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Interesting Startups in Austin

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Like the boys over at TechCrunch, I’ve gotten to like Quora for information mining. There’s a certain content serendipity as well, and it elicits content people who would otherwise not write to publish text (an effect Twitter has as well). Here’s a long answer I wrote to a question asking for interesting startups in Austin, just slightly edited to fit the form here.

There are many “interesting” startups in Austin, where interesting is “less concerned about “success” and more concerned about who is doing interesting stuff,” as Josh Williams put it. Here are a few that come to mind immediately:

  • Spiceworks – though getting a bit on in the tooth to be in the “startups you’ve never heard about,” is one of the most innovative companies in the IT Management area. They do several “interesting” things, here are some: add social networking into an otherwise very unsocial and boring area, IT Management, and then use the aggregate of their 100,000’s of active users to start doing analysis in aggregate, and figuring out how to build an advertising and marketing channel for IT admins. Not to mention the feature set and speed at which they deliver. Compared to other (most other) vendors in the IT Management market, it’s astonishing.
  • InfoChimps – they’re trying to create markets for data, something very interesting. Democratizing (making cheaper and easy to use) access to data should have “interesting” effects on applications and services companies can offer. Think of the data power Facebook has with all that detailed, every updating demographic data, and start to image what others could do with similar data sets. Most will just use it for Better Junk Mail, but even that is a good market. See my fellow RedMonker Stephen O’Grady’s take as well.
  • Riptano – they’re the commercial company behind Cassandra (database), a NoSQL data store. In theory, these kind of data stores will be needed by companies seeking to operate at “web scale,” and how Riptano figures out how to monetize that need will be interesting. So far companies outside of a niche of HPC and neo-HPC needs (Facebook, pharama companies, etc.) haven’t figured out if/when/why/how for NoSQL stuff, and Riptano will (hopefully for them, because “that’s where the money is”) will answer those questions. Also, see my discussion with Riptano’s Matt Pfeil on make all #006.
  • Dachis Group – these guys are a little too well funded to be a “startup,” but what’s interesting about them is the business model for cashing in on Enterprise 2.0. Following the much maligned new approach at Austin Ventures (to roll-up a bunch of companies private equity style), they’re trying to build up the service and product expertise in the Enterprise 2.0 world (a fancy phrase for collaboration and external facing “engagement” with customers, users, and folks external to your organization) to, in my opinion, either get bought by someone (“Crap! we missed the boat on this Enterprise 2.0 stuff! Get out the check book!”) or…well, unless some miracle happens in the IPO market, yeah, get bought by someone. We discuss Dachis with the Group’s Bryan Menell in episode 7 of the Austin Tech Scene.
  • MindQuilt – a SaaS trying to take the idea of Quora itself to companies, a sort of “private Quora,” if you will. Given how effective this Quora and other sites have been at eliciting interesting and helpful content from people with the Q&A model, it’d be nice to see if that works for closed organizations. It’s a tough job as other Enterprise 2.0 efforts have shown, but those are starting to pan out as more people ask why their corperate IT sucks so much compared to the public, consumer web. Outside of Austin, see Opzi. See my recent interview with their CEO, Daniel Kim.
  • Gowalla – geo-location as the evolution of entertainment and retail/coupon/”how to separate my customers from their cash”/Better Junk Mail is always “interesting.” From a local perspective, what’s most interesting about Gowalla is if they can succeed by being in Austin – or, put another way, bynot being in the bay area. If Gowalla has a big exit, it will do a lot to make (consumer) tech companies believe in Austin as a home.


There are other people in varying degrees of being in stealth and successful enough to rate, of course. I’m sure I’ve left all sorts of people out. Also, there are many companies that have (by my way of rating it) moved way out of being a startup and are now just companies: is a good example, as is the run-away success of HomeAway. They’re a great, interesting company, but have been around a long, long time, by startup standards.

Also, there’s a ton of (iPhone) app companies out there that are “interesting”: TabbedOut (think of a retail and food services world with no cash registers – that’s crazy interesting), QRANK (more interesting from a business model perspective, centralizing all those bar trivia games across the world), Famigo (the idea of iPhone apps as “family time” is interesting, the idea is  featured in William Gibson’s latest book, Zero History, if you’re quick enough to spot it).

And, as a shameless plug, in case you’ve been missing it, we try to cover this kind of stuff (and other Austin tech news) in the Austin Tech Scene podcast.

Disclosure: Spiceworks is a client, as is MindQuilt.

Categories: Ideas, Social Software, Systems Management, The New Thing.

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