Tag: TechStars (Page 1 of 3)

Amos Schwartzfarb is the New Managing Director of Techstars Austin

imgres-1Techstars has hired Amos Schwartzfarb as its new managing director of Techstars Austin.

Schwartzfarb takes over from Jason Seats, who is still with Techstars and will remain in Austin. Seats is one of the managing partners of Techstars $150 million venture capital fund. He is dedicating all of his time to that role.

Schwartzfarb is no stranger to Techstars Austin. He has served as mentor to all three of the Techstar Austin classes. He has also founded several companies and has expertise in sales and business strategy in the software, digital, advertising and entertainment industries.

Previously Schwartzfarb served as head of customer development at Joust. Before that, he was vice president of customer development at BlackLocus, which was acquired by The Home Depot in 2012. He was co-founder and served as Chief Operating Officer of mySpoonful, which was acquired in 2011. Before that, he was an executive with Business.com, which was acquired by RH Donnelly in 2007. He also spent five years at HotJobs.com.

Schwartzfarb said it energizes him to work with startups and entrepreneurs.

“Founders have a deep belief that they can turn a really good idea into something that is a business,” Schwartzfarb said. They go through a thousand micro iterations before they get there, he said, but the key is getting people to believe, early on, that the vision is achievable.

And timing is really important, Schwartzfarb said. An idea can be really good but the market needs to be ready for it.

“When I first moved here – it’s only been eight years – but it seems like it’s been a long time – it’s an open community, people are nice and I wanted to be as much of a part of that as possible,” Schwartzfarb said. “That translates into this role. I get to actually help bring great companies to Austin to grow and become great businesses.”

That’s all possible under the Techstars brand, he said.

“My hope is that I’m able to take what Jason has done and add to it to continue to grow this community and continue to be on the forefront of the current startup community,” he said.

In the next few weeks, Techstars Austin will begin accepting applications for its next class, which will kick off in February. Schwartzfarb’s network stretches from coast to coast and he’s hoping to find some of the most exciting new companies to join the next class, he said.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of high quality companies come through,” he said. “We’re looking to continue to do great things in town.”

Schwartzfarb also answered a few questions via email to get to know him better in his new role as managing director of Techstars Austin.

Q1. Why did you move to Austin?

A. In 2007 I was living in LA and had been traveling to Austin for business since 2000. My wife and I were looking to leave LA before starting a family. We visited several cities all over the country and then came to Austin for a long weekend. It took us under 24 hours to realize this would be our new home. There were several draws to Austin at that time. The biggest two were the, then up-and-coming, start-up scene and how incredibly family friendly Austin seemed (coming from LA). My wife and I also love the outdoors and live music and, of course, Austin has an abundance of both.

Q2. What is your favorite thing about the city?

A. There are so many things I love about Austin. My “ favorite thing” has changed from time to time since I first moved here and currently it’s the people. There seems to be this persistent high-energy theme of “ let’s continue to push limits and kick-butt” that everyone has. Whether you are in the start-up world, or a musician, a foodie or a cyclist, everyone here has a ton of passion, focus and dedication for the things they love. It seems like everyone I meet wants to take an active role in Austin’s future through their passions. There is a real vibrancy in Austin and it’s infectious! That is why we keep seeing Austin show up on all the “best of” lists and why I think we will continue to see Austin flourish for many, many years to come.

Q3. Why did you take the job as director of Techstars in Austin?

A. I love working with early stage companies and helping them reach their full potential. For this reason, when Techstars launched in Austin I became a pretty active mentor. Over the past two years I have become increasingly impressed with the Techstars organization overall. When I was approached about the role it was a very easy decision in that I would have the opportunity to work with such a great company, doing what I loved while also contributing to the future growth of Austin!

Q4. Why is Techstars important to Austin?

A. Austin has an amazing start-up scene that continues to grow. Techstars plays an important role in that as a local accelerator we are also part of the global Techstars ecosystem. We have a very strong network that enables us to provide deep support and unique opportunities to our companies which ultimately contribute to Austin’s future growth.

Q5. What are you looking for in the next Techstars Austin class?

A. Obviously I’m looking for ideas with big potential but beyond that I’m looking for solid teams that are genuine, passionate and honest with themselves. I don’t have a bias towards a specific sector but the concept has to resonate with me. I want to feel like, “yeah, that needs to exist” and then believe this is the team that can make it happen.

Q6. Do you have any advice or tips on how to get into Techstars Austin?

A. Get your application in early. Make yourself stand-out. And tell a really good story. If you know someone associated with Techstars in any city have them endorse you. At the end of the day you need a good idea and solid team.

Q7. What is your favorite coffee house in Austin?

A. Mellow Johnny’s/Juan Pelota. Great coffee and I get to stare at bikes between thoughts.

Q8. What do you like to do when you’re not working?

