2013: Startups on the Rise

This is definitely a bit over due, but here are my thoughts on the up-and-coming start-ups to keep an eye on in 2013. Some of these have already built quite a bit of traction, others have been lurking for a while waiting for the right time and others were started less than a year ago. I’ll have to do a follow up post at the end of the year to see how they end up doing.

Uber: This mobile app takes much of the hassle out of finding a cab to get around town in. The app allows you to request a cab at any time, let’s you know how far away the cab is, texts you when your cab has arrived and then allows you to pay for the cab using the app. It’s a very convenient way of getting around. I’m hoping the Uber team can work out some of the product kinks (in NYC for example there are many restriction around the black cabs that Uber works with), so that the service can go more mainstream as it’s currently a much-needed service. Once these challenges are resolved, I think this app can have much success in most major metropolitan hubs.

MoviePass: As a movie theater subscription service, MoviePass is building something very new to the movie industry—the ability for viewers to go see an unlimited amount of movies each month for a flat fee rather than paying for each individual movie. It’s kind of like the concept of having season tickets to a sporting event. This will be particularly useful for avid moviegoers who see multiple movies each month. Many of my friends who are movie fanatics have already signed up for beta access to MoviePass.

Fab: Many thought that e-commerce was in decline but Etsy and Fab seem to be proving that theory wrong. Of particular importance Fab, with its focus on “everyday design”, has been an innovator in social commerce—seamlessly integrating with facebook and twitter. Fab also has created better mobile apps than any other e-commerce platform making it easier to make purchases regardless of location.

2U (formerly 2tor): 2U is disrupting education by providing high quality online learning environments. 2U partners with top-tier universities to deliver rigorous, and selective graduate degree and undergraduate for-credit programs online. Some of the universities currently using the 2U platform include: USC, UNC, Georgetown and Washington University in St. Louis. As a recent college grad, former teacher and soon-to-be graduate student, 2U’s approach seems to be the future of education and is already disrupting the way in which many universities think about education technology.

Stamped: Stamped is already becoming popular in several of my various friend circles. Now acquired by Yahoo, Stamp is a mobile app that lets you recommend and share your favorite things like: movies, books and restaurants. One of the best features is the ability to receive recommendations from friends and other reliable sources (rather than anonymous online reviews). The ideas behind this could disrupt the way online reviews and recommendation systems currently operate.

Media Cause

The Product

Media Cause is a marketing company that focuses on helping non-profits increase awareness for their programs, raise more money online, and better engage with their supporters. The startup provides marketing and social media advertising support to non-profits of a wide range of sizes and budgets.

This is accomplished primarily through the creation of a large and engaged volunteer community. Non-profits start the process by signing up for Media Cause and requesting services from volunteers that match their specific needs. SEO requests, Google Grants, digital advertising campaigns and social media initiatives are separated into smaller projects called “challenges” that are then completed by anyone in the volunteer community. In exchange for the marketing and advertising support they provide, volunteers are then recognized publicly through facebook posts, tweets, blog posts and LinkedIn recommendations.

The Market

With 1.8 million 501(c)3 non-profits in the US and many more non-profits around the world there is a large, yet predominantly untapped market for the marketing and advertising of all these non-profit organizations. Most non-profit organizations run on tight budgets and focus the vast majority of their efforts on their organization’s mission. They often have little time and few resources to advertise themselves, raise money or increase their online presence. Yet the need to engage in these activities is critical for non-profits to grow and strengthen their impacts. Thus, there is a clear need in the marketing and advertising industry for services that target non-profit organizations. Media Cause is an interesting startup in that it seeks to close the marketing and advertising gap between non-profit organizations and their for-profit peers.

Media Cause is also a particularly attractive company given recent trends in marketing and advertising that seem to be making it easier for non-profits to launch and garner support. To begin with, fundraising has been democratized through crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter. The spread of the Internet from computers to mobile devices has also offered non-profits with the ability to reach more users via different mediums. And finally the availability of large, ease to use social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, has enabled the deployment of cheap, yet effective marketing campaigns—campaigns which once harnessed by expert volunteers through Media Cause’s platform can result in a high payoff for non-profits looking to raise money or spread awareness.

The Profit Potential

Media Cause is an early entrant into the non-profit marketing and advertising space. And while it is true that many of the advertising and marketing mechanisms that exist for for-profit companies are also available to non-profit companies, Media Cause is the only company that is entirely focused on affordable and efficient services for the non-profit niche market. Thus, the startup currently has few competitors and is way ahead of any would-be-competitors.

Interestingly, enough, at the moment, Media Cause is itself a non-profit organization. However, the startup has experimented with a few small revenue models including offering premium online marketing services to larger non-profits. It is entirely feasible for Media Cause to be run as a for-profit company by developing a whole line of services that scale all the way down to smaller non-profits and take more of a strategic consulting role in the marketing and advertising of non-profits rather than simply crowd sourcing much of the work to volunteers. In terms of exit opportunities, Media Cause could very easily be acquired by a larger advertising or marketing company (such as Pulse 360) or become the marketing/advertising arm of a non-profit strategic consulting firm (like Bridgespan).

To sum, Media Cause possesses all of the ingredients of a potentially very successful startup: an innovative product, the right market timing, growing demand, a clear competitive advantage, and feasible exit opportunities. I would love to be a shareholder in the company.


Multi-weather Energy Generators

Each year millions of people are affected by weather related events like storms, blizzards and hurricanes. Among other challenges, these weather events result in wide spread power outages and damages to electrical infrastructure—requiring repair that often takes weeks to restore. It is estimated that nearly 8 million people on the east coast lost power during Hurricane Sandy and another million people faced power outages this past weekend during Winter Storm Nemo. Many of these people went days if not weeks without power.

To address this I propose the creation of multi-weather energy generators (MEGs). Similar to traditional back-up generators, MEGs would provide an alternative form of energy to power homes and commercial businesses during and in the aftermath of major storms. However, these devices would be multi-faceted and would work throughout the year to continually store and synthesize various forms of energy into some sort of battery format that could then be used on an as needed basis. During the Summer/Spring for example, MEGs would use solar panels to continually convert solar energy into stored electrical energy. During the Fall/Winter, MEGs would use wind turbines to convert and store mechanical energy into electrical energy.

For most of the year the energy created by MEGs would simply sit as stored energy in a battery format. However, during the 2-3 weeks of the year when weather sours and households faced major power outages, MEGs could be drawn on to provide much needed power until the power grid is restored. In designing these devices the focus would be on making them light-weight, low-maintenance and affordable to ensure that consumers would not incur a large cost in terms of money spent and time needed to maintain the devices.