from. And there's no way to evaluate them against each other; in fact, most students randomly evaluate eight programs, and apply to just four. (Yeah, that sound you hear is graduate program faculties all being depressed right about now.)
Gradschoolmatch created a career center that solves all of these problems. It puts the program reps directly in touch with the students, and works a little bit like a dating site to show students their perfect program matches. The student builds a profile, puts it into a search, and a special match algorithm (built on criteria like location, student records and academic requirements) determines the top 40 programs that best fit that profile. Students can bookmark and express interest to the recruiters, who can send a return direct message. The programs themselves have access to all students on the site and can express interest in any students they like, actively communicating with and recruiting them.
Gradschoolmatch launched in 2013, and has been in Beta in the current version for just over a year. They now have more than 134 universities' programs signed up (it's free to join and advertise but there is a fee for programs to actively recruit on the platform). They have nearly 400,000 students on the app, and have been working with collegiate honors societies to build that number. With almost 80,000 programs bookmarked by students, the app appears to be gaining quite a bit of traction as well.
This sounds like a perfect match so, as one audience member asked, why wouldn't every program take advantage of it? I found the answer surprising, especially considering that colleges are spending so much money per student on these small-scale graduate programs: Most graduate programs don't have a dedicated recruiter. They're typically relying on one recruiter for every 250 graduate programs (which have 10-30 students in each), so there's no budget or infrastructure for anyone to accept responsibility for recruiting.
It seems like the ROI on getting a few more recruiters in to guarantee some top-tier student matches would make sense, but they didn't ask me. But if it seems like a no-brainer to you as well, help Gradschoolmatch out and take a few minutes to get them some feedback on the app. Oh, and recommend it to any universities you may have an in with. After all, you could be helping the right student find the right program that leads to a cure for cancer ... or just a very satisfying career option they didn't know existed. Either way, you're making a difference.
Uproar: The events app you'll love: Catch the hottest events in over 100 cities | Matthew Hagen, the cofounder and CEO of Uproar, wants to talk to you about FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out. Seven out of 10 millennials say they have experienced FOMO. Why? Because they're inundated with social media, and photos of friends doing fun things. In fact, three quarters of millennials say they're rather spend money on experiences instead of things, which is a nationwide trend: Spending on events has increased 70 percent since the late 80s.
However, there's no easy place that centralizes how to find all of those events. How to know if you're missing out? As Matthew says, "There's just one place for flights; why not a Kayak for events?"
What did they do really well? They've learned how, if people truly love your idea, they will help out for free. The amount of volunteers has been an amazing experience as they've built out the app. (Side note: Guys, the free labor probably isn't the best long-term plan. Here's hoping the revenue stream builds up so you can eventually pay people for their generously donated time. Or, you know, at least offer to.)
What can the community help with? Get the word out, and if you have an iPhone, download the app! They're also looking for funding, because the app until now has been entirely coded and built by the co-founders on their own, and they're in the market for some investors.
— Uproar —
Now, there's an app for that. With Uproar, you can "get loud, get out, and get social." Instead of an inefficient search of newspapers and pitch sites showing only what they're sponsoring, or the limitations of checking each Eventbrite or Meetup site one at a time, now you can find all the local events in just one area, with just one search. Uproar collects events from all the sources you need so there's just one place to look for all the events in your city. You can favorite categories, interests or venues, and see just the events you want to see. You can also search music genres or artists, and even invite friends to come with you to an event.
Matthew says the idea came to him and his cofounders when they were looking at an expensive music festival but realized they only wanted to see one particular act. When they looked for that act on Ticketmaster, there were no shows listed, even though they knew he was playing several more. The culprit: Those shows weren't sold through Ticketmaster, so their dates and locations weren't displayed.
