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by Ethan Rothstein — October 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Cards from the Cards Against Urbanity party gameIf there’s a game that seems tailor-made for Arlington, it’s a take on a boozy card game that encourages thinking about smart growth and urban planning.

That’s the premise behind “Cards Against Urbanity,” a spinoff of the popular Cards Against Humanity party game that replaces the original’s mix of raunchy and offensive questions and answers with tongue-in-cheek  cards about living in a city. Cards include questions like “My city’s latest economic plan is _____” with answers like “Sexy firefighter fundraisers.”

Cards Against Urbanity is a Kickstarter idea, with a deadline: the only time people can buy the game is by donating to the Kickstarter, which closes at 10:19 p.m. A $30 pledge gets the funder the 234-card game, and a pledge of $65 also includes a Cards Against Urbanity T-shirt.

Cards Against Urbanity’s cards are the same size and materials as the original to allow for crossover and mixing and matching with the original game and its expansion packs. According to the game’s creators, there won’t be any chances to buy the game after 10:19 tonight.

The game’s creators are all planners, architects and economic development professionals with D.C. ties. The idea was started by Lisa Nisenson, an urban planner and co-founder of crowdsourced urban design solutions startup GreaterPlaces, and Sarah Lewis, of the urban planning think tank DoTank DC. The two and a group of urban planners and architects were at a planning conference, Nisenson said, playing Cards Against Humanity when someone suggested “it’d be fun to have a city version” of the game.

A month later, neither Lewis nor Nisenson could get the idea out of their head, so they decided to make the game. They asked permission from Cards Against Humanity, which allowed the team to develop the idea, as long as they agreed “not to make any money off of it,” Nisenson said.

“What we’re asking for is just to cover the cost of the game and the Kickstarter,” Nisenson said.

She, Lewis and their five co-creators guessed how many of their friends would buy the game and priced the Kickstarter goal accordingly. They figured 250 people would buy it, so they set the goal at $7,500. With a little more than 10 hours to go, the campaign has 753 backers and has raised $26,393.

Initially, the game creators thought only other planners, architects and economic development workers would have interest in the game, but the response — which has been across the spectrum and global — has changed her tune.

Cards Against Urbanity co-creator Lisa Nisenson“Our big takeaway from this is that if you make planning fun,” Nisenson said, “there is an audience that is really hungry for it.”

As they were developing the game, Nisenson and Lewis were giving some cards a test drive at “a rooftop happy hour” in Arlington when other customers approached them, asked to play, and offered their own suggestions for cards, like an answer card that says simply “Lead Paint. YOLO.”

“Everyone was immediately into it,” Lewis said. “They asked to join us and play a couple rounds. It validated our initial thoughts that this was something people would want to play and enjoy.”

Nisenson said that even though Arlington is viewed nationally as a model for inclusive city planning and urban design, there is still a huge opportunity to engage people who are invested in the community but, for whatever reason, haven’t previously been involved in the process.

“Cities are hot,” Nisenson said. “People want to know how to get involved and they don’t know where to start.”

by Ethan Rothstein — September 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm 379 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Data Illustrate founder Matthew FischerInspiration for the next startup can come from an unlikely source, as many founders know. For Data Illustrate founder Matthew Fischer, it came from a grad school project mapping out how the characters from the Harry Potter books would live on.

Fischer and his classmates were trying to use data to map out the future. They soon scrapped the project, but the data tools they were using, it turned out, gave him the idea for his next company, one that specializes in making real-time data easy to analyze and retain.

“After doing the grad school project, I continued doing research, talking to industry leaders and figuring out where the market was going,” Fischer, also the founder of Control A+ told ARLnow.com. “The market of data visualization is still growing.”

The company was started in the summer of 2013, and since then Fischer and two colleagues — one in Utah and another San Diego, Calif. — have built the company’s infrastructure. Data Illustrate is just starting to take on clients, for whom it takes complex data sets and simplifies them into infographics, motion graphics, mini-documentaries and data visualizations.

Data Illustrate infographicInfographics are static illustrations of statistics, like the pictured student census, left, taken from Data Illustrate’s website. Motion graphics are infographics but the pictures move to create more audience engagement. Mini-documentaries have become increasingly popular with the rise of Kickstarter, which encourages all companies to include a video explaining the premise of the fundraiser.

Data visualization allows clients to “see your data tell its story in real time,” which Fischer describes as a kind of “Doppler radar for any kind of data.” That means a trucking company that tracks where its trucks are can have an easily consumable visual instead of data points on a computer screen.

“Infographics tell an author’s story,” Fischer said. “Motion graphics tell a story and add motion. Mini-documentaries bring a human factor to the story and data visualization gives the reader information to make their own story.”

Fischer says he see the biggest opportunity to grow his company in the nonprofit sector, with organizations trying to break through the masses and make an imprint on donors, members and any other interested party.

“We can create art to share their story with more people and garner a higher retention rate,” Fischer said. “Nonprofits work with a lot of statistics, and we can share those statistics in a way that more people will retain.”

In fact, that’s the company’s tagline: “Retention is our game, art is our median, data is our speciality.” Unlike some big data and analytics companies, Data Illustrate doesn’t have a simple algorithm they simply plug each client into; they create tools and back-end construction for each individual project.

