Publisher and Reporter at Silicon Hills News
At South by Southwest, Guy Goldstein came up with the idea for WriterDuet when meeting with screenwriters and filmmakers.
Goldstein created a platform, similar to Google Docs, to allow writers to collaborate on projects. Today, WriterDuet has more than 25,000 monthly users with 2,000 new members joining every week. The Austin-based company also recently branched out to new international markets like China.
WriterDuet was one of ten companies that pitched their ventures during the 88th Techstars Demo Day held in Austin at the Palm Door on Thursday.
“I think this class is phenomenal and dare I say it, I think the best Austin class that has been assembled,” said Jason Seats, now managing partner of Techstars and in charge of its venture investments.
In 2013, Seats founded the Techstars Austin Accelerator program. Amos Schwartzfarb, a mentor and serial entrepreneur, took over as managing director in 2015.
Overall, Techstars, founded in Boulder, Colorado in 2006, runs 30 accelerator programs worldwide, a venture capital fund and an enormous global network of mentors and business partners, said David Brown, one of its co-founders who attended the Techstars Austin event. It receives more than 18,000 applications annually for 300 spots in its programs, he said.
The 2017 Techstars Austin program included four international companies from France, Canada, Uruguay and Colombia. It also had companies in the U.S. from Texas, Arizona, California and North Carolina.
“Today is a celebration of the last 13 weeks of really intensive work these guys have been doing on their businesses,” Schwartzfarb said.
In the two days leading up to the program, the startups had one to one curated meetings with investors from all over the world, Schwartzfarb said. They had more than 200 meetings, he said.
“Three companies have already closed their rounds with more than $4 million in financing already,” he said.
Techstars Austin put on two pitch sessions Thursday. The early one aimed at investors and VIPs and the later one for the community followed by a party.
At the later event, Schwartzfarb acknowledged the 130 mentors that volunteer in Austin. And in particular, he recognized the top six mentors for the latest class: Keith Casey, Erik Huddleston, Nate Pruitt, Bill Kennedy, Monique Maley and Josh Jones-Dilworth.
During the pitch session, a mentor or customer introduced each company and then the founder had two and a half minutes to present.In an interview before her pitch, Hannah Oiknine, CEO and co-founder of Babbler, based in Paris, France, said she joined the Techstars program to expand its product in the U.S.
“Techstars was the best way for us to accelerate the business strategy and expand our network,” she said.
Oiknine and her sister, Sarah Azan, cofounded the company and raised $2 million in venture capital in France. They hired two more employees in Austin and they have 14 employees in Paris.
“Every company needs media coverage regardless of the size of the industry. Because it builds visibility, credibility and sales,” Oiknine said during her pitch. “That’s why companies spend more than $160 billion a year on PR.”
PR is hard because PR is broken, Oiknine said. So, she created Babbler as the best way for reporters to receive trustworthy information from sources. Babbler connects reporters with public relations professionals at companies to provide relevant information to the beats that they cover.
More than 1,000 companies like Yelp, Edelman and Pinterest use Babbler and more than 6,000 reporters are on the platform. More than 1,200 stories get picked up every week, Oiknine said. Last year, Babbler generated $645,000 in revenue.
“Our product is now live in the U.S. and we can hit a much bigger number in expanding in the rest of the world,” she said.
The head of another international startup, Javier Martinez, CEO and cofounder of Invomatic, an online invoicing company aimed at large businesses, met Schwartzfarb at a coworking space in Bogota, Colombia.
When they were accepted into the Techstars Austin program, all four co-founders moved to Austin from Bogota.
“We are a completely different team from the team that arrived here,” he said. “They gave us the tools to think about our business in entirely new ways…It changed us very radically.”
Invomatic landed a large travel agency in Colombia as a customer. It is helping them process 200,000 invoices a month and they are saving money by using Invomatic, Martinez said.“The mentors and startup community in Austin have been fantastic,” Martinez said.
Marcus Carey, CEO and founder of Threatcare, based in Austin, wanted to participate in the Techstars Austin program to learn more about running and scaling his software as a service platform that spoofs hacker attacks on a computer network to help companies guard against malicious attacks.
“The Techstars network, the training and the mentorship helped me out on my journey as a CEO,” Carey said. “Techstars has affected every aspect of our business. It’s been a great experience.”
Threatcare now has seven full time employees and plans to bring on two more in the next month, Carey said. The company has also raised $2 million in funding.
“Companies spend $90 billion annually on customer security,” Carey said during his pitch.
“Now these are all great companies,” he said. “But the problem is there is no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to cybersecurity so their customers are still going to get hacked. At Threatcare, we help our customers constantly diagnose gaps in their cybersecurity through people, process and products.”
Last month, ThreatCare did $68,000 in bookings, Carey said.
Josh Jones Dilworth, a serial entrepreneur in Austin and a long-time mentor in the Techstars Austin program, introduced Prospectify, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dilworth is already a customer.
“If you are a sales person…Prospectify is the thing we’ve been waiting for a decade or more. It’s the closest thing to a Holy Grail for sales that I’ve seen,” he said.
Noah Spirakus is the CEO and co-founder of Prospectify and Matt Ekstrom is cofounder.
“Because of bad data, sales reps are only spending 30 percent of their time selling,” Spirakus said.
So, they created Prospectify to allow sales reps to target the right customers at the right time, Spirakus said. The platform uses artificial intelligence and data to provide business to business sales staff with correct and timely information.
Since Prospectify launched, the platform has been growing at more than eight percent week over week, Spirakus said.
“The market isn’t static so let’s stop buying lists or sales data that are,” Spirakus said.
The other startups presented included:
NUKERN – Phil Rivard, CEO and founder of Montreal, Canada-based Nukern, which is making billing automation tools for web hosting resellers.
“With three clicks, we automatically bill our clients, the right amount at the right time,” Rivard said.
Ganderson spent more than 500 hours with 16 vendors to recreate an image she found online for her wedding.
“As a bride, I only dealt with this one time,” she said. “Vendors and venues, they deal with this problem every single day.”
The Wed Clique provides a platform for wedding venues to sell curated vendor packages to their clients. The site takes care of all the backend payments. The company makes money on a monthly subscription fee and a 10 percent transaction fee on every wedding booked.
In the last month, The Wed Clique has already acquired more than 400 vendors. It is now rolling out throughout the rest of the Southeast, she said.
CITYCOP – Nadim Curi, CEO and Marcelo Dotti founded CityCop, based in Montevideo, Uruguay. It is a social platform for community watch that enables you to fight crime and protect your loved ones by actively reporting crimes in your community and the areas you care about. CityCop currently has more than 200,000 users.
SUPER – Super, based in Palo Alto and Austin, uses machine learning to help homeowners save time and money on pool cleaning. It handles scheduling, payments and logistics.
Chris Couhault, CEO and founder and David Lemphers, CTO and founder and Shreyas Karnik, founder, launched pilots across San Antonio and Austin and in the last month grew revenue from $800 a month to $15,000 a month. Right now, it is catering to the $8 billion pool maintenance and repair market. But it plans to apply its approach to the home maintenance industry.
SCALEFACTOR – ScaleFactor, based in Austin, is run by Kurt Rathmann, CEO and founder and Corey Bach, CFO and founder.
“Poor cash flow is the number one killer of small businesses,” Rathmann said.
ScaleFactor is an automatic bookkeeping and cashflow management platform that analyzes everyday financial operations for the 29 million small and medium sized businesses and 55 million freelancers in the U.S.
Last year, ScaleFactor had 135 customers and $1.8 million in revenue.