Paul Graham, Jessica Livingston, and the Y Combinator gang held their Demo Day yesterday for 21 hopeful startups. In most cases these "companies" are only 3 months old, have two or three founders, and are just launching a beta product/service.
Google was once a two person startup - So was Microsoft, Oracle, Sun, Apple, and every other successful company. They all started with a couple founders and an idea. It is truly amazing to see how much these Y Combinator companies have accomplished in just 3 months.
What is Y Combinator? - Y Combinator is a seed stage investor/incubator with a large network of entrepreneurs, VCs, and all the people you need to start a company. It is hard to explain but it is a cross between a startup boot camp and a traditional startup incubator. The best description of Y Combinator is on its application page. BTW, they are accepting applications for the next round of companies now. Deadline is April 2, 2008.
Y Combinator success stories? - There have been a surprising number of exits/acquisitions. They include; Reddit.com, Zenter.com, TextPayMe, Anywhere.FM, and Parakey. Several have also closed Series A or B financing rounds and have gained significant traction. Examples are; Loopt, Xobni, Scribd, Justin.tv, Weebly, Disqus, Wufoo, and Virtualmin.
Best of Show? - There were 21 companies presenting. TechCrunch did a short review of all of them. Here are my picks for most interesting or promising.
Omnisio - Video editing, sharing, tagging, and annotating made easy. Omnisio lets you take a YouTube video you like and create a clip, add tags, comments. You can easily embed your custom clip in a blog or web site. Omnisio creates a link to the source video and starts playing it where you want. There is an obvious advertising play here. Omnisio could insert a short video ad anywhere in your custom clip. It also collects lots of meta data (tags, comments, links) that help describe the video for better ad targeting.
BaseShield - Provides security and virus protection by running applications virtualized, isolated environments. BaseShield effectively quarantines viruses, spyware, and malware inside the virtual environment where they can do no harm. I have seen this idea before but it is hard to get the right balance between usability and protection.
TipJoy - Makes it easy to click a tip button to donate or pay a small amount. Visitors are not required to create an account. Just click the button and type in your email address. TipJoy separates the financial transaction steps from the act of tipping, so it only takes on click. Their demo showed that PayPal takes 8 clicks to complete a payment, while Amazon takes 7 clicks. So, how does it work? When you have accumulated $5.00 in tips or payments TipJoy sends you an email and asks you to "settle" your account by paying with a credit card or PayPal. No one will chase after you if you choose not to honor your tip. TipJoy makes money by charging a 3% fee for transactions...much the same way PayPal or credit cards work.
280 North - They have developed a new way to build web applications that has the "look and feel" and performance of desktop apps. Their first application is 280 Slides, an online presentation tool, that looks and feels something like Powerpoint...if you squint and imagine what it can eventually be.
Others companies have tried to implement a PowerPoint like application in the browser...and they all come up short. 280 North has many more features and feels more like a desktop app. Most importantly, once you are finished creating your presentation you can export it to PowerPoint and present in full screen mode. The founders pointed out that it is very distracting to watch a presentation from a browser with all the tool bars visible. Presenting in full screen PowerPoint is much more engaging and professional.
The 280 North people are building a "platform" for developing lots of online applications that "feel" like desktop apps.
Other notable ideas - Capturing user data, click streams, and attention data, for better ad targeting, was a common theme among many of the companies. Addmired, MightyQuiz, Mixwit, Deluux, Wundrbar, 8aWeek, and WebMynd are fun, engaging applications,with ad targeting as an underlying monetization scheme. Each one of these applications is interesting in its own way, and will evolve into much bigger ideas than what we see today. Which one will be a big hit? Nobody knows. But, we do know there is a profitable market for good attention data for ad targeting. Someone will figure this out and make a lot of money.