November 2012 Technori Pitch: The Kick-Ass Stuff You Missed

by: Ryan Thorpe

Last Tuesday was the 14th consecutive sold-out Pitch, with tons of new faces in the crowd. We got to hear from five local startups and Jason Fried, Founder of 37Signals, was the keynote speaker for the evening.

Jason co-founded 37Signals in August of 1999, and has been making noise ever since. For those of you who don’t know, 37Signals provides “frustration-free web-based apps for collaboration, sharing information, and making decisions.”

Some of the company’s core products include:

Jason is also the co-author of the best-selling book Rework, which highlights his philosophies on running a business. It’s truly a great read. Don’t want to take my word for it? How about taking Mark Cuban’s word?:

If given a choice between investing in someone who has read REWORK or has an MBA, I’m investing in REWORK every time. A must-read for every entrepreneur.

Now, here is a quick recap on his presentation Tuesday:

Jason was unique in his speech, kicking things off by showing the audience an eye-opening video from Harvard Business School Professor, Clay Christensen.

Essentially, this is the message Clay was delivering: people hire products to do a job for them. So, products are doing a job, not solving a problem. When we want something done, there are tons of options to choose from, and it doesn’t always boil down to competitors with similar offerings vying for the same business.

For example, 37Signals’ product Basecamp isn’t competing with other project management tools. It’s competing with emails, pencils, meetings, etc.

Part of the reason people choose to go with Basecamp is obviously because it is a great product. But the main reason they use it is because it “covers their asses.” They want documentation and proof that things are getting done and that people can be held accountable.  It is doing the job of ass covering.

Jason also sat down with Seth for a quick Q&A session – here are the key takeaways:

  • Jason is a big proponent of working normal hours. You can’t maximize your level of creativity when you’re tired.
  • He enjoys the current tech scene in Chicago: people have long-term attitudes and want to build something great. Fried referred to it as the “Midwestern sensibility.”
  • He also talked about how he thinks people in the Midwest are much more loyal than in other spots across the country, and how crucial it is to have established teams. One great analogy he mentioned: you are able to maximize what you get out of people and push them to their limits only when you are very familiar with what you can get out of them.
  • Core values at 37Signals:
    • Jason talked about how 37Signals just builds tools with simplistic features at a high level, that end users really enjoy using.
    • Minimize the amount of policies you have at your company. More policies = less trust. The crew at 37Signals has very few policies in place. Let employees make smart decisions for themselves.
    • Lastly, build something you’re proud of!

Onto the pitches! If you didn’t know, here is how it breaks down:

Each startup gets 5 minutes to present, followed by a 3-minute Q&A with audience participation.

JustBecause

JustBecause is all about spreading the love and making connections. They love startups, new ideas, and cool products. This is a pretty common sentiment among consumers. The problem is that there are so many products and services people would really enjoy – they just never hear about them due to lack of brand awareness.

To solve this problem, JustBecause has created a platform that connects consumers and merchants through word-of-mouth. Here is how it works:

You introduce a friend to a product or service they’ve never used before by sending them a gift that only costs you $1. The gift can range anywhere from $10-$100, but the one-time gift will stay true to the $1 cost. For example, you love using Uber but your friends are skeptical. To incentivize them to use the service you can get a $20 credit from Uber and give it to them at a cost of $1.

Why would Uber give away $20 worth of services for only $1? Well, customer acquisition isn’t cheap. Companies spend large amounts of money on marketing initiatives to generate consumers, and JustBecause is providing another channel to generate customers in a unique way. People trust recommendations coming from their peers, and companies are confident that once consumers actually engage with their products or services, they will be repeat customers. So, the upfront cost to generate that interaction is well worth it.

We encourage you to hop on JustBecause today and start dishing out gifts. Rising popularity with your friends is one of the free perks. You can download their iPhone app in the Apple Store today; an Android version is rolling out in the near future.

Ox&Pen

Shop Local. Earn Rewards. Ox&Pen isn’t the first to enter the digital consumer loyalty market, but they do have an interesting spin on how to create loyal consumers with differentiating factors from their competitors.

It’s no secret: daily deal users typically hit and run with their purchases. You snatch up a deal because it’s cheap and something you want. That’s it. You don’t go back. Over 80% of consumers who redeem these deals do not return for more purchases, typically because there is no incentive.

Ox&Pen has built out a platform designed to create loyal, repeat customers. The company’s product is completely managed within your mobile device and requires no point-of-sale integration at merchant sites.

