Wow, y'all ... between conferences and allergies, I missed two different Switchyards events in May! Shout-out to The Consumer Show #15 guest-post from Andrew with Landing Lion, who somehow managed to write so much like me that Switchyards even accidentally credited me instead in the members' email (don't worry, I made sure he got proper recognition). Andrew, just so you know, you're now top of the guest-post list moving forward. Pro/con there.
May was actually kind of rough for everyone — Michael Tavani and Dave Payne missed several events as well, and you'd be forgiven if you were starting to think that, in person, they both look an awful lot like Ugo Ezeamuzie of Bloveit. (If you missed it, Ugo hosted two different Consumer Shows and accepted two awards on their behalves at the Startup Awards. Ugo: Just like Tavani, only a little taller and a little less Italian).
So Tavani was back this month, and he kicked off the ever-popular limited-edition T-shirt giveaway quiz with a fun fact: How many personalized coffee mugs are on the wall at Western & Atlantic? If you guessed 345, you'd be right, and that number includes celebs like Killer Mike and Charles Brewer. (By the way, if you — like someone I overheard recently at ATV — don't think Charles Brewer is a celeb, you need to pay better attention in the startup space.) To get a personalized mug, you just need to be a full- or part-time member at Switchyards. It's a great investment, and I recommend it.
Anyway, I know you're just here for the pitches, so let's get down to it!
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Airlift: Simple ecommerce shipping & fulfillment. | Founder and CEO Sheehan Toufiq started by noting that okay, yes, he's a B2B company. Which is maaaaaaybe not as welcome at The Consumer Show as consumer- and design-focused brands, but what his company does is help out small businesses with their shipping needs, so he's still on your side (please don't jump him after the show).
Airlift has one simple belief: Small businesses are the heart of a strong society and a vibrant community. They're no longer just the mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar stores, but are now also all the online ventures like the neighborhood kid selling kicks via a Website, the girl who makes handcrafted dresses via an online boutique, or the parent-designed toy on Kickstarter. These all have one thing in common: They need to ship product to their customers.
DIY is perfect for getting your business off the ground, but when orders start pouring in and the kitchen table is your fulfillment center and you're shipping out of a storage unit and today's customers expect two-day delivery, well, you just can't focus on things that matter. Long-term things like growing your business, building your brand or improving your product.
What did they do really well? They believe in doing things that don't scale; in other words, build a business manually first, with the least amount of tech possible. Some good advice from Sheehan's dad is if you build something, build it to be sustainable without technology, because we forget the consumer Internet has been around only about 25 years; we’ve been doing business for ages, so if you have a business that is sutainable without tech, and you can add tech to it, then it just enhances it, it isn't dependent.
What can the community help with? They're always looking for motivated people to join the team, so if you see the vision, reach out to them and together you can build something great. Also, if you know anyone with a business selling online, and they're overwhelmed with the shipping, send them Airlift's way — they have a big red "get started" button, and it's easy to get up and running with just a few questions about the business. They're also raising a round of funding, and are looking for a lead investor.
— Airlift —
With Airlift, you can store, package and ship your inventory, while you focus on your business. You just go online, connect your accounts like your online storefront, and Airlift will pull in all products and orders. You send them inventory in bulk (if you're local, they will even pick up!), and they track your inventory levels with a real-time feed. You can see the order status straight through until it reaches the customer's mailbox. It's simple, seamless and super convenient.
Airlift partners with carriers like UPS, FedEx, DHL and more. They do international shipping, leverage pallet shipping savings with UPS freight, and prepare products to Amazon Prime guidelines. By the end of the year, they even plan to have same-day delivery in Atlanta and rush orders in two hours or less with Postmates!
Airlift believes we're in a new era of ecommerce, where small businesses compete with the big guys, but with more authentic, genuine service and a great brand and product. It goes back to their mission: To help small businesses rocket and grow by building tools that make logistics simple.
Right now, Airlift's average customer is shipping 100-500 shipments per month, which is too small and too much account management for the standard fulfillment companies to take on. They also work in conjunction with Amazon, giving customers more shipping options (versus using just Fulfillment by Amazon, which only works with Amazon). Sheehan says while Amazon is a great business model as "the world's largest convenience store," that's not so great for small business branding, so Airlift supports subscription businesses where customers get packages presented like gifts, instead of generic shipping boxes.
