8 Eastside startups you should know
In people’s minds, the Eastside startup typically falls into one of a few categories. There are the pet projects of Microsoft workers, the apps churned out by programmers working in garages, and the Next Great Thing touted by serial entrepreneurs with a quick exit strategy.
We looked at dozens of local startups and found the traditional categories can’t begin to capture the variety within the Eastside startup scene. The stories behind how these startups, well, got started are as wide-ranging as the business philosophies of their CEOs and founders. If there is one common theme we found, it’s that each seeks to be an impetus for change in its respective industry. In the end, we settled on eight Eastside startups we think you should watch.
Sure, you’ll find Microsofties, serial entrepreneurs and garage-bound programmers on the following pages, but be careful not to pigeonhole them. Many of the Eastside’s startups can’t be categorized.
Hashtags are everywhere. Companies big and small have embraced the icon as a call to action. Redmond-based Tagboard is hoping to capitalize on that.
Tagboard is an aggregation tool that allows people to search and curate content from multiple social media using hashtags. The platform gathers content in near-real time from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, Vine, and more soon.
“There are two problems in social media that we hope to solve,” says Josh Decker, Tagboard’s co-founder and CEO. “One is the silo effect of multiple different social channels. You have lots of different conversations going on on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google Plus, etc. We allow our users and clients to pull that into one place, into one view. The second issue we solve is the signal-to-noise problem. We allow them to curate and moderate those conversations only allowing for the very best content to be displayed.”
Tagboard’s search function is free — users can go to the site and search for a hashtag to view what other people are posting about that topic. The service also is available for paid clients large and small, including Seattle sports teams. The Mariners’ use of Tagboard is an example of the product’s functionality. The team promotes a hashtag for fans to use during the game, and as the game progresses, fans post to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media using the hashtag.
The Mariners utilize Tagboard to bring together all the best posts and publish them on screens throughout the park for people to see.
The enterprise option offers a full suite of tools, including customization, moderation allowing campaign managers to block offensive or negative content, no post limits, team administration, and advanced embedding.
Tagboard sees substantial opportunity in the market, but its growth will not be without tests.
“The challenges in growing this business definitely have to do with the social media landscape and how user behavior is changing,” says COO and co-founder Tim Shimotakahara. “Social media marketing is still maybe in the second inning of its maturity. Along with that is a market that is trying to establish exactly what the price point should be, what the value delivers.”
As Tagboard continues its quest for sustainable value, Decker and the team believe the secret lies in their high regard for community building. “There is so much value in hashtags to connect and unify communities. We believe that every business and organization needs a hashtag, and that every hashtag needs a Tagboard,” he says.
School in a Box
Company: GreenBridge Computing
In 2010, GreenBridge founder David Yunger traveled to Haiti with the Clinton Global Initiative to assist victims of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people. His charge was to help create 50 schools with long-range Wi-Fi, teacher training, digital access, and solar power — a daunting task considering the aftermath he was dealing with.
At the first school Yunger deployed to, he met a young woman named Fabiola who ended up being one of the catalysts for the creation of GreenBridge.
“It was during Mardi Gras,” Yunger says, “so most of (Fabiola’s) classmates were out partying and having fun. But she and a few others had heard that their school was going to get technology access, so she was waiting. We brought the server down in a suitcase, connected it to solar power, hooked it up to the long-range Wi-Fi, and in an hour or two we were set.
Fabiola’s classmates were going to Google and Facebook and other sites they’d heard of, but she ran a search on Wikipedia on the human reproductive system.”
It turns out Fabiola wanted to be a doctor but never had the resources to find out how until then.
Yunger’s experience in Haiti — including the one he had with Fabiola — spurred him to launch GreenBridge Computing a year later. He noticed the need for better computing systems wasn’t limited to schools in developing nations.
Today, GreenBridge offers affordable, environmentally friendly and high-quality workstations to schools at a fraction of the cost of conventional PCs.
GreenBridge has evolved as a company. It started with a product that was essentially a school in a box, and it still offers that solution. But in order to scale, the company had to deliver something that would offer the same powerful cloud computing to corporations. GreenBridge now sells a $100 enterprise-class cloud-computing device that is far cheaper and more energy-efficient than traditional PC models.
A recent partnership expanded GreenBridge’s exposure: Microsoft now carries the computers in its multinational Technology Centers, including its flagship Retail Experience Center in Redmond.
