October 7th, 2011

minnesota license

Minnedemo thoughts

Nine presenters last night.

Zyngram sends physical postcards when you fill them out on the web. They partner with specific destinations (like hotels) to offer sponsored postcards, otherwise it's about $2 to send one. You can pick from a bunch of predefined locations but not arbitrary cover art. (I have asked on Twitter whether all the postcards get sent out with MN postmarks.)

Naiku is a member of this year's Project Skyway class and a MN Cup finalist. They say it's currently being used by about 35K students. This was a bit of a disappointment--- I was expecting more. It's a web-based test-taking system. The good: it allows freeform answers (that can be assessed for correctness with fuzzy matching), and it provides "metacognitive" engagement by asking students about their confidence in the answers, and lets them go back after the test is scored to explain their thinking or "I just guessed correctly." Teachers can monitor the progress of students through the test in real-time and see which questions they've "flagged" in case there's something unclear. The bad: it's still pretty much standard test-taking, and might encourage more of it by providing a faster turnaround. How about ways to adapt to individual students?

8thBridge, a sponsor, was unfortunately the most eye-rolling presentation of the night. They provide "social commerce solutions" for Facebook, so they talked more about F8 than about their demo. The interesting data point they shared is that the "Like" button tended not to represent shopping activity (or potential shopping activity) so much as a "review"--- 57% of "Like" clicks were based on satisfaction with the product (or the store experience.) So now Facebook allows app developers to have other sorts of actions, and 8thBridge demonstrated a "Want" button for stores, that created a 'wish list' on the Facebook profile/event stream/whatsit. Does this provide any value to the people using Facebook? It's possible--- I like having an Amazon wish list and I like that my friends + family do too. But it came across as yet more spam.

MyOn Reader is an electronic school library, from publisher Capstone. The presenter said there are about 500K users in 700 schools. You view the books in a flash browser, which can also read the books out loud. Some of the categorization and review features seemed a bit advanced for young readers (which seemed to be the target), but the process of finding a book looked like it was fairly easy. The favorite book in the system is "Attack of the Mutant Lunch Lady." I have mixed feelings on this one. More books to read == good. Fewer physical books == bad. I would hate to see a school phase out its physical book collection because of systems like this one. I was also a bit concerned about what he said about the monitoring features--- something about how teachers were "addicted" to the reports on what was getting read, what lexicon level, etc. The temptation to switch from a qualitative knowledge of your student to a strictly quantitative assessment is pretty powerful.

Rocware is an online catalog for B2B sales. They billed it as "beautiful" but it looked more or less standard to me--- maybe even a little dated. The main selling point is that you can have a variety of selling prices and set up a specific view for each prospect/customer, which lets them see the inventory and prices that are relevant to them. They can also easily create and submit PO within the site. I don't have a good feel for how crowded the "storefront SaaS" market is, but this looked pretty solid.

OptiMine is a SaaS offering which manages keyword bidding for online ads. It tracks metrics like ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) and uses analysis techniques to suggest the keyword bids to use. The presenter, Rob Cooley, said that customers usually saw at least 25% improvement in metrics compared to whatever they were previously using. An interesting feature is the ability to add additional constraints to prevent trivial solutions like "don't buy any ads." The number he gave is that 50K keywords (including phrases) led to only about 1000 clicks per day, so the modelling had to scope with relatively sparse data.

Optimine is finishing their Series B fundraising and is looking to make a bunch of technical hires, everything from VP Engineering down to a data import/export developer. (He used some other acronym-based term which I promptly forgot.)

Exosite provides a SaaS "portal" for collecting and displaying data from embedded devices. The system allows you to create graphs and set triggers for SMS alerts. They have partner deals with Arrow and Renesas.

Hyier: video prescreening for hiring. I don't know how well an asynchronous process like this would work for the hires we do. And, frankly, many of the people we're trying to hire would be insulted. I'm not sure what the niche is.

We didn't get Paul Douglas as promised, but we did get GeoMOOSE, which is an open-source GIS tool. The city of St. Paul uses this to aggregate about 300 different layers of geographic information related to the city, from both internal and external sources. They said this package brings features previously only available on desktop tools to the Web. The demo was very cool, and being able to pull in data real-time from multiple "managers" seems like a great way to scale. You can use a restricted version of the St. Paul tool (not all 300 layers) at http://gis.ci.stpaul.mn.us/.