A. When I’m not working I keep it pretty simple. I spend a lot of time with my family biking, hiking and climbing. My wife and daughters are all high energy and I just do what I can to keep up! I also spend some time biking with friends and I try to catch some live music whenever I can. I know this seems pretty par for the course in Austin and it definitely runs true in our house.

App Puts Patients and Providers on the Same Page

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Jason Bornhorst, CEO and co-founder of Patient.io

Jason Bornhorst, CEO and co-founder of Patient.io and Filament Labs

Corinthian Health operates 20 centers where patients get critical intravenous drug treatments for chronic neurological and autoimmune diseases.

The monthly sessions of infusions can last up to eight hours. If the patient isn’t properly prepared or the complex drug mix is off, the patient can suffer significant side effects such as severe headaches and nausea. If worse comes to worst, the patient might have to give up the treatments.

To help patients manage their preparation and monitor conditions between treatments, Texas-based Corinthian has turned to a smartphone app called Patient IO developed by Austin startup Filament Labs.

The patients who use the app have done away with the packets of paper of care instructions and guidelines the doctor sent home with them and phone calls with their care team.

Instead they get reminders on their phones about drinking enough water and taking their meds. Corinthian’s staff can check in with their patients and the patients can quickly notify the staff when they have headaches or other problems. The app also has a library of medically vetted information about the patient’s disease.

Bucky Staggs, Corinthian’s science liaison, said the information flow between provider and patient enables them to work together effectively to improve care.

“It’s the biggest innovation I’ve seen in management for chronic disease patients,” said Staggs, who’s been a registered nurse for nearly 30 years. “It has absolutely improved the quality of care that we deliver to these chronic patients every time we see them.”

He said it’s essential to have a two-way bridge between patient and staff.

“For example, if we know you’re having side effects we can modify your next infusion to prevent that from happening again,” he said.

Colin Anawaty, Co-founder and the Chief Product Officer of Patient.io and Filament Labs

Colin Anawaty, Co-founder and the Chief Product Officer of Patient.io and Filament Labs

Filament co-founders Jason Bornhorst, the company’s chief executive, and Colin Anawaty, the chief product officer, created the app out of the ashes of a previous fitness-related venture. They’ve found more interest and money in the digital healthcare business.

Patient IO is part of a wave of digital health products responding to health care changes that hold providers more accountable for patient outcomes and that encourage patients to take active roles in their treatments.

Filament expects annual revenue of $1 million this year. It’s raised $1.5 million in seed rounding funding from Corinthian Health and Arcadia, another customer, as well as Mercury Fund, Techstar Ventures, Geekdom Fund and a number of angels. Bornhorst said the company plans to seek Series A funding in the first quarter of 2016.

Bornhorst brings the experience of a serial entrepreneur to Filament Labs. When he was a student at the University of Michigan he started several companies. One, Mobiata, was bought by Expedia and still develops all of the company’s mobile travel apps.

Forbes noticed the healthcare turn, putting Bornhorst on its list of “30 Under 30” in healthcare for 2015.

Filament was selected for the first class of Techstars Austin on the basis of its fitness app, called Healthspark. The app would send reminders to users about exercise. The company even had a deal for the Aetna insurance company to distribute the app to its policyholders.

However, the app met the same fate as a Fitbit stuck in a sock drawer or a treadmill used as a clothes rack. Encouraging fitness, it turned out, was not a sustainable business.

Bornhorst said they needed some convincing to switch gears. “We got dragged into changing the app.”

Austin entrepreneur Josh Kerr was one of Filament’s mentors in Techstars and he and other mentors consulted with Bornhorst and Anawaty about pivoting.

“Both Jason and Colin wanted the same thing out of this company,” Kerr said. “They shared all the right core values. They both believed in the same end goal and were motivated by all the right reasons. They had complimentary skills and the resources they would need to be successful.”

Refocused, Bornhorst and Anawaty and their team went to work.

“It was no trivial thing,”Bornhorst said. “We totally rebuilt the platform.”

Kerr said that from his point of view, Bornhorst and Anawaty worked through some tough times together, but emerged with a much stronger company targeting a much bigger market.

Filament’s staff of 10, builds out and markets the app, working out of a building populated by other startups and tech companies. The team has many of its meetings at nearby Sweetish Hill Bakery.

Today, the app has thousands of users across 25 clinical sites, Bornhorst said.

The Corinthian site in San Antonio has a group of patients that pass on Patient IO’s benefits to fellow patients, Staggs said.

“Patients who use it and understand the value are talking to their fellow patients,” he said. ”Our internal growth (of the app) is from current users advocating to fellow patients.”

That’s accountability Filament likes.

Brewbot Raises $1.5 Million in a Seed Round of Funding

Brewbot team, courtesy photo

Brewbot team, courtesy photo

Brewbot, a Techstars Austin startup, just landed $1.5 million in seed stage funding.

