5 companies to watch from 500 Startups’ Demo Day

Dave McClure introduces the startups at 500 Startups demo day.

27 companies made their pitches at the 500 Startups demo day on Tuesday in Mountain View, and it was a diverse bunch of startups that took the stage, emphasizing mobile technology and a large number of shopping-related and kid-oriented apps in their pitches to investors.
Dave McClure‘s 500 Startups has become well-known in Silicon Valley for taking a slightly different approach to investing. GigaOM’s Katie Fehrenbacher traveled with the group’s “Geeks on a Plane” trip to Latin America this year, and she explained what makes 500 Startups unique:

McClure is trying to do something a little bit different. What Billy Beane is to baseball, McClure is to technology startups. And like Beane, he is willing to go anywhere in the world to find a slight edge to beat his richer, bigger and fancier rivals on Sand Hill Road. He is quirky, offbeat and unconventional, which is one of the reasons why entrepreneurs love him, and he’s also a marketing machine that can turn out slogans and brands like a finely-tuned copy shop on Madison Avenue.
The idea, as McClure puts it, is to fail more cheaply. And with more bets, the odds of hitting a winner is higher. The not-often talked about dark reality of the tech entrepreneur ecosystem is that it is wrought with failure. Some 70 to 80 percent of software startups fail, but if they fail cheaply and quickly, the heartache is a bit less.

The group’s accelerator program debuted its fourth batch of startups on Tuesday, which received funding, resources and mentoring to launch their ideas. The group pitched a variety of ideas, from education app stores to a Netfix-for-ties to a coupon site. The full list is on the 500 Startups site. But here were the five that caught my eye:
“Girlfriend-approved clothes for the lazy man” is certainly an entertaining slogan for a men’s fashion startup, and Bombfell wants to capitalize on a popular theory that men don’t like shopping. The startup’s concept is pretty simple: fill out a questionare on your body type and fashion tastes, and get an item of clothing delivered to your house every month. Unlike some other similar shipping fashion services, you don’t pay for shipping or a subscription, and each item of clothing is $69.
Most people have had negative customer service experiences with large brands, and PublikDemand is trying to give those consumers a course of action aside from waiting on the phone for a manager or posting negative reviews on Yelp. Users can post a complaint about a company, support someone else with a similar complaint, and post those experiences to social media. PublikDemand promises to contact the company and work for a solution once user complaints have reached a critical mass, depending on the problem and the company. Co-founder and CEO Courtney Powell said the company aims to be “the social Better Business Bureau,” and profits by creating deals with competitors to companies who commonly receive complaints on the site. PublikDemand then takes a fee from those competitors when customers find the competitor provides the service they want.
There’s no question that there’s money in the wedding industry, and couples are willing to pay for their ideal event. Wanderable allows couples to register for honeymoons and have their guests pay for individual portions of the trip, in an attempt to personalize what is basically a cash transaction. While other sites do something similar, Wanderable lets couples can design an attractive page that corresponds with the look and theme of their wedding and access it via a mobile app that’s coming soon. Couples can list the trips and gifts they’d like to buy throughout their trip as this example couple did with their trip to France, and then upload photos throughout the actual honeymoon to thank friends and family for the gift or send as actual paper postcards. The site offers paid premium upgrade accounts, which offer more design options, personalized gift cards, or personal photo displays.
Umba Box
This is an interesting startup clearly modeled on the success of startups like Birchbox that send a curated but basically random set of gifts to subscribers for a monthly rate. Imagine the shopping version of an iTunes shuffle. Birchbox has been hugely popular among women with its monthly makeup and beauty subscription service, and Umba Box offers a similar service, except for handmade home and fashion items, starting at $30 per month AND GOING up to $275 for a pre-paid year of deliveries. The co-founders noted that on Etsy, customers have to look through both beautiful handmade gifts and purses made of underwear. Umbra Box hopes to keep the underwear out of it, so to speak.
Aside from having a slightly funny name, Tuckernuck seems to have a promising future catering to what it calls, “the preppy lifestyle,” populated by a group of shoppers with plenty of cash to spend who are usually limited to small boutiques or large department stores to find the name brands they like. The site, which launched 8 weeks ago and has done $60,000 in business so far, might not gain a widespread following, but it’s easy to see how individual shoppers with a penchant for prep would be drawn to the site. It features preppy and “all-American” clothing for sale, and already boasts $125 in average purchases. It might also expand into shopping for kids, pets, and weddings, the co-founders explained.