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.
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.
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.
The Portland Digital eXperience was organized by Rick Turcozy of Silicon Florist. This new wing of MusicFest NW fulfills a tech component of the festival that was previously missing, with sessions planned that spotlight and target tech, startup, and creative talent in the Portland area. The anticipation and expectations for the event have been high, with coverage in a variety of national publications from Fortune to GigaOm.
The Portland Digital eXperience kicks off with a Startup Crawl on Thursday, September 6, the event’s opening night. The goal? Introducing Portland’s tech and startup scene to the world. Upstart Labs is one of the registered startup stops, and we’ve ordered two extra kegs to get the party started. We hope you’ll stop by. We’d love to show you our new office, introduce you to our awesome team, and pour you a pint.
For more information, feel free to check out musicfestnw.com/pdx.
Hope to see you on Thursday!
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!
Upstart Labs hit the ground running with three employees in November 2011, and since then, we've grown to 13 full-time employees incubating five startups.
Needless to say, it didn't take long for us to outgrow our original workspace. We were super excited to move into a new office last week. We're still located in Portland's Pearl District, but our new space is a quite the upgrade: a historic building with a ton of character, hardwood floors, and lots of light (it's Oregon – we need all the sun we can get).
We're still getting settled, but so far, we're loving our new new office for it's plentiful conference rooms, bike hooks, and standing desks – we understand those to add 10 years to the life of a typical developer (that's true, right?).
We hope you’ll come visit soon!
You’ve probably read that part of the secret sauce at Southwest Airlines is selection of markets. If a city has a lot of snow, or fog, or an old, crowded, high-traffic airport, they skip it – that’s too many factors that have the potential to interfere with their model, which calls for planes to be turned over in 35 minutes rather than the industry-standard 90 minutes.
We think of our Upstarts in the same way. For us, the right startups will enter our program with a combination of factors that will enable our team to refine and launch the company quickly.
Here’s what we are looking for (at the highest possible level):
At Upstart Labs, we’re investing in businesses – not just products and entrepreneurs. If you can’t (yet) articulate your revenue model, it’s time to hang back for a few months and get that sorted out. Having a customer or two lined up is a plus. Not all VCs and startup incubators will ask you to be able to demonstrate how you plan to make money – there are plenty of firms willing to fund the development of a killer product in the hopes that a business model will follow. That isn’t our model.
If you aren’t taking your business prospects seriously, why on earth would we? This doesn’t necessarily mean that we expect you to quit your day job before you first pitch your idea to us – having a “real” job that gives you the flexibility to hack in your spare time is an excellent way to bootstrap your V1. One of the reasons why we’re focused on technology startups is the low cost of entry. Technical founders reduce that startup cost even further, and help us accelerate time to launch – we strongly prefer startups with a technical founder. Regardless of the skill set of the founder(s), acceleration only truly happens when there is commitment to the project. You will be expected to be committed to your new business full-time once you enter our program (even if you haven’t quit that day job in advance of being accepted, you’ll need to before you become an Upstart).
We’re looking for entrepreneurs that are resourceful. One of the best ways to demonstrate resourcefulness is to package up your business (the combination of your product, your revenue model and yourself) in a way that makes you look like “a real company.” Start with the way you look. If you don’t have a friend who is a graphic designer and willing to help you out, you can source a decent logo at 99designs.com for a few hundred dollars. Turn your new logo into business cards for under $20 at uvcards.com. Make a super-professional web site yourself (seriously, you can do this) with Squarespace. And, for the love of Pete, have someone who spells well flip through your deck before you start shopping yourself around. One “you’re” instead of “your” can shut down an audience’s brain to the rest of your pitch.
Speaking of pitch decks, we expect you to have one when you meet with us. Guy Kawasaki wrote what’s still probably the best advice on tech startup pitch decks more than six years ago – if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now (here is another nice reformatting of his advice). You may think you’re “keeping things casual” when you come in without a deck, but keep in mind – we’re betting on your ability to sell your company to investors along with our bet on your business. Take the opportunity to show us what you can do.
Send us a note when you’re ready to come in – we’re looking forward to seeing your deck.
I hate the term "serial entrepreneur," but starting companies is in my blood. Upstart Labs was formed from this passion for new ventures. I've been a part of six startups over the past 15 years. I've seen tough times, but I've also been fortunate to have some wins along the way. At Upstart Labs, I'm combining this experience with a team of incredibly talented, enthusiastic co-founders to help other entrepreneurs turn their ideas into real companies.
We envision Upstart Labs as a new breed of startup accelerator. We're more than investment capital, and more than office space (though we have those things, too). We invest ourselves into the Upstarts with which we partner. Our team has significant experience in the design, development and marketing of web and mobile products, and we are well-versed in building lean, profitable technology businesses. We're looking for passionate entrepreneurs with great ideas – entrepreneurs who are ready to get in the trenches with us and build great products.
I'm proud to announce our first two Upstarts – Sell Simply and Menuish.
First up, Sell Simply (sellsimp.ly) which enables businesses and consumers to buy, sell and transact directly on Twitter. The application enables Twitter commerce, direct payments and fundraising through the first frictionless Twitter transaction service. It's very cool stuff, and we have a lot more in store.
And our second portfolio company, Menuish (menuish.com), helps restaurants quickly build and publish mobile- & social-friendly menus. Designed to work on all mobile devices and for seamless integration with the Yelp, Google Places, and OpenTable mobile applications, the Menuish platform enables every restaurant to have a professional mobile and social web presence.
If you’ve got a great idea or an early stage mobile or web product and you're interested in becoming an Upstart, stay tuned – we’ll be announcing a formal startup application process soon. In the meantime, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter @upstartlabs.