We’re nearing the end of the year and this is the time for all kinds of ‘best of’ and ‘predictions’ type lists. I won’t buck the lists trend, but do want to give it a bit of a different twist — here are a few select companies that have really captured my imagination (and in some cases wallet):
Surely there are a billion female fashion brands worldwide yet remarkably few target the needs of professional women. If you’re not looking to spend high-end designer money on each garment your options are limited – especially considering that quality in this price range can also be a bit of a toss up. At a more palatable price point you’ll find just a few brands who specialize in flash-in-the-pan quick fashion and garments that are not built to withstand more than a single season; the situation becomes even more bleak if you’re not built like a 12 year old boy. While looking for a Savile Row-like option for us ladies I stumbled upon Project Gravitas and became an instant convert. Their selection of modern, meticulously built classics is perfect for any professional wardrobe, and the pieces transition well to just about any other situation you’ll encounter (fancy parties included!). Each of the dresses is named after an iconic woman – so there’s the Simone after Simone de Beauvoir, the Katharine after Katharine Graham, the Amelia after Amelia Earhart, etc. Lisa Sun, the company’s founder and CEO was gracious enough to give me a tour of their impressive NYC space (all the production is done here in the city’s Garment District) and should surely warrant a dress named after her one day soon. Her innovation doesn’t end there — every month the company features one spectacular woman, and 10% of all sales of her favorite dress are donated to the charity of her choice. You can get a good sense of the brand from the phenomenal content they’ve put together (styling boards that resemble a high-fashion glossy, interesting interviews with their customers, classifying which dresses fit which body type the best, etc).*
It’s (almost) 2015 but we’re still calendaring in much the same way we did way back when it was still pen and paper and a diary. Unless you have a full-time assistant managing your own calendar can easily eat out a few hours of time each week, between negotiating appropriate open calendar slots, figuring out where to meet, and actually sending the invite. Most of this is really repetitive work which means it’s perfect for some type of automation and that’s exactly what x.ai delivers thanks to a personable (?!!) algorithm named Amy Ingram. It’s wonderfully simple: all you need to do is cc Amy on an email thread where you’re discussing calendaring something and she’ll take over; she has access to your calendar and you can specify locations and types of meetings you prefer by emailing her directly (as you would a human assistant). Amy sends out all the necessary emails to set up a meeting and upon agreeing on time and place can send out a meeting invite to all guests. After seeing Amy in action I started wishing that I could outsource a myriad of other menial everyday tasks to an algorithm, too.** X.ai is currently in beta so you may need to hang out on their waiting list for a little while, but the wait is well worth it.
You can book your hotel on your mobile device, browse through a rich set of photos and guest reviews, get step-by-step directions on how to get there, yet once you’ve arrived your experience hops in the way-back machine and takes you back to the world of oversized phones*** and brochures with hotel amenities. Now you can see photos of what the dish you’re ordering off the room service menu might look like, tour the spa and hotel gym from a safe distance and order other services with a few taps. It’s such an improvement to the hotel experience that I’ll forgive them their current lack of an Android app — in fact, I could see smart hotels handing their guests an iPod Touch**** at checkin sort of as a universal remote for the hotel property (I’m looking at you, destination hotels and resorts!).
This one feels like a bit of a meta entry since its purpose is to connect traveling entrepreneurs with their local counterparts around the world. This is the kind of service I’ve always wished someone would build so I can purely selfishly use it (for a while, the forums section on A Small World was an excellent substitute, but that sadly went downhill promptly). A local entrepreneurial community is pretty much the first thing I look for when on the road (at home too!) and learning from other startup ecosystems can really help expand an entrepreneur’s horizons, not to mention forge practical partnerships across borders. It’s quite simple — you create a profile and list your travel plans. You can browse who’s available in the location you’re interested in and reach out. I’ve had a few on-site interactions so far that were wonderfully pleasant, but haven’t had the time to meet up with anyone in person yet. This is the type of service that will get better with more people who sign up, so go sign up right now!
* It’s a very interesting play on words, too, since the company’s name can be read as a verb (to project gravitas) or as a noun (project, as undertaking).
** Jasper, make me a sandwich. (Who’s Jasper? Oh, he is my wonderful robot butler. I imagine he looks like a domesticated, hardwood-floor-friendly version of Wall-E).
*** This beauty turned me sideways in more ways than one in an otherwise lovely hotel in Boston’s Seaport district.
**** They still make these, right? Cause they’re awesome.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve used all of these. MobileSuites is part of the accelerator that I mentor in, ERA, but we have not worked together directly. I am not an investor in any of the above — I just happen to really like what they’re all doing).