I admit to spending little time at this year’s Disrupt, which was in town last week. It’s still a great event for startups that want to get some attention. Sure I was a little turned off by the pre-event emails announcing another community-building-social-something platform or a breakthrough technology for everyday objects—tennis racquets, coffee mugs, staplers—wherein chips are embedded for reasons I don’t understand.
I also suspect that Kickstarter is soaking up some of the quirkier and more interesting ventures that would otherwise have gravitated to startup events like this. Still there were a few interesting companies I got to see up close.
So here’s my quick rundown. And yes this single post replaces our beloved Tales from Startup Alley, which has decided to take early retirement.
A quick Google on ‘selfie app’ unsurprisingly brings up lots of appware. But how many of these selfie clones can manipulate your facial pixels and effortlessly blend them into a photo with iconic foreign backdrops? I met SelfieApp‘s Eugene Zhukov, this teeny startup’s marketing person, who demonstrated their software’s digital processing prowess. After I selfied, SelfieApp produced a picture of me in front of Pyramids of Giza. It was convincing enough.
Related PostsTo be fair, the app had a little trouble identifying my face—something to do with contrast—and so it cropped off part of my hair and upper forehead. There working out a few kinks. They expect to get SelfieApp in all the usual markets in July.
What are the use cases? Fun would be one. Deception is another. They seem to be pretty bold in their marketing that you can use their app to prove you were somewhere you never visited. It sounds like this technology might become a new plot point in crime or mystery novels.
Collaboration is a word more heavily used in the biz-world. Up until recently the idea of sharing files and your current work was looked on as heresy. Nowadays you collaborate by posting your documents into Sharepoint, Microsoft Dynamics, or some other file sharing service. So it was unusual to hear a consumer-oriented startup using the word collaboration instead of all the usual suspects—social media sharing, social network, etc.
So what does FileChat, a French-based startup, mean by collaboration. Their software lets ordinary folks and, more likely, small businesses and solos, attach social media status stream to a document stored in a file-locker service—for now, Dropbox and Google Drive. Once in FileChat, you invite your collaborator to access documents and then share comments.
While the idea is simple to explain, it’s a powerful tool for the zillions of small businesses that still rely on phone calls, faxes, and awkward email threads to hash out all the issues that come up with invoices, bills, and other biz documents. CEO Alberto Escarlate walked me through the demo. It’s yet another clean, well designed app that has come out of the French startup scene—see Mention and BIME for other examples.
FileChat, je t’aime beaucoup.
I’m intrigued by the idea of getting Internet services to underdeveloped parts of the world. A few years ago, I wrote about a Princeton-based startup called Duma that was using cell phones to create a location-based job market. Duma makes perfect sense in parts of, say, Kenya where there’s lot of short-terms needs—taxi, construction—but little way to get a hold of the labor pool. That’s where Duma’s online market comes in.
EveryLayer takes on a more fundamental problem: bringing inexpensive broadband access to places that don’t have even basic telecom infrastructure. I didn’t get a chance to talk to EveryLayer at Disrupt, so I’m a little unclear of their approach. But based on their website and my own years of covering something that used to be called VoIP—Voice Over IP—it looks like EveryLayer strings together consumer-grade WiFi access points to bring the last mile connections to conventional landline trunks.
Yeah, there’s WiMAX, a scaled up version of WiFi for covering very wide areas, and was being considered at one point as “the” solution to bringing broadband to rural US locations. WiMAX has since faded. In any case, I guess that’s just too expensive for underdeveloped countries, so WiFi could do the job.
And the rest
I briefly spoke with Criptext‘s CEO Mayer Mizrachi. I really like their secure email solution that requires no extra work on the part of the sender and receiver. Criptext layers on top of Google Mail, and manages the keys and holds the encrypted text in the cloud. Totally simple, and now you—meaning executives, journalists, and really everyone else—has no excuse not to use encryption in their electronic communications.
Also worth checking out is Cloudwear, an authentication solution that is ‘easier and more secure than 2-Factor Authentication.’