You redeem loyalty points as follows:

  • Checking in at merchant sites
  • Sharing that check-in to your social media networks
  • Writing product or service reviews
  • Spending money on products or services

With most loyalty programs, consumers accumulate points with certain stores that can be used exclusively at those stores. However, Ox&Pen’s platform is all about “universal loyalty.” The points you accumulate can be redeemed at any participating merchant within the Ox&Pen network. You can pool together all your points and take them wherever you choose. They even offer local promotions tailored specifically to you based on the application’s geo-location capabilities, which can be sorted out via your personal preferences.

Download their iPhone and Android mobile apps, and start racking up those points today!

Swift Expo

Coordinating an event with anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 attendees can get a little sticky, especially when you have to hire a staff in the hundreds (or even thousands) to handle all the chaos. Throw in the fact you could be dealing with a wide range of people, from comic book enthusiasts to techies, and things get get really interesting, really fast.

Swift Expo has created a solution to ease the chaos, and provides a platform that takes the hassle out of coordinating small- or large-scale events, trade shows, or gatherings in general. The company’s value proposition is focused on three areas:

  1. Save Time – With a singular platform, everything is in one convenient place, allowing organizers to complete their tasks with just a few clicks in a fraction of the time.
  2. Collect Data – While the event is occurring, you can gather real-time data in order to maximize the output of your workers and ensure the needs of the event are being met. Also, as data is collected throughout the process, you can re-tune operations for your next event to correct any inefficiencies that occurred.
  3. Better Work Crews – It’s no surprise that a happy crew is a better crew. Swift Expo allows you to coordinate with workers before scheduling to understand their preferences. Early bird? You get the AM shift. Simply no good before noon? Don’t worry –  sleep in and work the afternoon shift. It also provides you with tools that allow you to evaluate employee capabilities and work preferences to give people specific responsibilities. Swift Expo analytics have also helped reduce “no shows” from 25% down to 8% based on these parameters.

The product is in beta right now, and the team is getting close to rolling out an update with increased functionality and capability. Ultimately, the vision is to provide a turnkey solution for clients. Since launch, they Swift Expo has run successful events for Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, Chicago Ideas Week, and New York Comic Con.

SnagPad

Looking for a job is never an easy process. Frankly, it sucks. SnagPad Founder Jeff Weber says, “We are trained to do jobs, not find a job.” The process can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling buried in a sea of applications, tailored resumes, contact information, emails, scheduling, etc.

The hurdles a lot of job seekers face are: poor organization, underutilization of their personal and professional networks, and lack of thoughtful strategies to maximize the chances of landing an ideal position. Essentially, people need help. SnagPad has built out a solution to guide job seekers seamlessly through the process.

  • Job Seeker CRM – Any and all information associated with your search is aggregated into a singular platform, easily accessible and organized to reduce the noise.
  • Virtual Job Coach – Tips, tactics, and strategies to better attack your next position.
  • Personal Employment Network – Let your personal network know you are on the market. Leveraging your existing network is one of the most powerful tools available for landing your next gig. You’d be surprised at how much value it can provide: referrals, insight, introductions, etc.

SnagPad is free for all job seekers, so why not give it a try? The product launches December 3rd.

Pear

Pear is the new place to go for groups and sponsors to connect. We’ve all been there: we have an event, team, fundraiser, you name it – and we need some gear to support our cause. We usually end up scouring the internet for the cheapest way to get quality swag for everybody. It’s not ideal, and it takes up far too much time.

This is where Pear steps in. The startup connects local organizations with sponsors that will fund their cause so they can buy the gear they need. No more pounding the pavement, bake sales, or begging relatives.

Pear’s platform matches together organizations with sponsors who want to support the cause. Local sports teams can sync up with brands like EA or Gatorade. Your work softball league can team up with local bars and restaurants. The possibilities are endless..

Right now, Pear has over 25 sponsors on a national and local level, contributing well over $100K in support for organizations.

To give you a little perspective on market size:

  • 1.5M youth / community / K-12 organizations
  • 200K college groups and teams
  • 200K non-profit organizations

As you can see, there is a ton of potential, given the enormous market size. You can get the gear you need, and sponsors take advantage of the branding opportunities while contributing to a good cause.

That’s it for the last Technori Pitch recap of the year! Tune in for our first Pitch of 2013 in January.

About the author Ryan Thorpe @Technori
Ryan Thorpe is your typical Chicago kid. Loves the sports teams and slams deep dish pizza. Also has one of the goofiest dogs you will ever meet, Bud. Enjoys anything that has to do with the Chicago start up scene, and tries to immerse himself into the space as much as possible! Say hello to Ryan at @budcity.

Join the Starter Movement!

Find out for yourself why starters love our newsletter so much. Only the articles and news you want and need, delivered weekly.

More News
Get Your Tickets for the 3rd Largest Monthly Startup Event in the Country! Check it Out