TechCrunch50 Finalists: First Impressions

Posted on September 8, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

TechCrunch50 kicks off today and although I unfortunately had more pressing commitments and will not be wading through the crowd of white men dressed in khakis, I did want to check on who the TechCrunch50 companies are and provide my first impressions.

The Companies

Blah Girls - Backed by Ashton Kutcher, Blah Girls is a gossip site that features a group of animated teenage girls who provide opinions on what’s going on in the world of entertainment

We all know why this made TechCrunch50. Next please.

Tweegee — A hub for tweens, Tweegee offers the youth market a suite of online tools for social interaction and organization

How many of these are needed?

Shryk — Web-based financial software for children aimed at promoting financial literacy and good saving habits

Whatever happened to the piggy bank? Let’s not forget that most adults lack financial literacy and good saving habits. Financial literacy and good saving habits start with parents, not software.

Hangout Industries — Blends social networking with virtual worlds by creating a 3D, online environment where 16-24 year olds can chat and share media

As if 16-24 year olds don’t have enough places online to chat and share media. What we need is to get our young people back into the real world (you know, so that they can drink, party and have babies).

DotSpots — Tracks the memes spreading across the web, aggregates the content associated with them, and gives everyone Wikipedia-like control over that content

Just what the Internets need - memetracker.

Angstro — Lets you set up a feed of news about your friends, instead of news by your friends

It’s a - hold your breath - “friend feed.” Remarkable.

LiveHit — Tracks the music, videos, and entertainment sites people are clicking on right now

iTunes, YouTube, TMZ. Any further questions?

Quant the News — Creator of, a service that tracks the sentiments of online news stories about stocks and then measures their potential impact on the direction of those stocks’ prices

If you want to know how the market feels about a particular chart, all you have to do is look at a price chart. It’s also worth pointing out the old adage, “buy the rumor, sell the news.” Useless.

FairSoftware — Creates virtual shares around software projects that gives each contributor a portion of any resulting revenues

How capitalist. Open-source just wants to be free.

Yammer — A web application designed for businesses and organizations that asks its users to answer the question, “What are you working on?”

In 140 characters, right? This sounds like a corporate Twitter. A friend of micromanagers, an enemy of productivity?

Connective Logic — Along with the company’s real-time middleware, Blueprint will make it easier for developers to design, generate code, and deploy complex multi-core software applications without requiring expertise in multi-threaded software development

Potentially far too useful for the TechCrunch50 crowd. Michael Arrington will want to know if it works with the 64-bit Chrome operating system.

Devunity — A platform for writing code in a browser-based editor that doesn’t force developers to use a proprietary layer

Solution searching for a problem.

OpenTrace - Traces items through the supply chain and adds them together to show the impact of products on the environment

One word: pointless. Nobody really cares.

Burt — Collects user data to tailor individual advertising campaigns and target users more effectively

Targeted advertising? Novel concept.

Adgregate Markets — Brings online stores to consumers through a display ad that is a fully transactional widget

Given the failure of other transactional widgets, I’ll go out on a limb and call this one DOA even though I haven’t even looked at it.

Adrocket — Contextual text-based advertising for email; assigns keywords to each address depending on known demographic and contextual data

Google could easily extend AdWords/AdSense to do this. Interestingly it planned to, but my current understanding placing AdSense code in emails is not permitted. Wonder why.

OtherInBox — Provides an easy way to quarantine the spam and the messages you receive from online services

Thanks, but no thanks. Between throw-away forwarders and the server-based anti-spam application I use, I don’t think I need another inbox.

Tingz — Offers a unified platform for delivering internet content across multiple devices including mobile phones and PCs

MobileMe? Live Mesh?

MIXTT — A group based social network/dating site that encourages real world interaction that’s more comfortable than the 1-on-1 format of most similar sites for group sex? That might work.

Unfortunately, MIXTT sounds like a dating service designed for those who are uncomfortable dating. I guess it’s a niche.