After completing a successful pilot in Atlanta, Airlift's now starting to do more marketing and reaching out to people who need the service. If you're that person, then click that red "get started" button on their site, and #ShipSexier with Airlift!
Alum: The Alumni App | Alum is "the easiest way to stay connected with your campus and your classmates. Anytime, anywhere, any reason." Founder Will Ballance says Alum is rethinking alumni relations for the next generation, because all of the current options are relatively antiquated. I mean, think about it — how does your school engage with you? They push undergrad volunteers into annoying evening phone calls, or send you mailer after mailer asking for updated information, all so they can then send you donation requests.
What did they do really well? Finding active and strategic advisors ... as Will says, he "knows what he doesn't know, and it's a lot." They have advisors who have raised money, some who are Y Combinator grads, and even a head of product (hiiii Butler Raines!), who have given them invaluable insight.
What can the community help with? They're wide open; they love meeting people who want to do well for themselves and good for others; and anyone who wants to talk about providing value, reach out to them!
— Alum —
If you have ever dodged those repetitive asks (I'm not judging you, I promise, I do it too), even though you love your alma mater and would gladly exchange school cheers with random strangers on the street (ahem, roll tide, y'all), then Alum is for you. They're taking the alumni lifecycle and making it more efficient and modern. Because while the reality has changed, alumni relations have not. Emailing is on the decline for Gen Z and Millennials, while messaging is on the rise, so Alum is a communication platform first and a fundraising venue second.
Will says this all started in 2015, when there was an abrupt announcement that historic Sweet Briar College was going to close due to funding issues. The now-Alum team, as former students at the brother college to Sweet Briar, led campaigns to raise awareness but quickly realized the school alumni had nowhere to go and no good way to connect. And while the passionate alumni base ultimately saved Sweet Briar, the experience prompted the creation of Alum.
The issue is two-sided: From the school's perspective, they have little idea of how to engage young alumni, who don't like being sold to, and they're a decade behind in the technology they're using. On the other side, actual alums only know people in their close circle, and quickly lose touch with the many opportunities in that alumni network. It's a huge market: There's 108 million U.S. college alumni for more than 7,000 colleges, and more than 261 million high school alumni for 130,000 U.S. K-12 schools. That all adds up to one passionate demographic!
Alum's framework is chat, meet, give. It has a social core, making it easy for people to network with others for any purpose. That could be a social chat, meeting others with shared interests or professions, or even traveling internationally and trying to find someone to watch a game with. On the give side, users can donate through their phone using options like credit cards or even bitcoin. Alum uses a micro-donation approach, which gets recent grads into the habit of giving in a frictionless way.
Using the platform gives schools one central way to engage and fundraise at once. It allows them to target campaigns for specific groups, and know the best approach to take based on trend data from prior fundraising.
Alum is currently active in 300 colleges across the U.S., and they are piloting the engagement tools for fundraising in select schools. The app is open to all alums for free, and for schools different features are unlocked depending on the contract. They're gearing up for school outreach, so any introductions you could send their way would help, as often the higher education community is resistant to change and new technology. The long-term goal is to optimize the entire platform for both sides in a seamless, frictionless way.
As Alum says, "whether for friends, fun, or football, we put your alumni network in your pocket." Check it out!
BioRepublic SkinCare: We formulate innovative skin care products with integrity and love. | Okay, so they're not a tech company, but co-founder Paolo Mentonelli knows how to get audience attention — he walked out and put up a picture of a fresh-faced, attractive, dare I say glowing young woman, and then asked, "Who would like your skin to look like hers?" After 100 percent of women in the room and a handful of dudes said yes ("Don't worry, they want this too but won't raise their hands"), Paolo started listing the ways people go to extreme lengths to stay young and fresh: Spas, DIY face masks, injections, laser therapy or botox (which is expensive, painful and, let's be honest, terrifying) and more.
Instead of all that mess, BioRepublic has a better way: Sheet masks, a relatively new innovation in the past decade. Made of paper or gel, they're pre-soaked in a serum, and contained in a single-application sachet. They're convenient, less messy and quick: You wear them for 15-20 minutes, and don't even have to wash your face after. You also get instant results, Paolo says: When you take it off, your skin is brighter and more hydrated.
