March 12, 2009

What you missed at Plugg

Well, a lot obviously :-) But here's a quick summary of what happened at the conference since my last post:

The three startups that went on to the finals had 10 minutes to pitch their company again. Obviously, this second pitch felt much more relaxed and allowed for more details and more Q&A with the VC's on the business model.

I haven't told you about Jinni yet and unfortunately I didn't manage to speak to any of the founders. But let me give you some details about what they're doing. Jinni is basically a very smart recommendation engine for movies. It asks you to rate some of the films and tv series that you've seen and uses something called the 'movie genome' to get a feel for what some titles have in common. Depending on your mood, you can give Jinni very detailed instructions, going as far as "Tell me about an offbeat comedy with a love angle and an unlikely criminal" - which would get you "In Bruges".

Jini is very young, but very promising. One thing they need to pull off though is to make sure that these recommendations can result in 'instant satisfaction'. To me, it feels a bit silly to have a service like this recommend a great - but obscure - movie only to find out that it takes 2 weeks to order the dvd. So the rea value of Jinni will only come out when they can work together with (online) VOD providers and integrate their system into their settop boxes.

So who won? Well, there were actually two winners. First of all, language learning company Myngle walked away with the audience award. They did a very inspiring pitch and obviously have a very exciting product. But the big winner of the day was Mendeley. They got the most votes from the jury and the audience combined and were visibly surprised to come out on top. Then again, their " for researchers" was well thought out and extremely well pitched. They gave very clear info on were they were now from a business point of view and how they were going to make money. To give you the quick summary: they're thinking about a freemium model, building an iTunes for academic papers - facilitating access while working together with the publishers - and selling corporate/institutional to large universities and the like. To me, they absolutely deserved to win. At the same time though, they showed how convincing a good pitch can be and how important it is to think of every aspect of your company... even if you don't have all the answers yet. Let's say that you should at least have a list of possible answers :-)


Mendeley during their final pitch

A quick overview of some other startups

How about the 17 other startups that were pitching at Plugg? Well, to be honest, some of them didn't really do a great job of convincing the jury, or the audience for that matter. So while I'm not able to really explain what all of these 17 companies did, I'll get you the highlights:

BeeBole: A very interesting Belgian startup (from Nivelles) that's offering an integrated startpage - think Netvibes - for business applications. You pay for access to the system which includes some basic apps built by BeeBole itself and then start adding some of the 'usual suspects' like Basecamp or, all the while integrating them into that same environment. As true Belgians, they've started small and humble but are really onto something big.

Bubok: A self publishing system for Spanish books, covering not only Spain but South-America too. Same concept as Lulu, with the promise that writers earn three times as much as they would when going through a traditional publisher.

Burt: Tools to help ad agencies to embrace the internet. Very nice presentation, but a bit fuzzy about the tools themselves. Clever guys though.

ContextIn: An Israeli company - as is Jinni - that promises better analysis of search terms - more context basically - which allows for more targeted advertising. Very important stuff as this kind of advertising is quite central to the business model of a large number of startups.

Desktop Reporting: Another Belgian startup. They make tools that allow you to view the data provided by Google Analytics on your desktop, combine it with other information and add real value to it. A clever solution to a real problem.

Hammerkit: One of the Finnish startups at the competition, offering tools to build applications that are just a big set of building blocks and can therefore be easily used on all kinds of platforms - from mobile phones to televisions and everything in between.

Nulaz and Snagsta, two social recommendation sites that help you find places to stay, eat, drink or just have fun. Nulaz is Dutch and adds a location based aspect to the whole idea, Snagsta is London-based but has impressive global coverage.

SofaTutor: this German company has built a platform that allows teachers to put videolessons online. It provides them with a custom built environment, including the possibility to give their 'virtual' students a test at the end of the lesson. Very clever stuff.

VinoGusto: Belgium-based and all about wine. The site helps you find the perfect bottle and puts you in touch with distributors and resellers in your area.

More pictures from Plugg

Check them out here.

Raphael Cockx


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Thank you for the nice review and the kind words, Raphael! It was great meeting you there today.

If I may, let me just add one thing that's important to us: "cutting out the publishers as middlemen" isn't really what we have in mind. Even though we believe (after many conversations with librarians) that it is important for publishers to rethink their business models and especially bundling practices, we do want to work *together* with them to create this "iTunes for academic papers", because they still hold all commercial distribution rights to academic content.

Also, as I briefly mentioned during the talk, a number of publishers have tentatively approached us about this possibility, and I've been invited to present Mendeley at this year's Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting in Baltimore. So in fact, our relationship with publishers has been very amicable thus far!

Cheers and all the best,

Hi Victor,

Nice meeting you too. Sorry about the mistake there and thanks for pointing it out. I've now changed the text.

All the best,

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