Screenshot of a Data Illustrate visualization“We don’t believe in ‘one size fits all,’” Fischer said. “A lot of these questions demand a custom answer.”

The visualizations, custom packages and work-intensive processes to get to this point mean that Data Illustrate isn’t quite ready for primetime. Fischer and his team are accepting clients, but starting in January, he expects to make a big marketing push to grow the portfolio.

By this time next year, Data Illustrate could find itself with a new specialty, new offering or new angle; such is the life of a big data startup.

“We’ve only tested about 10 percent of the limits we can reach,” Fischer said. “We’re beyond early adopters with Big Data and the future is going to take a multidisciplinary approach to look at insights data visualization could bring to companies and individuals.”

by Ethan Rothstein — September 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm 951 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

A screenshot of DescribeIt's platformA Courthouse-based startup is trying to usher landscaping companies into the digital age.

DescribeIt provides a tool for landscapers and other contractors to create proposals for clients, take online payments and track analytics. According to DescribeIt’s leadership team, it could be a massive leap forward for an industry in which many businesses still require customers to pay by check.

The company began when co-founder Ed Barrientos — also the CEO of startup Brazen Careerist, with which DescribeIt shares an office — wanted his yard landscaped. When a highly recommended contractor gave Barrientos a proposal on a sheet of paper and took multiple weeks to give a full plan and estimate, he was flabbergasted and no longer interested in being a customer.

“We thought it was an anomaly,” Barrientos said. “After two and a half years of research, it turns out that’s absolutely standard. Many jobs don’t get done because of a crappy sales job.”

DescribeIt co-founder and CEP Ryan Yanchuleff“We felt the problem wasn’t that they don’t want to sell better. They do, it’s just hard for them,” Barrientos continued. “These are big things people pay for, but the sales process is really backwards.”

Barrientos enlisted co-founders Ryan Yanchuleff, who is DescribeIt’s CEO and only full-time employee, and Daniel Sunshine to launch the company in February 2013. From then to this summer, Yanchuleff led the process of designing the platform, which allows landscapers to develop proposals in minutes, incorporating photos of plants, designs and clients’ houses, plus pricing data from The Home Depot and Amazon. The product also lets contractors email proposals to clients, take payments online, track the most popular designs and keep customer records for easy referrals.

DescribeIt launched in beta mode this summer — landscapers can subscribe for the service now — and the team is taking heaps of feedback in the fall before launching its full, alpha version in January 2015, gearing up for the busy spring season.

DescribeIt launched with friends and family investments, but this fall the team is looking to raise $250,000 to make its part-time staff full time and to fund sales and marketing efforts for the spring. The company joined 19 other D.C. area startups, including Airside Mobile and GovTribe, at TechBuzz on Friday, and registered on AngelList to try to spur investment.

A screenshot of DescribeIt's platformBarrientos and Yanchuleff met at their church, McLean Bible Church, and Yanchuleff was looking for a change after his small company was acquired by Rosslyn-based BAE Systems. Now, Yanchuleff is dealing with another challenge as DescribeIt prepares to go full-throttle: convincing landscapers to use it.

“Figuring out a way to coax these guys out of a non-technical shell was one of the challenges,” Yanchuleff said. “They’re not sales or marketing people, and the business side is a necessary evil for them.”

Barrientos said they are targeting newer business owners as customers, since older companies are “not going to change.”

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — September 15, 2014 at 12:15 pm 890 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

OnYou co-founder James RogersA former professional poker player is getting ready for a new gamble: launching a Kickstarter to help fund his new smartphone “wearable” company, OnYou.

James Rogers and Scott Bauer co-founded the company this February, and have been refining the designs of their high-tech cases and associated magnets, which keep phones attached to the user’s body without a strap or a clip.

Rogers designed the case when he ordered industrial-strength magnets, took apart his own iPhone case and reconstructed it as a wearable. The cases he plans to bring to market will use “the absolute newest materials” available, including, he said, new carbon filaments “just invented last month.”

The magnetic cases are secure and comfortable, Rogers said.

“Everyone has smartphones and everyone loves to exercise,” he said. “Everyone’s been using armbands, and in talking to people, the vast majority of people are dissatisfied with them. We designed something that’s very comfortable and it’s about as secure as you can get.”

The magnets use 12-pounds of force, and Rogers put them through a series of tests, including kicking a field goal with the phone attached to his shin with one of OnYou’s compression sleeves. The phone didn’t budge, he said, and even if it did, it would still be protected by the carbon case. Rogers said for those worried about having their phones stolen, the cases will come with a safety strap.

To this point, Rogers and Bauer have developed prototypes using 3-D printers, including the one at Crystal City’s TechShop, where Rodgers is a member. The Kickstarter, which will launch Oct. 1, will aim to raise $20,000 and largely pay for an injection mold to mass produce the cases, since it will take about an hour for each to be printed. The funds will also be used to expedite OnYou’s patents and, if the goal is reached and exceeded, to develop specifications for more devices. At first, OnYou will only make cases to fit the iPhone 5, 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

The cases will be sold for $49.99, Rogers said, and they will be just as durable and protective as the highest-end cases on the market for as much as $90. The cases can be pre-ordered on OnYou’s website now for $39.99, and include arm and calf compression sleeves. Rogers said he anticipates selling iPhone cases this winter, followed by models for other phones.

