Cloud hosting, social media frenzy and the mobile revolution have ushered in an era of derivative start-ups–Yelp for X, Facebook-meets-Y, location-based Z, iPhone app for Q. The start-ups that got the most attention during South By Southwest were doing things like group texting and variations on the check-in. It’s odd that in the gold rush for the next Facebook, we seem to have forgotten that start-ups have the power to violently shake the world or utterly alter the way business is done in an industry, for better or for worse.
Twitter made it possible for anyone with a mobile phone to broadcast a message to the world. Craigslist made classified listings dirt cheap and efficient, sweeping the newspaper industry’s legs out from under it at the same time. Airbnb is creating a whole new market in the hospitality industry with an idea so novel it was difficult to get funded. Zipcar is revolutionizing the way we drive; Square is democratizing credit card payments. The wireless telecoms industry is so complicated and fragmented that start-ups were unable to crack it for a decade–until Twilio came along and built a support infrastructure so powerful that it has resulted in hundreds of new SMS- and voice-based apps, including the dozen or so group texting apps passing out swag in Austin.
These kinds of disruptive companies aren’t always as sexy as a Tumblr or as puckish as that start-up that does nothing but generate hype for other start-ups, and sometimes they’re so radical that the rest of the tech world either rejects them or swallows them whole. One example of the latter was Long Island-based Amie Street, which let artists sell their music priced to demand–a perfect solution to the problem of how to price songs when the cost of distributing them is zero. Amazon bought the company in September; its URL now redirects to Amazon’s music site and the founders said they expect Amazon to simply toss out the business model.
But even as countless founders use the web for social media widgets and knockoff apps, radical thinking is thriving in New York. Check out ten of the most disruptive start-ups trailblazing in New York right now.