Recently, Founder Labs— the mobile-focused incubator that I started in August 2010— proudly presented eight fledgling mobile startup ideas, just five weeks old, graduating from our fifth class in San Francisco. Of twenty-four participants in this class, half quit their day jobs to follow their entrepreneurial passions before or during the program. 37% of the participants are startup minded women, the youngest participants were in their 20s, the oldest in their 40s. In this recent graduating class, our participants (we call them “founders”) hail from cities far and wide including: Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, Toronto, Jaipur and Houston.
Founder Labs participants are reflective of the changes in the market - technology isn’t just about the prosumers anymore, or the hard core geeks, it’s for everyone. Tablets have gone mainstream with the largest share going to those 45+, “power moms” are a demographic highly sought after by innovators and advertisers for the spending power and any touch device is natural for kids under 12. Hence, we need more diverse teams creating technology companies. Besides, teams with diverse founders will build better startups, we just need more of them!
Time to think outside the bun. Oops, I mean “the box”. Step in creativity, step in founders with a different perspective - life experience, work experience, world view. To get an advantage in the crowded space, be the target customer yourself or have strong empathy for the customer. Know thy customer.
We put designers, developers, and product marketers in one room for five weeks to figure out what kind of businesses they want to build, and what kind of problems they want to solve with mobile technology. Teams form quickly and organically (we don’t tell anyone who to partner with).
They are immersed in closed door talks given by Silicon Valley luminaries like Steve Blank (Customer Development), Eric Ries (The Lean Startup), and Ann Muira Ko (Stanford and Floodgate Ventures). They get mentoring from mobile entrepreneurs with recent startup experience, like Cathy Edwards (Chomp), Mike Rowehl (Admob and Churn Labs), Randy Reddig (Square) and more. Teams deliver a weekly, required demo of what they have learned from these disciplines: customer development, lean startup, prototyping and testing and user research.
As a founder, and mobile product design geek and marketer, I try to make sure that all of our graduates walk away with practical skills and a real business concept, not just an idea for a cool new app or feature—Founder Labs requires each team to talk to about 100 customers online and off, for example, before writing a single bit of code.
It can be an intense five weeks in San Francisco because some of the future founders are moonlighting and had day jobs at places like Apple, Google, Intel, CMEA Ventures, Citibank Ventures, Obopay and more. We feed these guys and gals a lot of pizza, spicy Indian food and carb-o-licious pasta. A favorite of this class was actually Mediterranean food from Daphne’s (dolmas the aww inspiring brain food of choice!).
Our final demo day included a judging panel of executives and thought leaders from: eBay, AT&T Interactive, Norwest Ventures, True Ventures and io Ventures. They provided quantitative and qualitative feedback to each of the team’s six minute pitches. The teams were pitching to win a second meeting with any or all members of the judging panel. (It would take months to assemble willing advisers of this caliber, otherwise, and their time is not generally something you could buy.)
What is inspiring and refreshing for me is that these teams are taking on real problems in a sincere and passionate way — from helping seniors better leverage technology, to helping developers promote their apps, to helping families better connect to helping you make smarter decisions — these are large markets, with immediate potential to go global and are far from mind numbing, time wasting social games or social-mobile-local mashup apps.
In short, I’m excited to be at the nexus of these ideas. Without further adieu, meet the fifth cohort of Founder Labs, and after the bulleted list, see what judges’ had to say about them…
Wellness mobile SAAS for enterprises to create lasting improvements in employee fitness & nutrition habits using social & charitable motivators.
A tablet application and app store to help families create new memories together while they are apart.
Find the best people to meet at networking events and conferences and setup ad-hoc meetings on the go.
Company Website: http://www.PeopleMatch.me
Helping mobile app developers cross-promote their app in other apps.
Company Website: www.appsperse.com
Facebook fan page: www.facebook.com/appsperse
Easy access to technology for the Baby Boomer + generation by creating and curating tablet and mobile apps in a specialty app store designed with their needs at heart.
Company Website: http://boomerang.io
A mobile dating site where your friends play matchmaker
Company Website: http://cupidlike.com
Facebook fan page: http://facebook.com/cupidlike
A fun mobile decision support system with your trusted network on the go. Initally targeting young female professionals.
Company Website: withfriends.me
A tablet app combining the best of prints’ quality journalism and lean back reading experience, delivered in personal and social way for access to the best paid content.
Appsperse won the favor of judges for their ambitions. A judge commented, ”Norwest Venture Partners has found success in backing stellar teams in exploding markets. Appsperse fits that mold. The company is mixing great talent from Google with ninja app developers to address the growing app economy. The company is uniquely positioned to help developers promote their apps and enable users discover more and more of them. We look forward to watching Appsperse grow”.
Apps are the new consumption model. Monetizing developers, however, has historically been a difficult business model. The company’s challenge going forward will be to move up market from indie developers into enterprises and brands that want to cross-promote their apps.” (Rama Sekhar, Vice President, Norwest Venture Partners (NVP))
At.Play and WithFriends were well recognized by Founder Labs social media community (we opened up a Twitter vote, and lots of alumni and future founders’ friends weighed in with a Tweet to the #flsf thread).
“I can’t wait until At.Play is available so I can chat with my daughter when I am traveling for my startup. Integrating video chat with engaging content and games for my 3 year old is going to change the way we communicate.” Said Everett Harper, an alumni of founder labs, where he launched, Tetherpad.
Demo Day marks the start, not an end - the start of new founding teams and the start of a new ventures, we expect the ideas to morph, evolve and change significantly in the coming months.
We also marked the one year anniversary for Founder Labs recently. Wow, I can hardly believe we’ve had 5 sessions, 3 in San Francisco, 1 in Menlo Park and 1 in New York. This all started out as a test, and much like I preach, I talked to my customers, I iterated, I measured my results and each session has been incrementally better. The learning doesn’t stop!
I’m proud to say two companies that started in our program have been seed or venture funded. Spoondate was funded by 500 Startups. CakeHealth was funded by Menlo Ventures. Six other companies are pitching or in product development now including: Authy a mobile security venture, Smarketplaces which provides a distributed marketplace for mobile devices (think Disqus meets eBay on any hardware), and House of Mikko a beauty recommendation app and site.
One of our biggest supporters has been True Ventures who has hosted Founder Labs 3 out of 5 sessions in one year - an amazing set of people who help me realize my vision, thank you True Ventures!
We’re now planning Founder Labs 2012 classes for SF and NYC. If you know a willing mentor, or someone who has great ideas for mobile but just needs to find a team they can work with, let us know!
Panel of judges
Pitch from Team Kinetify
About the author: Shaherose is the founder/CEO of Founder Labs. She was previously at Opinno, a global network of incubator spaces, entrepreneurs and investors. At heart she is a mobile and telephony junkie. She’s led new consumer products at Ribbit (BT). Previously, she was Director of Product Management at JAJAH (sold to Telefonica/O2). Follow her on Twitter at @shaherose.