The magnets are safe around phones — magnets don’t affect the flash memory storage — and largely safe near credit cards, but those with pacemakers shouldn’t have the magnets on their bodies.

OnYou's iPhone case and magnetWhile exercise is OnYou’s “entry point into the market,” Rogers said, his hope is for his “OnUsers” to develop more “OnUses” for the OnYou cases.

“Doing research and talking to women, so many of them brought up sticking the magnet near the top of their purse so they never have to dig for their phones,” Rogers said.

“We thought it would be fun for people to show us that while it’s great for exercise, what about this?” Rogers continued. “We want to develop an online community to contribute more and more OnUses.”

Rogers was a paralegal when he began playing online poker. He quickly realized he made more money playing poker than he did at his day job, so he quit and started playing professionally, including by attending the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. When Congress passed laws restricting online gambling, Rogers got a job as a software engineer.

He realized he wanted to be an entrepreneur, and now he and Bauer, a graduate student at George Mason University, have brought their company to GMU’s Innovation Lab. They’re in discussions now for an initial funding round.

by Ethan Rothstein — September 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm 1,084 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

DrinkMate Shaun Masavage is 26 years old and has an invention he believes can launch a successful company: a small breathalyzer that plugs into the mini-USB port on Android smartphones.

He’s spent more than a year designing the product, called DrinkMate, building the motherboard himself under a magnifying glass in his Ballston home. After gathering some support from friends and family, Edge Tech Labs launched a Kickstarter campaign the morning of Aug. 24, with a $40,000 fundraising goal.

That’s when he vomited.

“I thought I was going to wake up feeling super excited,” Masavage told ARLnow.com. “But I woke up that morning and threw up. I was sick at work all day. The stress was pretty incredible, especially without having a co-founder to lean on.”

Masavage’s stress eased immensely on Labor Day, Sept. 1, when, after a weekend profile by TechCrunch, DrinkMate reached its funding goal. As of Monday morning, the Kickstarter had raised $62,527 from 1,751 backers, and Masavage officially has a product to sell.

DrinkMate is a “novelty” breathalyzer that plugs into a smartphone. The associated app tells users what their approximate blood-alcohol content is. What it is not is a police-grade breathalyzer to be used to determine one’s sobriety before getting behind the wheel of a car, Masavage cautioned.

“Liability is an issue with this technology,” Masavage admitted. “My No. 1 concern is someone will misuse it and claim that this caused them to do something illegal. We’re working hard to make it as accurate as possible, but the real problem isn’t accuracy, it’s drunk driving.”

DrinkMateMasavage said the goal is to “remove the stigma” of a breathalyzer so people will be more aware of their BAC level while they are drinking. His goal is for DrinkMate to be a social tool that friends can use at parties to test each other and take steps to prevent drunk driving.

Put another way, “If you feel like you should be using a device to determine whether you should be driving, you shouldn’t be driving,” Masavage said.

Masavage said he’s conscious that the device could lead to competition for who can drink more, which is why the reading limit of the app is .20 BAC, which is more than double the legal limit for driving under the influence.

The device is built from a shell created by a 3-D printer, a component board designed and built over the course of several months by Masavage himself, plus an affordable sensor Masavage found online.

The $40,000 goal was set with the aim to purchase a $10,000 steel mold to mass produce the devices — 3-D printing would be exorbitantly expensive in anything greater than small batches — and to hire a software developer and co-founder to perfect the app. Masavage said he plans on sending out the first wave of DrinkMates by December.

“My target retail price is $25,” Masavage said, noting he plans on targeting convenience stores and online retailers to carry the product at first. “By keeping the price low, it falls more into the novelty category. If someone wants a police-grade breathalyzer, they can buy one.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — August 25, 2014 at 12:15 pm 979 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Paul Singh, Founder and CEO of Disruption Corporation, which runs Crystal Tech FundPaul Singh is filled with ideas.

Sit down for a while with the founder and CEO of Disruption Corporation, a venture capital firm that owns and operates Crystal Tech Fund, and it’s clear that the 33-year-old Singh is aching to break paradigms.

That’s part of what led him to Crystal City. Singh is a native of Great Falls and an alumnus of Bishop O’Connell High School, but he moved to California’s Silicon Valley in 2008, where he co-founded the 500 Startups angel investment firm. He moved back to Northern Virginia — he now lives in Ashburn — last year to start a family, and immediately “scoped out Crystal City, but kept it ultra-quiet.”

“We had Disruption up and running,” Singh said. “We thought, ‘what if we tried to build an ultra-productive environment for all kinds of creative entrepreneurs?’ We were thinking about where we can place it that would have a big impact. I realized I could do something meaningful here and build a model for a future American city.”

Crystal Tech Fund is both a coworking space and investment fund. Almost all of the companies that occupy desk space on the 10th floor of 2231 Crystal Drive have received an investment from Singh and his team. Some, like Bloompop, have office space there because, as Singh says, “I just like them.”

