Tech Coast Review
The startup and tech news weblog for Southern California
Showing posts with label startups. Show all posts
Showing posts with label startups. Show all posts

Friday, March 28, 2008

I attended Dealmaker LA event last night and would like to say that it was a very good event. There were tons of startups, VCs, angels, attorneys, bloggers, high profile tech gurus (Pete Cashmore of Mashable), and advisers in attendance, which is no surprise seeing as the event was hosted in Santa Monica's Clear Stone Venture Partners.

The premise behind the event was a small and select group of startups were able to run their pitches by 10 different VC's in a "speed dating" session where each session lasted 5 minutes. After that it was a typical tech schmoozing party that was open to the public where everyone exchanged business cards and talked...and talked.

I will be reviewing some of the following companies in the weeks to come but here is a short list of some of the presenters I found to be interesting:

Black Closet: A fashion site that lets you see what designer clothes looked like matched together on a model, there business model was the most intriguing part of their business.

Call Fire: A VOIP company that has already surpassed $1 million in revenue.

: A travel startup with an intriguing value add proposition.

HeavyBag Media: A Marketing firm whose goal is to build community around a company or product.

Overall I had a great time here and thought this event was a notch above many of the other events that have been going on in LA this week. For now I am going to take a break until the next big LA tech event. Which incidentally starts in 15 minutes.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The hype and popularity of sports is something I may never understand but that being said I hear coworkers, friends, strangers, family, and the guy who sits next to me at the bar drone on and on about their favorite sports team. Moreover it seems that everyone of them can give me a detailed analysis why Shaq going to the Suns is a good/bad trade, comments on Joe Torrey's weight, and a strong opinion with reasons why Rodger Clemens should/should not be let into the hall of fame. So needless to say I realize this market is huge and there is a huge potential for growth with anything that allows sports nuts personalize, customize, and shout out their opinions to the world.

Jacked is taking a stab at this by making customizable widget pages so you can keep your eye on all of the sports games going on. The widgets vary from play by play to you tube videos of the teams playing. They are VC funded with at least $6.5 Million and are based in Santa Monica, CA.

The Good: There web site is about a slick as it gets and even better than that the whole site is very easy to use, navigate, and customize. Also to their credit they have a ton of money and make it apparent that they have more sports related offerings (besides the widget platform) on the way. Most importantly the widgets they offer are rich in information and gave me more than I ever wanted to know about the games I was widgeting in on.

The Bad: I understand that this is supposed to be something you look at in addition to watching TV but why does it have to be that way? I would find Jacked much more useful if they had a live stream of the game(s) you are receiving information on. My idea here is that when I am watching a game on TV I really do not want to be checking my computer for other information, however if I am on my computer watching sports (ie no TV) I would gladly watch the game on my computer surrounded with the loads of data that all of these widgets can give me. Bottom line is that I want to see the actually game live broadcast along with the widgets!

Also there should be some sort of communication with other fans that getting the same information so there is a meaningful interaction going on. Let everyone share their so called sports knowledge and see what unfolds. This seems natural to me, most people have strong opinions about every aspect of sports so let them let loose, I could see a very dedicated (and violent) community developing from connecting sports users.

Overall: There is certainly room for some money to be made in this arena and might just be the one to do it, but until they add more user interaction and live streaming videos I do not see their idea gaining significant traction.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

is what I would call an enhanced social Q & A site, the idea is that you ask questions to the community and get answers back. They are based in Santa Monica, California and are part of parent company Demand Media. If Demand Media does not ring a bell their CEO Richard Rosenblatt has had a hand in some major internet acquisitions in the last 10 years including but not limited to Myspace and iMall.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a site with an extremely active community dedicated to answering one another's questions? It is a great idea that answerbag is executing as well as I can imagine but that being said answerbag is far from perfect.

The Good: Well if you are an investor or just a speculator Answerbag has just about everything going for it, they have money from their parent corporation, strong management (see above), and a very strong growth pattern. As for the site the utility is high, they do a nice job of letting everyone rate both the questioners and the answerers so you get a sense of who you can trust on the site. More importantly they only archive unique questions with good answers which means that you do not have to sift through 15 similar posts to find the best answer. Finally the community responds to most questions rather efficiently (however I have been waiting over and hour with no answer to my question).

The Bad: To harness the power, energy, and utility of their many thousands of users there will be some evil and this evil takes the form of endless opinions. One thing I do not want on a site dedicated to answers are endless opinions about religion and politics. If there is factual information that one can contribute to a political or religious question that is great but there is a whole lot of annoying (and useless) opinions on the site about democrats, conservatives, immigration, and everything in between.

