Pssst, it’s almost time for WebInno44 . . .

A new year and a host of new companies hoping to make it big at WebInno. Things kick off on January 12th with WebInno44. As usual, the festivities will begin at 6:30 at the Royal Sonnesta in comfortable Kendall Square. Here’s my preview of the companies that will be on hand.

Main Dishes

Flyp – Get Multiple Numbers on your Smartphone – There’s not much to see on the Flyp site yet, just the ability to request an invite and a link to a video about the service—which I watched. Basically, Flyp lets you set up multiple phone numbers on a single device, just like their tag line says. They offer a number of reasons you might want to do this – separate numbers for friends or work or creeps you don’t really want to hear from. I guess that makes sense. It does seem like this is something you could do on your own, with Google Voice or Skype. Of course that means having multiple accounts to manage, with different passwords, prompts, etc.

Speaking of which, it is really annoying that every phone I use – home (yeah, I still have one, much to my chagrin), cell and office – uses different keys to skip or delete or save a message; and every company I call uses some different variation of # or * or 0 to bypass voice prompts. Can’t there be a standard? What’s the value or benefit of every carrier or company using their own proprietary approach. Annoying. If Flyp helps deal with that I’m a believer.

Rocketboard – On its face Rocketboard seems like something that’s been done. Essentially it allows you to broadcast (or record) the contents of a whiteboard in real time. One might imagine being able to do this with a Webcam or smartphone and the truth is you can. In fact, Rocketboard uses your smartphone to capture the content on your whiteboard.

If you’re wondering, “why would I need this if I have a phone,” Rocketboard appears to have a couple of nice bells and whistles that take it beyond those more rudimentary approaches. Here are a few of them:

  • By drawing triangles on the corners of the board, Rocketboard is able to recognize the dimensions of the board and correct for the angle and aspect ratio. That means a viewer, instead of seeing a skewed view gets a nice clean rectangle.
  • Rocketboard is smart enough to omit the person working on the whiteboard from the video. It does this by recommending that the person step away from the board from time-to-time to allow the system to capture the changes.
  • It is able to capture still images of the board. Again, this may seem basic but Rocketboard appears to make it really easy. By blocking the camera on your phone for a moment it takes a photo.

All of the files can be made available to those participating in the meeting in real time or as a video to be watched after the fact. It is kind of cool but I’m not sure if it’s the sine qua non of cool office stuff. Maybe Monday will prove me wrong.

Upward Labs – Upward Labs makes it “easy for brands to create and manage their own brand ambassador programs.” I don’t think anyone would argue with the premise here. Brands clearly love it when customers are willing to give them positive word of mouth or social media buzz. In fact, brands have been working with partners like BzzAgent since 2001. I’m not 100 percent sure how what Upward does differs from BzzAgent. Perhaps it’s less expensive, easier to use, fundamentally better? That would be my first question to the folks at Upward Labs and hopefully I’ll have a chance to ask it on Monday night.

 

Side Dishes

Allclasses – Find the best online classes, or search locally – People are mad about MOOCs these days, and with good reason. You can learn so much from so many sources. Whether you’re just curious about something or are actively studying, there’s content or courseware out there somewhere. Allclasses is a terrific clearinghouse of pretty much any online course you can imagine from MIT Open Courseware to Udemy to Linda Online to a million others.

What’s even cooler is that you can find local in-person classes as well. I searched for photography and got a list of more than 3,000 classes. Overwhelming, right? It would be if Allclasses didn’t have some great filtering tools. You can sort results by online or in-person only, price, provide, category, start time and more. It’s all pretty slick and makes Allclasses feel like the top of the class for WebInno44.

BriefMe – What the World is Reading Now – I’m going to be a little snide here, but it’s because I like the idea of BriefMe. First of all, BriefMe is a news aggregator. There are plenty of them out there but this one is based on what people are posting or tweeting about all over the world. Now a bone – BriefMe claims to be the first news-ranking app “powered by people. Instead of relying on the judgment of an editorial team, our editor is an algorithm . . .” Let me just clear something up for everyone: editorial teams are made up of people, algorithms are not.

A news service that delivers “the most popular news articles” is going to miss out on less popular, but possibly more important news. The fact that Kim Kardashian’s butt broke the Internet was a popular story but not necessarily a very important one. Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria is important news but not necessarily popular. This is why there are editorial teams in the first place, to help identify and ensure coverage of important topics rather than just fun and popular ones.

Of course I am saying this without actually having tried the BriefMe app. I have signed up for it though and hope to have a chance to check it out.

