As we wrap up another year on this planet, people have begun reminiscing on what has gone on in the past twelve months and whether they should look back at it with longing regret or praise over their accomplishments. The same could be said about the world of technology and startups. For the past couple of years, I’ve penned an annual prospective (if you will) on The Next Web — see 2013 and 2014 — about interesting companies that you should pay attention to in the next year. Naturally, I’m no longer actively reporting, but I felt that it was worth my time (and yours) to highlight a few startups that are worth paying attention to.
As I premised my picks over the past couple of years, these aren’t all relatively new companies. Some you’ll find have raised some serious venture capital, but they’re still considered to be startups (in my opinion). Nevertheless, I feel that there’s going to be some significant movement or breakthrough taking place in 2015 — will I be right?
Here’s a complete list of the startups in this lengthy post. Scroll down for my reasoning:
Shyp opened to the world in March 2014 and has grown to now operate in several cities in the United States, including San Francisco, Miami, and New York City. The company has raised $12.1 million in funding from investors like SherpaVentures, Winklevoss Capital, Homebrew, and individual investors like Brian McClendon and David Marcus. If you’re not familiar with Shyp, the name gives away what it does: ships items for you. In this Shared Economy world we live in, the company specializes in logistics and could be poised to take on FedEx, UPS, DHL and others, disrupting an legacy industry. But how?
“We started Shyp with a mission: to make shipping a better experience for consumers and businesses alike…Shipping has always been a hassle: not only do you have to get your items to the shipping facility, you also have to figure out how you’ll package them, and pay for all the materials. Whether you’re shipping every day or on a one-off basis, shipping isn’t easy.”
Dealing with logistics is definitely a problem for many and for those who just don’t have time to deal with sending packages to and from their location either locally, regionally, or nationally, the Shared Economy could offer a solution. And while Uber could offer a similar solution, it hasn’t thus far as it seeks to focus on transportation matters. It’s worth seeing if Shyp will be able to capitalize on this and add more cities and capabilities in the future. Already it is looking at furthering its expansion to Los Angeles, but will it encounter any regulatory issues similar to those that have befallen fellow Shared Economy companies like Airbnb and Uber?
Leeo is the company behind a smart nightlight. Wait, a nightlight? Yes, that’s right. In stealth for at least the greater portion of 2014, Leeo has revealed itself with the first of possibly multiple products. With its nightlight, the company has offered consumers a way to easily tap into the Internet of Things and connected home space without a lot of effort. The Leeo nightlight is a $100 device that will detect if your smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector is going off and notify you. If it can’t reach you, it will contact one of five contacts you enter into the app. It can also tell you the temperature and humidity of your home or apartment.
This device is useful for those people who don’t have the technical prowess or are unable to install a smart device like the Nest Protect or thermostat in their residence (e.g. landlord won’t allow it, not comfortable messing with the wires, etc.). And who knows what will happen with the company in the future…will it compete with Google and release more products or team up with utility providers and other industries in order to improve the quality of living in the household? It’s not clear yet, but it’s worth keeping an eye out on Leeo’s future developments.
I’m rather long on Leeo, especially since I received one to try out earlier on (disclosure!). The design is quite compelling and the company is approaching the smart home from a good perspective. At first it was interesting to have in my apartment, but after the so-called #PineappleExpress storm shut off power, Leeo was helpful in letting me know when power to my apartment was restored.
Postmates is one of those services that seems to have endured even amid what many would speculate would be crushed under the weight of bigger competitors. The on-demand courier service has been around for a few years and is rapidly expanding to numerous cities around the United States. And along the way, it’s encountered foes like eBay with its eBay Now program, Amazon and its Prime Now initiative, and also Uber. But while people may have speculated that Postmates is “doomed”, it’s still here and operating quite well it would seem.
Just like Shyp, Postmates is focused on doing one thing really well, and that’s in the logistics department. But unlike Shyp, it’s interested in transporting local deliveries and shipments. So when you need something to be delivered in under an hour across town, then that’s Postmates. The battle for national and international delivery isn’t really being waged as furiously as before — the real battle lies with the local market and no one has effectively tapped into it. But Postmates may have a chance, especially when big companies are rethinking their same-day delivery program — just look at eBay Now. Postmates remains an important part of the Shared Economy with more than a million deliveries under its belt and is still looking for ways to scale.
The recent opening of its API is such an option and will be a worth looking at since Postmates will make it possible for people to quickly receive more items they want instead of having to go into the store. The company has signed partnerships with popular services to really kick up local mobile commerce, with deals in place with Everlane, Threadflip, Betabrand, and more:
“The Postmates API allows any developer to integrate fast and scalable local, on-demand delivery into their products, websites and apps. It also gives developers access to a delivery fleet of 6,000 drivers and riders in 18 U.S. markets.”
