Developers Chris Eigner and Devon Harless found themselves spending a lot of time during their courtship cursing at their iPhones. Planning a dinner date is hard enough – tiny, awful online restaurant web sites don’t make things any easier.
Chris and Devon approached Upstart Labs with a concept for an iPhone app that made searching and viewing restaurant menus usable. We approached this project as a joint venture, lending our iOS and marketing skills to the founders’ design and development skills.
Chris and Devon’s app, Menuish, lets hungry iPhone users search for local restaurant menus by restaurant name, menu name or even dish, and displays restaurant menus in a format that's easy to read. Along with menus, you’ll find hours of operation, reviews from Google and Yelp, links to Facebook and Yelp profiles of the restaurants, and contact information. Best yet, you can save menus to a “Favorites” file for quick access on take out nights.
The app has hundreds of thousands of restaurant menus in more than 13,000 cities nationwide, thanks to a data partnership with industry leader SinglePlatform.
Congrats on the launch to Chris and Devon! This calls for dinner out.
I spend a lot of time explaining the Upstart Labs model to people I meet. Our portfolio is small – just seven companies to date – and you won’t see us packing an auditorium for a demo day twice a year. As an early-stage investment fund, we’re more likely to be found behind the scenes than introducing our latest crop of companies.
Upstart Labs is different because we invest in the form of professional services rather than cash. We provide access to a team of 13 – developers, designers, project management, marketing, business development and sales – in addition to mentoring from our executive team and business services such as legal and accounting. Rather than giving startups a pile of cash and waiting for them to hire employees, our portfolio companies hit the ground running on Day One.
When pitching investors, startup founders try to cut right to the chase with their “ask” – how much money they need, and what, specifically, they’re going to use that money for. One of my favorite things about the model that we’ve established at Upstart Labs is that it gives founders the ability to modify the specifics of that “ask” during their time with us, as conditions dictate.
Hiring employees is expensive; hiring creative and development agencies is even more so. We’ve heard angels complain that a quarter of their investment (or more) is “wasted” by startups on contractors and other pricey purchases. Companies in our program avoid those expenditures during their tenure, and get more time to refine their model – and generate revenue! – before pulling the trigger on long-term expenses.
Our team augments a startup’s existing team. With our team’s help, companies in our portfolio who have products in the market can expand their features, add platforms and services, and enter new markets. We’re investing in this way – services first – because we believe it works. Need more evidence? Just read what our Upstarts say about us.
We're always looking for our next success. Here's a quick way to learn more about who we invest in and how we do it, and how you can apply to our program.
Like most startup CEOs, Anne Nichols at Favery knew she had a steep road to climb when launching her product. Anne approached Upstart Labs for assistance bringing in Favery to life – reaching out to bloggers, public relations, social marketing, and lots of other tiny things. Launching new businesses is a core component of our practice at Upstart Labs, and we were excited to take this on. Not in the least because we actually like using the product!
Favery is an online bulletin board that allows users to easily collect information from anywhere, share their finds, and solicit real-time feedback. Favery offers two great features distinctive from other curation apps:
- Privacy – Set your bulletin board to Public, Private, or Shared with a few friends whose opinions you value
- Voting – Post some options, ask a question, and get advice
We’ve worked with Anne over the past few months to help get Favery launch-ready, so we’re excited to finally share the final product with you. Today, Favery is live – you don't need an invitation, so create an account and start Faving today.
P.S. Favery is running a sweepstakes to celebrate their launch. You could win a $750 shopping spree to West Elm, BHLDN, or Pottery Barn Kids – enter today, because I'm ineligible :)
Brian Kurth spent years helping people discover new careers – in everything from marketing to make-up artistry – and last year, he decided it was time to find his own new direction. Brian had the idea of modernizing his seven-year-old business, VocationVacations, and creating a marketplace for career expertise delivered virtually via one-on-one videoconferences. He came to Upstart Labs to make it happen.
Today, I'm excited to announce that our newest Upstart, PivotPlanet, is live to the public. Now anyone looking to "pivot" to a new career can search for an advisor, book a one-hour, one-on-one meeting with that advisor for as little as $50, and get the personalized advice they need to take the next step.
The best part about PivotPlanet's advisors is how professional they are at delivering career expertise. Brian and his team carefully screen potential advisers, who are required to demonstrate expertise in their field along with a capacity for career mentorship, and select only those advisers who will make excellent career counselors. In this way, his platform can deliver advice to anyone – aspiring entrepreneurs, recent college graduates, moms returning to the workforce, baby boomers looking for "encore careers" – anyone ready for their second (or even first) act.
We see several applications for this marketplace beyond the obvious resource it provides for consumers. For example, corporations could use PivotPlanet to augment or even replace traditional outplacement services, or leverage PivotPlanet's platform to run an external mentoring program. Universities could offer PivotPlanet conferences as resources to alumni. Professional associations could connect members with experts, or become advisors themselves in order to boost their profession's profile.
