At AngelPad Demo Night, Ex-Googlers Share Plans to Overhaul the Web

It seems you can’t walk a block in SoMa these days without passing the door of a new venture incubator. The latest addition to the startup-school scene is AngelPad, which announced its existence in August and has already graduated its first class of founders. Eight AngelPad companies pitched their audacious ideas to a standing-room-only crowd of venture and individual investors last night at the incubator’s Federal Street digs, in the shadow of the Bay Bridge.

Below I’ve summarized the companies’ business ideas, which range from the merely ambitious to the potentially world-changing. In a coming article I’ll tell you about my post-game interview with AngelPad co-founder Thomas Korte, who explained the incubator’s philosophy and methodology in detail. [Update 11/15/10: The Korte Q&A is now online here.]

Formed by seven former Google executives, AngelPad is a classic “second wave” incubator, Korte says. “I would group Y Combinator, TechStars, and AngelPad all in the same category,” he says. “But we are all carving out our own niche, be it geographic or what kinds of companies and founders we attract.”

At the moment, AngelPad’s niche seems to be helping other ex-Google employees start new ventures—but that’s mostly because the incubator’s first group was hand-picked from among the AngelPad founders’ friends and colleagues, forgoing an open application process. Only now has AngelPad started soliciting applications, for the session to begin in February. “Our social network is very much around Google, so right now this group is 60 percent ex-Google,” Korte says. “Over time that is going to decrease.” If you’re a startup interested in joining Angel Pad, head here.

Ajit Varma, Carlos Whitt, Jesse Shieh

“Analyzes large real-time data sets to optimize e-commerce”

People used to say that the main advantage of online advertising over print advertising is that its impact is measurable: when someone clicks on a Web ad, you know it worked. Adku has a slightly different argument—that Web ads are powerful because they’re flexible.

The startup, led by three ex-Googlers, has built a platform that allows advertisers or owners of e-commerce sites to switch out one message for another depending on what’s going on in the real world. If it’s an unusually warm day in November, for example, North Face might want to replace the pictures of winter coats on its home page with pictures of people wearing sunglasses. “Pictures of jackets are great when it’s cold in New York, but bad when it’s hot in Texas,” says co-founder Jesse Shieh, the former tech lead for iGoogle.

And weather isn’t the only thing that affects online shopping behavior. “There’s tons of stuff that matters,” Shieh says, such as whether a site visitor is male or female, whether it’s daytime or nighttime, whether it’s payday, and even what topics are trending on Twitter. Adku customers embed a bit of code in their Web pages wherever display ads, photos, or other messaging would normally appear; for each site visitor, Adku’s statistical prediction engine churns through all the available contextual data, then fills the slots with whatever messages it thinks would be most effective. The company has already scored, Dreamwater, and as paying customers.

Russell Cook

“A vertical network for outdoor enthusiasts modeled after Yelp”

Outdoor recreation is a huge market: 285 million people visit the U.S. national parks every year, and American spend $243 billion a year on outdoor trips, plus another $46 billion on gear, according to AllTrails founder Russell Cook. The problem is that once all these people get outdoors with all their new gear, there’s precious little information on where they should go hiking, biking, or camping, and what information there is tends to be fragmented, inconsistent, or locked behind paywalls.

AllTrails has built an online geographic database of 42,000 trails around the country, many of them annotated by Yelp-style user reviews, to help prospective hikers figure out which trails are closest, easiest, or most popular. The company is beta-testing an iPhone app that will … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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