TechStars, the popular startup accelerator with locations in Boston, Boulder, New York, Seattle, London, and more, has today announced an expansion to Austin, Texas – a city TechStars founder and CEO David Cohen refers to as the “natural next stop for us” in this morning’s announcement about the new location.
The program will launch its first program this August, and is accepting applications now.
TechStars Austin will operate out of Capital Factory in downtown Austin, and will be managed by Jason Seats, who sold his company Slicehost to Rackspace in 2008, making him VP of Engineering there. Seats has worked with the TechStars organization since 2011, serving as Managing Director of TechStars Cloud. He’ll now be relocating from San Antonio to Austin with his new position.
Cohen also notes that Austin has been named the “number one boomtown” and best place for your startup by folks like Forbes and Bloomberg, and recently became the second city chosen to receive Google Fiber. It’s also already home to a number of growing startups, as you probably know.
Austin’s Chamber of Commerce named 28 companies to its “A-List” showcase, its annual list which now includes startups like Spredfast, MassRelevance, Sparefoot, and MapMyFitness (to cite those Cohen pointed out), as well as others like myEDU, Uship, InfoChimps, Socialware, Emmoco, and many, many more. There’s also Indeed, HomeAway, Bazaarvoice, Spiceworks, and the 150+ others can pull up here in CrunchBase.
As with TechStars’ other locations, TechStars Austin won’t focus on any particular vertical, but is generally just looking for disruptive Internet companies backed by strong teams.
Mentors and investors involved in the new program include: Brett Hurt (Bazaarvoice), Tom Ball and Mike Dodd (Austin Ventures), Sam Decker (Mass Relevance), Jeff Dachis (Dachis Group), Kip McClanahan and Morgan Flager (Silverton), Josh Baer and Bill Boebel (Capital Factory), Ned Hill and Aziz Gilani (Mercury Fund), Rony Kahan (Indeed), Rob Taylor (Black Locus) Lori Knowlton (HomeAway), and more.
Austin’s scene is so hot right now that TechCrunch is even taking a roadtrip to that city this month (May 30th), kicking off the TechCrunch Meetup + Pitch-Off series, our 60-second pitch competition. First prize winners receive a table in Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013, while second and third place winners will receive tickets. (Those event details are here.)
You’ve likely heard whispers of a company called Wander in the past year. They nabbed $1.2 million, launched out of TechStars, and have since gone relatively quiet.
Today Wander is launching a mobile app called Days, which aims to change the way you think of photo-sharing on every basic level.
To start, Days asks you to stop thinking of the moments that are “share-worthy.” On Days, every moment is share-worthy, because the idea is to share the normal, everyday routine of your life. The idea is that people can consume your whole day through photos, as opposed to picking up on little snippets throughout the day.
So as you go through the world snapping photos, Days automatically documents the time and puts them into the “Tuesday” gallery, or whatever day it might be.
Days also isn’t about taking beautiful pictures. It’s about taking a lot of them.
See, founder Jeremy Fisher believes there’s a huge disconnect between the best moments of people’s days and their Instagram feeds. He also feels that it takes far too long to share a single moment when you’re worried about making it visually appealing, as filters and captions pull you out of the moment.
On Days, you aren’t supposed to worry about how beautiful the picture is, but rather that you’ve documented as much of your day as possible.
But here’s the real zinger — nothing on Days is shared in real time. I know, right? Mind. Blown.
“I think people thought real-time was going to be a bigger deal than it actually is,” says Jeremy Fisher of most social and sharing services. “For things like friend-finders it’s a different story, but when you’re photo-sharing, real-time doesn’t actually make a difference.”
In fact, Wander studied Instagram photos tagged with #latergram (signifying that they were shared after the time they were taken) and found that these photos have the same level of engagement from other users as photos shared in the moment. For this reason, Days shows you a countdown clock within the app to the time you can share your day, starting at 5am each morning to ensure that party-goers late night photos don’t show up in the beginning of their Day.
