Apr 23, 2012

DEMO Conference 2012 Review: Consumer Startups


I attended the Silicon Valley DEMO conference last week. This was my second DEMO and feel it’s a great conference to get an overview of the emerging trends and companies. Over two days, 81 startups demoed their products in 6 minutes each. The creativity and diversity of companies is often amazing – both in geography and in the problems they tackle, ranging from the everyday frustrations of an average consumer (e.g., DealAngel, Eva) to the needs of special groups such as architects (e.g., Archability) or business professionals (e.g., Voxeet).

Here are some thoughts on a few consumer startups that I found interesting as an end-consumer.

TourWrist: was the winner of the $1M People’s Choice award. It is an iOS app that lets anyone record high quality 360° tours/ panoramas and store & share as 'YouTube for virtual tours' to re-experience the moment. With an iPad, you can have an immersive experience such as walking into the scene (not just rotate). It could have great applications in real estate walkthroughs, where a good 360° tour can make all the difference, as we discovered while house hunting. I tried out the app on my iPhone and found it extremely easy to build a pano.

ZigMail: helps you clean up your email Inbox by organizing ‘transactional emails’ – such as deals, order confirmations etc and separating from your personal emails. It also ‘makes email social’ by letting you share offer emails with your friends without mail overload. GMail redefined email with the ‘search not organize’ paradigm, but the email proliferation and inbox clutter still continues to be frustrating. It’s refreshing to see someone take a fresh look at these old problems.

NetworkClean: scans your Facebook for potentially offensive content on your wall/ posts/ comments and lets you clean up your profile. I am a light Facebook user, but was impressed to see the service flag even words like ‘hell’ and ‘WTF’. I was also happy to identify my best Facebook friends and see that my overall Facebook mood is judged to be mostly positive! It gives you privacy & security warnings as well. I can see how useful it could be for college graduates entering the job market or even more importantly, for brands trying to protect their online identity.

HashTip: aggregates and stores products & services tips from your friends on major social networks. It offers the full buying cycle solution from creating options (from friends' tips) to research (reviews Amazon/ Yelp/ Rotten Tomatoes) to deals on the options you are interested in. There’s clearly a gap in social commerce today, as it’s quite hard to create a shortlist of options (for a Dentist or a soundbar or a weekend movie). It takes too long to read many reviews and friend recommendations often get lost in the Facebook/ Twitter feeds.

ApplyApp.ly: imports your CV (or LinkedIn profile) and suggests many job opportunities based on a semantic search, instead of limiting yourself to the keyword/ title searches. I tried it and was pleasantly surprised by some of the job suggestions that I might never have thought about. Companies can embed the solution in their recruiting tool to broaden the reach to applicants, instead of restricting to a single job function.

zBoard: created a lot of excitement by live demoing their weight-sensing electric skateboard that goes up to 17mph giving an alternative commuting option for short distances. It’s like Segway operating by leaning forward or backward, but portable enough to carry wherever you go. With their stereo-equipped version, you can 'rock while you roll'!

Demo also featured several interesting conversations. Zach Nelson, NetSuite CEO, observed that SAP won in enterprise software, since it owned the order transaction, the most important enterprise record. He said document could be the most important information record in the future and document companies like Box might be well-poised to ride the document collaboration wave. I found it quite interesting, as I had written a post mentioning the importance of document collaboration and have thought of Box as a  fascinating company for this reason, and also because of its charismatic CEO Aaron Levie, who was another speaker at DEMO.

Not surprisingly, Instagram deal was mentioned in practically every session, but not Tagtile, a small ‘DEMO’ stage company that was also acquired by Facebook in the same week (see my earlier post). Google’s David Lawee made a comment that Google looks to acquire great founders with a big idea, generally aligned with Google vision, and gives them enough resources to succeed, with Android being the best example (VentureBeat story). I felt this was probably the best advice to entrepreneurs, who want to change the world, instead of chasing the $1B lottery!

I am interested to hear your thoughts on any interesting DEMO companies!

P.S. you can find all the videos of DEMO 2012 presentations here.