Summary: Although it can be a pain sorting through all of the opinions when I am looking for an answer they do a good job of having an easily searchable archive of questions and answers which can provide a high level of utility to just about anyone (I found out the best way to remove dog poop from a carpet in seconds!) so I will not be surprised if Answerbag's strong growth continues.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Apparently Hulu is what you get when two of the major networks (NBC Universal and News Corp) get 100M to build a next gen Internet TV platform.  Hulu is well situated in the hub of the media industry basing itself in the center of Los Angeles.  Much like Gmail was for a long time, Hulu is currently in private beta, you need an invite to get access to Hulu.  Though again like Gmail if you really want access, invites aren't that hard to come by.

Once you do get into Hulu you might be surprised because it is considerable slicker, then TV viewing through the normal website of the various networks.  They are even beginning to add HD content, which is pretty cool in my book.  With over 100 programs offered from 15 TV stations they are off to a pretty good start with content.  Not every show has every episode available, which is annoying, but I'll cut them some slack since its still in private beta.  

One of the things that impresses me about Hulu, is that its a good show of faith that the entertainment industry is trying to adapt their business model around new channels as opposed to just fight it.  While nobody likes, watching ads, they are an important way to monetize content, and thus one of the primary mechanisms for entertainment types to get paid.  For a while, now there has been this fear that if you allowed people to share content, then you lost control of advertising.  Yet Hulu handles this issue quite well because they allow you to embed the tv shows outside of Hulu's main site, but there still is scheduled advertisement pauses so everyone gets paid, regardless of whether the video is embedded offsite or your watching it on  That seems fair to me, and as a consumer I can accept that.   Besides the inability to download to my ipod or whatever, they don't restrict where I can share Hulu videos online, and that freedom coming from a major network is a good step.

Of course its not all rosey pictures in the land of Hulu.  First off I hate the name (and a funny anecdote is that it means cease and desist in swahili).  And I really wonder about why the investment dollars were in the 100M range.  It seems the networks could have done something similar on their own site (in fact they sort of already do) for far less money.  Obviously everyone wants to compete with Youtube and Itunes as being sort of a universal place to distribute content, but I still think in some ways this was all overplayed a bit.  

In the end though Hulu is a step in the right direction by the big boys, and its good to see them trying to embrace the direction of technology.  In some ways just getting major organizations like NBC Universal and News Corp to both agree on the vision is pretty amazing.

If you want to see more screenshots of Hulu since its still in private beta: check out this review


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Los Angeles based,, launched two weeks ago as an online marketplace for consumers and business to rent and lend, just about anything.  So basically Ebay, but here you rent instead of buy.

Now first off, I'd like to say that the overall concept of building rental marketplace is good area for development, because there are plenty of industries where renting something is more attractive than buying it.  As a startup iRent2u positions itself in a good (and potentially large) niche, because although the online rental concept has been around forever, there is no clear market leader like there is in sale auctions(ebay, ebay ebay).  

However, unfortunately, I feel there are number of problems with what iRent2u currently has released.  While the site itself works okay, it is far from revolutionary; it has the look and feel of  a web service from 1999, not 2007.  As much as we like to cheer for the local guys, Zilok or Rentmineonline currently beat iRent2u hands down (both of which were covered in TechCrunch).   While Rentmineonline is basically confined to housing, they focus on community experience as a way to add value to rental services with strong tie-ins to social networking through their Facebook app.  Zilok is sort of at the other end of the spectrum, in that it is a general rental market like iRent2u, but its far more engaging because it is heavily localized with their interface driven through their Google map mashup.  And while social networking or mashups are not a prerequisite to doing a good rental marketplace, they both illustrate the power of emerging web technology, that iRent2u seems light on.

This really leads into the larger concern I have with iRent2u - their team makeup.  A basic browsing of their about page shows the people that have been directly involved in iRent2u (management and interns) are very heavily weighted on the business side and very light on the technology side.  And while MBAs can produce great technology (just like many technologists have become some of the best business leaders in the world), its hard to innovate with bad balance.  iRent2u, product is clearly technology driven, so the obvious question is: are the placing enough importance on engineering?  From their beta release, I'm not sure. 

In the end, I've thrown some relatively harsh constructive criticism at iRent2u because they theoretically, are more then just a me-too service, they've in fact chosen an area ready for innovation.  iRent2u is just now in beta, so they definitely have plenty of time to be flexible and really bust out the gates of the online rental world.  Ultimately, their challenge now is to take a good idea, and turn it from an okay test release, to a revolutionary, innovative, web platform.



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. 


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

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.


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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