It appears The Consumer Show crowd is one of moderation — in really good weather or really bad weather, the turnout is so-so, but it takes in-between weather to get standing room only. With a hurricane in the wings, last Thursday erred on the "really bad weather" side. (Also, it was the week after Labor Day, so we could blame three-day weekends too, I suppose.) At any rate, the crowd was still on-hand to check out the five presenting companies, and to eat some wings.
That's right, there were wings this time around, courtesy of East Coast Wings + Grill, which is right around the corner from Switchyards. They're offering "SDC Friday Happy Hour," where if you show your Switchyards keycard, you'll get 65-cent-wings, a $6 bucket of beer, and half-price apps on Fridays. The sample wings were delish, so you should check them out!
And before we get into what you're actually here for, just a quick mention that Michael Tavani and Dave Payne do know how to pick 'em — former Consumer Show presenter Gather just took a hefty investment round (sources say $55 million), putting the upcoming presenters in pretty good company. Just sayin'.
So let's talk about last time's good company now, shall we? On to the pitches!
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Montane: Crisp, clean, protected, and pristine. | If you're one of the many fans of sparkling water (hello, fellow La Croix snobs, I see you) but you've been wishing for a local alternative, wish no longer: Meet Hollis Callaway and his company, Montane. Based at Switchyards, they sport three flavors (original, cucumber lime and watermelon honeysuckle), all created with super-pure spring-sourced sparkling water.
What does "super pure" mean? (That's the technical term, yes.) In this case, it means the water from the spring travels through layers of quartzite to get to the surface. Because quartzite is a very hard rock, the water gets naturally filtered into a flow that's purer than almost any other water source. The spring itself is a fourth-generation legacy of conservation in Hollis' family.
What did they do really well? Keeping true to their roots and what they're about to the community — what’s actually in the can, they use pure water start with, they have a story they communicate; that’s the focus.
What can the community help with? Getting the word out. Getting into the grocery chains is a long process with decision-makers, and getting in the door is hard. They'd like people to go to the customer service desk at their favorite stores and ask for Montane, tell the store manager about it, ask them to order it. Hollis says they do listen!
— Montane —
With its local products focus, low carbon miles and solid support of the community, Montane is the perfect match for Atlantans looking to shop local for their bubbles fix. The flavors are ones you'd find in the South ("nothing exotic like pamplemousse; we stick with things we understand"), and I personally find the honeysuckle flavor to evoke some serious childhood nostalgia. You can get it in 12-ounce cans in an eight-pack carrier, and you can buy it at 82 different locations currently (including the fridge at Switchyards!).
So what makes it better than other sparkling waters? Well, the spring-sourced water is the main difference; most options you've been drinking are just tap water. Hollis says it's difficult to promote Montane's exceptionally pure spring without being negative about the other guys in messaging and branding, and they're not about that.
In terms of pricing, they're a bit higher than the alternatives, but Hollis says ultimately the retailers control what it's sold for. It also surprised him that most of the channels they've been distributing through, like coffee shops, natural food stores and other premium outlets, are not overly price sensitive. In addition, the company reinvests in the local community and nature conservation: The property the spring is on has been in Hollis' family for generations, and in 2012 they put it into a conservation easement held by the Georgia Forestry Commission. The spring area is unique, with four high-priority habitats and transition zones. Hollis calls it a "serene and majestic place," though he says conveying its specialness to consumers is one of the biggest challenges and shortcomings Montane honestly has.
The company began product development a year ago, and had their first production run just four months ago. They aren't running an online sales strategy (water is heavy), but they do need help getting into more local grocery stores. If you're a consumer going in to request that your local store stock Montane, just tell the store manager that it's where you like to shop, this is what you like to drink, and that you'd like to buy it at that store. (Hollis invites you to "act like a crazy person and be memorable," but I'm going to leave your level of commitment here up to you.)
I am a sparkling water girl, so I'll be looking into getting my hands on Montane at my local grocery, because that watermelon honeysuckle is pretty magical!