Imindi (CB) — Based on neuroscientific principles, Imindi’s Thought Engine tries to exceed human thought and help its users find new ideas, concepts, and questions on the Web

Exceed human thought? I hope this is part of Ashton Kutcher’s new television show, Tech Punk’d, which is debuting at TechCrunch50.

Popego — Surfaces the most meaningful information from within your social graph based on your interests and other factors

Doesn’t Popego know that there is no meaningful information to be found in the social graph?

PersonalRIA — Allows users to shadow a professional investment advisor’s portfolio, automatically executing trades (which most brokerage sites cannot do)

See my comments on the Cakedex and Covestor. There’s a reason reputable brokers don’t let their customers “mirror” the trades of another person. Want a professional investment advisor to manage your portfolio? Hire one.

Emerginvest — Offers commentary and analysis on Emerging Markets and tools that provide you with information on how to diversify globally

Given the plethora of paid newsletters and advisory services that have been providing this type of information for years, it’s hard for me to believe that Emerginvest is offering anything new and unique.

ExchangeP — Dubbed a “fantasy stock market,” ExhangeP’s service allows users to sign up for free and start investing in private companies

Can I short Facebook?

Me-trics — Lets you see how mood, weight, and goals correlate with other metrics, including web services like Facebook or RescueTime

We already know that fat people and depressed people use web services more than their slim and happy counterparts.

iCharts — YouTube for embeddable, interactive charts

Kind of like ?

Mytopia — A gaming platform that lets players compete across mobile devices and social networks

Kongregate has already been moving in this direction.

Tonchidot — Makes the Sekai Camera, a camera system that aims to merge the virtual and real worlds by using a digital device as a viewfinder


Mobclix — An analytics and monetization platform for iPhone developers

No thanks. I keep track of how much money I’m making from my iPhone poker and blackjack applications quite well on my own. No middleman required.

FitBit — Developing a small wireless sensor called the Fitbit Tracker, which automatically records data about a person’s activities, calories burned, sleep quality, steps, and distance throughout the day

Potentially interesting technology but most people know how much activity and exercise they’re engaging in and how well they’re sleeping. They simply choose not to change their habits when they’re not living a healthy lifestyle.

Alfabetic — Translates any blog or Website into another language and places ads alongside it in the new tongue

I wonder if the ads will be as incoherent as the automated translations.

Postbox — Based on Mozilla technology, Postbox saves users time when looking for particular information within their email

My email client’s search functionality seems to do the trick.

Swype — A new method of text input on touch screens; does away with traditional “hunt and peck” in favor of a more fluid motion

Might be interesting but somehow I suspect that getting kiosk manufacturers and operators to change their hardware and software is going to be a difficult task.

DropBox — Provides an easy way to backup your files, share them with coworkers and friends, and synchronize them between computers

I’ve read lots of positive things about DropBox which means that lots of people are already using it. What’s it doing in TechCrunch50? It couldn’t be that it’s backed by Sequoia, which is a TechCrunch50 sponsor, could it?

VideoSurf — A visual video search engine that allow users to search across millions of videos for a given actor and to view summaries of videos through a series of detected keyframes

The technology sounds interesting but I question the real mass-market appeal and Blinkx has already carved out a strong position in the online video search market.

GazoPa — An image search engine developed by Hitachi that uses visual similarities between photos to suggest matches (rather than simply relying on keywords).

Hitachi is a startup? In any case, isn’t this what does?

Fotonauts — A photo sharing application that turns every album instantly into a Web page.

Just what the world needs - another photo sharing application.

Bojam — Although there are a slew of online music services already on the Web, Bojam is trying to do something a bit different: it wants to connect musicians and allow them to collaborate over the Web.

A bit different? Been done.

Grockit - A “Massively Multi-Player Online Learning Game”

No violence? Sack it.

Akoha — A web-based social game played with trading cards aimed at spreading good deeds around the world

Bullshit. You don’t need a web-based social game with trading cards to spread good deeds. Good deeds are already being spread everyday by lots of people thank you very much.

