Tech Coast Review
The startup and tech news weblog for Southern California

Friday, November 30, 2007

I recently had the opportunity to watch one of the TutorLinker founders (a student from UCLA) pitch to a group of angels in southern california.  The pitch was rather rough in a couple ways: it didn't address what their market was, how they were going to bring any return on the investors capital, or really what their product was.  They assumed many of the angels were well versed in web 2.0 and how that applied to finding a tutor.  Needless to say the angels weren't and thus Tutorlinker didn't make it past the first round of pitching.

Despite the presentation snafu (and don't let it get you down TutorLinker), they have a well designed little site.  Basically its a place where tutors 
and those in need of tutors can meet up.  Naturally being a nice little web 2.0 site, it mashes up where the tutors are geographically using the Google Map API.  And while the site isn't particularly sophisticated in what it offers, what they do to (help find tutors) is done well with quite a lot of polish.  
Honestly, I'm pretty surprised these guys made it on TechCrunch a few months back, but it's defiantly a good sign.  The big question is whether or not they can take their "cool" little website and figure out how to turn it into a business.



Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A sort of next generation voicemail services, based out of Aliso Viejo.  They went live with their public beta last month, and earlier this month announced that they received their first major round of VC funding (totaling 4.5 million from VantagePoint Venture Partners).

Youmail is all about customizing your voicemail experience.  You can give each caller a customized voicemail message, so if you want to leave your family and friends various fun messages while leaving a more serious message for work colleagues and unknown callers, you can.   Basically its very similar to customized ringtones for callers.  Another interesting feature is the ability to "Ditch" a call, by answering with a voice message but immediately hanging up after the message is played (fun for pranks or maybe that annoying stalker of yours).  Finally, Youmail also allows you to access your voicemail over the web, which could come in handy if your cell phone is dead or if you want to share a funny message you received with your friends.

In our tests with YouMail we were impressed with how easy and well it worked.  Really the big issues facing Youmail are less about technical merit and more about business and marketing.  Will the added functionality in YouMail be enough to convince people to use it?  I'm not necessarily sure, as I personally don't have enough interest in customizing messages for people.  I'm busy enough as it is, and I have little time or interest in making custom ringtones for people, let alone custom messages.   Of course I'm sure that I'm not the primary market demographic; I suspect Youmails biggest uptake will be highschool kids who incessantly use their phones (the ones who somehow send a 1000 text messages a month).  Ultimately YouMail success will hinge on whether it can convince enough people to use their service, and manage to make it without the carriers adding these features on their own. 


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Within the crowded space of local search, Fastcall411, a Los Angeles based company, is trying to differentiate itself by focusing on connecting customers to businesses via phone as fast as possible.   The concept is that if you are searching a category such as plumbers, FastCall411 will simultaneously call multiple plumbers in your area, and connect you with the one that answers the phone quickly.

On one hand, the concept almost feels gimmicky and I'm not sure actual consumers really will latch onto the service (I for one, am more interested in reading other peoples reviews of the merchant, which merchant answers the phone the fastest isn't really a relevant factor).  Also despite their public beta release, you really can only demo their system, its not really all that usable yet (It's only available in Los Angeles and they don't have much in their system besides a few select merchants).  Fastcall411, needs to get lots and lots of merchants in their system, sooner than later, if they want to have any impact.

On the otherhand, FastCall411 is working on a relatively hard problem of trying to identify local businesses that are no longer available.  I have it on very good word that the big Local Search guys such as Google are having a hard time validating their huge local business databases, to certify whether or not a local listing is correct (basically is the business still there and if so, is the phone number they have on file accurate).  While I think it is unlikely FastCall411 will succeed in the consumer space, if their technology really does deliver, they have a decent shot at doing well by shifting their focus to selling or licensing the software for something like GOOG411.



While technically a Korean company they are partnered with K2 Network located in Irvine, CA (Orange County) and they are hiring and basing their U.S. activity out of Orange County as well.

While Storyblender isn't live yet, they are already building some early buzz leading up to their December release by their inclusion in the TechCrunch Top 40. What they've demonstrated so far is a service that allows users to collaborate in editing and "blending" their text, audio, video, and image clips online. Once the blending is complete people will be able to share their "blended stories" with their friends in the Story Blender online community.

The Good
It just sounds fun being able to turn a fat kid with a baton...

