WebInno34 Preview – Updated with Post-Event Observations

Ah summertime, it’s a lovely time of year and a perfect time for WebInno! If you feel the same way you’re probably as excited as I am for WebInno34. It’s happening on June 25th at the Royal Sonesta in Kendall Square. Things officially kick off at 6:30 but you don’t want to miss that quality quiet time before things really get rolling. As I’ve done for a while now, here’s my completely opinionated and barely based on fact preview of the companies that will be participating in the event . . .

WebInno34 is in the books and I’ve decided to amend my preview with a few observations of the companies that were part of the event. I didn’t have an opportunity to talk with or see all of the companies – just four or five really – but I was more impressed with what I saw than I expected to be.

Main Dish Companies:

Cloze – Making Real Connections is Hard. Cloze Makes it Easier – I can’t say very much about Cloze. The site is closed but I did requeste an early invite. When I gave them my email they popped me to a screen encouraging me to invite “at least 3 [sic] friends to get early access.” Hmmmm. I don’t know about you, but before I go an invite my friends to something I want to know what that something is. All I know about Cloze is what I can pick up from the home page.

And what can one pick up from the home page? Not a whole lot. You’re treated to “Dave,” who looks like he comes from the imagination of Don Martin: Ruffled pink shirt, green tweed jacket, sideburns that almost connect to his mustache. And he’s dancing. The copy on the site says, “Dave spent the evening networking. Everyone LinkedHimIn. No one called him back. You don’t have to be Dave. Don’t be Dave. Get an invite for Cloze.”

I gotta say, Dave actually looks pretty fun to me. He looks like my kind of goofball. Is that enough for me to invite my friends to the service? Probably not. Will I check it out if given the chance? Yep.

This was a cooler application than I’d expected. It seems strong and solid and smart. Essentially it’s a connections manager on very powerful performance enhancing drugs. One of its secrets is that it can look beyond whom you are connected through to someone to see how well those two people are connected. It makes sense. Sure, I’ve changed cards with tons of people over the years, but that doesn’t mean I have any kind of ongoing relationship with them. Cloze deals with this by analyzing your communication (email, social, etc.) to score your connections with others. That way, you can see who the most important people in your networks are, prioritize your communication with them and provide others with a sense of whom you are connected to. It makes a lot of sense but I do worry about privacy. I asked the founder, Dan Foody, about this and he said that while they do analyze data they don’t store it but simply index it. That’s fine, I guess, but there are certainly confidential items lurking in inboxes that even indexing might be considered too much. Privileged communication doesn’t seem like it ought to be available to machine reading without the consent of both parties (or, in some cases, even with the consent of both parties). The idea was interesting and I’ll try it out but there are questions.

ImpulseSave – Get your greenback! – Now these guys have a better approach to luring me in. Rather than having to invite friends, I just had to post “Little pig, let me in” on their Facebook page. That’s a pretty easy ask and I did it.

I got my invite and took ImpulseSave out for a spin. The signup process was kind of tricky, with text messages, photographs of my credit card, photographs of my driver’s license, etc. I didn’t link it to my checking account (didn’t have a check w/ me) but I will later on I suppose. It does make me a little wary to provide quite so much information to an entity I know so little about.

From a pure idea point of view though I like this. I’m not very good at saving (except for throwing change into a hat – you’d be surprised though, at one point I found $400 in there) so anything that helps is welcome.

I liked founder Phil Fremont-Smith’s thesis: marketers are spending tons of money to get you to spend even more impulsively; there ought to be a mechanism to help combat that and give people the tools to save. He made great points during his presentation. Most people view savings as a bitter pill they need to swallow – one that is neither pleasant nor rewarding, he explained, but the approach ImpulseSave is offering makes savings into something of a game, a reward. He described scenarios for savings that made sense and said that on average, people were saving $3,000-$4,000 with the system. It sounded impressive. The inevitable revenue question came up and he explained there are three paths to revenue for the company. First, they get a small amount from Leader Bank for every savings account set up through ImpulseSave; the second, I forget; and the third is to allow marketers with offers appropriate to a member’s savings goals to target them. I can see how that makes sense – if I’m saving for a vacation maybe I would like to hear from Carnival cruises or something; but I could also see how it could be problematic. It’s essentially letting marketers in based on perceived member intent – but it’s still opening the door to offers that may not always be welcome. Especially in light of the fact that many people – even once they have reached their goal – elect not to spend what they have saved but to keep saving and building. I love the idea but wonder about the revenue model.

MyReci – Take one part Pinterest (the food photos) and add one part ingredients in the notes section and voila! You have MyReci. That’s not really fair but it’s not far from the truth. On MyReci, clicking an image brings up a nifty recipe view (at least the ingredients). To see the rest of the recipe you need to “fork” it (their flavor of pinning) and wait while another page loads. Once it does though you have a nice clean interface that includes the ingredients, preparation and notes. What’s pretty cool is that anyone (presumably) can go in and edit a la wiki.