Fisher explained that their beta testers don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that they’re catching up with their friends a day later. In fact, he said sometimes seeing someone’s daily story through pictures feels more real and meaningful than any narrative they might tell you when you ask the classic question: “How was your day?”
To keep your picture-snapping quick, and keep users in the moment, Days has implemented some restrictions.
One is that you must snap the pictures within the app, as you cannot import from the camera roll. The reason for this is that Days doesn’t want photoshopped, filtered, or edited photos on the service. They want you to feel like a photojournalist capturing each of the minute, but powerful, moments of your day.
Photos taken within Days are still saved to your camera roll, so you can share them through other social networks later if you feel the need.
Wander also picked up on the fact that users normally snap more than one picture of a certain event. This is to ensure you have multiple options for each instance.
But Wander doesn’t want you filling up your day with a bunch of throwaways and then having to go back and edit them out. So, to solve this problem, Wander turns all photos taken within ten seconds of each other into a gif. You have the option to go in and split the gif, delete one or two pics, or leave it the same.
Users can also add captions to all their photos after the fact, and go through and delete photos that they don’t want included in their Day. After that, you can share within the internal follow-model network, or push to your other social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
But what about Wander?
Well, Wander is the umbrella brand behind a lot of lifestyle products the company is working on. Since Wander is focused on travel, and recording your experiences to be lived by others, Days has been released as a counterpart to that.
The app is available now in the App Store.
David Tisch has made quite the name for himself as an investor based in NYC. Most notably, Tisch spent years at TechStars as the Managing Director, and has since left to co-found another investment fund called BoxGroup.
We sat the man down backstage at Disrupt today to chat out his thoughts on the NY tech scene, trends he’s excited about and his transition to BoxGroup.
“If you ask anyone whether they’re bored with what’s on their phone, it will always be a unanimous yes,” said Tisch. For him, he sees streams like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are the best forms of entertainment for the average Joe taking a glance at his phone. But there’s room for more, according to Tisch.
In terms of BoxGroup, Tisch seems to enjoy finally being accelerator agnostic, and doesn’t mind companies that never go through an accelerator at all. But how do you get Tisch’s attention?
“Be yourself,” he said. “If you’re trying too hard, but it comes off genuine, that’s ok. If you’re passive and antisocial and awkward, that’s fine. Just be yourself.”
In his perspective, there’s no model to follow because entrepreneurship is about creating your own story. If you try to copy someone else’s story, it won’t ever work out.
If you’re interested in David’s feelings towards the NY tech scene, the engineering talent pool, and the future of entertainment on mobile, be sure to watch the full interview above.
TechStars London, the UK outpost of Boulder, U.S.-based uber-accelerator TechStars after it merged with Jon Bradford’s Springboard, has announced that its found a permanent home at newly-established Warner Yard, a co-working space owned by early-stage fund Playfair Capital.
Why is this news, you may ask. Well, not only does it means that teams will now get up to 6 months free office space in the UK’s capital city, rather than just the 3 months they are on the program, but it follows the recent news that TechStars London has been approved as a Recognised Seed Competition, smoothing the way for participants to qualify for a UK Entrepreneur Visa. This means, I hasten to add, that TechStars London startups are far more likely to stay located in London long after they graduate.
Zooming out a bit more, it also adds further weight to London’s claim as a leading tech hub, espoused by the British government’s Tech City project (now led by Joanna Shields, ex-Google, AOL/Bebo, and most recently Facebook’s head of EMEA operations), alongside the network effects that have grown out of the organic “Silicon Roundabout” tech cluster in East London, which has seen the likes of Google and Amazon invest in the area.
The official announcement says TechStars London’s new base is located in “the heart of Tech City”, though in a later statement Jon Bradford, Managing Director of TechStars London, describes Warner Yard as “close” to Tech City, proving that nobody knows for sure where the UK government’s branding for the London tech scene starts and ends. For those who are familiar with London, Warner Yard is actually in Clerkenwell. Due to open on the 29th of May, it will feature 154 desks over 4 floors including 5 quiet booths, 4 meeting rooms, 3 kitchens and space for presentations and pitching. It will be open 24 hours a day and will house both PlayFair Capital’s portfolio companies, and external companies — including TechStars London, of course, who will also use the space to host events for the wider community and provide hot-desking facilities for TechStars alumni.