The company raised the money from Brad Feld, Bebo Founder and CEO Michael Birch and Federico Pirzio-Biroli, an angel investor in London, Boulder VC Bullet Time Ventures, Hallett Capital and a new fund in Northern Ireland, TechStart NI and SparkLabs Global. The company also raised part of its investment from Angel List.

“Not only have we gained investors, we’ve gained the experiences of people in the manufacturing, food and drink, engineering, and software industries,” Brewbot’s CEO Chris McClelland, said in a blog post. “As we embark on a world that’s at the intersection of old and new industries this experience adds serious value to our business.”

The company, founded by five friends from Belfast, Northern Ireland, makes a personal home brewing robot.

Brewbot has a mobile phone app and specialized hardware machine that lets people chose a recipe and ingredients to brew beer in its home brewing robot. It works for everyone from master brewers to novices.

143227-201309 BrewBot 050 - by Simon Mills-83654d-original-1412077377The Brewbot costs $3,000 and it can be customized.

“Brewbot’s app features a recipe platform that allows anyone to download or create a recipe so that they can brew a beer of any style. Brewbot takes care of the temperatures, timings and volumes, allowing you to follow along on the app as water is turned into beer,” according to a Brewbot blog post. “In order to achieve this, the Brewbot team have developed a new data and visual format that they call the ‘DNA of Beer’. This format opens up the reproduction and collaboration of beer recipes, giving brewers the opportunity to share and distribute their beer globally without even shipping a bottle.”

Brewbot also raised more than $194,000 from a successful Kickstarter campaign last year,

Startup Week Founder Jacqueline Hughes: The Person Behind the Community

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Jacqueline Hughes at Austin Startup Crawl last year at Capital Factory, photo by Laura Lorek

Jacqueline Hughes at Austin Startup Crawl last year at Capital Factory, photo by Laura Lorek

Jacqueline Hughes seems the antithesis of a typical event coordinator—what Austin Technology Council’s Grover Bynum calls “whistle and clipboard” people. Event coordinators have reputations for being frenetic, type A, wearing frozen, stressed smiles. Hughes, curled up in an easy chair at Techstars Austin, seems relaxed, chill, though she’s in the midst of putting final touches on several major events including her own creation: Austin Startup Week. She’d worked all night until 7 a.m. and was back in the early afternoon to do more.

“It’s kind of exciting to email someone at three a.m. asking for something you need and getting an answer back immediately,” she laughs. “It’s like ‘You are crazy too! What’s wrong with you? Who stays up working until three in the morning?’”

Hughes does. Regularly. Ever since she got introduced to the Austin tech community with her job as community manager for an Austin co-working site, she’s become a fixture at nearly every tech event, many of which she planned and executed. She not only created Austin Startup Week, she’s been either chief planner or involved to her elbows in numerous other events including several major events for Techstars, Made in Austin Career Fair, Rise Week and many SXSW events. The sociology major from Texas State University has become an expert in the sociology of Austin tech. It lets her exercise two of her favorite things: Getting to know interesting people and creating fun events.

The Person Behind the Community

“Sometimes, there are people out front and when you dig a little bit deeper, you find the person behind the person,” said Jason Seats, managing director of Techstars Austin. “I feel like Jacqueline’s the person behind the community. Almost anything that’s happening here, she’s really just one hop away from it, even the things she’s not directly involved in. She knows how all these things plug together, what’s involved, what kinds of things people like to do and don’t like to do. I feel like calling her a connector is underplaying it… I would be hard pressed to pull someone out of the startup community that she hasn’t done something for.”

In a town with more events than calendar days, planning something unique and fun is a huge challenge. Hughes’ take on it is: “I like to see people have fun. I like to see them happy.”

Julie Huls, President of Austin Technology Council with Jacqueline Hughes, founder of Austin Startup Week, at the ATC Battle of the Bands last year, photo by Laura Lorek

Julie Huls, President of Austin Technology Council with Jacqueline Hughes, founder of Austin Startup Week, at the ATC Battle of the Bands last year, photo by Laura Lorek

“What I observe her doing is she gets a rough plan and then she walks through it over and over in her mind,” Seats said. “Every time, she thinks up 15 more small details. Maybe this isn’t the right door for people to go in, because traffic clogs here. ..she likes people to have fun and enjoy themselves and that’s the mindset she has on. ‘Okay, I’m Joe Schmo, what will I think when I walk in? What am I going to see? Will be the music be too loud in this area? Will I be able to meet people? Will I feel awkward?’”

At the same time, Seats said, “She lets things happen the way they’re going to happen.”

Bynum, ATC senior advisor, said Hughes is not only incredibly laid back, but also transparent and eager to collaborate, let events evolve organically, give other people a voice in what the event will eventually become.

