When friends would call me that were living the startup dream in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston, and New York, they would ask me how tech and the startup community was going in Miami. My answer was always the same – “If you are exporting used computers, then you ARE the tech community in Miami”. Their next question knowing my passion for technology and creating new products was always, “then why do you stay”?
My wife’s family is here, my friends are here, and I LOVE Miami.
I was always hoping that I could be part of helping to create a community, but I learned this week that while I was busy working, a true tech startup community has exploded into my beloved home and it’s truly impressive. I am excited to take part and my review below of the companies that pitched at Demo Night should show you why.
There were signs in the past that it was possible, but most of the “startups” I met in Miami, weren’t even close to true technology companies and that’s where my passion lies, in creating innovative and useful technology, not creating the latest version of some crappy web site model.
After months of receiving emails about Refresh Miami, I finally got off my ass and went to a Demo Night this week and was blown away. An audience of 500 plus folks all involved in some way or another with startups listened to pitches from 10 companies and while a few weren’t what I see as tech startups, for the most part I was truly impressed by the innovation and drive I saw displayed on stage.
Brian Breslin, Peter Martinez, Davide Di Cillo and the folks at Refresh Miami have done an incredible job actually growing a great startup community and the enthusiasm I saw at this event has me incredibly excited to be building technology companies in Miami. They’ve done such a great job in fact, that the Knight Foundation announced a $150,000 grant for the group at the event. We aren’t Boulder or Austin yet, but we certainly are a hell of a lot closer and we are no longer a second rate export hub. I am over the constant need to classify Miami as a hub for the Americas for technology, rather than just a technology city. If that doesn’t change, we will never be taken seriously as a place where great technology is created, but that’s a longer post for another day. Today, I want to celebrate my own awakening to the completely refreshed Miami technology world.
This week has inspired me to move this blog more towards covering the Miami Startup scene and I am going to get a lot more involved with the players and events that are creating an incredible economic engine for Miami.
I am going to do in depth reviews of these companies and others I am discovering, but wanted to give a few quick examples of what is being created right here at home from Demo Night.
My best of show award goes to Kairos. Not only is their technology elegant and truly high tech, but the pitch by CEO Brian Brackeen was excellent and well executed. This is a man that has thought through the salient points of his product, understands how to hit only the high points and leaves you wanting more when he’s done with his deck. Kairos is an easy to use and implement facial recognition system. I hesitate to emphasize what I see as their proof of concept product as the primary product of their company, but because it is viable, has a user base, and they are in discussions with some very large corporations, you can’t ignore the first use they’ve made of their technology.
The product is called TimeClock and it solves the significant problem for corporations of employees that clock in and out of work on a daily basis doing so fradulently. 3% – 7% of clock-ins are fraudulent, meaning that the empoyee asks someone to clock them in or out resulting in the employee getting paid for time they didn’t work. His example of a firm like Publix saving hundreds of millions of dollars annually from using the system was compelling and should sell any investor on their value. In addition, their next product target for use in credit card processing is also a huge market.
While I agree with these strategies and the value they can gain from their target markets, I think the real juice lies in the last slide of Brian’s presentation, where he talked about their recently released APIs. I believe the company can pursue a model similar to Twilio’s in the telecom arena as a platform as a service. Kairos’ marketplace could be much larger and their potential control of the facial profiles for use across all API users could be valuable to an investor. It’s a model that will allow them to scale, will empower thousands of companies and developers in a multitude of industries and can create an ongoing and recurring revenue stream that’s beyond anything we could imagine a Miami startup creating just a few years ago.
Kairos didn’t win Demo Night(they should have) but they did win the People’s Choice award. I predict if they keep hitting on the strategies they outlined, they will see tremendous success.
An interesting side note to this is that Kairos was a San Francisco startup that moved to Miami. That’s a story I’ll have to climb into a bit more with Brian, but needless to say we are glad to see it happen and welcome more firms that want to come while fostering our own “native” founders growing their own.
MOCK by Codelight
Unfortunately the folks at Codelight ran out of time for their pitch, but what I did see of this app mockup tool looked pretty good. I’ve used a number of these types of apps, but only one other that allowed you to design your app interface on the iPhone itself. The other component of their technology they discussed, but didn’t finish demoing is a specification platform for mobile apps. The team is targeting the platform to enterprises and to large scale app development firms, which is a great market and target, because of the potential price points. They seemed from an answer to a question from the judges to reject any notion of small firms or individual developers using their tools, but that also opens up the company to a much higher quality of product demand and a lot more handholding. The bottom line is that this looks like a pretty powerful combination of tools. I’ll give the app a run and write a review at that point, but I was impressed with the product and team from their pitch.