In a further boost to the local ecosystem, the new co-working space, which is modelled on Passion Capital’s nearby White Bear Yard, is being targeted at early-stage investors and angels as an alternative to hot-desking at various coffee shops in London. At launch, it’s signed up EC1 Capital, #1Seed, Hotspur Capital Partners, Ballpark Ventures, Doug Scott and Richard Fearn — a sign of more cozying up by London’s investment community.
Here’s Bradford’s statement in full: “Finding the right environment for TechStars London has been a priority since our launch. Warner Yard provides both TechStars London teams a great central location being close to both TechCity and also the West End with an awesome environment alongside other seed funded companies for the duration of the programme and also immediate run out period.”
Meanwhile, applications for TechStars London close on 5th of May 2013. Startups interested in applying can come from anywhere, not just Europe, but must physically come to London for the three-month program. In total, €85k of funding is up for grabs per team, though the majority of this is a convertible note.
However, funding mechanics aside, the fact that the accelerator’s investment in each startup crosses the £50k mark, combined with TechStars London’s newly acquired Recognised Seed Competition status, means that its entrepreneurs have sufficient “points” to qualify for a UK Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Visa.
Here’s how TechStars describes the win:
The approval will allow TechStars London teams from outside of the EU, to work in the UK for up to 3 years and towards the end of this period, can apply to extend their stay by a further 2 years if they want to continue living here. Furthermore teams, after 3 years have the right to apply for permission to settle in the UK if their business has created at least 10 new full-time jobs in the UK. Partners and children of the teams can also apply for settlement.
Ask any entrepreneur about what it’s like finding the right office space for their company, and they’ll probably respond with a grimace and some grumbling. Few light up at the thought of it. Founders have enough to worry about in trying to build an awesome product, please their customers, find quality talent and raise money without adding the struggle to find office space to the list. Part of the reason why it’s such a pain in the butt to find great office space is that, traditionally, the process has lived offline, confined to a world of brokers and their proprietary data, little to no transparency, and long-term leases.
PivotDesk, a TechStars Boulder alum, launched last week to bring a new solution for those office space blues. Rather than take the broker-disrupting approach of commercial real estate startup, 42Floors, or rehashing the now-defunct “workplace marketplace” model adopted by Loosecubes, PivotDesk wants to help businesses find a long-term fix by connecting them with companies that have office space to spare.
Backed by over $3 million in Series A funding from Foundry Group, the startup is launching its service in New York, San Francisco and Denver, with plans to arrive in new cities over the next year. PivotDesk wants to address the current reality of the commercial real estate market, in which long-term leases prevail. Of course, in the early-stages of building a company, when practically nothing is certain, long-term, expensive leases make little to no sense.
So, starting in NYC, SF and Denver, PivotDesk wants to connect young businesses and startups with later-stage companies that have already signed long-term leases, may not yet have grown into every corner of the space, and thus have room to spare. The model requires those looking for space to be flexible and to be willing to share space with another business.
Yet, at its core, the model is one that attempts to both bring a process that has largely taken place in private transactions behind closed doors, online, and to bring some transparency to the search for office space. Co-working is becoming increasingly popular in the tech industry, especially in Silicon Valley, where rental rates for office space are high.
Furthermore, for those with office space, there’s the benefit of being able to share some of that cost with another company and, on the flip side, young businesses are able to take advantage of a month-by-month (more flexible) lease, in turn, potentially adding value by exposing its employees to a more mature, business. In turn, both get to benefit from the added energy of having multiple businesses and smart people in a shared office space.
PivotDesk provides a management platform that allows host companies to more easily market, manage and monetize their extra office space, giving them the opportunity to reach a larger audience of potential cohabiters and a better way to manage those relationships over time. Of course, to provide more value than the next startup, PivotDesk puts significant emphasis on finding the right match. In a way, it’s approaching the problem like Match.com and others approach dating.