Into a fat kid with a light saber; so with the help of a few friends I foresee endless hours of entertainment.

There is also a fertile market for Story Blender in music mixing as well as video editing for more practical purposes like school projects, action sports, and work presentations. The social network could really prove useful; not only because it will allow users to share their artistic talents but it has the ability to facilitate a teaching and learning process that might be keeping many people away from editing their own videos.

Finally they have $1.5MM in funding and are headed by Yong Joon Hyoung who is the founder of Cyworld a popular social network in South Korea.

The Bad
Most video editors that I know (even the ones who only dabble) are very particular to their programs, whether it be Final Cut Pro, Abode Premier, or iMovie. Most video editors aren't going to start utilizing a new way of editing when its unlikely that Story Blender will be able to match many of the features of "real" desktop video software.

This leaves Story Blender's real market people who are just beginning to get in on the Youtube craze and aren't ready to dive in and learn the complexities of traditional video editing software. But succeeding in this market means their service needs to be stupidly simple while still powerful and polished enough to get people to find value in using the service. From the early demos they've shown, Story Blender is not quite there yet.

Bottom Line
While we won't give it a full review until they go live, if Story Blender is able to produce a user friendly video editing tool that retains some of the more important features of traditional video editing software, plus leverages the power of online collaboration, they have a decent shot at being successful.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Fandango, a los angeles based company, is one of the largest online movie portals.  A few weeks ago it announced that it had integrated with the Facebook platform by supporting Facebook Pages.  

Unless you've been in a hole for the last few years, you are no doubt aware of the growing dominance Facebook has in the social networking realm.  With their support of Facebook apps beginning earlier this year, and now with their ad platform "Pages" that was rolled out earlier this month, companies are on a mad scramble to get in on the social graph train.  In general this is a good thing and connecting your entertainment activities with your friends online is a natural move, and one would think Facebook and Fandango would match well.  

But there is a problem, Fandango and Facebook maybe going too far with what they are integrating.  Privacy alarms are beginning to be ring, with Fandango's use of Facebook "beacons".  Essentially, if you purchase movie tickets through Fandango's website, that info gets posted to your Facebook profile for all to see. This was first covered at the Huffington Post and many across the Internet are beginning to report the same.   It seems obvious that while a few may like their activity automatically carried over,  many are going to be surprised to see what they are doing on a completely different website, showing up on the news stream on their "private" Facebook profile.  And while one side of me has to applaud the technical effort that Fandango and Facebook have done to get this kind of integration to work, the larger issue here is the implications of websites beginning to share your personal activity and how consumers are going to react to that.


Teleflip is a Los Angeles based company that specializes in email to SMS text messaging. Anyone can send an email to (eg and it will automatically convert the email to SMS format and send it.

Teleflip first landed on the map in August 2006 with Series A VC funding from GRP Partners in LA. Since then, the've been busy with a buzz worthy presentation at Demo 2007 and an official launch in March. They've recently added some potentially cool features to manage your texts: including the ability to setup a "whitelist" so only specific contacts can email/text you, or the ability to queue up the messages during times you don't want to be bothered. Couple this with advanced management capabilities tied into Outlook, and Teleflip covers the high traffic business customer potential well.

But Teleflips best advantage is not its features but its simplicity. Their website is layed out nicely and using the service is a cinch. Couple this, with a lack of dominant competitors and Teleflip seems like its got an easy road to success. However, Teleflip, may find monetizing its currently free service more difficult than it imagined.

Teleflip is currently riding on VC money to get into the 2008 timeframe, where they plan to actually start trying to bring in revenue: in the form of "nonspammy" ads and a premium service to corporate customers. This is clearly a big transition, and going from a free service to a free service supported by ads, means that success is likely only if they can pull the advertising off without bothering customers. And while Teleflip does have a market for "premium services" this is an inevitable blackhole that startups often talk about, but often fail at executing (landing the big corporate customers is not an easy road). But despite these challenges, Teleflip is offering a good service, its well positioned, and thus it's clearly a company to watch.



Friday, November 23, 2007

Docstoc is a Beverly Hills based company that (in their own words) is "Youtube for professional documents".   Umm Okay.  Honestly that just sounds dumb.  If I was going for useless analogies, I'd say more like pdf meets Digg, or something like that.  Anyways, despite the tagline cheapshot, seems like it has a few things going for it.  Although it just went live with its public release a few weeks ago, it has had quite a bit of coverage leading up to the release, most notably in its inclusion in the TechCrunch40.  The company also has secured 4 million in VC funding.