Atmosphir — A platform for creating 3D interactive games by selecting blocks (such as a sand castle tower, fireball-breathing bird, or trap door) and snapping them onto a grid.

Similar products .

PlaYce — Provides a 3D virtual world inside the browser for games and social interaction that is based on the real world

Note to PlaYce: a 3D virtual world in a web browser has nothing to do with the “real world.”

Birdpost — A social network for birdwatchers

Looks like this community is doing quite well. It’s not too late for Birdpost to set up a social network on Ning for less than $50/month, though, and pocket the $50,000 it’s sure to win at TechCrunch50.

Closet Couture — Fashionistas need a social network too and Closet Couture is looking to give them one by connecting them to other fashion lovers, stylists, and retailers

Stylehive, (acquired by StyleHive), Chictini, , ShareYourLook, Fashionspace, , etc. etc. What else is there to say besides “oversaturated”?

Footnote — For those looking to create historical records of loved ones or themselves, Footnote offers a timeline-based archive where you can upload photos and documents linked to historical databases

Sounds a bit like, no?

Causecast — Causecast leverages social networking to connect nonprofits, leaders, celebrities and brands with those who want to make a difference through good causes

Is Brangelina involved? And don’t we have enough already?

Shattered Reality Interactive (CB) — A new massively multiplayer online game (think World of Warcraft) that lets the crowd guide the direction of future expansions

Just as there can only be one Highlander, there can only be one World of Warcraft. Letting the crowd “guide the direction of future expansions” is not likely to be a viable differentiator. Next please.

GoodGuide - Provides information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of products and companies

More eco-bullshit. Note to Al Gore fanboys: I don’t care. I love oil.

GoPlanit — A one-click travel planner that assembles a customized trip itinerary with the click of a button; also supports mobile microblogging

Does the world need yet another travel planner? Adena DeMonte of GigaOm asked this back in September 2007.

TrueCar - A site that allows users to assess the current market value of their automobiles in a given geographic area

Last time I checked, the website asks for a ZIP code, ostensibly for precisely this purpose.

Goodrec - A mobile and online recommendation service that provides brief, to-the-point recommendations from friends and trusted sources

Frankly, I’d prefer to use my mobile phone to call a friend (or send a text) asking for a recommendation when I need one.


Quite frankly, I’m not all that impressed with this year’s crop of TechCrunch50 contenders. There are few startups that sound innovative and I’m especially surprised at how many are doing things that have been done for years. For all of the drama, is this the best Michael Arrington could attract?

While all of these startups deserve an opportunity to state their case, so far I suspect the startups doing interesting things that will appeal to mainstream audiences aren’t at TechCrunch50. They’re probably too busy building, meeting customers, etc. You know - important stuff.

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10 Responses to “TechCrunch50 Finalists: First Impressions”

  1. Mike Rundle on September 8th, 2008 2:28 pm

    I think the goal for any startup looking to actually build a solid business is to get absolutely 0 visibility on TechCrunch and focus on hitting its target audience and making money instead.

  2. Warren on September 8th, 2008 3:20 pm

    Mike: Well that assumes these startups are really interested in building a business model and not just selling to Google.

  3. Drama 2.0 on September 8th, 2008 4:07 pm

    Warren: bingo.

  4. ivv on September 8th, 2008 6:26 pm

    Yammer has potential. Cubicle people IM about work anyway, and having their chats archived and centralized would make sense. I wish the company offered a self-hosted option, though. In any case, they’ll probably make more money than Twitter.

    Wonder if FitBit will be ad-supported. Would be fun to target ads by different sleep patterns.

    There’s a decent ad potential for sites like Shryk.

    Curious about Akoha because of the trading-card angle.

  5. Drama 2.0 on September 8th, 2008 9:11 pm

    ivv: I think you should look at Yammer from the perspective of a corporation. Using Yammer in an “official” capacity presents some problems.