Connections – Craft Reliable Relationships – That’s a pretty expansive claim for an app to make. What exactly is a reliable relationship? A friend that keeps their word; one that shows up on time? It seems like that’s something the other person is responsible for, how is an app meant to alter someone else’s behavior to make them more reliable? Connections isn’t that ambitious. It basically allows you to annotate and tag your contacts. That’s cool. But not that cool.

HomeBinder – A Homeowner’s Best Friend – Now this is something I can get my head around. I am a homeowner and if there’s one thing my wife and I have learned it that it’s a pain in the butt. Just the other day, it was 9 degrees out and we woke up to a furnace that wasn’t working. Nice. Fortunately, when we opened it up to figure out what was wrong there was a big red “reset” button. I pushed it and the problem was solved. Not everything is so simple and HomeBinder seems like a solid way to manage all of the headaches of homeownership.

The site allows you to set up binders for each home you own (or presumably manage I guess). Binders can include all kinds of useful information – the contractors you use, the rooms in your house, the paints on your walls, your appliances and more. That’s pretty cool. My wife is really good about keeping records of everything but sometimes finding this or that receipt or document is a challenge. HomeBinder would make the process much easier.

HomeBinder features both a free (intended for renters) and paid version ($49 per year and targeted at homeowners). The paid version has a number of additional features, including the ability to upload photos, receive recall notifications and tax reports. Pretty neat. The one thing I don’t see on the site is any mention of an app but the mobile site seems pretty nice. A big thumbs up for HomeBinder.

Legal Hero – Law Done Better – Not only am I a homeowner, but I am also someone who has had to employ the services of a lawyer on a somewhat regular basis. Years ago Wendy and I needed to write our wills and we used some software or Website that I can’t even recall anymore. Years later, when kids, special needs and more serious death planning (not that it will happen any time soon I hope) our legal needs became more complex. Legal Hero seems sit somewhere between DIY and going all in.

Basically, Legal Hero is a marketplace to connect people with legal needs with a network of lawyers. The site says participating attorneys have an average of 15 years experience and that almost all of them have attended at top 100 law school. Lawyers are able to register on the site by applying to be a part of the network. Once accepted, a lawyer will opt into the types of projects they want to work on. At that point, people like me will reach out looking for help solving a legal issue.

Now Legal Hero isn’t actually designed to help write wills or stuff like that. The site has a number of projects you can select from, most of which are related to business needs. The projects include things like starting a business, managing a team and protecting your brand. The site walks you though some simple steps to understand exactly what you need. For example, if you say you’re looking for help protecting your brand, you get additional options: trademark registration, copyright registration and confidentiality agreements. Selecting one of these branches you further to get to the specific service you’re looking for. In the case of confidentiality agreements, to have one prepared will cost you $375, which includes a consultation and customized agreement.

At this point it’s time to select your lawyer, which is done based on your location. I decided not to take this step because I don’t want to get emails but it made sense to me. As with almost any industry, the marketplace model here makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how Legal Hero evolves.

JessMeetKen – Meet Great Guys Other Women Have Recommended – Hmmmm. Maybe there are situations where marketplaces don’t work. JMK is targeted to women. The idea is that if you know a guy but you’re attached or he’s not right in some way you can add him to the site and women can check him out and ask you for the skinny. I can see how this might be a good idea, you get the lowdown on someone that looks like they might be a fit, but I wonder how guys will feel about being on the site?

Skit! – My kids love making absurd videos with and about their friends, fandoms and interests. They spend a fair amount of time looking for tools to use, gathering their content and editing things together. I love it. Most of what they make makes zero sense but they’re having fun and learning skills. Skit! is an attempt to make that process easier. I guess that’s cool but part of me likes it that what they’re doing isn’t easy. I like it that it takes time and effort to come up with something. Like I said, most of it makes no sense but they made it. Skit seems to take some of the effort out of the equation and that might not be a good thing. If I had more time today I’d make a skit, sadly I don’t. Maybe tomorrow.

SplitNGo – Benefits for Restaurants – This is a neat little payment system for restaurants. When the meal is over, people pull out their phone to view their bill. They can either settle up via the phone or with a card or cash. If they pay with SplitNGo their account is cleared and the waiter notified so they can swing by to say “thanks.” The app promises to solve “guests #1 problem,” and the site explains that waiting can turn an excellent experience into a poor one. That’s true, but to be honest, the wait that’s really annoying is long before the bill comes: waiting for drinks, waiting for orders to be taken and food to be delivered are all more annoying than waiting to pay. But that’s just me.