The Good
Online Document Sharing is at a relatively early stage and a service that can make publishing easy and useful for most consumers, while keeping it secure and relevant is one that will do well.  Certainly Docstoc has the potential to succeed by being in a developing niche at the right place at the right time.  They have a strong management team, which is already doing well building buzz and bringing in a growing user base by offering iPod giveaways; I'm sure more cleverness will follow.  

The Bad
Dostoc relies a lot on community and social networking type features, and I'm not really sold that this is a game changing feature for professional documents - not everything needs to be Facebook, especially in the professional space.  There is also the matter that during testing, quite a few errors were experienced when trying to register, or upload documents, or even post info in the blog section.  While its understandable these sorts of things happen during the beta release, I expect them to tighten up their services in the future with that nice round of funding they got.  And finally, there is their early lead competitor Scribd, which quite frankly I like better. 



Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The web 2.0 company that proclaims itself as MySpace meets the yellow pages. Mojo Pages is based out of North County San Diego and have had more hype than Crystal Clear Pepsi. So lets get down to it and take a look at MojoPages.
The Good:
Lets face it user generated reviews are in and for good reason, user generated reviews offer the most reliable information to users (yeah I know it is redundant but it also makes sense)...Moreover MojoPages are adding some benefits that companies might consider as a serious benefit, for example adding a wide range of categories to review on (Value, Service, and Quality), and video reviews.

Its also hard to forget that they have millions in funding and some pretty big name people involved in the company - such as an early level employee from Zillow.

The Cons:
They are the late comer here, Insiderpages and Yelp already have a big command on the user review industry. Given that, it seems highly unlikely that many locally owned stores will want to pay for premium placement on MojoPages, with relatively low unique traffic.  Of course the biggest gripe is that it is hard for me to see what the added value of this site is, compared to any other user based review site. The most unique feature is the ability to upload video reviews, but how many people are really going to do that (not many), and even if they did how useful would the video be?

There is a huge barrier that MojoPages needs to surpass and the first is to convince their potential users that their added value features make it a better or more useful place for their reviews.  As of now I am not convinced!


A startup company out of Pasadena, CA has an interesting proposition; have users enter their measurements and their preferences in how they want their clothes to fit, and will in give them their own "Personal Shop," featuring only clothes which fit their preferences.

The Positives:
Their concept is simple and gives them direct access into a very lucrative market, from their site they mention that the women's apparel market is around $30 billion per year. Also I am not a female but I do know that women never hesitate to complain how nothing fits them and how they hate trying clothes on so seems to be angled at an open market gap. Their website is also simple to use, user friendly, simple return process and they really seem to keep customers needs first which is always a key to success in retail. Finally they have recently received millions in Series B funding so if they are smart with it they can leverage this money and place themselves at the forefront of personalized online clothes shopping for women.

The Negatives:
Getting well tailored clothes just by collecting a few measurements seems feasible from my poorly dressed perspective, but I question if it will actually work. Women judge clothes on more levels than just a few simple measurements, and to get clothes to properly fit many women I have a feeling many more detailed measurements are involved than just the few simple measurements that MyShape requires for creating your own personal clothing shop.

Overall great concept and they are executing it well.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Not a lot of consumers have heard of, El Segundo based, Internet Brands but many have heard of the companies they own.  A sampling of the over 40 brands they oversee include:
  • - Community ratings and reviews of apartment complexes
  • - A car research portal
  • CarsDirect- A one stop shop for online car buying
  • - A home improvement and home repair site
  • WikiCars - A collaborative Wiki for all things cars
  • Wikitravel - A community wiki for travel guides
  • World66 - Community Travel listings
  • Vbulletin - One of the biggest developers of bulletin board software
Originally launched in 1999, as CarsDirect, Internet Brands has grown both organically and through heavy acquisition (costing roughly $85 million).  This growth though is not without struggles, as their 1st three quarters of 2007 resulted in a 2.5 million dollar loss, not a good way to kickoff an IPO. Maybe even more telling, todays IPO was originally filled in the summer,  priced between $10 - $12 a share, and at the last minute downgraded to $8 a share.  In conjunction, they also reduced the shares they were expected to offer from 9.5 million to 6 million.  All of which adds up to relatively luke warm coming out party for their public offering.