Postmates is demonstrating that it can expand beyond food delivery and into other verticals. Yes, it has been possible for users to request delivery of other things or even to have items picked up and delivered to other locations, but for many, it’s been rather difficult to decipher this — perhaps better explanation might be needed? Regardless, evidence suggests that it’s growing and demonstrating that it’ll be here for quite a while.
As you might know, I love photography. Whether it’s with a dSLR camera or even my mobile device, much of what I capture is shared with my friends and followers through social media. When I first heard of EyeEm, it seemed to be nothing more of like an Instagram competitor and the “photo-sharing app wars” ended quite a few years ago. But upon closer inspection, you wouldn’t think that it is — it’s less of a tool and more of a portal into a world of photography enthusiasts.
But it’s definitely not the only game in town — it’s competing against Flickr, Twitter, and of course, Instagram. But here’s the difference that I see: EyeEm puts community ahead of the camera. Twitter allows you to capture and edit photos to share on its microblogging/communication/media platform, but it’s a secondary benefit (a nice addition). Instagram focuses on letting you capture photos first, but doesn’t encourage you to continue snapping images or discovering a community.
Flickr has some similarities to EyeEm, including most notably that the former’s Head of Product now works for the latter. Flickr does have the active community but it’s been stagnant in terms of innovation for years and it has forced people to abandon its platform. And EyeEm takes advantage of the fact people capture more photos on their mobile device and engages them through missions and other enticements. And with the latest update to its app, the company makes it possible for users to become better photographers by looking at what professionals have done.
It will be fascinating to see what the company continues to do to engage the global community while also finding ways to monetize itself — will it utilize sponsorships for its missions? What about targeted advertising? Webinars and resources to help further creative photography for users?
Zenefits was founded in 2013 and is a graduate of the Y Combinator accelerator program. It specializes in the enterprise space, providing those in HR, managers, and employees a single online portal to manage all of their human resource services, including payroll, benefits, compliance, and more. Basically, Zenefits is disrupting legacy HR systems that have been in place for decades and has re-imagined the solution. To date, the company has raised $83.6 million in its pursuit to reinvent both the health and insurance and HR side of things for the enterprise.
And of course people are starting to pay attention to Zenefits. In December 2014, the company is now facing opposition from Utah state regulators. It has been alleged that because the company is giving away its cloud-based software for free, Zenefits is in violation of the state’s rebates and inducement law. Incumbents apparently don’t like this and if regulators proceed, it may shut down the company’s operation in the state. However, Zenefits isn’t taking this lying down — it has responded saying:
Zenefits says in the letter that if it is in violation of the law then so is Zion’s Bank for offering free checking, Marriott for offering free travel insurance and Hertz rental cars for offering perks such as skipping lines, under Kiser’s interpretation of the law.
However this plays out, it’s worth noting that with the opposition Zenefits is receiving in Utah, it’s on par with others in the Shared Economy. Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have received this “badge of honor” and somehow still persevere.
In the current political climate, more people are becoming active in campaigning for change, regardless of which side of a particular issue you’re for or against. As we near the 2016 presidential election, and in the aftermath of the 2014 midterm elections, Americans will continue to remain active seeking reform on a variety of issues. Brigade Media might be the platform to help make things happen.
Started by Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and formerly of Facebook fame, Brigade aims to reinvigorate democracy in this country. The company’s website states that the platform is about “expressing yourself, learning about your friends, and finding common ground — together.” Parker suggests that his product will help voters feel more empowered after years of feeling that their leaders don’t listen to them. But we’ve heard this song and dance before with the likes of Votizen, Causes, and Rally. But here’s a twist: Brigade owns Votizen and Causes — now all of it will be rolled up into a single democratic platform.
How will Brigade fare? It’s unknown as it has not yet launched — TechCrunch reports that it won’t be until 2015 before that happens so it’s definitely going to be of some interest. And pundits will definitely keep their eye on the company as the last couple of endeavors by Parker haven’t exactly been smooth sailing — remember Airtime and its relaunch?
While we’re on the topic of social good and causes, another company to keep your eye out on is HandUp. This tech startup is perhaps akin to a localized Kiva.org service. Those in need or homeless can use the service to seek out a “hand up” and donors can choose how much they’d like to give in order to provide the request. Whether it’s something like paying for dental work, rent, heat for a home, etc. HandUp is all about giving back and paying it forward. The organization’s co-founder Rose Broome has partnered with homeless service organizations to help facilitate delivery of goods and resources all in an effort to improve the lives of those less fortunate.
