The small talk sounded heavy as Betabeat stopped by the beer counter last night at General Assembly’s Demo Night. “We just A/B test, A/B test” one young gentleman explained to his companion. “Meetings and meetings,” a young lady said to hers. Thankfully the younguns had a few hours of respite from the pressures of the startup world in front of them: critiquing other people’s babies!
The charming Richard Blakeley, “man about town, man about the Internet” was the evening’s emcee as nine startups demoed their products and then asked for feedback from the audience, an assemblage of Mac-wielding guests–quick to whip out a smartphone if the presentation lagged–covering nearly every available inch of floor and banquette space within view of the projector.
The startups in question were all founded by GA members and the ninth presenter was General Assembly itself. The urban campus, whose London expansion is now official, had its principal product designer on hand to demonstrate its “hybrid education” model: an 90-minute online lecture coupled with a livestreamed “On Campus Discussion.” That way, students can watch the lecture at their leisure, but still have the social element of either meeting in person for the discussion, or log-in through a live interface to pose questions to the instructor or the group. We liked the idea of a sliding suggested price scale as a way to determine value from consumers, although the cheapskate in us wondered if that wouldn’t get GA low-balled.
The other startups that presented were: VHX, Nodejitsu, Paperlex, Contnu, Makom, PostHelper, Spotster, and Tred. The most exciting concepts were from VHX (a social video sharing site) and Paperlex (a Quickbooks-like legal document creator for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small business). Although Contnu (like a Yelp for continuing education classes, a $15 billion market), Makom (which makes travel guides and literature accessible and customizable on mobile phones), and Tred (which solves the problem of having to buy whatever car model is in stock at a dealer, by letting users pick the features they want, pay 2 percent down, and then have nearby dealers bid on giving you the car) all piqued our interest for going after markets that see little disruption.
Hands down the most swaggerific presentation last night goes to Charlie Robbins from Nodejitsu, but we’ll get to that a little later.
Betatbeat has told you about VHX before, but co-founder Casey Pugh explained to some first-timers how the site pulls videos from Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, Google Reader, and the like and lets you watch it on your computer, TV (through Boxee) and various mobile devices. Currently, said Mr. Pugh, “Video is a second class citizen in tiny embed” and YouTube is the last place people go to discover new content. VHX intends to solve that problem by being “Like the Tumblr for video, or Twitter,” said Mr. Pugh. Later he called it a “Google Reader for video,” since, for example, VHX lets you subscribe to Reddit’s video feed. “I can watch it all on my home in bed or on the toilet.” Good to know!
Playlists features lets users create a steady stream of videos around whatever subject they want. “It seems like the ideal place for Skittles to exist,” said Mr. Pugh, a fan of the candy company’s bizarro ads. The VHX site was built on top of the startup’s API, which also powers the Pandora-like Music Video Genome, that helps predict what you might like using discovery algorithms. Mr. Pugh responded to a question about whether advertising would sully his clean interface by using the Skittles example as a home for brands to showcase videos they want to go viral.
Readers familiar with TechStars’s Shelby.tv will no doubt notice some overlaps. When Betabeat talked to TechStars managing director David Tisch awhile back, he mentioned thinking about VHX as the Shelby.tv founders pivoted into a similar social, video sharing arena. “It was just at the start of the pivot. I think me and Fred [Wilson] had known about VHX from our Boxee relationship and so we were like, ‘Oh shit.'”
Paperlex, which advertises itself as “dead-simple legal documents” caught our attention for creating a customized NDA and getting a verified signature on it during the 5 minute demo, with roughly 3.5 minutes to spare merely by filling in the blanks for the recipients and length of contract. Co-founder Michael Gruen said the company’s strength is structured data, which makes it more than just a PDF or Word doc of a contract. He gave the example of being able to use structured data to generate a term sheet contract from just the numbers. Betabeat has previously worked with Mr. Gruen’s co-founder Alison Anthoine at Inc. magazine, where she was the legal counsel for both Inc. and Fast Company. Mr. Gruen said she has been practicing contract law as long as he’s been alive. “It’s a little scary to think about.”
According to Mr. Gruen, Paperlex is different than Legal Zoom, which is currently facing a class action lawsuit for unauthorized legal practices, because “We’re providing the tool, the contract is generated by you,” although that distinction was unclear. When an audience member inquired about the Legal Zoom lawsuit, Mr. Gruen thought it had been settled.
It hasn’t. [Ed. note: Legal Zoom settled a class action lawsuit in Missouri, although the company itself is suing the North Carolina State Bar as part of a longtime legal standoff.] Paperlex already has a client who uses the service for the 1,000 NDAs it has to generate daily. Mr. Blakeley astutely pointed out that it Paperlex could make a killer Mad Libs. I will _____ if this isn’t over soon?
Let’s get to that
Is shamegramming a word? You know, like coders who try to make you feel less than elite for not sharing their expertise? If not, we might try to make it one.
Referring to the investors in the audience, Mr. Robbins said, “If you tell them you use node they’ll probably give you some money. You think I’m kidding but I’m not.” He pointed out that LinkedIn recently switched to Node.js and can now handle four times the request with one tenth of the infrastructure. Mr. Blakeley’s attempts to usher Mr. Robbins offstage were met with resistance. “I’m gonna keep going because I can.” But eventually, after throwing out some free t-shirts, Mr. Robbins relinquished the mic.
CORRECTION: This article originally said Nodejitsu was the most popular project on GitHub last week; that is incorrect. Node.js was the most popular project on Github last week. Betabeat regrets the error.