At Rackspace headquarters, a slew of startup bus entrepreneurs pitched their ventures to a panel of celebrity judges Friday morning.
Among the judges, Dave McClure, serial entrepreneur and head of 500 Startups, gave them frank feedback, laced with a lot of F-bombs.
Dozens of entrepreneurs, from startup buses that originated in San Francisco, Boston, Cincinnati, Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Mexico, New York, Stanford University and Washington, D.C., bravely presented their ideas in front of the panel. They spent the last three days traveling first to San Antonio and then to South by Southwest where they will compete in a semi-finals round Saturday and finals on Sunday. The Rackspace event sought to help prepare them.
The startup buses have become an important part of the startup culture surrounding SXSW. But the concept started in March of 2010 as a joke, said Elias Bizannes, its founder. In the last few years, the startup bus has taken on a life of its own. This year’s contingent is the largest ever. A competition was also held in Europe last November, Bizannes said.
“Our focus is more on the people and not the products they build,” Bizannes said. “A lot of people have come out of this and gone on to raise money and start ventures.”
A guy from the New York startup bus last year raised $2 million from venture capitalists recently, he said.
And several of the startup bus entrepreneurs who pitched on Friday sounded like they had good business ideas.
Some guys on the Las Vegas startup bus hatched the idea of providing a print product comprised of all the postings on various social networks a person does in a year called YearInPrint.com It’s sort of like a yearbook of your life on social networks.
The retro futuristic idea got some love from Nicole Glaros, managing director of the TechStars Cloud.
YearinPrint.com has already signed up 100 users and it just launched Friday morning on the bus. That’s pretty impressive, said Robert Scoble, a blogger and Rackspace employee, who moderated the event.
“They actually have a product that works and you can use it,” Scoble said.
McClure told the entrepreneurs to present their ideas clearly in the format of customer, problem and framework.
He also yelled at the audience when the crowd got too loud.
“Hey you, shut the fuck up,” McClure said. “This is actually interesting.”
SimplyApp.com pitched their idea “Pinterest for geeks.”
“Who the hell cares?” asked McClure.
The head of TwoToursandalie.com said he registered AwesomeLobster.com and then pitched his tour service to McClure. McClure was not impressed.
“You bait and switched,” he said. “If you’re going to bait and switch make sure to pitch something awesome.”
McClure said the pitch was “fucking awful” and told the guy to get off the stage and hand the microphone to someone else.
Cerealize.com, a customizable cereal service that delivers the stuff to your door, presented its whimsical idea for cereal creation. It’s interested in getting a foothold in the customizable foods market. In just a few days, they were able to design a logo and launch a webpage.
The personalization includes the cereal box, Scoble said. “My kids could each have their own box of cereal with their picture on it.”
“This is the best idea I’ve heard all day,” said a judge. But he said the company would face a nightmare in sourcing ingredients.
The panel liked the nine-member team of Cerealize.com because they displayed passion and commitment to their product and they made others believe in their success.
GivingLight, an idea from the Washington, D.C. startup bus, presented its neighborhood service to help people for free to receive good Karma.
“What’s the business model?” asked Scoble.
“Corporate sponsors,” said the woman pitching GivingLight.
It’s an awesome idea, but it doesn’t fit the investor model, said Glaros with TechStars. But she said she would donate money to it.
A startup bus group pitching itself as a semester aboard for entrepreneurs got some traction from McClure.
“I kind of like this pitch,” McClure said. “It’s a narrow market but I think this is kind of interesting.”
A woman presented Curiouscities, an alternative lifestyle for adults interested in finding sex sites in different cities focused on fetishes and other stuff.
“How do you get your content?” asked a panel member.
“It’s all in the community,” she said.
“Best pitch today,” said McClure. She covered the customer, problem, target market and provided a solution.
Clrme.com is a crowdsourced reputation site for people.
“A platform for people to tell it like it is,” said the guy pitching it.
A panel judge said the name was awkward and it’s not a word so it’s difficult for people to find and understand. He recommended that they get the .Co website and spell the name out.
Two guys pitched, Taxcast, a site focused on providing tax information to artists and other creatives. They said “We are fucking revolutionizing tax today.”
McClure smiled at that.
McClure said the pitch was good for the first 30 seconds, but he doubted that people needed instant access to information about their taxes and their tax refund.
“I fucking don’t believe it,” he said.
The room became really loud with almost everyone talking at once. Glaros asked everyone to see how quiet they could get the room. It quieted down immediately.
“Punch the person next to you if they talk,” Glaros said.
Several startup bus entrepreneurs wanted to pitch their ideas but only 30 minutes remained. So Glaros came up with the idea to let each team present for 30 seconds and at the end they got a thumbs up or a thumbs down. If the panel liked the idea, the entrepreneur received additional feedback. If not, they had to leave the stage.
First up, PopcornU.com pitched its augmented education site for kids.
“That was clear,” said McClure. “But it kind of sucks.”
PopcornU exited the stage vowing to be back.
A site pitching itself as beer goggles for Twitter got voted off stage.
Open Wallet pitched a site that lets people get money from people nearby using a mobile phone. People broadcast their need and others nearby finance them. With Open Wallet, everybody becomes an ATM. They got a thumbs up.
One of the judges said it’s going to be very easy way to steal money from people. McClure asked if they have any background in fraud prevention.
“There’s a business here somewhere,” McClure said. “It’s peer to peer payday loans.”
Jay Hancock pitched Hancockapp.com, an app that creates simple contracts.
“It’s like having a lawyer in your pocket,” he said. He got a thumbs up from the panel. They liked the idea.
The judges also advised the startups not to put a dash in their domain name.
Wastebits.co created a business to business online platform to connect the creators of garbage with disposal services.
“If this doesn’t exist, it’s really interesting,” Glaros said.
“It’s hot,” said the guy pitching the waste company.
The panel generally liked the waste disposal company idea.
BumperCrop.co from the Florida statup bus pitched an application to connect home-based farmers with consumers. The panel liked the idea.
TimeClutch.com from the Boston startup bus billed itself as a Flipboard like experience that curates social activity around events. It launched today and already has three sponsors for SXSW. The panel asked how it differentiates itself from Storify.com. The app is event focused and automatically curates content on an event. The panel seemed to like that. But the entrepreneurs still had work to do.
“You’ve got to work on the pitch,” McClure said. “It sucks.”
The last company to pitch wanted to spread happiness, Happstr.com. It already has had 300 check ins. The idea is to find happy places using a location based app.
“Find your happy place.”
And on that note, the panel wrapped up.
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