The Tech Fund isn’t a seed investment firm or a “traditional” venture capital firm, giving companies Series A, B or C investments in the tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars. Instead, it aims to fill the funding gap between a company’s initial seed round (which is typically less than $1 million) and a Series A. Companies in the Crystal Tech Fund largely generate about $1 million or more in annual revenue, and have a team in place.

Sen. Mark Warner tours Crystal Tech Fund in Crystal City“I love to fill gaps,” Singh said. “There’s a lot of money available for the first round of funding. If you want to raise ultra-big money, there’s a lot there. But there is a gap between the seed and later-stage funding, so we fill the gap there.”

Recently, Singh has been fixated on another gap: the lack of firms qualified — and legally allowed — to give private investors research and advice for investing in startup companies. That’s why Disruption “handed in its exemption” and announced last week it has become a registered investment advisor.

Venture capital firms are generally exempted from regulations and disclosures the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires of firms like Merrill Lynch and Charles Schwab because the firms don’t give advice to outside investors. Disruption no longer gets that exception, meaning, Singh said, he now has to be ready to be audited at any moment. He prints out his emails and even his tweets, just to be safe.

“There’s really nobody else doing what we do specifically,” Singh said. “We have a deep bench of analysts that provide research for us on companies we invest in. Now we’re able to provide whatever research these clients need.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — August 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm 505 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

LeagueApps' workspace in UberOffices in RosslynMost people who have played recreational sports have experienced at least one frustration associated with the leagues: everything that doesn’t involve playing in the actual game.

Making the peripheral parts of rec sports easier was the stated goal of LeagueApps when it launched in 2011, and the company has tried to do just that for a growing roster of 600 leagues around the country. LeagueApps provides a platform for leagues, such as Arlington-based D.C. Social Sports, to manage registration, payment, rosters and other processes that go into organizing rec sports.

“We offer an all-in-one solution for your sports league,” LeagueApps Director of Product Management and “point guard” Gautam Chowdhry told ARLnow.com from LeagueApps’ ÜberOffices space in Rosslyn. “A lot of leagues now are doing things on three or four different systems. They’re managing the league with an excel spreadsheet or they’re using another software that’s not optimized for sports teams.”

Rec sports have significantly increased in popularity in the last five years, Chowdhry and Chief Product Officer and co-founder Steve Parker said. That’s especially true in the D.C. area, where the populace’s transience lends itself to “social sports” leagues, which revolve more around making friends and drinking than other rec leagues.

“There’s people moving in and out, they’re looking for activities, things to do after work,” Chowdhry said. “There’s also the idea of extended adolescence. People are getting married later, they’re moving into the cities, they’re looking for activities.”

A screenshot of Nakid Sports' website, developed by LeagueAppsLeagueApps was originally a sports Meetup-type company called Sportsvite, which is still around and owned by the same group. Launched in 2008 as a way to bring people together to play sports, Parker and his co-founder Brian Litvack soon found that the greater demand, and opportunity, was in making the leagues more accessible and functional online. In 2010, the group decided to pivot, and launched LeagueApps a year later.

“Our ultimate goal to make the experience in participating in sports for the players, parents and coaches easier and more enjoyable,” Parker said. “What you’re doing on the field is what matters. That’s where the fun is, that’s where the excitement is. Everything around that is friction and a nuisance of logistics.”

This year, LeagueApps started catering to youth leagues as well, trying to gain a foothold in a market that’s 10 times the size of adult sports. “It just made sense to tool our product so it could work in both markets,” Parker said.

The company started out bootstrapped, Parker said, but they’ve taken a few rounds of angel investments as they’ve grown. The team is now up to 22 people with office in New York City and San Francisco, as well as Rosslyn. Later this year, Parker said, LeagueApps is eyeing a Series A funding round to carry out their ultimate vision of a complete platform with new levels of service.

“We ultimately want to transform the experience that people have when they participate in sports activities,” he said. “That means a better experience, mobile, re-thinking all the things they do, how they engage with that sports experience, engaging with the league itself, the participants. We’re in the early stages of conceiving that.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — August 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm 727 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Snaapiq co-founders Ryo Hang and Jacob PerlerLast year, Ryo Hang had an idea for an app that gives its users prizes for competing and winning contests with one another. The Shanghai, China, native thought he had a good idea, but he was missing something.

“I wanted to reward people for doing something, but I didn’t know how to monetize that,” Hang said.

At the same time, Jacob Perler, working for Deloitte in Rosslyn, wanted to start his own technology business, but needed a developer. The two found each other on CoFoundersLab, met for coffee at the Barnes & Noble in Clarendon and, a few months later, launched Snaapiq.

In that initial meeting, and in several subsequent get-togethers, the two co-founders decided that they would focus on creating photo contests — which they call “adventures” — with the winner getting prizes. Perler came up with the idea of having companies sponsor the contests and the prizes, essentially turning Snaapiq into a combined contest/marketing platform.

Screenshot of a Snaapiq contest“Ryo was very adamant about gameification and rewarding people for accomplishing tasks,” Perler said. “As we spoke about it, we landed on pictures and thought people would like to get prizes for their pictures.”