Weft – Tracking and Control System – For the second time in recent WebInno history we have a hardware product. This one is pretty cool. Weft devices are small and are meant to be affixed to cargo so it can be tracked and monitored. Not only does Weft let you see where an item is but it also lets you know the conditions it is traveling though by monitoring things like temperature, humidity, etc. Cool.

Weft integrates with all your favorite ERP and CRM systems, which means all the data collected by Weft is automatically at your fingertips when and where you need it. That’s also pretty cool. Finally (as if everything else wasn’t enough!), Weft is able to look at real time and historical data for all shipments being tracked by the platform. Magically, Weft can use this information to identify problems and bottlenecks so shippers can update their planned routes and schedules to keep performance in tip-top shape. Weft actually makes me wish I had a few containers to ship.

Whovoo – When you want to be absolutely, positively private and secret – OK, let me just say that there is NOTHING in this digital world of ours that is positively private and secret. That being said, Whovoo is trying to make sharing a little safer. I’m not really clear on who this is intended for. If I want to send a picture of my dog I’m not that worried about who sees it. The cute look and feel of the app (which I have not tried since I am on Android) makes it seem kind of for kids, but the FAQ make it clear it’s only for people over 13.

Once I started looking at the FAQ I got a little more confused. For example, one question asks: “Does Whovoo store my private photos and messages on its servers?” The answer is “no.” A few questions later we see, “Where are Whoots [their term for an encrypted photo and message inside a Whovoo envelope] physically stored?” As it turns out, these are stored on Whoot’s servers until they expire. That seems to contradict the first answer. There’s a bit of nuance in that your stuff isn’t stored “unencrypted” but it is nevertheless stored on their servers.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff happening in the messaging space these days and Whovoo might be a neat addition to the mix. I’ll wait to see but won’t hold my breath.

 

So that’s it from me. There’s a ton of neat looking companies lined up for this edition of WebInno and I’m looking forward to checking them out. Hope to see you there!

WebInno 42, Can You Believe It?

WebInno42 is coming up on Monday, June 16th at the Royal Sonesta in Kendall Square. Hard to believe these events have been going on – and getting stronger – for such a long time. It’s evidence of Boston’s great entrepreneurial community and a testament to David Beisel’s commitment to helping that community thrive. I’ve been attending WebInno since 2006 and it’s always one of my favorite events. Here’s the line-up for this month’s event and what I think of each of the main dish and side dish companies.

Main Dishes

Bedrock Data, Easily Integrate Your Business Data – Often the companies that demo at WebInno provide consumer-facing technology. Bedrock doesn’t. This is technology designed to allow businesses to better manage and synchronize their data. The website describes the company as a data management platform, and I guess technically it is; but it isn’t a DMP in the ad tech sense.

The basic idea here is that most organizations have a ton of data (from what I can tell, Bedrock is primarily designed to tap into customer data from CRM systems) and a bunch of apps (and here the focus from Bedrock is heavily tilted toward marketing, though they also support finance, customer support and ecommerce systems). It’s tough as nails to make sure you’re always working with the most current data in every situation and that’s the problem Bedrock solves.

Here’s how it works: you identify your data source (typically a CRM system) and the application you want it to synchronize with. You need to tell the system which data source would win in a conflict, which fields you want to synchronize and get it started. The system will, within minutes, update both systems and will keep them current moving forward. Change in your marketing system will be reflected in your CRM system and vise versa. It seems like a useful, if not especially, eye-popping offering.

Bridj, Better Transit. For Everyone. – Bridj is essentially privatized mass transit. The company currently has two routes, one between Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and the other from Coolidge Corner to downtown Boston, with more on the way. Bridj has shuttles (featuring leather seats and Wi-Fi) to move people between their single start points and end points. This means no stops, which means much faster travel times than are available from public transportation. The service is currently free during its “beta” period (which started yesterday) and has just one departure time per route at this point.

As I read about Bridj it brought to mind the private shuttles that have received so much (negative) attention in the Bay Area. In that case, employers in the Valley provide the shuttles as a free service. Bridj is a little different because it is theoretically available to anyone who a) needs to get between one of the company’s start and end points and b) can afford a pass (which the company says is just a little more than a T fare). That’s what makes it private-public instead of purely private as is the case of the shuttles in SF.

Still, it does create a tiered transit system that will create distinctions between people based on location and disposable income. One could argue we already have that to the extent that some people can afford to drive or take taxis or use the Pike vs. surface roads. It will be interesting to see how Boston responds to the idea. It raises several questions for me:

Will it result in fewer cars on the road? It might, but going from Coolidge Corner, it’s more likely to result in lower ridership for the MBTA. That seems like a double-edge sword: easier commutes for those who can take advantage of Bridj but less operating revenue for the MBTA.