Slide Into Training
The modern workforce has gone mobile. A desk at headquarters has been replaced by satellite and home offices or the coffee shop down the street, making employee training a logistical nightmare.
Enter 9slides, which allows companies to train remote employees on the Web.
“It’s a convenient tool where users can upload their presentation, add audio and video and when it’s published, this content can be seen on any mobile device. There’s no need to download software,” says Ruchit Garg, 9slides’ founder and CEO.
Garg started 9slides to combat the static images and graphs of traditional Powerpoint presentations. 9slides’ audio and video capabilities did help to spice up meetings, but Garg’s product has found its real legs as a training tool.
That training focus paid dividends — 9slides counts Microsoft, Fred Meyer, and Volvo as clients, and has raised about $1 million in funding. 9slides offers a group (10 users minimum, $9 a month per user), professional (100 users minimum, $12 a month), and enterprise (250 users minimum, custom pricing) solution.
“I am just getting started,” Garg says. “From a product standpoint we want to have more interaction and more companies using 9slides. We want to grow our team. But at the end of the day, we just really want to build something that people love to use.”
Don’t Sweat Lost Pets
Tom Arnold was working at Microsoft when a monthlong project in India ended up lasting three. While abroad, his pets were passed from caretaker to caretaker, and he didn’t have an effective way to check in on them. What if they got lost? The phone number on their tags would do them no good if he was in another country.
Arnold’s solution was to eventually quit his job and create PetHub, a startup that uses digital ID tags to locate missing pets. Users can purchase a tag from PetHub or one of its many partners and create a pet profile. The basic service is free and includes an easy-to-access, secure profile and a 24-hour “found pet” hotline. The premium, paid service features notifications when your pet is found; a GPS map indicating where your pet’s tag was scanned; and a shelter database that will allow you to broadcast your pet’s profile to shelters, coffee shops, and pet stores near where your pet was last spotted.
Arnold says a third of pets go missing, and less than 18 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats that go missing return home. Only half of the 6-8 million shelter animals are returned to their families or get new homes. The rest are euthanized.
“These stats are the reason PetHub exists,” Arnold says.
The company’s internal mantra is “Protect. Share. Nurture.” The protect portion of the business is up and running with the tag platform, and Arnold says the next steps are to grow the share and nurture sides of the business. He wants PetHub customers to be able to share information about caretakers, pet sitters, vets, pet stores, and parks with each other. Arnold said the nurture part of PetHub will come with expert and community content.
PetHub technology is in more than 1,500 retail stores and 22 countries. PetHub brought in $75,000 in revenue in 2013 and has seen $250,000 this year.
Future of Fitness
In 1988, Sensoria co-founder Davide Vigano was working for Microsoft on a Macintosh SE/30 computer that cost four times as much as he made per month. Technology has come a long way since then, and Vigano hopes Sensoria can keep the current trend of wearable technology progressing as well.
“You saw what happened with smartphones, tablet computing, with iPhones, and mobile technology. We think that the next ultra personal computer is going be in whatever we wear,” says Vigano.
Sensoria’s first major offering was for serious runners — smart socks that, when coupled with Sensoria’s anklets, can track distance, steps, and calories burned in a similar way as competing fitness trackers such as the Nike Fuel Band or the Fitbit. Sensoria socks, however, are able to track cadence, foot-strike technique, and weight distribution to help runners boost efficiency. Sensoria offers a sports bra and fitness shirt with similar capabilities.
The company also sells kits to developers seeking to create apps compatible with the Sensoria platform. Vigano says the team’s goal is to become the “Gore-Tex of wearables,” licensing its technology to fitness companies for use in their products. Vigano also is looking forward to a foray into the medical field and expects wearable technology to play a huge role in that market.
In July, Vigano announced the completion of the company’s $5 million Series A round of funding, all of which came from a single investor.
Scouting Deals From Local Businesses
Your email inbox is probably flooded each day with offers from daily-deal companies. There’s so much information there that some people don’t even look at these offers — they just delete and move on. That’s bad news for local businesses using daily-deal services.
The people behind Tack believe they have found a better way to offer daily deals by working with local publishers to place those daily deals and offers into the online content people already are reading.
CEO Aaron Goodin says the publisher, the advertiser, and the reader all benefit from Tack. The publisher gets more reader engagement while also being exposed to an additional revenue opportunity. Advertisers are mentioned alongside relevant content, and Goodin claims the click-through rate on Tack offers is nearly 10 times that of traditional banner ads. The reader gets access to deals from local businesses through content they’re already consuming.