After five months, Hang and Perler launched a bare-bones app in the iTunes App Store. Perler lives in Rosslyn, where the company is based, and Hang lives in Sterling, Va., so they tend to work separately, although they have a membership to D.C.’s WeWork. When they sat down to coffee with ARLnow.com last week, Perler said they two hadn’t “seen each other in a couple of weeks,” but that hasn’t stopped them from being strong collaborators.

“Working together like this is helping build the company culture, which will be key to our success,” Perler said.

Snaapiq users upload photos for different adventures, like “coolest sunset” or “best hiking trail,” and Snaapiq’s algorithms rate each picture on a variety of metrics, including picture ratings in the app, and awards a prize to the winner. Snaapiq runs multiple contests a day and some of the prizes are worth more than $100.

About 90 percent of the contests on Snaapiq are sponsored by the company at the moment, with 10 percent coming from outside brands like D.C.’s Lindy Promotions and Urban Stems. The app has been downloaded about 20,000 times so far, and Perler said there have been more than 50,000 adventure uploads on the app. With a redesign coming in the next few weeks, he and Wang expect the number of users on the app to hit 100,000 within the next six months.

Screenshot of a Snaapiq contestBy that time, Perler said, Snaapiq should be generating revenue. They are in the middle of raising a $300,000 seed funding round, and Perler said they’re in discussion with angel firms and venture capitalists in D.C. and New York.

“A lot of people are excited, especially by our early traction after being completely bootstrapped,” Perler said. “In a year or two, we think we’ll be really taking off. We offer a unique compound value for advertising.”

Companies will want to work with Snaapiq, Perler says, because “every business runs contests all throughout the year.” And the contests that Snaapiq sponsors are worth spending the money on, Hang says, because “we’re giving away prizes, but we’re getting customers when we do.”

Despite the fact that brands are already running contests on their own on free sites like Twitter and Facebook, Snaapiq offers “native engagement,” according to Perler.

“We have highly engaged users and they are used to engaging with brands from day one,” Perler said. “Our users are used to seeing it. We can offer ads from day one, sending push notifications and integrate with social media.”

Brands can also use the winning picture in promotional materials, but a picture can’t be used if the user doesn’t win the contest, according to Snaapiq’s terms of service. When someone wins a contest, they’re more willing to engage anyway.

“One user won $250, which is a significant amount of money for a lot of people,” Perler said. “She emailed me a dozen pictures and posted about it on Facebook. $100 is an incredible amount to some people, so we think it’s a selling point as well as a social good.”

by Ethan Rothstein — August 4, 2014 at 12:20 pm 507 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Sailminder co-founders Robert Cooper, left, and Hashem FouadSailMinder, like many startups, came from an idea to make its co-founders’ lives easier. CEO John Stauffer, Chief Technology Officer Hashem Fouad and Chief Creative Officer Robert Cooper have come up with a way to make internet research based more on human input and less on search engines.

The three came together in September 2012 with a common problem: all of their jobs required gobs of research from different sources around the internet, but none of them were satisfied with the way they could look for reliable information and organize it.

Stauffer works as a social media strategist for Ogilvy & Mather and needed to research “a big topic for a big client,” Cooper told ARLnow.com. Cooper, a former co-worker of Stauffer’s, had been designing products as a consultant and was itching to start something new. Fouad had just developed emotion detection software that can adapt training methods based on participants’ emotional responses, as part of a contract with the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The ONR passed on the project — “it was a little too out there,” Fouad said — but he had told Cooper about it just days after Stauffer and Cooper had chatted over coffee. The three decided to team up and form a new company designed to help “knowledge workers,” as they call themselves, with research.

“We wanted to make some next-generation learning software,” Cooper said.

Cooper, Stauffer and Fouad designed an idea to create a browser plug-in that allows the user to “like” or file an article, then the plug-in automatically categorizes that article and sorts it. The more users that install the plug-in and use it, the more powerful a tool it becomes, recommending new articles on relevant topics, dividing topics into sub-categories and organizing articles based on how highly recommended they are.

Sailminder dashboard screenshot“The more you interact with it, the more refined the search becomes,” Cooper said. “It’s like we’re giving the internet a mind of its own.”

Fouad, a consultant and game programming professor at Rosslyn’s Art Institute who said he’s constantly looking to build new products like 3-D sound systems, finished the prototype in April and the product is patent pending.

“I spent 40 to 60 percent of my time on projects just finding good information,” Fouad said. “It’s a problem knowledge workers have. There’s no technology that really outlines a quality source. The best tool for this is the human brain. So humans tell us what is good, and we have a machine learning system that lays it out on a topical landscape. Then it will tell you what topics are relevant in your neighborhood of research.”

“It depends on a crowd of users populating the system,” Fouad continued. “It’s a very powerful idea.”

Not only does the product categorize topics and recommend articles for research, but it tracks the user’s “learning” progress. It rates them on a percentage of expertise based on the amount and variety of sources they have read. It can develop quizzes and show who else is researching a similar topic. (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — July 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm 2,994 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Hopsak Founder Josh ChaoJosh Chao has a passion for clothing, fit and retail. When working as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton in D.C., he grew more and more aware of what a hassle it was to get clothes to fit well.