“She’s an excellent national ambassador for the city,” he said. “She recognizes that the value of Startup Week is still being determined and instead of trying to figure out what it is, she understands the community, lets different approaches be heard…she introduces the value and lets people chew on it.”
One Startup Week, he said, he wanted to bring his policy and advocacy background into the mix and offer a serious discussion on Internet policy led by a national advocacy group at City Hall. “We really didn’t know what the uptake was going to be,” he said. Though they had some concerns that the event—being less sexy and festive than other sessions—might not draw participants, Hughes encouraged Bynum to go for it. “It turned out we had a full house at City Hall when it might have just been me. That’s been a successful piece of Startup Week ever since.”

Falling Into the Startup World

In many ways, Hughes fell into the startup world and the world of event creation. A product of the Houston suburbs and its traditions—like Cotillion—she discovered a whole new world of interesting, passionate people when she went to Texas State for College.

“I had these amazing teachers,” she said. One class, A People’s History of the United States, gave her a completely new view on the world. “It was the first time I kind of learned that Christopher Columbus wasn’t the nicest guy in the world….I was interested in studying values and norms and it opened my eyes to the fact that I don’t have to fit into a square or a circle.”

imgresShe was living in Austin, a year into her master’s in sociology, when she decided to look for a program where she could get a Ph.D on environmental sociology and she and her boyfriend at the time planned a road trip to schools in Colorado, Utah, California, Oregon and Washington to find the right programs. Then they broke up. On the one hand, her plan had now disappeared and she was a little lost. But around the same time, her grandparents left her $20,000. She took off for London, then returned to the U.S. and spent the rest of the year making the money stretch, taking road trips all over the U.S. and spending tons of time alone.

“I loved it,” Hughes said. “I felt very free. I had this couch on the porch and I would lay on it and read (Harry Potter among others), then fall asleep, wake up, read some more. I napped during the day and only slept three or four hours at night. At one point I went to get a massage and the massage therapist said ‘You don’t have any stress…at all.’ I’m really glad I had that time. I don’t think a lot of people get to have that.”

But eventually the money was running out and it was time to get a job. She was living in Austin and knew networking was key. She got a Twitter account and started connecting with people and going to events. “Someone on Twitter told me about TabbedOut, Foursquare, I started thinking about what else you could do with apps.” This was another whole new world. When she started meeting techies and geeks, she didn’t even know there was code behind websites. But once again, she was surrounded by interesting people tackling cool projects.
After sending out 100 resumes, Hughes was hired to build membership at a co-working space. That year she attended 300 events, going from a life of near total solitude to one surrounded by people.

Bridging the City

“I spent time just meeting people for about six months,” she said. “I was that person who showed up at everything. That was what I was known for, just knowing people. I didn’t think that was really admirable. It came sort of naturally to me to meet people. I have a really good memory. I don’t remember movie quotes or actors but I’ll remember when I first met someone, where it was, what we talked about. People started putting me on a pedestal because I knew so many people. I felt like a phony, like that’s the only skill I have? So I decided to start working on my own startup.”

Hughes wanted to create a platform that would have all the city’s events listed in one place, without having to input the data. It was called Bridge the City and it was to be similar to Foursquare’s new Swarm app.

“One thing I think Foursquare is not as good at is, if I was going to Refresh Austin and it was at Buffalo Billiards, I wasn’t headed to Buffalo Billiards—I was headed to Refresh Austin.” Bridge the City would focus on the events and make it easy to find the people you wanted to meet at those events, something she said no app does well, even still.

She and her cofounders spent three months working on it, then they split up.

“We came together wanting to solve the same problem, but couldn’t align on how to get there. After we released a MVP — an events calendar – we began struggling with direction. Half of the team wanted to build something simple similar to what Swarm looks like, the other half envisioned something closer to what Do512 looks like today. In the end, neither side was willing to compromise and we split up. I think the team was looking to me to steer us in the right direction, and I didn’t step up.”

The Birth of Startup Week

Jacqueline Hughes, photo by Susan Lahey

Jacqueline Hughes, photo by Susan Lahey

Hughes still had the co-working job and started working with startup Qrank, but neither was full time. One day, when she was planning a trip to San Francisco, she created a pitch to ask the CEO of Plancast whether he was interested in hiring her to do community management for that company as well. He hired her. The idea for Austin Startup Week came after Hughes realized that people in Boulder were using the app in a really “interesting way.” Plancast sent her to Boulder where she was introduced to Boulder’s Startup Week. The organizer gave her permission to borrow as many of their ideas as she liked.

The consummate event attender, Hughes wanted to put a lot of the area’s startup activities in the same week and anchor them with something like a UT or Capital Factory demo day. Josh Baer was the first person she approached.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a very good event planner but I’m a very good event creator. I’m really good at figuring out what’s fun. I like to create fun experiences for people…. I’ve worked with some event planners who were amazing. They make my life so much easier. They go through everything I’ve done to make sure I’m not leaving anything out.”

