SAN FRANCISCO--Another day, another two dozen or so new companies and products at the Launch conference. And again, five more winners and some bonuses. Today my winners (not the judges' winners; those I'll report on later) are mostly companies solving boring, dull, old-fashioned, real-world business problems. In other words, things that will make actual money.
There is some exciting technology in here, though:
From the guys at Docstoc comes a new service that knows which licenses you need to open your business, whatever it is, no matter where you are. It saves the business owner the hassle and potentially expensive errors involved in gathering and filling out permit forms and applications. Not free, of course: It's $9.95 for a report, which includes the licenses themselves and a timeline for filling them out.
CEO Jason Nazar says that the city officials he's talked to like this idea. It helps citizens open business and streamlines the collection of license fees. Pretty dull. But if you've ever had to wade through new-business paperwork, I bet you'll like it, too.
This is my favorite social experiment at the conference. It's a way for company employees to, once a week, quickly say what's working at their jobs, what isn't, and how they are feeling. These quick reports roll up to their manager, who can then reply to feedback items, and select some to use in his or her report up the chain to the next boss. It's new, but it feels mature, and I have the feeling it could really work inside many company cultures. (I covered previously: Startups reveal social experiments at Launch.)
While I generally don't like judging site or app builders, since they're very hard to evaluate based on demos, this one was compelling. You give it a small business phone number, and it scours the Web and social sites to build a profile of the business, which it uses to create a mobile app. And the apps look good. AppStack also front-ends the Google advertising experience: You tell it how many customers you want and where, and it gives you a price to get that many leads.
Talk about a snore-fest. Captricity takes images of paper forms (say a stack of surveys, or ballots, or inventory surveys from stores) and does the data entry for you. It uses a combination of OCR and human input, and its fees are reasonable. Think CardMunch for forms. The service looks like it's designed well and it takes a big pain point for a lot of businesses and just reduces the pain. Great opportunity.
Now this one was exciting. It does eye tracking on Web sites and videos using the camera built in to a computer, and it does emotional response tracking at the same time. So clients can see what on a site of video, in rather amazing detail, what is making viewers happy, sad, or frustrated. This is a director or site designer's fantasy.
And now, the bonus awards for today:
Most audacious: MeetCute
This is a dating service that sets people up on actual blind dates. Users do a hot-or-not exercise of rating people they think are cute (these people are not potential dates) and then MeetCute determines nearby people that it predicts you'll find attractive and vice versa. The system the sets a time and place for you to meet and sends you there. With no picture or profile. So you have to figure out who's at the coffee shop you just walked in to who's looking for you. Interesting twist in a competitive space.
Watch this space award: Minbox
A judge's favorite, this is an e-mail client that brings more contemporary social mechanisms to e-mail. It knows who your family and friends are and sorts messages into buckets for them, and has a very simple, person-focused priority system. We'll see if this system works for real users with real e-mail traffic. As more than one judge said, "It's not for me, but I like it."
Most likely to get the founders whacked: VirtualGamingWorlds
This company runs a casino-based game world everywhere but here in the US. Users can gamble real money and cash out whenever they want. The scary online twist: Users can set up their own casinos (after buying virtual gaming machines) and keep their winnings, minus VGW's cut. Zynga's got to be eyeing this company. Judges loved this business more than they hated themselves for promoting a business that's based on both gambling and multi-level marketing.