Chao started his company, Hopsak, last summer after taking a class at Georgetown University during his studies for an M.B.A. He wanted to get involved with something with retail, and after consulting with his professors, he started to narrow his focus on tailoring.

“I wanted to apply a small problem, figure out how to solve it and build a solid foundation,” Chao said while sipping from an iced coffee at Buzz Bakery in Ballston last week. “I took the problem that I’ve experienced in my own life, getting clothes that fit right.”

With that in mind, Chao set out to build a company that is “kind of like Uber for tailors,” although Chao said he’s hesitant to advertise the business as such because it’s not a perfect comparison. At Hopsak, a customer goes online and enters in alterations he or she would like to have, includes his or her measurements, and mails the clothes to one of Hopsak’s six tailors in its network. The tailor then mails it back — shipping is free both ways — and the customer has a tailored outfit without having to leave the house.

Chao knows that the large majority of people won’t trust their own measurements, despite a tutorial the website will include when it launches — planned for the end of August — and the opportunity to email tailors directly for help.

Mockup of Hopsak's consumer product“There’s a lot of intimidation when taking your own measurements,” he said. “People like things to be smooth. When there are a lot of steps in it, it creates a barrier for action.”

To reduce the steps, Chao broke the tailoring down into four basic actions: lengthening or shortening sleeves or pant legs and taking a garment in or out. The vast majority of basic tailoring work, Chao said, are those four actions, and they’re also the easiest to measure.

No startup founder would willingly admit its consumer-facing product might be too intimidating to generate enough traction to support the company, but Chao devised a separate product aimed at retailers that he sees as the main revenue-generator for the company.

“We always knew that retail partnership would be our bread and butter,” Chao said. “For retailers, it’s an opportunity for those without the demand for a tailor on-site… A lot of retailers are having a hard time competing in today’s market, so we feel this is a tool for a better experience for this customers.”

The retail product works largely the same as the consumer version, except store employees can be trained to take customer’s measurements and send swaths of orders to tailors, as opposed to one at a time. The retail version is currently live and in a private beta version with a Georgetown suit maker.  (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — July 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm 1,404 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The TM Soft team(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) Mobile applications have become a major sector of the technology industry in the last few years, but when TM Soft Founder Todd Moore got his start, there was no book, no blueprint on how to run a successful app company.

Moore was working as a software developer in federal contracting when, in 2008, he decided he would try and build an iPhone app to help him sleep. This was in the early days of iPhones, when they were running iOS 2.0, the first iteration to include the app store.

“I was teaching myself how to create apps late night weekends and just doing it for fun,” Moore told ARLnow.com from a conference room in Rosslyn’s UberOffices. “Then I was making games and useful apps, and when I published White Noise, it became the No. 1 free app on iTunes overnight.”

Considering the massive amounts of code and time it takes to launch some apps today, Moore’s app was relatively low-tech; he went around his house and yard in Arlington recording noises, like a fan, crickets and rain. He put the app on the store, and a month later he began charging $1.99 for it and created a separate, free app with advertisements. The switch enabled him to quit his job and devote his energy full-time to maintaining White Noise and building new apps.

Screenshot of TM Soft's White Noise Lite app“It only took me a weekend to build the first [White Noise app],” he said. “It only looped eight different sounds. It was simpler times back then. Times have changed, now these phones are like personal computers.”

To date, White Noise has been downloaded more than 20 million times, allowing Moore to eventually grow his company to five full-time staff members. The ongoing success of the app has allowed him to experiment, and fail, with more ambitious apps. He said he’s launched more than 20, but only four have turned into high-volume downloads.

“It’s nice to be able to come into work and be able to say ‘this is what we’re going to do,’” he said. “If I have some wacky idea I want to try, we can try it. It’s total freedom.”

After White Noise became his meal ticket, Moore changed tack and started building more games and tools. He developed Card Counter, a game that teaches its users how to count cards at a blackjack table. Moore said he developed it after reading “Bringing Down The House,” a story about how MIT students learned to county cards and made millions of dollars at Las Vegas casinos.

Card Counter was in the top 20 of iTunes apps after casinos issued a warning about card counting apps. Puzzle app Compulsive is at around 2 million downloads. Moore is in production of another puzzle game that has social competition aspects and multiple levels.

“That’s something I’m spending a lot of time on,which is risky,” Moore said. “The longer it takes you to finish your app, the riskier it is.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — July 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm 719 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

SevaCallManpreet Singh doesn’t need a long, explanatory speech to explain what the tech startup he founded with his brother, Gurpreet, does. All he needs is a phone call.

The Singhs are co-founders of SevaCall, based in Crystal City’s Crystal Tech Fund. In his demonstration, Singh goes to his company’s website and gives you an example of a service you may need. He pulls up “plumber,” inserts a location, time for the appointment and specific problem.

Within 90 seconds, the customer receives a call from, as in his example, the plumber, and the two can discuss terms. Fifteen seconds after Singh inputs the criteria, his phone rings with the test call, and he has the option to take the call — and pay SevaCall’s fee — or ignore it. Customers pay nothing, the merchants don’t receive the access to the customers’ information and, if the initial merchant and the customer don’t agree to terms, there will be two more waiting as backup.