MyReci gives you the ability to create cookbooks for storing your recipes and control access to them. (Although why one would want to is a bit unclear.) You can tweet, pin, plus or like from the MyReci page. It will be interesting to see if people glom on to this as a social network. I wonder how it will fare against other food-related sites like epicurious, which allows users to add notes to recipes.

MyReci was a real treat. Vijay Nathan, the co-founder and CEO, did a great job of presenting the company to the WebInno audience. This is much more than Pinterest for recipes. You can build menus, import recipes from anywhere with a single click (seriously cool, it brings in the photo, the ingredients and the preparation instructions, all formated), even photograph a recipe and email it in to have it formatted and added to your account. The demo was top notch (MyReci was the audience choice in a landslide) and their table was mobbed. It probably didn’t hurt that they has some seriously delicious cookies Vijay had baked for the occasion. What I liked most about them was the passion for the product. They have a good idea and a totally focused on making it the best it can be. I asked Vijay about monetization (he’d already explained that they would soon have a pro version targeting cookbook authors, restaurants, etc.) and whether they could see offering recipes for small fee. He scoffed at the idea, saying recipes are not like songs and that cookbooks are not like albums. He sees a pay-per model as being silly in most situations. I really liked these guys more than I expected to and am looking forward to becoming an active member.

Side Dish Companies:

ByteLight – these guys are over in the Dogpatch and do indoor location technology. That’s pretty cool. Hopefully they’ll shed more light on things at WebInno. The site is pretty slim at the moment.

So this was one of the most secretive and intriguing companies of the night. I didn’t get to see them until they were in the process of breaking things down but here’s what I got. They have a location system based on light. Well, there’s more to it than that but that’s the idea. You go into a store or a museum and – if you have a ByteLight-powered app on your phone AND if your phone’s camera can see the light – your location is known. It means a retailer can understand flow, it means a brand could send offers, it means a curator could offer explanations. There are lots of things one can imagine – and ByteLight is counting on developers using their soon-to-be-released API to imagine and make a whole host of applications. As I spoke with them, the biggest issue I had was around privacy – and it’s a valid concern. The technology is so cool though you might ignore the concerns just to see it work. It’s a tempting approach but one that needs to be tempered a bit. These guys are excited about what they do and its potential and it’s hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm.

GivingSomeThing – Send real goods to your favorite nonprofits – This is a neat idea. They let you see what different non-profits need and make it easy to give it to them. Of course it would be better (or at least funnier) if I could choose what to give rather than picking from a list of what the non-profit actually wants/needs but I understand the logic. What I don’t understand is that on the homepage it says “it’s free for you and non-profits.” It didn’t seem exactly “free” when I was checking on out Amazon . . .

Ovuline – Smart Fertility – I don’t think this is a product with me in mind. First, I am a guy so I don’t ovulate. Second, we have all the kids we need, thanks very much. Also, Ovuline sounds like Ovaltine to me and that’s kind of yucky. My wife, on the other hand, got it right away and thought the name was great.

Specctr – Blueprints for the Web – I didn’t get what this was about until I watched the videos on the site. They helped but could have helped a lot more if there had been some voice over action. If you need to know what’s happening in Fireworks from a nuts-and-bolts design perspective, this is the tool for you. Or maybe not. I don’t really know a whole lot about Fireworks . . .

Stix Mobile – Remix your life with friends – I don’t know what that’s meant to mean. It could be dirty, maybe a call to an orgy? Or maybe we could combine our genes to create some sort of uber friend? About the last thing I’d guess is virtual stickers to apply to iPhone photos. But that’s what it is. You can add funny eyes, glasses, hair, props, etc. I take a lot of photos and haven’t ever felt the need to gussy them up with funny stickers. Maybe you do. If so, maybe you’ll like Stix. Here I am with a mustache sticker. Ha. Ha. Ha. I look funny.

Trendslide – All the data you need – This is pretty cool. It lets you aggregate data into a single view on your iPhone or iPad. Right now it looks like it can only pull from Twitter, Google Analytics and Salesforce (all valuable data sources for sure, just not ones I need to see graphed). On Twitter it asked to log into my account (fine) but all it lets me know is mentions of my handle. I’d love to be able to track other, less exciting trends – but that’s just me. I’m sure with time that will come.

It’s hard for me to say which company I’m most interested in. Probably ByteLight. Indoor GPS sounds cool and it could open the door to a whole new class of urban geocaching. Might be fun.

So there you have it, my take on WebInno34. It should be a good time. I’ll be there and you will too.

That’s all I’m able to add. It was a good night. Always a good time and got to see friends I almost only see at WebInno. The next event isn’t until September so have a great summer! (Of course I’ll still be posting but it just seemed like the thing to say . . .)

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