The best and brightest from 500 Startups’ third demo day

Dave McClure has very quickly become a major force in Silicon Valley, by making investments in more than 250 companies since launching his 500 Startups fund. In Mountain View, Calif. Wednesday, 32 companies from the third class of the 500 Startups Accelerator program showed off what they’ve been working on to investors and press. And I sat through all the demos so you didn’t have to.
Based on what I saw, here are my favorite startups from the demos, in no particular order:


Out of all the personal fitness apps out there, Fitocracy could be the one that makes the most impact in actually getting its users in shape. The application, which so far gas only been available in a private beta, already has 230,000 registered users. And those users are pretty engaged, with about 79 percent checking in every day and spending an average of 9 minutes per session with Fitocracy. It’s done that by adding gamification to the fitness process — getting users to level up, complete quests and unlock achievements as part of what founder Brian Wang calls a real-life RPG. But the amazing part about those stats are that they’re from Fitocracy’s web-based app; an iPhone app is in the works but has yet to be released. One it is, I expect a lot more users to catch on and start using Fitocracy to track and improve their fitness.


“CRMs are an $11 billion industry,” Contactually’s founder told the crowd at 500 Startups’ demo day. “But all CRMs suck.” You have to fill in information in forms and once they’re there, the information is difficult to extract and doesn’t actually help users manage their relationships. Contactually has a better way: it uses email — which is the common touch point for more or less all contact between human beings nowadays — and automatically helps determine which contacts are most important to manage. More importantly, it actually prompts users to do something with that info, urging them to follow up to important emails and contacts. But just because it gives a better way to manage contacts doesn’t mean it’s going to completely replace your CRM — it’ll also integrate with that CRM.


Have you ever tried to book a trip with your friends, only to have a few of them lame out at the last minute, sticking you with the tab? Then PayByGroup is for you. The idea is to add a button to sites like Airbnb, Stubhub and the like that allows users to click a button to reserve an expensive hotel suite, a group of concert tickets, or a beach house and then invite other friends in a group to pay for their own share of that trip, vacation or event.


I’ve actually written about Switchcam before, back in a previous life when it was called Veokami. The startup is still focused on aggregating multiple user-submitted videos from the same event on public sites like YouTube (s GOOG) and Vimeo (s IACI) and reconstruct that event with a timeline that allows users to switch from multiple angles. With a design refresh and a new brand, Switchcam has made a huge step forward. The startup hopes to make money by providing a white-label platform for performers and agents to provide user-created events on their own sites. Until now, Switchcam events have mostly been centered around music and concerts, but it sees an opportunity for sports and news, and even personal events like weddings and graduations.


Hapyrus is looking to cash in on the big data craze by making it easier for enterprises to process and analyze that data more efficiently. According to co-founder Kentaro Suzuki, much of the inefficiency comes between engineers and data analysts who are tasked with making sense of big data. Because analysts are beholden to engineers to structure that data, engineers end up doing a disproportionate amount of the work. Hapyrus seeks to simplify things by enabling engineers to configure the software, freeing up analysts to run analysis whenever they want and quickly change parameters and needed.
And some honorable mentions:
Love With Food – I have a soft spot for subscription services like Birchbox, and Love with Food is a subscription service that delivers curated food samples to users and then allows them to purchase full-sized samples from its site. There’s a side benefit in that for each box delivered, the startup also donates a meal to No Kid Hungry.
MoPix – Honestly I might just like it because Mopix told attendees to use the hashtag #DVDisDead. But the startup is helping to enable independent studios and video publishers to reach audiences through digital distribution on new devices like the iPad. And that’s a really cool thing.
BrandboardsBrandboards is trying to make it easier for sports teams and stadium owners to simplify advertising across all the screens that are available throughout sports arenas. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys have thousands of displays throughout their stadiums and a captive audience, but inefficiencies in the sales process means about 30 percent of that inventory goes unsold. This startup is looking to change that.
Tiny Review – Like the bastard love child of Yelp and Instagram and Twitter, Tiny Review encourages users to mix photos along with three lines of text. And like Twitter, the inherent limitations cause users to be more creative with those reviews. As a consumer-facing startup, it’s a little bit of an outlier compared to the rest of the companies introduced, but that could be what makes it interesting.
72lux72lux aims to improve online advertising on sites by enabling e-commerce in publisher webpages. Instead of offering advertising alongside photo spreads that sends readers to outside sites, its technology allows publishers to make content shoppable right there. The startup is already pretty successful, with $9 million in its sales pipeline, and it’s working with top brands and fashion mags.
There were plenty of other cool startups introduced today, and these are merely a sampling of those I think are interesting.