Existence is difficult enough for startups no matter what business they’re in, but it’s even harder for small companies that aim to change the world in fundamental ways. Welcome to the roller-coaster reality of a handful of ambitious entrepreneurs who intend to make the planet smarter. Today, at IBM’s SmartCamp New York City, five startups from the United States and Europe compete for prizes and mentoring sessions from venture capitalists and business leaders. The winner will be invited to a world championship event this fall. Follow this live blog today for a string of insights and video clips that capture the flavor of the competition.
IBM’s Mike Riegel, vice president of Startups, ISVs & Academic Programs, explains why IBM is interested in startups.
Mentor sessions: The setup is that each entrepreneur sits down in succession with business people at five tables. I’m following one CEO through the process from beginning to end. I choose Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics, the mobile applications analytics firm.
Mentor Group 5:
Q: Omniture is doing Web analytics. And they’re getting into mobile apps. How do you stack up?
Aggarwal: “IBM, with Unica and Coremetrics, is a big competitor to Omniture now. We’re the mobile apps front end for Unica. They’re selling our products.”
Q: There are hundreds of thousands of apps but only 1000 matter. You have them. How do you grow your business?
Aggarwal: “We have our new mid-market product and we’re providing them with a lot of deep analytics they didn’t have before. We can graduate our free users into paid users.”
Q: You follow 65 million users. Why don’t you create an ad network or feed into ad networks?
Aggarwal: “We’re focusing on publishers and their applications for now, but we’ll follow them where their needs go.”
Mentor group 4:
Q: What are your products?
Aggarwal: “We have three versions. One is free, and we have about 3500 apps on it. There’s an enterprise version. The big companies use it. It costs thousands per month. The new mid-tier version costs about $100 per month. It’s new but it’s taking off. We’re focusing a lot on spreading out.”
Q: Which is most interesting to you, the geospatial data?
Aggarwal: “People in the mobile apps space were flying blind, initially. So we could get the basic info for them, and that’s what they wanted. Now we’re focusing on helping them get insights that help them retain users. We’re focusing on interaction. Where are they losing people in the interactions? We can tell them about that.”
“We’re now collecting data on 65 million users, and it’s rich data.”
Q: You’re about physical targeting in space and time…
Q: Do you have patented technology?
Aggarwal: “We’re protecting some of our intellectual property, but the main thing we’re doing is moving very fast and keeping out ahead.”
Q: What’s your secret sauce?
Aggarwal: Our secret sauce is knowledge of what customers in different segments think is important, and feeding their needs. The technology is important and we’ll struggle to stay on the forefront, but more important is being the trusted partner who understands the customer and gives them what they want.”
Mentor Group 3:
Q: This is such a big friggin opportunity. How is it that you have no competition?
Aggarwal: “There are some free services out there, but there aren’t any companies that offer really deep analytics, like we do. The market is just so new.”
“We came up with the number that 26% of smartphone users use an application only once. So people want to know how to hook them better. We can provide that kind of data.”
The other company that people keep mentioning is Flurry. Aggarwal says his company’s capabilities are much deeper, and that Flurry is marketing to the long tail of app developers, while Localytics is targeting enterprises and big media companies. Might we worth looking into.
During a break, Aggarwal explains that he was a little bit late for the session because his Amtrak train was delayed. He said he usually takes the Bolt bus from Boston, because it’s so cheap, but, this time, he wanted to make sure he’d make it on time, so he took Amtrak. Track repairs in Stamford threw a wrench into those plans.
My advice to him: Always travel the night before the meeting.
Mentor group 2:
Q: Do you have to think a lot about privacy?
Aggarwal: “Piracy is a big issue. We don’t take any personal data off the phone. And we give publishers the opportunity to offer opt-out to their end users.”
Q: Who do you want to be when you grow up?
Aggarwal: “We want to be the premier app analytics company out there.”
Mobile advertising is a small thing right now. But he predicts it will be big in the future.
“We can help publishers evaluate to their advertisers how many users they get to. We’ll provide audited results.”
Q: What do you consider to be your big challenges?
Aggarwal: Selling to large enterprises is expensive. So to help deal with that we’re selling through Unica and the telecom carriers.
Mentor group 1:
He says Unica, the online marketing management company owned by IBM, decided not to create its own mobile analytics capability, and instead partnered with Localytics.
He says he believes that with the arrival of HTML5 and other new technologies, more and more mobile functionality will happen on Web pages, as opposed to applications–as is happening now. This will happen in the next couple of years. He says: “For our big media company clients, we’re building HTML5 libraries and SDKs.”
2:10 p.m. Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics, a mobile application analytics firm in Cambridge, Mass., explains his real-time analytics service–which helps the makers of mobile phone and tablet applications better understand their clients. By analyzing data on user preferences and tendencies–such as the amount of time spent in an application, errors and crashes–businesses can build more successful mobile applications.
It takes just 10 minutes and requires only a few lines of code to integrate an application into the service. Then you can track all standard metrics such as platform, device type, sessions and unique users. Custom event tracking is used to analyze feature usage, content access, advertising performance.
The system works for apps on Android, BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7. Customers include Kayak, Skype and AT&T.
2 p.m. Patrick Leslie, CEO of Envirolytics, explains how the company’s software makes it easy for individuals to perform home energy audits by using smartphones. The software then markets energy efficient products and services to homeowners.
It costs about $350 to get a home energy audit by a professional, he says.
By taking advantage of the modern technology and sensors found in smartphones, much of the energy audit data can be gathered automatically. The iPhone’s camera, accelerometer and GPS allow for tools that are more natural and user friendly then are available on other home energy analysis platforms. The company has created algorithms, for instance, that can size up photos you take of your windows and evaluate your windows’ energy dynamics.
There’s a social networking aspect, as well. Users can share their results, savings and ecological footprint with friends and family. “We have a sharing layer to help people talk about their environmental stewardship. They can tell their friends what they’re doing,” he says.
1:50 p.m. Andreas Wilkens, cofounder of MediaFunnel, a social media management company, explains that the company offers a social media dashboard for the businesses, making it easy for them to manage brand monitoring, scheduling, and multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The company’s clients include ESPN, Kaiser Permanente, and Andersen windows.
A new version is coming soon. It will include a redesigned UI that makes for easier navigation and workflow, additional social media integrations including LinkedIn, Yammer and Chatter, and an API for integration with other products and mobile clients.
“If something goes wrong with a company’s brand online, they’ll know about it in minutes,” he says.
1:40 p.m. Marco Brini,CEO of EnvEve, a company from Bioggio, Switzerland, explains how his company offers wireless sensor network technology aimed at providing low-cost solutions in three areas: natural hazards detection, smart cities and industry safety.
The company sells a variety of ultra low power wireless sensors that monitor and send alerts to phones or computers. It has projects in Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Brazil and France.
“Remember when you were a child and you thought that nature could talk to you? The trees, the wind, the water. We think you’re right. You just need to have a system to translate what nature is saying and deliver it to you.”
1:30 p.m. Nilanjan Sen, CEO of Examville.com, talks about his company, which is a global online education platform where teachers, tutors, test preparation outfits and education publishers can connect with students around the world; and where students can custom-design the learning program that’s right for them.
“We have created a recommendation engine that’s contributed to by millions of people around the world,” he says. Learners can find out this way if the information and services being offered to t hem are reliable and useful.
“Social learning isn’t about making friends and following somebody,” he says. “It’s about harnessing all of the information and the knowledge of people from around the world.”