“Finding a service provider is not efficient at all,” Singh said. “But with us, you literally can have three companies that have chosen to work with you, and you can be done with your task in 15 minutes.”

SevaCall has more than 50 “verticals,” Singh said, including heating and cooling, roofing, computer repair, auto repair and dentists. So far, the company has had requests in 8,000 zip codes nationwide, fielded 900,000 calls and interacts with more than 1,000 businesses a week.

Screenshot of SevaCall's website

The company was founded in the fall of 2011, when Gurpreet Singh was operating his last business, Geeks on Site, and fielding a substantial number of phone calls from customers out of his service area. He had the idea to connect companies with their customers more efficiently, and the University of Maryland computer science grad started to build the beta.

“Many of the ways small businesses had to advertise were very inefficient,” Manpreet Singh said. “You don’t know who’s seeing what ad, and there’s never a good way to measure your return on investment.”

Manpreet Singh was working as an investment banker when his brother asked him to join his company full-time in 2012 when the website launched. In the beginning, getting companies to join the website — and customers to use it — was a struggle. Cold-calling companies asking them to sign up was both inefficient and ineffective, so the Singhs decided to use a composite ranking of location, quality based on social media and web ratings, and mined data from the webs.

“We have a two-sided marketplace, which is really challenging,” Singh said. “We started to mine our data and just put companies in our database, giving them their first call for free. The businesses were so happy they would call us right back after hearing the customers tell them where they heard about them. After that, we were able to build our network a lot faster.”

The SevaCall teamFor the first six months of SevaCall’s existence, the founders funded it themselves before working on raising a $1.3 million seed round of funding. A new round of “significant” investment from Crystal Tech Fund and others is expected to be finalized soon, Singh said.

The company is currently developing a mobile app with voice-based technology that Singh said will increase repeat customers. The company has seven full-time employees among 16 workers including interns and contractors. After the next round of investment, Singh expects to grow even more, despite the fact that his company isn’t quite profitable yet.

“We expect to go to about 20,000 zip codes,” he said. “We think we can be engaging 10,000 people a week. I want to blanket the entire country.”

by Ethan Rothstein — July 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm 963 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

A Better Health BoxSubscription delivery boxes have become in vogue in the past few years, with companies like Birchbox, NatureBox, BarkBox and Bike Loot delivering small troves of goodies every month to their members.

But, to hear Better Health Box founder Michael Slage tell it, none of the other subscription boxes on the market provide what his company, which he runs out of his Pentagon City home, do: healthy, tasty snacks targeted at specific populations with an educational focus.

Slage has worked at the intersection of healthcare and technology for 20 years, starting with “telemedicine” for NASA, in which he assisted doctors diagnose and treat astronauts on the International Space Station and other missions outside of Earth’s orbit. He is also the founder of Healthengage a health data analytics company that specializes in global diabetes data.

Despite his resume, Slage said his newest company — which he started last year as a diabetes box at Healthengage before spinning it off into a separate company — is important to him because of its direct, personal impact.

“[My previous jobs] were helping people, but it was all numbers and electronics,” Slage said. “It was helping people, but it wasn’t the same. This just means more. We’re literally sending care packages every month. It really makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Better Health Box Founder Michael SlageBetter Health Box costs $30 a month and includes three-to-five products, depending on their size, in each box. There are five different subscriptions available: for diabetes, general health, children, brain health and focus and sexual health, “which was a popular request,” Slage said.

“We try to do a mix of things that are unique that maybe people have never thought to try,” Slage said. “There are all these great companies making products people have never heard of, and all these people who desperately want to eat smarter and healthier. There seemed to be a need to matchmake.”

Slage, who has also worked for the Russian space program, said a key component of his company for the future will be expanding globally, both in the products it offers and the customers it serves. Since it’s a home-based company, Slage said he can’t ship globally yet despite demand for Better Health Box overseas.

“I believe in using multiculturalism to find solutions,” he said. “We want to use food and drinks from other countries that we don’t know about here, because if it works there, it will work here. Everybody’s human.”

Slage said each product is tested before it goes into any boxes — which his 9-year-old son helps him pack and coordinate. The testing process is key, he said, because “sometimes these healthy things are so foul-tasting.” For that reason, he thinks the educational component is just as important as the products themselves.

“Health education has really declined in this country,” he said. “A lot of people just eat what’s in front of them. Having a chronic condition makes knowing what’s in what you’re eating really important. That’s why we have doctors helping us to make sure each product is safe for the customers.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — June 30, 2014 at 12:00 pm 951 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders and funders. The Ground Floor is Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Virginia's Center for Innovative TechnologyIt’s nearly impossible to be around the startup industry in Arlington without hearing about which companies the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology is investing in.

CIT Gap Funds is the program that invests in Virginia-based, early-stage technology, life science and “cleantech” companies. According to Gap Funds Managing Director and founder Tom Weithman, the Gap Funds program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that receives between $3 million and $4 million annually from the state to invest. With a portfolio of 113 companies, it’s widely believed to be the most active angel investor in the D.C. area.

