Proceed or pivot? 8 presenters find out at Ultra Light Startups

By Dennis Clemente

No-holds-barred feedback from investors may just be the drawing power of the Ultra Light Startups pitch meetups. Last October 16 at the Microsoft building, more than a hundred people watched as a total of eight startups found out if they were going to proceed or pivot with their startups.

The audience also judged not just the startups for their pitches but also the investors in terms of who provided the best advice. The startup that got the most votes was Nerdy Data with its search engine for source code.

The investor-judge who won was Nikhil Kalghatgi of SoftBank Capital. The other investor-judges were Ryan Armbrust of ff Venture Capital, Owen Davis of NYC Seed, and Brendan Dickinson of Canaan Partners.

With a two-minute presentation for each startup, it was hard to find out more about the eight companies. But the judges nevertheless provided substantial yet critical feedback that they can bring home with them.

Being the best pitcher of the night, though, Nerdy Data can accelerate their startup’s progress with prize credits, a month of co-working space, cloud services, and bids to VCs lined up for the startup.

Steven Sonnes of Nerdy Data introduced himself as a search engine consultant. “We want to open up API for everybody.”

Kalghatgi sees its potential, “Every company wants a shortcut. Work with large organizations. Spend more time making killer apps then go deep dive.”

Davis agreed, “I love what you’re working on but commit to an area.”

The other presenters included’s James Decrescenzo whose company aims to enable users to work from anywhere. One of the judges helped him call it more clearly as a virtual office IT reseller.

“We’ve been building this platform for 10 years. We have 1,000 users and we have our own software,” Decrescenzo said.

Dickinson was not convinced, saying, “You’re going to have a hard time getting funded.”

Kris Kniaz pitched next with SchoolEmpower, a global school management and class registration software that just went live last April. “We have an easy-to-use interface. For a dancer-teacher with her own studio, she will have an easy way to calendar her appointments, and make it easy for customers to pay,” Kniaz said. .

Davis disagreed, “You are in a unique position to drive traffic. Give it away for free.”

Dickinson took both sides but stressed, “You got to figure out your customers. If its payment processing, nail that.”

Jason Liang of BringMeThat is all about online food delivery for small and medium-sized cities. “We utilize proprietary algorithms to acquire restaurants rather than use a sales model. We now have over 20,000 restaurants online.”

“We make 15 percent. With the average order at $20 dollars, we earn $3,” he said.
“Plan is to localize every region.”

Davis said, “I am curious if the restaurants will love or hate you…if you’re going to add customer experience. There is a relationship established in some of the restaurants in small towns.”

Dickinson considered the branding and positioning challenge: “It is going to be incredibly expensive to drive people to your site.”

James of Passivemetrics presented his company as an analytics tracking tool for Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Kalghatgi asked, “Hootsuite owns this space. What’s the game plan?”

“The face of analytics has changed. I run Localytics before. Think of how you can differentiate. Say you’re earning 75K a month, you can continue on growing that, focus on enterprise sales,” he added.

Katie Bambino of The Dating Ring, a former project manager of Zynga, said her site, is kind of “Netflix meets Millionaire Matchmaker.”

Kalghatgi thinks “no one is successful in real-world dating. {It’s) also hard to scale,” while Dickinson said “it’s hard to maintain the inventory of the site. I would think hard about that.”

Davis advised, “Look into experiential sites. (Know that it’s) painful, painful, painful, expensive, expensive, expensive.”

Jussi Kaasinen of Sports Tracker said he wants to help train well, connect through sports, and live healthier happier lives. “We have organic growth. We have 10 million downloads.”

“We sell accessories. We have our online shop and distribution networks. We have developed interfaces and all kinds of third party devices,” Kaasinen said.

Davis’ tip, “Start offering discounts and make sure people find this useful.”

Dickinson said, “You got to have a plan, a partner or have a diet plan. Otherwise, you’re going to be in trouble.”

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Dennis Clemente

Shuttling between New York and other US cities, Dennis writes about tech meetups when he's not too busy working as a Web Developer/Producer + UX Writer and Digital Marketer.

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