3 interesting NYC startups + 1 wildcard from Denmark

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):

1. Project Gravitas

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 5.55.52 PMSurely 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).*

2. x.ai

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 5.57.43 PMIt’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.

3. MobileSuites

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.00.46 PMYou 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!).

+1 StartupTravels

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.02.02 PM
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).

Data and analytics in sports: three things to consider

It’s a great time to be a sports fan – and an even better time to be a sports and data fan as these two worlds continue to meld together. For the last couple of years nearly every conversation about sports, analytics or both had to have at least one mention of “Moneyball” – the story of how Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics used data to create a strong team through a recruitment strategy that was often at odds with the established ways baseball scouts evaluated players.

Where granular telemetry information that needed processing in near-real time was once reserved for high-end auto racing, we’re not far from a world where it becomes pervasive in other sports. Think about being able to see a soccer player’s heart rate as he walks up the pitch to take a decisive penalty shot. Or knowing how fast the hockey puck is moving as it slides behind the goalkeeper. Or something as seemingly trivial as being able to quickly find the closest restroom in a crowded sports venue.

The Oakland As are no longer alone in embracing a data-driven decision making model: many sports leagues, individual teams, and sporting venues are exploring ways to capture and track player performance data, understand what fans need, and improve overall fan experience. If you’re interested in doing the same, consider these tips.

1) Start with the data
Your first step should always be to understand what data you have readily available and what data sets you’ll need in the future to meet your business needs. For example: if you’re a sports team, perhaps you already have a strong database of season ticket holders and you’re now looking at ways to enhance the in-stadium experience for your most loyal fans via special discounts, special offers, and rewards for loyalty. If you’re on the recruiting side, what are the relevant player metrics that will help you evaluate players from different geographies and feeder leagues; if a player you’re interested in recruiting has a very strong social media following, does that give her an edge against a similarly capable competitor? The possibilities are endless if you build a flexible data infrastructure.

2) Technology is your asset
Sports are inherently real-time whether in-person at a sporting venue, at home on TV, or ever increasingly via what we in media fondly call 2nd screens: smartphones or tablets while on the go. Your fans are never too far away from their smartphones: whether they’re sharing photos from a game, commenting on a match on social media, or perhaps watching a replay of an interesting moment while they’re in the stadium, they’re giving you cues on what’s important and relevant to them. And with wearable tech permeating the professional sports world your ability to collect, analyze, and act on relevant data points can provide a truly differentiated, immersive, and rewarding fan experience.

3) Focus on value and avoid the creepiness factor
While the opportunity to be proactive with data is clear, so is the opportunity for blunders. Just because you can send a marketing text message to your fans doesn’t mean you should. Thinking through each fan interaction with the lens of improving a customer’s experience is the right way to go. When you’re making software and technology decisions make sure you’re picking a system that ensures flexibility and surfaces insights around fan experience and the value of each interaction regardless if it’s happening through a marketing email, on your website, or in your sports venue.

One thing is sure: we’re in the early innings of data and analytics in sports. If you’ve implemented a great data program or have simply encountered a great technology-driven sports experience as a fan I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

/* Originally posted on SAS Voices. While F1 is more my speed than baseball, NFL, and similar team sports I’m fascinated by how pervasive and transformative the use of data (especially big data sets including biometric information that can be processed quickly) is across a wide swatch of activities. */

Synchronicity

During the broadcast of the World Cup today, ESPN’s announcers mentioned that around 800 million people worldwide are tuned in and watching Germany and Argentina play. This number struck me as simultaneously both large and small — large, since we so seldomly experience things en masse at the same time; and small for precisely the same reason: football is perhaps the most global of all sports and since we’re more than 7BB strong now that does seem a tad conservative.

There’s something to be said about the unifying effects of a shared experience of such proportions. After all, what events other than major sport ones could command such an audience?  Perhaps one day soon another landing on the Moon or on Mars, but until then this pretty accurately describes the World Cup experience:

A great example of mobile customer experience

Mobile experience can be tricky to nail down if your company is not a digital native. Gucci certainly does not come to mind in the mobile frontrunners category but this example of their integrated print, offline, digital, and in-store experience all through a set of mobile/tablet apps is a fantastic use of technology. Here are Gucci’s CIO Simone Pacciarini and Marcello Vignocchi, Director of Innovative Solutions, discussing their design process, the technologies they used, and giving a demo of the spectacular final product all wrapped up in charming Italian accents:

If you’d like the short version that showcases just the apps, here’s a < 5 minute cut (although their process discussion is well worth it, especially if you’re embarking upon a similar challenge).

 

Mobile history

Most of the mobile world is en route to Barcelona this week for Mobile World Congress, where discussions of the future of mobile are sure to be plenty. This got me thinking about my own mobile history and rewinding back to the time before cellphones. Here’s an ode to all the phones I’ve owned before, largely in a chronological order, and with my best effort to actually figure out the model number*.

Late 90s

It all started with a Motorola Timeport or a candybar phone very similar to it (not sure if it was the same model in SE Europe). Motorola had a reputation for being indestructible (I remember trying to disprove that and failing with my dad’s ginormous grey ironically named Moto MicroTac flip phone). Texts were the main method of communication and the Timeport had an enviably big screen (compared at the time to the more stylish Ericsson T-18 that had one line’s worth of screen real estate – I tried it and switched back to the Timeport quickly). This phone was a workhorse and had survived, amongst other things, falling from a balcony and multiple water submersions.