The first Austin Startup Week was in 2011 and those early budgets were meager. One good thing about that was that they had to ferret out interesting locations, like GSDM’s entryway, that could accommodate both their budget and their crowds. Sponsors covered specific events, usually to the tune of a few hundred dollars. But this year the organization decided to take on one big sponsor for each day of the event. Some of the early sponsors included Indeed and AT&T. Meanwhile, Hughes has been responsible for more than 50 events—everything from dinner parties to Startup Week.
She’s become to go-to events person for Austin Techstars.

“I love working for Techstars,” she said. “I have never worked with a group of people who work so hard. Everyone on the team is just so good at the things they’re good at and they trust me to own and be good at the things I’m good at.”

One of the most recent events she threw for Techstars was a retreat at Marfa. She remembered the last night, when they hadn’t brought a cooler so she lined a grocery cart with trash bags and filled it with ice for beer and Seats and a couple others pulled out their guitars and played under the starlight.

“Things that are easy to do in other places are not easy to do in Marfa,” Seats said. “Just finding seating for 40 people at once and catering—we had to have four or five different restaurants cater together when we were on that trip…I think she surprised herself at how well that worked out. It could have been horrible but every part of it was so over-the-top perfect.”

Hughes knows she’s the kind of person who could work herself into the ground. Her four-year-relationship with her boyfriend, Scott Gress, helps her to stay balanced. Gress, who is also working on a startup is an intense worker too. But he helps her know when it’s time to turn off the computer and say she’s done for now.

One day, Hughes wants to be an investor. Starting a business is so hard, she said, she wants to be able to support people’s entrepreneurial ventures. Meanwhile, she’s still more comfortable being the person in the background, making things happen.

“I would love for her to become more comfortable owning the recognition for the stuff she does at this level,” said Seats. “She does so many things for so many people and they get the credit, which is noble and nice and we all are the beneficiaries of it.”

Bob Metcalfe Tells Startups to Build Their Networks to Succeed

photoBob Metcalfe, professor of Innovation at the University of Texas, spent some time talking with Jason Seats, managing director of Techstars, during a virtual fireside chat at Foundercon in Austin recently.

Metcalfe has held many careers including educator, publisher and columnist, venture capitalist, inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3Com. He has spent the past three years in Austin at UT and has pledged to make this area a “better Silicon Valley.” He works closely with startups as one of the instructors at the Longhorn Startup program at UT, which teaches undergraduates how to form and run a startup successfully.

In this Techstars video, Metcalfe tells the Techstars founders and staff “You are my favorite people. You are entrepreneurs.”

His advice to startup entrepreneurs is to build their networks to cultivate the success of their startups.

“Building your networks is the most important thing you can do to ensuring the success of your company, your customer networks, your networks of possible employees, your supply networks, your investor networks” Metcalfe said.

“One of the mistakes you can make is to not grok what it means to build a network,” Metcalfe said.

The important thing is that a rolodex must contain trusted sources, Metcalfe said. Entrepreneurs’ networks must be built by exchanging value with those people, he said.

“The first thing that can happen to a network is that you fail to build one,” Metcalfe said.

“The second thing that can go wrong is that your network can be junk,” Metcalfe said. “Some correlation of Metcalfe’s law is that a junky network isn’t worth shit.”

Build your networks and take care of the people in them, he said.

11 Startups Pitch at Techstars Demo Day in Austin

Founder of Silicon Hills News

The team behind Burpy.com, photo by Laura Lorek

The team behind Burpy.com, photo by Laura Lorek

The latest Techstars Austin class showed off their hustle, determination and maturity at Demo Day Wednesday.

All of the startups already have customers, revenue and market traction.

Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at UT, introduced Burpy, a grocery delivery service formed by five friends at UT. He recounted a story about how they went to his office to show him their minimum viable product.

Metcalfe listened to their pitch then spun around in his chair, called up their site, Burpy.com, on his computer and ordered a case of Diet Coke.

A few minutes later, a mobile phone rang and one of the guys answered it and then jumped up and ran out. A half an hour later, he returned with Metcalfe’s Diet Coke order.

Burpy became a member of the Longhorn Startup class at UT. During the course, they earned As, recruited employees, got customers and revenue and they started expanding to San Antonio and Houston, Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe introduced Aseem Ali, CEO of Burpy. Burpy was one of 11 Techstars companies that pitched their ventures to investors, press and others at Techstars Austin Demo Day at the Austin Music Hall.

Like all of the Techstars companies, Ali’s pitch came off without a hitch.

“We’ve grown this business from our dorm room just over a year ago to more than $75,000 in gross monthly reoccurring revenue,” Ali said.

Grocery shopping is a $600 billion industry and by 2018 home delivery will become an $18 billion business, Ali said.

Burpy faces competition from Instacart, Amazon, Wal-Mart to Go, Google Shopping Express and others. But it’s focused on expanding throughout the Texas market and already has a strong foothold, Ali said.

“We are bringing the store to your door,” he said during his pitch.

These Techstars Austin startups are the best class yet, said Jason Seats, managing director of the program. He has managed four Techstars programs including two in San Antonio for the Techstars Cloud program.