When creating a listing and profile (for both sides of the transactin), PivotDesk encourages companies to go into detail in describing the nature of their own business, its culture, as well as the office space and environment they’re looking to sell. Because co-working means that two potentially very different businesses will be working in close confines with each other day in and day out, finding the right match is essential. It is, truly, an intimate relationship — or it can be if both parties are on the same wavelength.
So, to better match co-working mates, PivotDesk takes into account the nuances of culture and company dynamics, essentially building a unique taste profile for businesses based on their industry, number of employees, work habits and environment and noise level preferences, for example. This attention to detail has resonated with startups thus far, and, since its beta launch last fall, PivotDesk has matched 100 companies with office space, including startups like Ben Huh’s Cheezburger Network, and now has over 200 listings in SF, NYC and Denver.
The other appealing feature is that companies can use PivotDesk with relative anonymity, at least in the search and discovery phase of the process, as listings don’t include the size (or square footage) of the space and most leave out the host company’s name. Instead, listings are based first on location, along with providing details on the culture and style (and the stuff mentioned above), the size of the company the space can fit and amenities.
A la dating apps like Tinder, PivotDesk requires interest from both parties to move forward with the transaction. Once both companies approve the match, PivotDesk offers some basic communication tools to make it easier to hash out the details, along with providing billing info and the necessary documentation — putting it all in one place to remove the headache.
Seeing that security is also an issue, and that like, dating, there are plenty of opportunities for the process to go wrong, become creepy or subject hosts to fraud, PivotDesk knows that it has to go out of its way to ensure that all transactions are safe — and legal. Once a match is approved, the company verifies insurance coverage for both parties and reviews sublease terms to make sure both parties are within the rights of a sublease, for example.
To monetize, PivotDesk takes a 10 percent commission each time the cohabiter renews its monthly lease. Of course, as is true of the sharing economy writ large — or as we’ve seen from Airbnb — the whole process can be incredible, until it’s not. One destroyed apartment, bad fit, fraudulent squatter can have lasting consequences, and jeopardize the user’s perception of the service.
By allowing companies to easily list their extra office space, manage the process and their leases and by producing matches based on cultural fit and paying attention to the details, PivotDesk has developed an appealing option for both sides of the transaction. However, while it likely won’t have to deal with brokers paying much attention to these kind of deals, the barriers to entry in this space aren’t exactly high. Any startup could potentially become a competitor fairly quickly.
So, for PivotDesk, it’s all about providing the best user experience, maintaining security, providing quality selection and maintaining equality (and quality) of supply and demand. This is true of any P2P marketplace, and it’s not always easy. The space is relatively open at this point, and startups are hungry for better, online options, but as with marketplaces, there are likely to be only a few winners, or one.
In that sense, it puts pressure on startups to scale quickly, and maintain quality while doing so. Again, easier said than done. The other potential hangup is that, once startups connect and begin paying their lease, they may be more likely to work directly with each other, rather than incur PivotDesk’s 10 percent commission over the long-term. So, that could present a potential leak in the startup’s business model over time, although there will be plenty of opportunities to adjust accordingly.
On the bright side, however, while it’s currently laser-focused on serving startups, over the long haul, PivotDesk’s model (if it continues to succeed) could easily be applied to a wider set of use cases and verticals within the commercial real estate market.
Ultimately, at the risk of being repetitive, for startups, finding office space is a pain in the ass. Any business that removes the friction from the equation, provides favorable terms for both sides and makes the office hunt more transparent (and effective) is likely going to find it easy to curry favor. As such, PivotDesk is off to a good start with its matchmaking service.
Because it’s only live in three cities and is eager not to leave potential customers out, the company now allows entrepreneurs in any city to weigh in and help determine where PivotDesk will launch next. Essentially, the city that receives the most votes will become the next destination. Crowdsourcing!
For more, find PivotDesk at home here.