Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend Capital Factory's Demo Day '09.? The brainchild of Josh Baer, along with partners in crime Bryan Menell and Sam Decker, Capital Factory attempts to find promising startups, and then connect them with just enough help and advice to get them over the hump.? Its essentially an attempt to develop a good, local process that can produce winning startup concepts by putting a virtuous cycle of ingredients together. Part of the process is Demo Day - where the best concepts get to present to a panel of investors, as well as a packed house of interested people in the Austin and startup communities.
I attended for a few reasons.? First, because I've always been interested in the software startup community in Austin.? Second, because Josh is an old friend and I was curious to see how his latest endeavor had turned out (he's had some really interesting previous ventures, like OtherInbox).? Third, quite a few of my colleagues and friends were going to check it out- and if something like this is worth the investment of their time, that's a good proxy for it being a good investment of my time as well.
Finally, I wanted to attend a Red Velvet Events' produced event - this is my wife Cindy Lo's firm, and often I'm watching the kids while she's at an event, or working for BP3.? She did a great job, and there were a great number of compliments from the managing directors of Capital Factory, as well as many of the attendees.
I'm biased, but for my money, Red Velvet Events is the best event planning firm in Austin (not that your event has to be in Austin to benefit from their expertise!). I have to say I found this event surpassed my expectations in nearly every respect - starting with the fact that the coffee was good enough to drink.
The keynote by Mike Maples, Jr. was clearly in his sweet spot and he shared his thought process around evaluating startups. He does a great job calling out what could be differentiating, thematically, in Austin - the intersection of social and enterprise software (consumerizing IT).? He has a point - there are an awful lot of startups that could be described this way - and some enterprise software companies (like Lombardi) are offering newer products that adopt more social web features (blueprint). Don't take my word for it - watch the Ustream video! (the first capital factory link above).
The startups gave really good presentations - across the board I was impressed with the professionalism and quality of the pitch, definitely exceeded my expectations.? Which is good, because there were a whole lot of Austin entrepreneurs in the room.? The panel of VC and Angel investors gave some really good feedback, especially for the first presenter (Cubit Planning).? It looked like the common thread for all but the last startup (Sparefoot), was that they needed more thought about the go-to-market plan.? Luckily, that's a place where investors can really help a lot (and have the financial incentives to get it right).
My favorite was Sparefoot, which can be simply described as "Uship for self-storage" - and I really think they could change that market. Second favorite was the PetsMD concept - but if I were them I would change my pitch around go-to-market to simply describe it as "OpenTable for Vets".? Because if you can win the scheduling application for veterinarians, then you have a real barrier to entry for new firms, and leverage for pursuing all the other concepts (content, product sales, social/community features).
After the demos, the attention turned to the panel of VCs, which Josh Baer moderated masterfully.? I think the consensus favorite quote "Austin startups have great ego to ability ratio compared to the Bay Area."
Overall, I think a couple of the investors came off as very credible and capable.? In particular, though, Mike Maples, Jr. clearly made an impression on the room.? The number of tweets extolling his virtues was pretty large today - and I think there was a room full of entrepreneurs who would love to have Mike investing in their startups.? A key differentiation - he has heart, and isn't afraid to show it.? Entrepreneurs want investors to be as passionate as they are about their prospects.
There's some good coverage of DemoDay '09 in the Statesman, and here (where Austin Startup goes into some details behind the program).? A bit of live blogging on TechDrawl (and interviews with the founders of the various companies on TechDrawl's site as well), and on Twitter if you search for #dd09.? This was a great event for the companies presenting, for establishing Capital Factory's credentials, and for Austin.
If anything, I'd suggest next year alloting even more time for networking because it really was a fascinating cross-section of people from the Austin tech scene. Links to the startups: Sparefoot - wow, great looking site! Cubit Planning - the longer-term play, but probably the most defensible play. PetsMD -to me this is Open Table for veterinary practices... Famigo - social gaming for families (lost track of the site link... updated link) Hourville - great site for hourly contracting - I can definitely imagine cleaning services and independents leveraging this. UPDATE: kudos to Capital Factory, there's now an article on Tech Crunch here. AND there's now a crunchbase widget:
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