This isn't just Matthew and his friends. Apparently, about 40 percent of concert tickets go unsold because fans don't know about it. Now, with Uproar, fans can search for a favorite artist and see the full tour schedule, no matter the event source. Once they click on the event, they can show which friends are already going, create an invite for others, and buy tickets. The app has more than 150 interests recognizable by machine-learning, so no matter how specific your niche (be it video games, break-dancing, ballet or big music festivals), Uproar can tailor it to what you enjoy. They do this with API accounts for the big sources, with processing on their side to recognize categories (they call the 150 categories the "Goldilocks" sweet spot, because Eventbrite has too few, and Meetup has, well, about 25,000 too many).
With millennials spending more than $1 trillion per year on events, the potential revenue stream is certainly there. Showcasing their "secret revenue slides" (Matthew was seriously prepared for the inevitable monetization questions ... a sweet move that all presenters should take note of), the aim is to first focus on the core product within the event lifecycle and drive adoption, and then move to promoted posts, ticket commissions, and enriching the local event listings for other sites which don't have the resources to do this themselves but love the data feed.
Uproar says their nearest competitors are Fever (they say it's good but only focuses on NYC and its own events); Eventful (which aggregates but isn't as good on recognizing categories and has fewer of them); and Blended (a similar angle, though Matthew says their design and user experience are not as good). They're currently looking for funding to raise in the next six months for the Android version of the app, which is probably key to widespread adoption. They're also working on "pending" events to show which of your friends are already going to specific events, so you know what to join, as well as a way for users to add individual events (including a bulk loading strategy).
How many times have you lost the chance to see your favorite artists when they're in town? I'd download Uproar, and you can rest easy knowing you'll never miss out again.
Vayando: Connecting curious travelers with micro-entrepreneurs in emerging economies around the world | Co-founder and CEO Jason Seagle helped create Vayando as a way for travelers to connect directly with locals, spending a day with innovative farmers, hip-hop artists, beekeepers or even boxing champions, having unique and immersive experiences while providing incomes for micro-entrepreneurs.
What did they do really well? The social impact in terms of the model is spot-on because of the team's background in humanitarian aid and the developing countries sector. They know and understand the flaws in many aid models; this is not a handout or charity, it's a business. They've had a lot of support from travel bloggers, international press coverage and humanitarian organizations, and have been largely bootstrapped up to this point. They're proud of the amount of traction they've gained with a very tight budget.
What can the community help with? They just did a big Web site redesign that removed key bottlenecks with the content and reservation systems, so they'd love some user testing. They also want to expand into hotels, to include referrals from concierges, as well as find some social impact investors who see the model's value and understand Vayando's double bottom line.
— Vayando —
Vayando is a for-profit booking platform that creates a market for local entrepreneurs who are not part of the traditional travelers' economy. They've been live just over a year and are currently in Rwanda, Uganda, the Congo and Costa Rica, though they have an impressive 100-country goal. This fits with travel industry estimates that, within 15 years, more than 60 percent of travel will be to developing countries, accounting for over $1 billion in revenue per year. Vayando provides a way for that revenue to have a positive local social impact with potentially hundreds of thousands of local entrepreneurs.
Jason and his co-founder, Scott Wilhelm, have extensive experience in developing countries and humanitarian aid. The idea came to them after Scott was involved in a local catastrophe in Rwanda and organized travelers at a nearby hostel to help; the travelers said they would have paid to come to Rwanda and have that sort of connection, and with 22 percent of the GDP in Rwanda already coming from travel, Jason and Scott saw an opportunity to merge that connection with a boost to the local economy.
Since many in their target markets have no access to the Internet, Vayando is working with field workers in organizations like the Peace Corps to identify entrepreneurs, support them in building out profiles, and train them in booking and carrying out these immersive experiences (it also builds out the field workers' resumes, so everyone wins).
Just one or two bookings a month can double a micro-entrepreneur's monthly income, so the impact is potentially huge. And with that discussion above about millennials and how much they value experiences over things, I think Vayando has found a sweet spot that provides travelers with local experiences that they can also feel comfortable are contributing to the local economy in a good way.
There's nothing quite like doing something you enjoy and knowing it'll make a world of difference to someone else. So book your next travel experience with Vayando.
I guarantee you won't regret it.
That's a wrap for the seventh Consumer Show at Switchyards; see you there next time?