Tack has partnered with publishers in the Seattle and San Francisco areas, and Goodin hopes to expand to other markets, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago. Goodin says Tack’s next big thing will be to overtake daily deal sites and work directly with local businesses.
“The big push is a simple way for businesses to get their deals into our system, and then we’ll do all the distribution across digital media locally,” Goodin says.
Coming this fall is a new product from Tack — a free social advertising tool for local businesses to promote their products and find new customers.
“This new tool gives small business owners the ability to create timely and useful ads that automatically get published on relevant and targeted local sites their customers read,” Goodin says. “People are looking for more delivery methods for these deals,” Goodin says. “It’s not that people don’t like deals. Fifty percent of people who shop online use deals. Who wants to pay 100 percent when you can pay 75 percent? Our thinking is people want them, so we’re just delivering them in a new way. So we’re taking deals and contextual relevance, which is hot, and we’re sitting right in the middle and merging the two together.”
To date, Tack has raised $2.5 million in Series A funding from angel investors. At press time, it was closing its Series B round of funding, but amounts were not disclosed.
A New Sound
Company: Tectonic Audio Labs
Remember the days of big, bulky tube televisions? The technological dinosaurs met their demise when the industry turned to flat panels and more affordable components. Tectonic Audio Labs, a Woodinville audio component startup, is banking on a similar phenomenon in the world of speakers.
“We solve problems in the world of sound and audio that have plagued organizations for decades,” says CEO Todd Ostrander. “The first cone speaker was patented in 1926, and people have been using the same technology ever since.”
The company’s signature product is Tectonic Plates, flat-panel speakers that Ostrander says offer sound quality and projection superior to the traditional cone speaker. The Plates speakers disperse sound waves more evenly than cone speakers, Ostrander says, guaranteeing better coverage throughout a venue.
“If you had a room that was completely dark, and wanted to have everyone have the same amount of light cast on them, would you want to use a spotlight or a floodlight? Of course you would say floodlight,” Ostrander says. “That’s the technology we’re bringing to the market.”
Ostrander says the result of Tectonic’s technology is a compact audio system that is both more effective and affordable than traditional setups.
Tectonic Audio Labs is hoping to command a double-digit percentage of the $7.2 billion worldwide professional audio market. That market includes touring professionals, worship and conference venues, theaters, and hotels.
The other part of the business is Tectonic Elements, the original equipment manufacturer side of things. The Bentley Continental GT, Lufthansa business jets, Boston Acoustics, and the Toyota FJ Cruiser all use Tectonic Elements components. Right now, Ostrander says that three-quarters of the company’s revenue comes from the OEM side of the business, and growth is on the horizon.
Credit Card Tips in Your Pocket
If you’re like most Americans, you have multiple credit cards. One gives you a discount at your favorite department store, another knocks a few cents off each gallon of gas, and of course you need one that offers frequent-flyer miles. But with so many options, how do you know which card to use for any given purchase?
Bellevue startup Pick2Pay is a free mobile and Web app that keeps track of consumers’ credit card reward programs to help them select the best card for any given purchase.
“The way we do it is by leveraging credit card rewards, which basically means we help answer the question, ‘Which card do I use in my wallet for this purchase for the purpose of maximizing my rewards?’” says Srikanth Deshpande, Pick2Pay’s founder and CEO. Deshpande found that the answer changed depending on the retailer and the season, leading him to start Pick2Pay.
Pick2Pay is available on iOS and Android, and recently launched an extension for Google Chrome that Deshpande expects to be a boon for online shoppers. Say you want to shop on Macy’s website. Download and install the Chrome extension, search for macys.com, and the extension might say your Discover card is the best payment option. Pick2Pay also will point you in the right direction to shopping portals — websites you can browse to find an online retailer.
According to Deshpande, discounted gift cards are a multibillion-dollar industry, but many of those cards go unused. Pick2Pay recently added the ability to find discounted gift card marketplaces to help you with your purchases.
It’s another layer of savings that Deshpande hopes to pass on to consumers, and saving people money is his ultimate goal. It’s not chump change, either. Deshpande is working to get Pick2Pay to 1 million users, and with users saving $400 a year on average, Deshpande says, Pick2Pay could pass on $400 million in annual savings to consumers.