In general, Internet Brands, seems to have some clear strategy problems.  Their intent is to be a leading provider in community based research and transactions in the areas of automotive, real estate and travel, and they certainly own enough sites in the respective categories to be the leader.  However, what IB has not done well is leverage the 40+ brands they own to create an ultimate experience in any of those categories.  Oddly enough, many companies during the acquisition process are guilty of stifling the team they purchase by forcing integration to quickly, but if anything, IB seems to be suffering from the exact opposite problem. IB's companies seem disjoint, with little ability to create game changing synergy.  

Maybe even more concerning is that IB owns many "web 1.5" brands...websites that are community driven, but are doing so with a look and feel of the past Internet age.   What makes this concerning is that IB is in a dangerous position of gradually losing its various communities to new-commers that take a better advantage of web 2.0 type polish and functionality thats becoming standard in the "social Internet".  In many ways this would be a shame, its great to see a local Internet company that's based around helping the consumer.  And its also great to see one make it to the stage of going public (they even were up a few points by the close of their first days trading).  Hopefully Internet Brands will be able to take the cash they've raised from the IPO, develop a more clear cut strategy, and become a powerhouse for helping consumers.



Revver, an LA based video sharing company has recently relaunched their UI as Revver 2.0.  Revver is one of the original viral type video sharing sites, and was the first to offer users a way to monitize their videos by sharing revenue for inserted ads.  Basically Youtube, but the content creators get payed.

Revver has been well covered, gracing the likes of Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Week, USA Today, et all.  Obviously they are also well funded with over 10 million raised already.  
With the site redesign, Revver now looks the "web 2.0" part more, which is good since it was a pioneer.
On the otherhand Revver with all of its VC money, is likely still not profitable.  They announced in September that they have given out 1 million plus dollars to  content creators,which given their 50/50 revenue share model means they brought in 2 million or so... but that aint much in the entertainment industry.  Rough math, also gives that a content creator has ,on average, received about $40, which doesn't seem like enough money to give amateurs a reason not to upload to Youtube instead.  Unique content will be key, and if a recent exodus by big names like lonelygirl (because of the Myspace and Youtube partnership) are an indicator, Revver will need more then just the Revver 2.0 new look, to swoon people away from from the now crowded video field.  

Reverr still has some great things going for it.  It was one of the first in the field, and its revenue share concept could be a good one, if it can achieve critical mass.  Revver has also done a decent job with getting its content out their.  Recent deals with Verizon to access via cell phones and their well documented api are all good steps in the right direction.  Being located in the hub of the entertainment industry is also good, as it could be a catalyst for getting more professional content.  But at the end of the day, the real question is whether or not Revver can get solid traction before the behemoth of Google/Youtube come around with their own whizbang revenue share model.




Friday, November 16, 2007

TechCoastReview is a new weblog dedicated to tracking newly launched tech startups located in Southern California. In addition to new companies, we will profile existing southern California based companies that are sufficiently innovating in the areas of Internet and Technology.

Tech Coast Review is a response to the "Bubble 2.0" phenomena. A notion that the Internet and Technology Industry is in a rebirth of sorts; a gradual return to the highs and lows of the Internet bubble of the late 90's. New companies are forming everywhere, and many are touting the "power of web 2.0". While the definition of Web 2.0 continues to be fuzzy (Wikipedia entry on web 2.0), the excitement of leveraging, wikis, blogs, social networks, mashups, etc, through application frameworks like AJAX and Ruby on Rails, and open APIs such as Google, Yahoo, Flickr, et all. is palatable.

New companies are emerging at a rapid pace, and the venture capital and angel community have once again began bullishly investing in the online tech market. None of this, is "new" news to anyone who has been following the industry for the last 2 years or so. It is all well covered in the "valley".

But apart from Silicon Valley, areas such as Seattle, New York, and Southern California are hotbeds for innovation and investment. Despite the relatively small geographic distance between Socal and the Valley, cultural differences abound. In many ways the net result is that technology companies in Southern California tend to get underrepresented. Yet companies that have the potential to make a profound impact are emerging from areas like Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. This collective region, known as the "Tech Coast", has some of the greatest concentration of R&D efforts in the world, and its high time that someone was profiling it. So welcome to Tech Coast Review.

If you’d like to contact us with suggestions, comments, corrections, errors or announcements, feel free to email us at


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