The latest Techstars program also featured many female entrepreneurs including Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine.

Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine, photo by Laura Lorek

Claire Vo, co-founder and CEO of Experiment Engine, photo by Laura Lorek

“We help businesses make more money by enabling them to run A/B tests designed by conversion experts,” Vo said.

A/B testing is testing two versions of a website to see which one appeals more to customers, Vo said.

“By not testing enough, companies are leaving tons of money on the table,” she said.

Experiment Engine gives its customers access to a marketplace of conversion experts, Vo said.

“We believe this is the future of work pairing technology with human expertise,” Vo said.

Julia Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of NMKRT, photo by Laura Lorek

Julia Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of NMKRT, photo by Laura Lorek

Julia Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of NMKRT, pitched her New York-based startup, which creates revenue streams for influential independent publishers by turning their content sites into stores.

“Publishers are the retailers of the future,” Jacobson said. “We make this a reality today.”

And Daina Linton pitched Fashion Metric, which she co-founded with her husband Morgan. The company employs a proprietary algorithm to help online shoppers find clothes that fit.

This year, more than half of the companies also plan to make Austin their permanent home. Burpy and Experiment Engine are already based here. Pivot Freight plans to move from Arizona. Cloud 66 is relocating from London. Fashion Metric has extended its lease and is considering a permanent move.

Every Techstars company that stays in Austin gets a $20,000 investment from Joshua Baer , co-founder of Capital Factory and Rony Kahan, co-founder of Indeed.com.

“My big focus is on growing the Austin community and getting great entrepreneurs to come here and stay here,” Baer said. “I wish I could invest in all of them, but my focus is really on Austin-based companies.”

Baer also commented this is the best Techstars class so far.

“I think it’s really a diverse class,” he said. “Each of the companies has traction. They’ve got customers and revenue. They’re really in market. It’s a very, very strong class.”

Josh Kerr, CEO and co-founder of Written, served as a mentor to NMKRT. He was extremely impressed with the startup and the entire class of Techstars Austin.

“They are all extremely talented,” Kerr said.

“This class had a lot of rough edges in the beginning but they all shaped up into great companies,” Kerr said.

Kerr plans to invest in several of the companies, but he declined to say which ones.

IMG_3762During a break in the Demo Day presentations, BrewBot provided refreshments to the audience with its IPA Demo Day beer. The company, founded by five friends from Belfast, Northern Ireland, makes a personal home brewing robot.

BrewBot has a mobile phone app and specialized hardware machine that lets people chose a recipe and ingredients to brew beer in its home brewing robot. It works for everyone from master brewers to novices, said Chris McClelland, its CEO.

“BrewBot creates the ultimate brewing environment that is limited only by your imagination,” McClelland said. “This magical machine turns beer lovers into beer makers.”

The Techstars 2014 Austin class:

Brewbot – A beer brewing robot controlled and monitored by your smartphone.

Burpy – Delivering same-day groceries and home essentials from a variety of local stores.

Cloud66 – Deploy and manage Ruby apps on any cloud.

Common Form – Do your taxes in 5 minutes from your pc or mobile device.

Experiment Engine – A/B testing with a marketplace of conversion experts.

Fashion Metric – Using big data to enhance fit and sizing for apparel retailers and brands.

Free Textbooks – Equips student influencers with software to replace their bookstore.

LawnStarter – The easiest way to order and manage lawn care.

NMRKT – Powering eCommerce for blogs, online magazines, and content creators.

Pivot Freight – Rate comparison engine and discount broker for freight shipping.

Smart Host – Intelligently price your short-term and vacation rental.

The Largest FounderCon Ever is Being Held in Austin This Week

Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars with Jason Seats, managing director of Techstars Austin, photo by Laura Lo

Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars with Jason Seats, managing director of Techstars Austin, photo by Laura Lo

A sea of green shirts will be seen around Austin this week.

First off, Techstars Austin held its Demo Day featuring 11 companies pitching their ventures at the Austin Music Hall on Wednesday.

Now, Techstars FounderCon is underway, which is the annual gathering of Techstars alumni companies from around the world. This is the largest Foundercon ever, said Jason Seats, managing director of Techstars Austin.

This week, 354 founders, 179 Techstars companies and 60 Techstars staff including three of its founders, Brad Feld, David Cohen and David Brown, will meet today and Friday. The meetings, which are closed to press and the public, feature a series of talks and discussions including a fireside chat with Seats interviewing Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at UT, inventor of Ethernet and co-founder of 3Com.

Techstars is hosting a party tonight at Mohawk starting at 7 p.m. and a special Austin Open Coffee meetup at Capital Factory beginning at 8 a.m. on Friday.

Fashion Metric’s Technology Lets Shoppers Buy Clothes Online That Fit

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Morgan and Daina Linton, co-founders of Fashion Metric, photo by Laura Lorek

Morgan and Daina Linton, co-founders of Fashion Metric, photo by Laura Lorek

Fashion Metric seeks to banish ill-fitting clothes.