As someone with a lot of background in human resources technology, I've been so pleased to be a part of PivotPlanet. It's clear that a personal network is a job seeker's most powerful weapon – and PivotPlanet is a way to both grow your career network and really leverage it to your advantage. We at Upstart Labs look forward to seeing the PivotPlanet network grow and thrive.
Kerry Finsand is a self-proclaimed “beer geek” – he was using words like “firkin” and “degrees Plato” well before craft beer became cool. But, more importantly to us at Upstart Labs, Kerry believed that craft beer was big business, and we’ve joined him on the path to proving that true.
For the uninitiated, Taplister is an online community that has existed for several years. The system is powered by the beer community, with the goal of helping beer drinkers and bar owners discover craft beer. The site is a directory of real-time beer menus (tap lists) from bars and restaurants nationwide – a tool that lets both consumers and bar managers keep tap lists up to date and discover new craft beers.
Kerry became an Upstart in April 2012. His company, Taplister, had been around for about three years, mostly as a side project. But this spring, Kerry started making some big moves – he planned a new technical architecture that simplified beer updates and made them more accurate; a partnership with the world’s largest online database of beer, RateBeer.com; and the purchase of a Newport-based startup that created digital beer menu boards for bars and restaurants.
For the last six months, the beer-loving Upstart Labs team has been cranking away on a new Taplister.com and Taplister app for iPhone. We’ve re-branded, re-architected and re-designed Taplister.com to make it more user-friendly and visually appealing. We also created a new app for iOS to help consumers find their favorite beer and nearby bars, and most importantly, quickly update tap lists.
Today the brand-new Taplister.com and iOS app are live and out of beta. Taplister’s new tap list management system helps bars and restaurants instantly publish their changing beer menus to a Digital Beer Board™, Facebook, Twitter, mobile devices, a website, and Taplister.com. And consumers.
So whether you’re in Portland, Houston, Brooklyn or anywhere in between, head to Taplister.com and check it out for yourself.
We were flattered to be approached by the founders of Celly, Russell Okamoto and Greg Passmore, as they were seeking a marketing and product development partner.
Since its launch in early 2011, Celly has grown from simple group SMS texting (no small feat, across myriad phones, mobile devices and service providers), to a cross-platform communication tool that brings enterprise “BYOD” (bring your own device) principles to schools, communities, churches, political movements, families and friends, cities and more.
Celly lets anyone create a “cell” in seconds by texting START to 23559 – or using their web site (http://cel.ly) or now, the new app for Android. Anyone can join a cell in seconds, and instantly start sharing group messages, polls, reminders, notes, and topic alerts, privately and securely. Celly is currently powering more than 20,000 cells in all 50 states, cells used by teachers and parents, coaches, youth pastors, police officers, governments, and businesses.
Celly’s service is particularly loved by educators, who have found a dozen or more creative ways to use it to bring students, teachers, parents and the community together. I love this review from the Google Play store, which pretty much sums up how educators feel about Celly:
I teach junior high and high school, and this app has been awesome for both levels. Parents and students both gave great feedback about how easy it was, how they appreciated the safety, and how valuable the communication was. I'm on my second year, and I recommend Celly constantly!
We are excited to announce the launch of Celly’s new Android app for building mobile social networks. This week’s launch will help expand Celly’s user base, improve service for existing users, and bring even more groups closer together.
A huge congrats to the Celly team – Greg (@g_pass) and Russell (@rokamo) – and here’s to more great news in the future.
We’re happy to introduce you to MoPix, the latest of our upstarts to exit beta and launch to the public.
Like fellow Portland-grown video processing software powerhouse Elemental Technologies, MoPix is disrupting film distribution through technology. The MoPix solution empowers self-distribution by letting any independent film creator – that means everything from feature films to fitness videos – package film content into a high-quality DVD-like experience. That package can be instantly deployed across all of the major mobile and smart TV platforms, or embedded on a web site using a widget for playback and purchase.
Best of all, MoPix lets any content creator make their own packages of video combined with bonus content using MoPix’s self-service tools – that means films can be distributed by their creators, cutting out the middleman. As they put it, MoPix “closes the gap between traditional channels and the demand for direct distribution” and lets producers take their films directly to the audience.
Upstart Labs began working with MoPix as they completed their time in the PIE program here in Portland. Our team contributed to the development of the MoPix content management system, while also helping to position MoPix to investors and assisting with enterprise sales efforts.
Since “graduating” from Upstart (and from PIE, and from 500 Startups!), MoPix acquired mobile video software startup Fling Soft and has grown their team. The company has signed distribution agreements with independent film distributors Film Baby and R Squared, with deals representing thousands of additional titles in the works.
MoPix’s launch announcement generated kudos from Techcrunch, CNET and Marketwatch, and we expect the buzz to keep growing along with their library of film titles. Check out this recent Meet The Startup interview to hear from MoPix CTO, Drew Aculiffe:
For more information about MoPix, visit www.getmopix.com. You can even submit your film for consideration – the MoPix team will send instructions as to how to get up and running.
Congratulations to the MoPix team!