    One notable one is Sarbanes-Oxley, which requires that all electronic messages must be saved for at least 5 years. This requirement ostensibly applies to a corporation’s official use of a service like Yammer.

    FitBit: it might be fun to target ads by sleep patterns but it isn’t going to make you any money.

    And there’s little potential for ad revenue for websites that doesn’t have much potential for building an audience.

  6. ivv on September 8th, 2008 10:59 pm

    Dunno. If FitBit takes off and gets some audience, they are going to do ok running pharma ads at $20-30 CPM.

  7. Drama 2.0 on September 8th, 2008 11:21 pm

    ivv: here’s FitBit’s description:

    The company is developing a ultra-compact wireless wearable sensor, called the Fitbit Tracker, that automatically tracks data about a person’s activities, such as calories burned, sleep quality, steps and distance.

    The Fitbit Tracker collects activity data automatically while it is worn by the user all day. The collected data is wirelessly uploaded to a website where the wearer can see their data and track their progress toward personal goals. The website provides a motivational interface where users can share their progress, compare themselves against similar people and compete against their friends, family and co-workers.

    Here’s the problem: based on the above, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to wear the FitBit sensor. It’s an intrusion.

    As I noted, people usually have a pretty good idea of how much exercise they’re getting, how well they’re sleeping, etc. The fact that over 60% of Americans are overweight and nearly 90% could be overweight by 2030 is testament to the fact that individuals, for a variety of reasons, choose to lead unhealthy lifestyles.

    Unfortunately for FitBit, those who would benefit most from its product are those who are least likely to use it. After all, when you’re overweight or obese, you don’t want to wear a sensor that’s going to remind you of it.

    Constructive criticism: if I was involved with FitBit, instead of operating as both a technology manufacturer and a consumer-oriented service, I would look to partner with entities that already have distribution and that might also have a good reason to pay for the technology.


    • Weight-loss programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Curves. These companies could offer their customers FitBit’s sensors as a value-added service and FitBit would white label its web platform so that those companies can integrate it directly into their programs (i.e. customers log on to a account to track results).
    • Healthcare providers and insurance companies could enable patients to use FitBit’s sensors voluntarily as a means to verify healthy lifestyle choices. In turn, they might be able to offer those patients better rates. Note that some auto insurance companies are doing something similar.

    While I can see that you work in the ad industry, the reality is that an ad-supported business model isn’t for everyone and for a lot of businesses, it’s less-than-ideal.

    In the case of FitBit, overcoming the significant distribution challenges it faces may be as simple as changing its notion of what it is and who its customers are.

  8. ivv on September 9th, 2008 10:23 am

    >> “…is testament to the fact that individuals, for a variety of reasons, choose to lead unhealthy lifestyles.”

    I guess what I was saying is that people you see in the gyms are the ones who need the least to be there, so I wouldn’d discount the market potential of FitBit’s device.

    Agree with everything else. I don’t know whether the company is planning to make all or part of its money on ads. If they do, they will do much better than most of the rest of TC50.

  9. Drama 2.0 on September 9th, 2008 10:30 am

    ivv: it’s estimated that less than 30% of people who have gym memberships use them regularly. :)

    While FitBit seems to have more “technology” than the vast majority of the other TechCrunch50 finalists, let me put it this way: I wouldn’t even invest $10,000 in it if its business model is advertising and it can’t explain how it’s going to overcome the significant distribution challenges it faces.

  10. Engago Team on September 11th, 2008 7:49 am

    After seeing the list and your valuable comments about the presenting companies (which is much more informative than Scobleizer writing “Startups, your websites suck”), we understand why we didn’t get one question from TechCrunch50 on our application: Not part of the “Valley”/”Bay area” and a new approach in B2B lead generation/sales.

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Drama 2.0 spikes the Web 2.0 kool aid by providing critical analyses of Web 2.0, its people, its startups and its impact on the world of media. Other topics are explored when Drama 2.0 has been drinking too much 1975 Dom Perignon. Read more about the Internet's version of Keyser Söze here.