CIT owns equity in 13 Arlington-based companies: Airside Mobile, CirrusWorks, Encore Alert, LiveSafe, uKnow, PerformYard, Speek, Veenome, Zoobean, Power Supply, Wealthengine, DistilIT and Loop88. CIT also has pledged an investment to Rosslyn-based Ostendio, but Ostendio has yet to close its seed funding round.

For at least some of those companies, the CIT Gap Funds investment spurred their move to Arlington. Zoobean, which was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank this spring but secured investment before the episode aired and CIT knew who had invested from the show. When the episode aired, Zoobean co-founder Felix Brandon Lloyd and his wife and cofounder, Jordan Lloyd Bookey, could finally spread the word that Mark Cuban had invested $250,000 in their company. They’re now headquartered in Rosslyn’s ÜberOffices.

The CIT investors knew “there was a major opportunity coming,” Lloyd said, but decided not to wait and helped facilitate and gather investors for the company’s $980,00 funding round, completed in April.

Jordan Lloyd Bookey and Felix Brandon Lloyd of Zoobean“They agreed to do the legal work and diligence and to tell other investors that they were the lead investors,” Lloyd told ARLnow.com. Zoobean had been headquartered in D.C.’s 1776 accelerator. “They told me we’d have to move to Virginia, I told him we were open to that… I think it was one of the things in my [investment] deck, you anticipate what things they may ask. I made it clear that we understood what it meant so they didn’t have to sell us.”

Most Arlington companies interact with CIT’s Dan Mindus, who is a founder of venture capital firm NextGen Angels. Lloyd initially met Mindus for coffee and advice, and in their conversation, Mindus broached the idea of pursuing a CIT investment, Lloyd said.

“I knew nothing about CIT at the time, I was sincerely asking him for advice,” Lloyd said. Mindus would sponsor Zoobean to CIT’s investment board, which gave Zoobean pointers after an “initially negative” response. When Lloyd came back, after working with Mindus and CIT, the fund eventually agreed to invest $100,000 with a $50,000 reserve available.

Weithman said CIT typically invests between $100,000 and $200,000 in a company, but its primary mission is to catalyze future investment. Similar funds in other areas, like on Lloyd had been a part of with his previous company in Pittsburgh, invest money to create jobs. That’s not what the Gap Funds are necessarily intended to do.

“Company growth and profitability are the ultimate arbiter of success in this early stage investment,” Weithman said. “We consider investment by the private sector to be a highly validating process metric of what we do. If we invested for job growth, that could send you down a number of unusual paths. High-growth techonology companies develop other innovation and contribute to Virginia’s economic ecosystem.” (more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — June 23, 2014 at 11:55 am 903 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The Ostendio team “I’m an operations guy,” Grant Elliott, Founder and CEO of Ostendio, which specializes in I.T. compliance and security, said in a conference room at ÜberOffices in Rosslyn last week. “I laid out a plan and we’ve [grown] to that plan. Only when I started talking to people did they say how fast we were [growing]. I laid out what I thought was a conservative plan, but it turns out people think it was very aggressive.”

Elliott founded Ostendio last September after working for eight years and the chief operations officer for a health information technology company called Voxiva. It took six months for Elliott, co-founder Jermaine Jones and a third co-founder who chose to remain anonymous to build the platform, My Virtual Compliance Manager (MyVCM), that helps bring small- to medium-sized business into federal safety compliance with their data.

In the three months since the product launch, Ostendio has brought on more than a dozen clients.

Last week, Ostendio was one of 20 companies to present to potential investors at TechBuzz, a semi-regular tech event for D.C.-area companies. Elliott had to present a four-minute pitch to investors, which he said was nerve-racking since I.T. compliance isn’t as “sexy” as a new social media platform.

Perhaps because Elliott’s company isn’t operating in one of the attention-grabbing tech startup sectors, and that this is his first-time as a CEO, fundraising has been frustrating, even though it has borne some fruit early on.

Ostendio's platform, My Virtual Compliance Manager

“Fundraising takes longer than I expected,” he said in the heavy accent of his native Scotland. “What’s surprised me is it’s less about the business model and more about the dynamics of fundraising.”

The business model, Elliott says, is the reason that Ostendio has already agreed to investment with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology and from D.C.’s 1776, which also counts Ostendio as a member. Ostendio has been bootstrapped thus far, but is seeking $500,000 from its first round of funding.

Ostendio targets companies with between five and 100 employees in “a regulated market” like healthcare, Elliott said. In healthcare, where most of Ostendio’s clients operate, “HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] regulations are a dark cloud hanging over” small businesses.

“They see compliance with federal regualtion as a huge task, which is partly true,” he said. “Small companies unfortunately have the same regulations as a larger company. Our platform actively manages compliance for our customers. We also provide training and audit functionalilty.”

Because of the boom in cloud computing and mobile devices, Elliott said, more and more small tech companies can innovate in a space like healthcare, but large medical providers like hospitals and insurance companies need to ensure that any technology that is brought on is compliant with HIPAA regulations and the patients’ data will remain secure.

(more…)

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