The startup, founded in Los Angeles, works with apparel retailers to help shoppers understand what size they are so they can order the right size clothes online, said Daina Linton, CEO and co-founder.

Linton, a former PhD candidate at UCLA, came up with idea for the company following a Lean Startup weekend. She continued to work on it at AngelHack. Then she landed angel investment from Mark Cuban. Her husband Morgan Linton, an engineer and sales expert, is also a co-founder.

They’ve been working to solve a common problem people encounter when ordering clothes online – they don’t know what size will fit them. Fashion Metric created data-driven software that solves that problem.

“We’ve built software that acts as a virtual tailor,” Daina Linton said.

Fashion Metric asks shoppers a few questions such as height, weight, size in name-brand shirts and then uses a proprietary algorithm to create custom clothes or to find the right size in off-the-shelf clothes.

Daina Linton comes from a long-line of master tailors, but her experience is in data mining. She did research at MIT and started her PhD at UCLA in informatics. She received a Master’s degree in molecular and medical pharmacology and bachelors degree in engineering from UCLA.

Morgan Linton received a bachelors and masters in computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. He got hired as a very early employee at Sonos. But instead of engineering, he went into sales and helped them build their U.S. and international business for 10 years.

Fashion Metric spent the past three months at Techstars in Austin. They are one of the 11 startups pitching Wednesday afternoon at Techstars Demo Day at the Austin Music Hall. Fashion Metric might move permanently to Austin, Morgan Linton said. They’ve extended their lease and they are staying through the fall, he said.

“We’ve really fallen in love with Austin,” Morgan Linton said. “We’re seriously considering moving our company to Austin. For a lot of the reasons everyone is seeing. We see ourselves as a company that is really pulling the fashion industry through the keyhole.”

The last innovation in the apparel industry was a long time ago, he said.

The U.S. Army invented the standard sizes of small, medium and large during the American Revolutionary War so that it could easily outfit soldiers, Morgan Linton said. Those sizes vary widely between brands and it makes purchasing clothes online difficult, he said.

“We see ourselves making the next innovation in the apparel industry,” Morgan Linton said. “We see Austin as being focused on innovation more than any city in the world right now.”

“One thing we’ve noticed in comparison to Los Angeles is the companies that are here are interested in helping out other companies,” he said. “It’s about being part of an ecosystem.”

Fashion Metric, which started focusing on men’s shirts and men’s wear, is expanding into women’s wear.

Today, only 14 percent of people buy clothes online, Morgan Linton said.

“It’s an industry that hasn’t been disrupted by the Internet yet,” he said. “People don’t buy clothes online because people don’t know how something is going to fit.”

Companies like Zappos allow people to buy several different sizes and return what doesn’t fit, he said. But that means a really high return rate. The return rate online is 28 percent, he said.

“The standard sizing system for the ready to wear business has not translated well online,” Daina Linton said.

Fashion Metric’s data driven system understands fit preference as well as size, she said.

Right now, people can take their body measurements three different ways: using a physical body scanner in a store, take a picture with a cell phone or provide measurement statistics, Morgan Linton said.

Fashion Metric also provides data on customers to brands so they can augment their sizing to better fit their customers needs. Fashion Metric’s questionnaire is simple to fill out and provides accurate results, he said.

“We have a massive pipeline of clients that want to use our technology and we’re letting them in as fast as we can with our small team,” Morgan Linton said. “We’re getting incredible introductions from the community to brands that want to use our technology.”

Common Form Wants to Make Tax Filing Simple

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Austin Marron, Bill Hendricks and Charles Logston, co-founders of Common Form, photo by Laura Lorek

Austin Marron, Bill Hendricks and Charles Logston, co-founders of Common Form, photo by Laura Lorek

The three founders of Common Form met at Intuit in San Diego.

They worked on the popular tax filing software TurboTax, but they quit in late 2013 to form their own startup to provide a better tax filing solution for simple tax filers.

“Simple tax filers, which are two thirds of the people out there, don’t have a good solution to file their taxes,” said Bill Hendricks, CEO and co-founder of Common Form, a Techstars Austin company. The other co-founders are Charles Logston and Austin Marron.

Common Form is one of the 11 Techstars companies that will pitch at Demo Day on Wednesday afternoon at the Austin Music Hall.

Common Form’s founders all relocated to Austin for the three month long Techstars program but they plan to return to San Diego. The company’s founders have family and roots there and it’s a good place to hire employees in the online tax software industry, Hendricks said.

Logston left his wife with their toddler and infant in San Diego so he could participate in the program. It’s been a sacrifice but it’s been worth it, Logston said. He has only flown home once to visit them over Fourth of July weekend.

“It’s a privilege to be here,” Logston said. “People come from all over the world to participate in this program.”