Ever had an idea for an invention or a new product? Sure, you and everyone else. Have you ever actually turned it into something? If so, you're a rare breed. Because the process to take an idea, turn it into a design, then a physical product, plus looking at China for manufacturing and shipping ... you get it, it's complicated. In fact, "making things is too damn complicated," according to Eric and Dan, and they want to change that.
What did they do really well? For the last three and a half years, they've spent a lot of their own resources ("basically all") and "a lot of others' resources" and yet, they haven't given up. They've kept going.
What can the community help with? Aside from using the platform and providing feedback, what they're looking for is a viral product — if you have an idea for something that could take off, come talk to them, and they'll work through IP and help design it. This would help build the Orchard brand as well.
— Orchard —
In college, they had access to making something new; they could use the university's software to create a 3D model, and then send it to a 3D printer, and layer by layer, turn it into something they could hold in their hands. It's empowering, to have an idea and create it, but it's not accessible to everyone. The software and the printer alone can run $30k or more — how many ideas are lost each day because nobody knows how to get started?
With Orchard, it doesn't cost the price of a new car to make an idea into reality. It's free for everyone around the world to collaborate and build with others, in a way that evolves and grows over time. By crowdsourcing the making of things, everything around us could be designed by the Internet.
So how does it work? You just sign up for an account on the online marketplace, and use their free software (which the team designed in-house just for Orchard) to create the models. There are no downloads, you can just start making stuff! And as you make things, you level up and get experience points (hello, gamification), and you can then make money by helping others make things. If you're not technical but have ideas and don't know where to start, you can sign up and browse products, like and share and comment, and even request a design from another user. (All products on the marketplace are free to download.)
For example, let's say you're a consumer who wants a VR headset for your phone. You can browse the products and if you don't see one, you open a request for a design, and send it to a maker. The maker says, "I can do that!" and gets started making it. There's some ability to go back and forth ("I'd like this part to be bigger..."), and when it's done, the maker delivers the product right to the consumer. While Orchard doesn't offer a warehouse or printer for all makers to use, they do offer partnerships with providers to do the building so manufacturing happens locally for the consumer.
If you think you can do this by yourself, it's unlikely, because you have to be getting a heck of a lot more than one $2 VR headset for a manufacturer to take your order (you'd need to be asking for hundreds, if not thousands, instead of just the one you want). Additionally, that VR headset will then evolve over time as other consumers and makers use that product on the marketplace, and tweak it. Dan and Eric call this "products made with soul." (I see what you did there, guys.)
Orchard takes a commission on all transactions on the site, and all the open-sourced projects and objects created are free for use commercially, non-commercially, or whatever people need. This means the intellectual property isn't yours, and of course someone could "steal" it (if you can even steal something that's open-sourced). However, you can sign up for a subscription to a private modeling service, and with those you'd own the IP. They are looking for ways to create levels of IP for the publicly designed, open-sourced community, though.
Essentially, what you think you know about product development is changing fast. Product innovation will be democratized in the future; will you be ready for it?
Exception-ALLY: Special Needs, Extraordinary Solutions. | Founder and CEO Rayford Davis says Exception-ALLY's customers are parents of children who are exceptional: They have special needs that require extraordinary solutions, and the typical school solutions don't work for them. (They prefer "exceptional" to "disability" because it can carry a lot of negative connotations, and they believe “disability” doesn’t honor the unique and amazing strengths that special children have.)
Children who receive special education services must legally have an Individualized Education Program. The IEP is meant to spell out the child's learning needs, what the school will provide, and how progress will be measured. Unfortunately, it's not usually quite that simple.
Rayford says that, as parents, every decision feels like it has life-changing consequences, nothing has prepared you to make them, and yet you have to make them all by yourself. In the special needs arena in public school, what this looks like is that one day you get a phone call and you are asked to come in to a meeting about your child. You end up sitting across a table from a tribunal of educators as they discuss every negative aspect of your child in technical terms, and give you complex legal documents to sign with little to no explanation.