They do need to do a much better job on the marketing front. Their app profile in iTunes isn’t compelling enough for a $15 app and I am all for using LauchRock type pages to get people signed up, but once you hit the Demo circuit, it’s time to put up a real web site so that potential customers and investors can see what you are all about.
At Captiva Communications, our firm spends a lot of time building and designing sites and applications for our clients and we won’t build a site without it being responsive(of course we haven’t taken the time to update our antiquated site – Cobbler’s Shoes), so I relished getting to try out this creation by a Miami firm. It’s a complete layout builder based on Bootstrap by Twitter. I’ll be doing a hands on review of this beautiful application shortly, but I am already impressed after spending only a short amount of time with it. Unfortunately their pitch was cut short and the accent of the founder made it difficult for the audience to hear what they were saying, but it was obvious what the product does and how well it’s been designed.
While the team has a nicely designed site, I encourage all of our startup clients, to tell as much as possible about their team and their company. This not only gives people a sense of trust and relationship, but it also makes them feel safer about buying. That said, the team isn’t currently charging for the app, but they are taking donations. I’ve reached out to the team to discuss their strategy further, because I think they have a huge amount of potential with this application. I recently started testing a desktop app that operates on a similar premise for bootstrap called Pingendo, but this product is already superior in interface and usability. I would also encourage them to consider creating a product that will allow users to generate basic wordpress themes. While more complex than their current model, there are a lot of folks making great money in that market and nothing as slick as their product exists in the market.
There’s nothing like creating cool technology while also helping others and the folks creating EyeTalker are right on track in a large market. The team has taken technology concepts they used to create commercial drones that recognize text and incorporated it into a prototype of eyeglasses that are able to read text to a blind user via a headset. The entire device is self-contained and looks like it could make a dramatic difference for millions of people around the world. Their business model seems sound enough, because many of these types of purchases can be subsidized and their model is distribution through existing channels rather than trying to create an entire distribution of their own.
While a little young and wet behind the ears sounding, the team did a phenomenal job with their pitch and they seem ready to rock and roll if they can get the funding they need to move from prototype to production. These are business oriented scientists and that is a rare find. Having them here in Miami is going to be great for us and for attracting talented scientists to our community in the future.
While Fitting Room Social may not seem like a tech play, the technology they developed to accomplish what their tool does makes them a true tech startup. Due to connection issues, they weren’t able to give a true live demo of their system, but what they showed is an impressive play. Essentially this is a tool to help women shop online, by giving them a way to find clothing that will actually fit them. They made the product social so that others could share what they are buying and how the clothing fits other women by matching body types and sizes across their network. This is a huge market, but they face an uphill battle to acquire users. Integration with existing social networks like Pinterest and Facebook is critical. I can see this being a solid acquisition target though across numerous players in the clothing, retail, and social spaces, so it may be enough to just get the product live and let an acquiring parent build the market for them. I’ll keep an eye on these folks, because scaling users is critical to the usability of their product and to the success of their revenue model(buying the clothing you find in the interface).
I wasn’t excited by the judges choice of winner, but I wasn’t privy to their criteria. The company that won is obviously on it’s way to a decent business, but my bias is towards Miami creating technology and I want to see companies that are creating innovative products succeed and receive the PR they and we need for doing so. To be fair, Refresh Miami is about startups and not just technology, so I am sure the judges thought that the winner they picked matched the criteria they were given, but I felt like the players above far outshone the winner in product and pitch.
This really is a new era for Miami, but there still is a big hole that must be filled for our success. Our community lacks serious tech savvy investors that can fund these companies to the next level. Those of us that are connected to those here and elsewhere with investment funds need to now start working on those less savvy to get them to step up and be a part of this powerful economic engine that is being created. We also need to convince investors that are tech savvy in other parts of the country to put some money into the firms in our community. Based on what I saw at Refresh Miami this week, this is not an impossible task, but it’s incumbent upon all of us to start getting involved and driving the money that is sitting around looking for an investment into these companies that could show tremendous returns. I’ve decided to step up and do what I can to help and hope you will too.
Our educational system for technology and business is another hole that our team at Captiva is also working to fill and I’ll have another post about that coming up soon.
I am excited and proud to be living in Miami and relieved to have stuck it out, because it looks like my patience is paying off in an extraordinary way.
What are your thoughts about Miami, technology, the companies I profiled, and what else we need to do for startup success. Let me know in the comments, so we can get the discussion rolling. Be sure to join Refresh Miami and do your part to get involved.