Similar to Watsi, in which the crowdfunding model is implemented to help fund projects, HandUp stands out in a sea of services seeking to raise money for their ephemeral app, stickers, or other nonsensical offering. It has raised $850,000 from a team of investors including Version One Ventures, Jason Calacanis’ Launch Fund, SV Angel, and individual investors such as Marc Benioff.
Emberlight is a startup focused on the Internet of Things space. And before I go any further, I should disclose that the company is a graduate from season 3 of the Orange Fab accelerator, which is a part of Orange Silicon Valley. But aside from that, the company is working on a product where you’re able to control any light using your smartphone or mobile device. It eliminates the need for consumers to have to retool their entire homes, possibly saving them an incredible amount. But before you rush out to the department store to buy it, it’s not available quite yet.
So what makes Emberlight so interesting and worth paying attention to? It’s because of the perceived demand. The company opened up its pre-orders through a Kickstarter campaign where it hoped to raise $50,000. Within weeks, that goal would have been met and by the time the 30-day window expired, the company had raised over $300,000. Per the company’s plan, pre-orders will ship early next year and it will be then when we begin to see whether there’s sufficient public demand for the smart lightbulbs.
There’s demand for companies in the Internet of Things space, with Samsung tapping into it with its SmartThings purchase in August 2014 and Intel exploring its own IoT platform. Whether Emberlight makes it to its next phase will be interesting to see and any future partnerships that it can form — will it strike a deal with electric utilities to help customers reduce their energy expenditures and better track their activity? Or what about with bulb manufacturers like Phillips or General Electric in order to produce better lightbulbs?
Another Y Combinator alumnus, ProductHunt functions like Hacker News, but specifically about new products. If you’re not a journalist or an avid technology tracker, then finding time to keep track of the latest comings and goings is near impossible (or at the very least very difficult). Everyday, there’s dozens of new products being added to the service with the best ones rising to the top based on popular vote. What makes it more impressive is that the standings can happen independently of press coverage. But also, the service offers specific “tool kits”, aka collections, based on specific needs. There are Healthcare Hunts, products for artists and art enthusiasts, social impact, traveling, and much more.
ProductHunt is certainly useful for marketers and business professionals eager to find the latest tools to adapt into their content and strategy plans. And the team has been coming up with interesting ways to scale the service, including hosting something similar to Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything). When Path released version 3.0 and expanded Path Talk’s feature to allow users to communicate with places, CEO Dave Morin took to the service to answer user questions and feedback. And it has only grown from there.
So what’s in the future of the company? It already has $7.1 million in the bank thanks to investments from Andreessen Horowitz and also Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. It will be worth checking in with over the next few months over how the company will escalate engagement with the thousands of users on the site.
Much of this list is focused on the consumer, but there are startups focused on a different audience — the consummate business professional and also investor. Mattermark is the one to watch to see what happens in 2015. The service has raised $9.9 million in funding for its platform that helps firms quantify growth signals and predict potentially successful startups. It pulls in data from a variety of sources, including Twitter, news sites, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), LinkedIn, AngelList, CrunchBase, and others.
So why should people care about this in the future? With a lot of companies raising more funds at ridiculously high valuations, finding the next “Unicorn” can be important to investors and maybe even those in corporate M&A roles. Instead of dealing with data piecemeal, Mattermark offers up a single source that already analyzes the information for you all at once.
Perhaps investor Brad Feld (who recently put money into Mattermark) explains it:
“While there have been numerous efforts over the last 20 years to organize detailed private company data on the Internet, the end result is still lame. Classical search approaches like Google are a mess – you can get bits and pieces of the data, but it’s impossible to get what you want in one place. When you use public company data as a metaphor, it’s not surprising that Bloomberg still exists in the world of Google Finance, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, and a continued list of non-comprehensive, relatively neglected data sets and presentation layers.
Today, the data signals about private companies are ubiquitous. But no one organizes the data effectively. When you buy a CRM system, it comes empty. Everyone re-collects similar data from a wide-variety of sources and ends up recreating the same spreadsheets to try to do data analysis. Much of the data that gets presented is in PDFs or other report formats that are not structured or searchable. When market research on private companies consists of Google searches, manual data entry by analysts, and spreadsheets to present information, there’s an opportunity.”
By the end of 2015, we might be looking at a whole new way at analyzing and determining the viability of a startup. And we will probably have Mattermark to thank.
Photo credit: Shane Lin/Flickr; photo of voters in Hackney via Wikpedia; photo of Rose Broome via Dan Swartz/1776dc.com
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