While they've done hundreds of these meetings, this is your first. You must now make truly life-altering decisions for your child, that will impact every day of his or her life. You have to do this every single year your child is in the public school system.
You are not prepared.
Rayford says parents of more than one in every eight children has to go through this process — if it's not somebody in your family, it’s someone you know. And he and his team do not believe parents should have to do this alone. They offer an online solution to help parents navigate the IEP process so their exceptional child gets the education they deserve.
Families who have the most consistent success with the IEP are those who hire expert help and bring them to the meetings, such as attorneys or advocates. These are all very expensive, per-hour costs that happen each year, and parents of special needs children are often already strapped financially and so cannot afford this. Exception-ALLY is instead leveraging technology, predictive analytics and machine learning to democratize the ability to bring in your own expertise. (A little like TurboTax or LegalZoom, which also leveled the playing field of expert knowledge with technology.)
What did they do really well? They spent a lot of time in consumer discovery, finding parents in the moment of pain points and asking short questions then. This really helped iterate on the product to increase conversion rate, as they targeted the true issues for the parents.
What can the community help with? They're chasing parents now. They just launched the full product last month, put a paywall up just before The Consumer Show, and are looking for customers. If one in every eight kids goes through this, you know someone who is, so please share.
— Exception-ALLY —
Parents just input information about their child (how they behave, etc), and get a four-step action plan in return. It tells them about the process and what to expect; personalizes inputs to use when communicating with school officials; provides tools to send to the school to collaborate on the IEP; and then tracks implementation of the plan (because it makes no sense to have a plan if the teacher can't implement it). The app generates information to help parents negotiate the IEP and development goals, what accommodations are the best fit to talk about with the schools (since they don't all offer the same options), and even provide a customized collaboration letter to send to the school to set the tone prior to the meeting.
The team got an MVP on the market just for parents of autistic children in April, and had more than 600 people sign up and a 32 percent conversion rate. Over the summer, the team added eight more exceptionalities (dyslexia, ADHD, etc), and relaunched this month with a 62 percent conversion rate.
They see the market as more than just once per child, since the federal law governing IEPs mandates a new one each year, so Exception-ALLY is available for all 13 years of the school system lifecycle. They sell directly to the parents, not the schools, though they partner with the educators to bring about the best result for the children. Once there is enough traction with parents, the team hopes good schools will say that parents going in with their app are better prepared and make better progress, and will go in for an enterprise-level license, which would help reduce costs for parents.
So far, the response from schools has been mixed. Some schools like the idea but want to reduce the accommodations they offer (since all schools have different resources), and don't want to set up parents to request something they can't deliver. Exception-ALLY addresses this by including a feasibility score for each accommodation, which accounts for time, cost and teacher training.
With a team of leaders and advisers with impressive educational backgrounds and credentials, Exception-ALLY truly understands the challenges parents of children with special needs face, and knows how to move the needle in a meaningful way for those children and their parents. They give parents a way to amplify their voices and help parents succeed in the Special Education process.
SkilRoute: Online learning reinvented. | Full disclosure: Back in April, I had SkilRoute co-founder and CEO Raghav Badiger on Atlanta Startup Village to pitch. I thought it was a great idea then, and it's only gotten better and more refined in the past few months.
SkilRoute is a video platform that optimizes online learning. It's kind of like Coursera, Lynda.com or a whole host of online learning platforms that are springing up — it's a $325 billion category and growing —but it teaches in a totally different way.
There are two things currently pushing the online learning scene: tech and content. This causes most platforms to focus on lecture-based content (math, science, history), which is easy to deliver online. There are hardly any companies who focus on tactile skills like art, DIY or music, where you're physically involved. Why? Well, most have tried it and found it's not very effective to do online. Most of our video content is for entertainment, not for education. (And if you've ever tried to learn how to paint by just watching someone else drag a brush across a canvas, you know how frustrating it is to just try to mimic it from one flat angle.)
