500 Startups Brings Its Latest Grads to New York

Armed with gusto and a microphone, Bay Area Internet guru Dave McClure and his gang from 500 Startups brought their latest batch of hatchlings to New York at last night’s demo day at General Assembly. A handful of locally bred startups stood among the twenty-one exuberant presenters—all graduates of McClure’s Mountain View, CA-based accelerator program—who pitched their ideas to potential investors and fellow entrepreneurs.

New York’s ToutApp, one of this summer’s graduates, led off the night with CEO Tawheed Kader talking about how he can make sending repetitive e-mails easier. 500 Startups invests in the companies that emerge from its three-month program and helps introduce them to other potential backers. Many of the startups at demo day were in the midst of additional funding rounds, though one said it already had enough cash. “We’re not taking money,” said Michael Horn, founder of Brooklyn’s CraftCoffee.com. “We closed a round today and we’re oversubscribed.” CraftCoffee.com ships specialty coffees from around the world to its subscribers.

The full-capacity event, which may even have stretched a few room occupancy fire codes, was not all about trumpeting entrepreneurs who walked on air. Mixed in with the enthusiasm were notes of self-deprecation. Horn said he originally built CraftCoffee as an e-commerce site that stalled. “It was a total disaster; no one bought anything at all,” he said. Discussions with local coffee shop owners, he said, helped him refocus on specialty coffees for java lovers with discerning tastes.

Jameson Detweiler shared his own confession from a prior stab at entrepreneurship. “My last business failed because we didn’t have that many users,” he said. That provided the inspiration beyond Detweiler’s new Mountain View-based startup, LaunchRock, which helps build up the audience for other startups such as Ashton Kutcher-backed Zaarly. LaunchRock lets users create their own landing pages in advance of their formal launches and promote their announcements.

Other New York demo presenters included Skipola and Relevant Mobile. Skipola creates white label mobile apps for restaurants that let customers order food and make table reservations. DailyGobble, which is rebranding itself as Relevant Mobile, also serves the restaurant market. Relevant Mobile lets chain restaurants create private label loyalty programs that use photos of receipts, shot by customers using their camera phones, to offer cash back.

One startup new to town wants to stick around. Snapette plans to relocate from Mountain View to fashion hub New York in three months. Furthermore, co-founder Sarah Paiji declared during her presentation that she dropped out of Harvard’s MBA program on Tuesday to focus on the startup.

Snapette is an app for viewing user-generated photos of handbags and shoes available at local retailers. The app also provides such information as pricing and directions to the stores. Retailers can also inform users of discounts and special offers. Paiji said the Snapette app builds on the already existing trend of fashion lovers sharing photos of merchandise that appeals to them. “But there is no dominant mobile app for this,” she said.

Danielle Weinblatt (left) and Sarah Paiji (right) both dropped out of Harvard Business School in August to focus on their respective startups.

Paiji’s decision to halt her academic career echoed an announcement at August’s DreamIt Ventures demo day by fellow Harvard Business School dropout Danielle Weinblatt, CEO of Take the Interview. Paiji said she and Weinblatt are good friends who “spent most of our first year at [Harvard Business School] focused on our startups instead of classes.” Weinblatt’s company, Take the Interview, hosts online video pre-interviews to screen employee prospects. Weinblatt attended last night’s event with Paiji.

In addition to finding investors, demo day also gave the presenters the chance to meet potential collaborators and even their competition. Rodrigo Martinez, another of this summer’s graduates from 500 Startups, pitched his company OVIA (the acronym stands for Online Video Interview Application), which allows employers to choose whom to contact for in-person interviews. During a break after his presentation he chatted with Weinblatt of Take the Interview, which has a somewhat similar goal for streamlining the hiring process. “The market for most startups is big enough to have a few players, and you never know when you can work together with your biggest competitor,” Martinez said.

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