What did they do really well? Three things: One, they focused on delivering consumer benefits, no pearl dust or gold or glitter, just scientific ingredients and no gimmicks; two, they are great at hacking wholesale, as they know their distribution channels, who they're selling to, which KPIs they should be looking at, and how to do tests in stores (hint: Call friends in that test city and ensure they buy ALL THE FREAKING MASKS in those stores); and three, they bridged the credibility gap of "why buy from you?" by associating immediately with brands like BirchBox, well-known hotels and resorts, and investing in PR like "Good Morning America."
What can the community help with? Buy their products, of course! Also, they're looking for freelance copy writers, especially those with an interest or knowledge in beauty, to assist with content strategy; they also need connections with buyers and beauty bloggers.
— BioRepublic SkinCare —
The sheets come in a variety of serums targeted to specific problems. Instead of 200 solutions in one bottle, there's a couple of sheet masks for specific concerns. Whatever the problem, BioRepublic says it has the perfect treatment. They have six right now: revitalizing; soothing; detox; under-eye repair; brightening and illuminating; and the crowd favorite, The No More Years Eternal Radiance Anti-Aging Biocellulose mask (seriously, the whole audience said "ooooooh!" and started looking for free samples).
Okay, so they didn't invent the sheet mask and there isn't a patent, but they were one of the first to launch in the U.S. when they got into the scene in 2014. Co-founder Justin Hong is Korean American, and sheet masks have been in use there for years. He maaaaaay have discovered that using sheet masks after late nights prevented his parents from realizing exactly how late he'd been out the night before. (True story, according to Paolo.) However, the ingredients in those masks weren't ideal, so Paolo and Justin worked to create a friendlier version for the U.S. market.
Why use them instead of others? All their products are professional-grade (they started out in the U.S. market in spas, in fact); the active ingredients are all natural, and they don't have parabens, sulfates, pthalates or triclosan, and are 100% cruelty-free (they also promote ingredient transparency); plus they're sustainable and biodegradable. What's not to like here?
Full disclosure, y'all: I tried some of these via free samples handed out at a Consumer Show a few months ago, and I won't lie, I like them a lot. I did see an immediate difference, and I am a skeptical lady of most beauty product claims (you know I like my science). I don't know that the effect lasts forever, but if you want a boost for a hot date or a big day (or to pretend like you weren't out partying the night before), it's worth it! I also like to know what I'm putting on my face, so the ingredient transparency makes me really happy, too.
Skeptical? I get it. If you want to see the results for yourself, you can find them in stores nationally, or order them online. Or, you know, come to the next Consumer Show and hope for a free sample!
Prattle: Conversations you'll love | Yes, this is a social communication app. No, it's not just like Reddit, Twitter, Facebook or any of the other ones you're probably thinking of right now, according to co-founder and CEO Sam Getty. Prattle calls itself "an open and social communication platform that lets you be a part of quality conversations and connects you with like-minded people based on shared interests." Sam calls it an app that wants to do for live online discussion what Youtube did for the availability of video.
Sam says the past 10 years of social media have been dominated by asynchronous market players like Twitter or Instagram, where you have to refresh to see new content. They've done an amazing job at making people, places and ideas associated, but not more connected. Prattle, on the other hand, is focused on the conversation. The team believes we experience something different when someone's live on the other screen, and that's the magic they're after.
What did they do really well? They explored opportunities and pushed boundaries. They did a great job connecting to people in other social channels; they worked with influencers and did podcasts; and they have a lot of tips on how to get featured in the app store, which provided reliable, valuable growth. (This included, during the signup process, looking at the influencers on LinkedIn and AngelList, and catering the pitch to those people.)
— Prattle —
Based on their user validation, it sounds like they're on the right track: There have been 1,500 groups created in Prattle since the initial public beta, with 65,000 messages sent, 20% of those from daily active users. They're even in the Top 100 in social networks in 28 countries. And because the sign-up process takes several steps, they weed out a lot of the spam trolls. They don't have an upvote/downvote system, which Sam says invites a negative culture, but instead enable users to report in their own conversations.
Because I know you're still asking, let's talk about some of the differences with Prattle and other apps. Sam borrowed one of their user's words to explain the difference between Prattle and Reddit: "Reddit is content sharing, but the conversation isn't there, it's more form-based and passive. Prattle is about joining the conversation and having conversations with others. It's not really about you." When asked about similarities with Discord, Sam said that company is more in the chat space, whereas with Prattle it's more open and accessible. He also cited Slack as being more on the business side, while WhatsApp focuses on friends and family versus a live, topic-based conversation about an immediate interest.