What did they do really well? Once they developed the prototype, they then stopped development for almost six months and just talked to more than 2,000 people and just collected feedback. They didn’t write a single line of code for months (the engineer thought they had passive-aggressively fired him) and just collected data on what the problem was. They never took any suggested solutions, they only focused on what the problems were. The problem was outside, the solution was designed inside.
— SkilRoute —
SkilRoute created patent-pending technology to address this in the simplest way: By giving users the ability to observe and mimic, in a different way of learning. They do this with one video stream, which turns into multiple videos from different angles, that you can manipulate: Flip it so it swaps from right-handed to left-handed, slow the pace or playback speed, loop a portion of the video until you've mastered it and are ready to move on. They also include a cheat sheet on tips and techniques, graphics and notes, all inline in the video and time-synced so you can access them anytime.
Users can create with hardware they already have, like smartphones or GoPros, and with the SkilRoute software everything is immediately ready to be published online and automated to make available for students. The content is even hardware-agnostic, so anyone can access it, and it can adjust to any media, like augmented reality.
You can create content with any cameras you already have, but if you don't have any, SkilRoute will ship them to you. The software makes it easy to preview; just shoot and test right there. You set up multiples cameras and do one full flow, and you can break it down from there without having to stop to re-shoot. It also costs less to publish because you don't have to do any post-processing at all, it's complete with just one single shoot.
SkilRoute is targeting institutions, companies and instructors as users, with employees and students as the end consumers. It's a supplemental learning tool that saves costs for manufacturing companies or medical trainers, and allows teachers to reach farther than ever before.
SkilRoute may very well be the new learning reality!
SimpleShowing: Real estate for the modern world. | Fred McGill, founder at SimpleShowing, says real estate is broken. The current model was good in 1993, but it's really bad today: The costs to buy and sell are astronomical, and the model is inefficient. Commissions are outrageous and do not line up with expertise of the Realtor; 78% of buyers/sellers are unhappy with their experience, and the brokerage model has not changed in the last 50 years.
Example: If you sell a $500,000 house (and let's be honest, that's on the low end of ITP ATL), and a standard commission is 3 percent ... you just paid $15,000 for someone to "help" sell your place. And it does not cost the Realtor anything to sell your house: The marketing comes through MLS for free, there's no cost of goods, it's just labor!
The system is great for Realtors, but terrible for consumers.
SimpleShowing has a new way: They charge the same fee ($3,000), no matter the price of the home. It includes the same services as a traditional agent. And don't worry, those agents are still licensed Realtors, who are incentivized under this model because they can carry up to 15 listings at a time instead of just one or two, making up the commission costs with higher volume and less legwork.
What did they do really well? They've been working with Blake Byrnes and Dave Payne, and Blake says, "The founders must earn the right to build." So they weren't allowed to build any tech first. They first build a customer acquisition model, and eight months later, they're building the app. They didn't get stickers or shirts or anything until just now; basically, the opposite direction most startups go.
— SimpleShowing —
SimpleShowing has been up and running for eight months, and they are running five to six home deals per month right now. Which are closing at 98 percent of the asking price, and the time on the market is better than the national average!
What they're now finding is the sellers save money ($8,600 on average), and then want to use SimpleShowing to buy (64 percent of the time). Because you know that Realtor we just mentioned who didn't do all that much for you? Turns out they're not helping buyers either — most buyers find their own houses (78 percent of the time!), looking for an average of three months before hiring an agent because they have access to the same data, and they are looking for transparency and fair pricing instead of so-called "expertise."
If I sound bitter, it's because I just used an agent to buy a house. A house that I found. Online. sigh
People are mainly using Realtors to access and tour homes, so SimpleShowing is working up an app to tour homes without an agent at all. And if you find your own house, you get a 50 percent commission back in a refund. Talk about a full-service real estate company!
The company was founded in January and is on track to exceed $130k this year, with a revenue model that's cash-flow positive, and 37 percent month-over-month growth. They're currently in Atlanta, Tampa and Orlando, and are looking at Miami in the next six months.
SimpleShowing, why did I not know about you I needed you? The hindsight is crushing, y'all.