Nokia 

By the early aughts Nokia was really kicking ass — after a short flirtation with the Motorola Star Tac (seemingly the phone of choice of every shady businessman in the Balkans and beyond) the Nokia 3210 became my phone of choice. It was small, light, very sleek and its operating system looked like the future compared to Motorola’s clunky and unintuitive one. I’ve had several 3210s, then switched up to the 6610 with a color screen, of which I’ve also had several. One remains in full working order — until a few years ago it was in use with local prepaid sim cards while traveling. If I could find a charger for it it would probably happily power up today.

From left: Motorola Timeport, Ericsson T-18, Motorola Startac, Nokia 3210, Nokia 6610

Motorola Razr**

There’s something inherently dramatic about hanging up a flip phone – it’s equally great for lovers’ quarrels and frustrating work calls. And the Razr at the time was unlike any other phone on the market — super-thin, fancy screen, lightweight; I went with the matte black which wouldn’t look out of place on Batman’s desk (assuming Batman has a desk and a phone in 2004). Aside from the form factor everything about this phone was frustrating: the Motorola operating system was dreadful compared to Nokia’s, the phone had atrocious battery life, and the screen was so sensitive there was a chance you could break it if you sneezed in its general direction. After only a couple of weeks I started regretting the switch from Nokia to Motorola and contemplating switching back. The experience was so bumpy I promised myself I would never get another Motorola again.

Smartphones

Hey, remember Symbian? It was the future in 2005! Nokia had launched the 6680 – a candybar with a slide to open an excellent back camera (hello cellphone photos that you can actually look at) and a front camera for video calls that showed great promise (I don’t think I’ve ever used it to actually make a video call and I still have the phone). Its web browser reminded me slightly of Teletext but it showed potential of apps and mobile browsing to come. It’s still one of my favorite phones of all time and I would have probably used it longer if Symbian wasn’t so unstable (the phone was prone to self-restarting randomly and frequently, and would freeze apps often).

Phones2

From left: 3 views of the Razr, and 3 of the Nokia 6680

The 6680 had email but wasn’t very good at push notifications so my next phone was the Blackberry Pearl. Yay super-productive email on the go! Nay super obscure keyboard that required re-learning the layout of keys and rendered me absolutely useless as a texter on any of my older phones. I became a big full keyboard fan as soon as I switched to the Curve, the next gen Curve, and then finally the Bold. It wasn’t just the keyboard: BBM was fantastic for international texting, the camera wasn’t terrible, and you really didn’t know what you were missing until the iPhone and App Store rolled around. If Blackberry had built a better browser, I might still be a customer today.

Some time in the Blackberry era I also broke my promise to never get another Motorola and got the Droid 2. The phone was so dreadful that it completely soured me not just on the device itself but on Android as a whole. The one nice thing I can say about this phone was the haptic feedback keyboard — although having used normal haptic feedback keyboards since, I think I’m being overly generous with praise. Hey Ana of the future – I know you think the MotoX looks cool with all those neat customization options but please remember that we’re never, ever, never getting another Motorola no matter what.

Phones3

From left: Blackberry Pearl, Blackberry Curve, the next gen Blackberry Curve, Blackberry Bold, and the uniquely terrible Motorola Droid 2

Oddly I didn’t like my first iPhone much and really only used it for the apps. I couldn’t type on it to save my life — things got a tad better with the 4S although I try not to type on it as much (voice recognition & dictation for the win***). Right around the same time I got the Samsung Galaxy S3 — huge leap for Android from my first experience with it on the Droid 2, and I warmed up to the phone and OS very quickly. Now a full-on Android convert, I was in for a treat when the S3 bricked itself and pushed me to get the S4: this is a phone I truly love. It’s addressed all of the things that I found annoying on the S3 (e.g. battery life, much better camera, randomly erasing SD cards, etc).

Phones4

From left: iPhone 3G, iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4

So what’s next?

Since we are in MWC season, when I look at my own mobile evolution and what I like and dislike on phones today I think the future will be much less about the device itself and much more about the OS and app ecosystem. My next purchase will probably be solely driven by battery life, screen size, and camera quality — everything else is an app and is device agnostic.

________

* I’m pretty sure there are a few discrepancies since I know that Nokia had different labels for US and rest-of-world phones. I relied on an image search and then listed the phone that most looked like the one I actually own(ed). It was a fun exercise in cellphone design evolution. 

** Too cool for school. And some vowels. 

*** English Siri and I have become fast friends. He cracks me up and largely tolerates my attempts at sexy cockney speak. Oi!

Notes from the road: emerging markets edition

Some anecdotal observations from my summer holiday travels in South-East Europe/Eurasia:

  • Smartphones and feature phones peacefully coexist according to a pretty well-defined generational breakdown. Older folks tend to prefer feature phones (easier to use, more phone like, no need to upgrade). The trojan horse is camera quality and ease of sharing photos: this seems to be the main driver towards upgrades.
  • The young trendsetter demographic appears to be migrating towards high end Android devices (and Samsung reigns supreme here) over Apple’s iphone – in many areas there’s no supporting ecosystem for content (e.g. Turkish version of iTunes was only launched in Dec. 2012)
  • The war for the living room seems less pronounced and cordcutting isn’t much of a concept. Cable TV is actually a great entertainment deal with excellent sports and content options often in a variety of languages.
  • WiFi everywhere – cafes, restaurants, etc and patrons commonly ask for login credentials for wireless access. Once on, the first step is to check social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram depending on individual preference) – the entryway for most content consumption.
  • Thanks to the ubiquity of wifi many folks appear to be content with carrying smartphones w/o a data plan.
  • BBM has been replaced by WhatsApp even among Berry loyalists.
  • Shazam is amazing and we need a Shazam for everything (a few suggestions during the trip: flags, flowers, fish – really pointing towards visual search rather than audio identification).