Most of the conversations are split about 50/50 between long-term conversations and shorter, topic-based discussions, which tend to have more engagement. Sam likened the difference to talking about the entire NFL 2017 season versus one specific game.
So if you've got something to say and you want to hear from others, join the conversation on Prattle!
PupWalkr: The first affordable, daily use-on-demand dog walking service! | When you're a service designed to remove at least one worry from pet owners' shoulders, is there truly a better walk-on song than "Hakuna Matata"?
Meet Alex Han and David Choi, co-founders of PupWalkr. As the owners of two greyhounds, they know all about the struggles of balancing last-minute work (or play!) obligations with being a good pet owner. So they created PupWalkr: A pet service that takes care of your pet when you can’t.
I don't want to steal their thunder for their next pitch (they'll be at ATL Startup Village later this year, and likely a few other places in between), so I won't tell you their whole presentation hook, but I will tell you it involves a little Chihuahua named Bruiser.
Okay, let's talk about how dog walking works now. The existing options are awful: Pages and pages of form fields, which must be filled out first, and then applicants still have to make appointments for every single walk via phone or email. Ew. Not to mention the change fee for last-minute adjustments. Also ew.
Enter, PupWalkr. It's a two-sided marketplace that connects pet owners to curated pet providers, easily available online with just a few clicks. The digital platform allows pet owners to schedule appointments with vetted, insured, bonded walkers, on any device, when they need them — even just 60 minutes ahead of time! The pet care providers are trained so that any of them can consistently deliver the PupWalkr experience.
What did they do really well? Since the beginning, they have only ever paid for or built tech to just get to next level; they had a lack of tech in the beginning, and used SquareSpace and Calendly and just faked everything else.
What can the community help with? They're now past where faking the tech can work for them, and they're looking for a CTO (it could be you!), preferably someone who's taken a product like theirs to market. They also need connections to people in the multi-family housing industry; and if you have a dog or know someone who does, get on the app and give them feedback.
— PupWalkr —
If you're a pet owner, you're getting this. If you're not, let me assure you, there is a market: There are 85 million households with pets, spending approximately $6 billion on pet services, and 35 percent of those pet owners are Millennials. That's important because 75 percent of Millennials say they'd pamper their pets over themselves. (You know who you are, people. Don't lie to yourselves.)
PupWalkr is crushing the market, too: They're number one on Yelp, and their year-over-year clients have increased almost 340 percent without increasing their customer acquisition costs. Marketing has been primarily organic word of mouth, plus some B2B work at apartment and condo complexes, with just the two founders working on it.
The audience questions were accurate, but funny: Concerns over handling dogs who don't like people (because you get to pick the walker every time, you can read the bios and find a good fit for your dog; there is also a money-back guarantee for that first visit); what if you want to go on a date with a girl, can you book her dog a four-hour walking session (while that's not exactly what the service is made for, they can accommodate different lengths of walks, and in fact have done things like take the dogs out for two hours so a Realtor could make a showing); how you apply to become a dog-walker (through the Website, and then there's a pretty rigorous acceptance process and testing); what sort of time intervals do you pay in (30-minute increments, though you can do add-ons of 15 or 30 minutes at a time); is it dog-exclusive, could you possibly do a cat or a ... turtle ... or a ... pig (yes, they can handle all types of animals, and in fact cats are very popular. As a cat owner, this baffles me. My cats regard grass with grave suspicion); and can they handle properties where the owners are out of town (yes, for all visits. Because they are on-demand they have the access method available and can secure your residence and easily walk your pet).
I've seen the scheduling nightmare for puppy parents, and I've been sharing the beauty of PupWalkr with my coworkers. Now everyone gets to do that last-minute happy hour with the important clients in town, or take a lunch break and actually eat instead of dashing across Atlanta to take your dog out. Let your pet get a lunch break, too, with a full walk from PupWalkr.
(Unless you're a cat owner. If you're thinking about this service because you spend your lunch hour walking your cat, please reach out. Seriously. Who is walking their cats, y'all? I must know.)
That's a wrap for the sixteenth Consumer Show at Switchyards; see you there next time? (No excuses! You know where to find a dog-walker now!)