One of the most exciting and awaited parts of TechCrunch Disrupt London was the Start-up Battlefield (you can read more about the rest of the event here): a pitching competition between 14 start-ups chosen by TechCrunch through online applications before the event and 1 start-up chosen by the public on the day from the Start-up Alley exhibition. Most of these start-ups use the event to announce the launch of their beta or public version of their product/service. TechCrunch editor staff then down selected 4 finalists that pitched again the next day in front of an extended panel of judges. There were Jukedeck, a unique music generating AI software, Lystable, a platform for companies to manage their contractors, vendors and freelancers, MAX, a Nigerian local delivery and payments app and Yoobic, a mobile solution for Brands to work more efficiently with Retailers on in-store execution. All start-ups that were presenting on stage were definitely well prepared and had a demo of their product included in the presentation. Here are some of the highlights:
Jukedeck was definitely outstanding, with their platform that creates unique songs on-demand thanks to an artificial intelligence software they have spent the last five years working on. The demo consisted of showing us a video without sound, going to their platform to generate one, choosing length and genre, and then downloading the song. It was really good. One of the 2 cofounders launched himself on a rap speech about Jukedeck that got the audience wild and certainly helped them get attention.
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They are offering the first 5 songs for free before charging $7 for each subsequent. The idea is that video editors lose hours looking for the right song online that usually doesn’t fit the length, costs around $50 because of copyrights, and might already have been used on another video. Jukedeck seems to be solving all of these problems, and with the staggering amount of videos being uploaded online every minute, they sure have a sizeable market to address. They are conscious that mot users don’t want to pay at all, but the businesses and power users will certainly appreciate the access to copyright-free, unique and cheap songs. One notable early adopter is the UK Royal family who has used their platform for generating the cover song for a 6 minute video they produced.
Another very impressive start-up in terms of their technical feat was Emotech, a company that built a personal assistant robot called Olly, which recognises you and has its own personality. The video demo (live didn’t work because of poor Wi-Fi) showed the robot was very elaborate compared to other ones you might have seen before. Emotech will be starting a crowdfunding campaign next year.
Sevenhugs was also trying to solve an interesting problem: connected home objects all have their own app and control system, with sometimes several steps to use them, which makes it very clumsy and inefficient to use. Sevenhugs has come up with a universal remote control for all connected objects. You just have to point the object and then you can turn on/off or adjust your Phillips Hue light’s brightness or the sound of your Sonos. The demo was certainly impressive and the only objection from the judges was how Sevenhugs would go about keeping the remote compatible with the devices, which the start-up brushed away arguing the Bluetooth connection they use was independent of the software version of the connected object.
Lystable had a very compelling product which has already been adopted in several Fortune 500 companies: an online platform to manage contractors, freelancers and vendors. With the shift to short, on-demand projects ordered by companies, it has become a nightmare to manage all these loose ends, and often the knowledge of whether a particular contractor delivered on the task is kept within one team, while another team is pondering on whether to hire him. Lystable introduces a feedback and availability system so that all teams inside one company can access a history of all contractors who have worked for the company, what they have worked on, feedback from the team on the contractor’s performance and whether they are currently available for more work.
Another very bold and ambitious product was presented by Mainframe. They want to replace email. Many have tried before and we usually end up having to spend more time checking additional inboxes (think Jammer, Slack, HipChat,…) because none of them completely replace email and don’t enable easy cross-organisation communication. It looks like Mainframe could be different. First, they are compatible with email, so if an organisation picks Mainframe up for internal communication, it can still seamlessly communicate with external persons. Also they have added functionality that enable to easily filter emails by priority, pick up specific tasks to be done with defined owners, all inside one message. It sounds like productivity gains could be compelling. Especially the feature that separates email when you are in copy simply for audit trail/information, which clutters the inbox of all senior managers. The one issue is of course with all change there is friction and adaptation for users and in a corporate environment it is even more difficult to make people take the leap of faith. If Mainframe can do it for several large multinationals it might have enough traction to win over the other ones. No one wants to be first but no one wants to miss. That is what start-ups have to put up with.
On the second day of TechCrunch Disrupt, after the shortlisted start-ups pitched again to an extended panel of judges, the winner was… Jukedeck! It seems like their performance seduced the judges as much as it did the audience (us included). Overall the Battlefield event was definitely the highlight of TechCrunch Disrupt, and we look forward to spotting in the news, months or years from now, some of the companies that presented this year. Some will be branded as definite successes, some will fail, but all will have tried very hard and launched themselves on the Battlefield stage.