To what extent will Bridj tax the transportation infrastructure and how will it pay for whatever impact it has? With two routes at this point, it seems unlikely Bridj will have any measurable impact (if anything, taking cars off the road may have a positive impact). As more routes are added that could change, though it does seem unlikely.

Will Bridj serve every community? The company says they use big data to determine their routes. I’m sure that’s true – to an extent – but it’s hard for me to believe that Coolidge Corner is the point of origin for the greatest number of commuters into either downtown or Kendall Square. Will Bridj share the data used to determine its routes? Will the company look beyond Brookline, to some of the outer suburbs or other neighborhoods to help take cars off the road or shorten longer public transit commutes? The MBTA reports a travel time from Coolidge to Kendall as being 30 minutes and costing $2.50, from Ashmont the trip takes 45 minutes and costs $4.50 and from Natick (where I live) the trip takes almost an hour and costs $9.75. Only time and transparency will tell.

Squadle, The Smart Way to Manage Your Business. – Before going on about Squadle, can we all just agree that the name is really terrible? I can’t decide which it makes me think of more a) a group bathroom experience or b) a new Pokemon. Either way, it doesn’t make me think about managing a business.

That aside, what is Squadle all about? (OK, seriously, I can barely bring myself to type that word.) It’s actually pretty cool. Think of it as a silent taskmaster in the cloud. Designed for restaurants (and food trucks!), Squadle consists of two elements: the Squadle Hub, which is a “ruggedized” Google tablet, and the Squadle HQ which is essentially an analytics dashboard.

The Hub allows daily tasks and lists to be shared with employees and provides them a way to keep track of what they are meant to be doing. The HQ gives managers a way to see how well their operation is performing. It’s all wireless, apparently easy to set up and get into the field and is simple enough that even Beavis and Butthead could probably use it.

It’s interesting to see how mobile technology is making its way into more and more industries. The fact that Squadle links employees’ in-store activities with a management dashboard seems pretty cool.

Side Dishes

Animatron – HTML5 is pretty cool. It’s allowing publishers to create assets that can work online and on mobile devices. Creating those assets, now how do you do that exactly? Hell if I know, I haven’t used HTML in years. Animatron is here to help. I signed up and tried fooling around with it and it seemed pretty cool to me. I didn’t have the time (day jobs!) to do much though. It’s certainly worth checking out and giving a spin.

AppBlade, Deploy, manage and configure with ease. – As AppBlade points out, mobile devices have changed everything – including how we work. As businesses rely on apps to help their employees get things done, they’ve faced the challenge of getting purpose-build apps into the field, managing them, keeping them up-to-date, etc. That’s the problem AppBlade is designed to solve. It’s not a problem I face so I can’t really say that much about the company.

Kidnosh, Eat out. Eat well. With kids. – As a father I appreciate the challenge of finding places to eat with my kids. They’re in their teens now but that hasn’t made things any easier. When they were young, oh man, what a pain. Kidnosh is designed to make it easier for adults to find restaurants that are kid-friendly. That’s cool. I looked at a few listings and it all seemed good to me. What wasn’t so good was the apparent absence of an app. The worst – and I mean worst – thing is being out with hungry kids and trying to find a place to eat. Maybe these guys should check out Animatron?

RocketBoard), Stream your ordinary whiteboard to anyone anywhere. – There’s not much to say about RocketBoard. They were Teamboard. At the moment the site is nothing more than a field to enter your email address to get early access when it’s available. Watch this space I guess.

Zylo Media, Advertising that people choose to interact with! – For reasons that are beyond me, I’ve ended up working primarily with advertising technology clients for the past three or four years. It’s an exciting space with lots of players, all different layers of technology and issues that transcend product (things like privacy and big data). Does that mean I choose to interact with advertising? No, not really. Sometimes I do and I’m the most impressed when I find myself engaging with ads without even realizing it at first. There’s a real art to making that happen.

Zylo develops casual games that help reinforce brands and provide consumers with offers and rewards for playing. The company captures user names, contact information and demographic details. According to Zylo, the typical player will consider 50 offers before accepting one. What does that mean? It means the customer has played about 200 games and been exposed to more than 2000 ad impressions over the course of an hour. To me that seems like a lot of impressions in a short time but if Zylo says it works, who am I do judge?

Well there you have it, my preview of WebInno42. Bridj is the most interesting one, not necessarily because of what they’re offering but because of the questions it raises. I’m looking forward to th