Evan Baehr, co-founder of Outbox
By L.A. LOREK, Founder of Silicon Hills News
The Beta Summit at InnoTech Austin on Thursday featured five innovative startup companies.
Joshua Baer, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Capital Factory, served as the event’s moderator. He pitched his startup, OtherInbox, at the InnoTech Beta Summit a few years ago.
The startups each had eight minutes to showcase their companies to the standing-room only audience of more than 150 people. The startups included TrustRadius, Outbox, Ube, Skyence and Compare Metrics.
First up, TrustRadius, a company so new that Baer hadn’t heard of them yet, gave a demonstration of its enterprise software review site.
With consumer services like Yelp, people can find a thousand reviews of Home Slice Pizza on Congress Ave. but few reviews on expensive enterprise software programs companies buy to run their businesses, said Vinay Bhagat, TrustRadius Founder and CEO.
That’s the problem TrustRadius seeks to solve. It has launched a beta program for its review site for company software.
The site providers users with a template to evaluate a software product based on quality, customer service, ease of use and more. The reviews can also be sorted according to company size and industry. So a company technology professional can get relevant results for a small, medium or large business.
TrustRadius plans to make money through partnerships with software vendors and through subscription plans to premium content, Bhagat said.
Next up, Evan Baehr, co-founder of Outbox, gave an overview of his startup seeks to disrupt the bureaucratic and slow-moving U.S. Postal Service.
Outbox received $2.5 million in funding to create a new and better way to deliver mail to people in the digital age, Baehr said.
They built a product that digitizes all postal mail and delivers it to a user’s computer, phone or iPad. The product is in beta testing in Austin and already has 200 users.
Outbox seeks to innovate where the U.S. Post Office has failed, Baehr said.
“We’re young, we’re hip,” Baehr said. “We’ve got great outfits and really cool cars.”
Everyday Outbox’s employees, decked out in bright red Under Armour shirts, drive their white Outbox Prius cars to pick up customers mail. They then open the mail and scan each piece into a highly secure website. Customers can then access their mail and decide which items they want hard copies of to keep. Those items are delivered every Friday to the customers.
Outbox charges $4.99 a month for the service. Customers only need to send a picture of their mailbox key to Outbox to get started. Outbox then scans the key and creates a copy of it using a 3-D printer, Baehr said. The service is available in 40 zip codes in Austin right now. In the coming months, Outbox will expand to San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, Baehr said.
Outbox plans to integrate online bill paying into its service to make it easy for its customers to pay everything online, Baehr said. Right now, only 14 percent of bills are paid online, he said.
In the beginning, Outbox tried to partner with the U.S. Post Office. Baehr and other Outbox employees met with Postmaster General in Washington, D.C. to pitch their idea for digitizing the mail. The U.S. Post Office was not receptive, Baehr said. So they pursued the idea on their own.
At the end of the presentation, Baehr handed out postcards with a code for free two-month discount to the Outbox service.
Baehr talked so fast and enthusiastically that at one point he joked he felt like he was selling a Ronco Knife set.
Utz Baldwin, CEO and founder of Ube, demonstrates the Ube app to turn on lights
Next, Utz Baldwin, CEO of Ube, joked “That’s what happens folks when you feed your kids Redbull for breakfast.”
Ube recently won the People’s Choice Award at DEMO Fall 2012. The company plans to launch next month its free iOS app to control IP-enabled devices in the home like lighting systems, smart TVs and thermostats.
Baldwin is a former CEO of CEDIA, the global organization representing the connected home industry.
“The Internet of things is here,” Baldwin said.
Right now, creating a connected home can costs thousands of dollars and requires all kinds of hardware. Ube replaces all that, Baldwin said. With the app, anyone can control lights, TV and other devices in their home using a smartphone, a Wi-Fi router and the Internet.
Baldwin demonstrated how he could dim lights with his smartphone. He ended his presentation with a question to the audience.
“What will Ube controlling next month?” Baldwin said.
The fourth company to pitch, Skyence showed off its cloud services management software. The company launched six months ago and is in a private invitation only beta, said Tony Frey, its co-founder.
The software helps companies manage their files in the cloud on services ike Yammer, Shoutcast and Dropbox, Frey said. Skyence filters across all the cloud services, he said.
Skyence can track files and let management know who is using them and who are they sharing the files with online, he said.
Lastly, Compare Metrics’ Garrett Eastham, founder and CEO, provide an overview of his feature-driven search engine for e-commerce sites.
“We’re adding a new layer of interactivity and discovery on top of e-commerce sites,” Eastham said.
Compare Metrics has created a platform that delivers only the most relevant features to a customer. The platform becomes more intelligent the more a user interacts with it. It learns a person’s preferences and then makes product suggestions based on certain features. The company has a patent pending on its feature discovery and comparison platform.
Compare Metrics makes money by selling categories to e-commerce sites on a monthly basis. It is a software as a service company and charges $500 per month per category to retailers.
Its first customer, LivingDirect.com, goes live next week with Compare Metrics’ platform, Eastham said.