The three built their Common Form product in 100 days and launched on Feb. 28th and began to process peoples’ taxes, Hendricks said. Then they got accepted into the Techstars program, which has allowed them to develop it further.

“We allow people with simple finances to file their taxes in five minutes from their phone or tablet,” Hendricks said.

That’s because Common Form doesn’t ask a lot of complicated questions. It focuses on people who file the 1040EZ form, the 1040 A form and even 1040 long form filers who don’t have deductions.

Common Form wants to create a native mobile app that will let a person take a picture of their W-2 form, as well as import data from social media and let people file their taxes quickly and easily, Hendricks said.

TurboTax is the number one tax software in the country, followed by Tax Act, H&R Block, Tax Slayer, Hendricks said. In the assisted space, H&R Block is the leader followed by Jackson Hewitt and Liberty, he said.

But those programs are too expensive and complicated for the simple tax filer, Hendricks said.

“This is the first significant innovation in tax software,” he said.

The company has been using Google Ad words as well as Search Engine Optimization strategies to get customers, Hendricks said. Its also marketing through social media and word of mouth referrals, he said. And it’s looking to partner with banks and other financial institutions, he said.

In its first year, Common Form provided a completely free product while the company proved its hypothesis, Hendricks said. The company plans to charge about $20 for federal tax preparation.

“We want to be the white knight of the industry,” Hendricks said. “We want to offer a fair and transparent price.”

Common Form has bootstrapped the company to get it off the ground. They got $18,000 in a pre-seed investment and a $100,000 convertible note for participating in the Techstars program in exchange for an equity stake in the company. Now it’s raising a seed stage investment round.

“We’re excited about Common Form,” Marron said. “Taxes aren’t a historically hip startup area. But there’s huge opportunity here. Doing your taxes suck. We basically want to make all of the complexity go away and take the pain out of the process.”

The Techstars program has helped Common Form a lot, Marron said.

“We had technical experience and industry experience, what we didn’t have was a lot of startup experience,” he said. “It was great to immerse ourselves into a good startup community.”

LawnStarter Launches in Austin to Simplify Lawn Care for Consumers

Ryan Farley, co-founder of LawnStarter, a Techstars company in Austin

Ryan Farley, co-founder of LawnStarter, a Techstars company in Austin

When the temperatures hit triple digits in Austin, many homeowners don’t want to mow the lawn.

A new startup, part of Techstars in Austin, has a solution.

LawnStarter, founded in August of 2013, wants to take the pain out of lawn maintenance by hooking up homeowners with lawn care crews. The company officially launched this week and provides service to all of Austin and many outlying areas from Marbles Falls to San Marcos and Round Rock.

LawnStarter is taking a “highly fragmented, old school industry” and bringing it into the digital age, said Ryan Farley, one of the founders.

“The bar for the customer experience is extremely low,” Farley said.

That’s why it’s ripe for disruption, he said. Farley and Steve Corcoran founded the company originally in the Washington, D.C. area with $110,000 in seed stage capital they raised from a group of angel investors. This summer, they relocated to Austin for the Techstars accelerator.

“Texas is one of the biggest markets for lawn care,” Farley said.

A few guys have become millionaires doing lawn care but that that’s a small fraction of the market, Farley said. In fact, the top 50 lawn care companies account for just 15 percent of the market, he said.

“There’s lots of small companies out there that need help,” Farley said.

While Farley didn’t grow up mowing lawns, he did work on grounds maintenance during the summertime and for a golf course. His co-founder, Corcoran ran a lawn mowing business.

In studying the industry, they found some lawn service companies are completely offline and don’t even have a website. They typically are one to two person companies, Farley said.

“They are at a point in their business where managing the business is becoming hectic,” he said.

LawnStarter wants to take the pain and paperwork out of the process, Farley said. The company takes 15 percent to 20 percent on each transaction, depending on the job. The average price for lawn service is $48 for half-acre lots, Farley said. And typically, homeowners get their lawns mowed every few weeks.

LawnStarter’s platform matches consumers with lawn care providers and lets them get an estimate for any yard work with a few clicks.

LawnStarter is working on developing partnerships with national chains. The company wants to scale to provide service to the entire Southwest region of the U.S. by next summer, Farley said.

“The shared economy is doing well right now,” said Brandon Marker, analyst with Techstars in Austin.

Companies like HomeJoy have found success matching cleaners with consumers.

“But this does not exist for lawn care,” Marker said. “People have tried to make this work for lawn care but they haven’t succeeded so far. I don’t believe that’s because there isn’t a need or a market for it. It’s just difficult to do.”

But the LawnStarter team has got all the ingredients to make it work, Marker said. And now people are more comfortable with the shared economy.

The LawnStarter founders taught themselves how to code and gave up good jobs on Wall Street to do LawnStarter.

“They turned a great deal of financial experience into coding experience,” Marker said. “They found out how to do this successfully in the Washington, D.C. market. And now they’re replicating that success in the Austin market.”

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