Last night was Democamp26, held at the Ted Rogers School of Management.  There were some great demos that I thought I’d summarize for anyone who missed the event.  I am going to omit the summary of the fantastic presentation by April Dunford, and stick to the demos.  You can find her slides here. To any of the companies that may be reading this, my summary is the impression that I got from your 5 minute pitch, not gathered from your website.  Please feel free to correct any inaccuracies and I’m always happy to see comments.  I’ll also be giving me 2-cents on each project which I intend to be purely for constructive criticism, there are enough trolls on the internets.  Excuse the verbose nature of my posts, this is my blog, I like to ramble.  Without further delay: OpenApps, TeamSave, KoboBooks, SWIX and Status.net

Company: OpenApps
Website: http://openapps.com

Summary: OpenApps is a simple point and click solution for websites to enable user developed apps.  Think Facebook apps on your personal blog or company website.  The value prop is that not everyone can afford to build new site functionality, and their technology can easily allow developers to create apps for others to consume.

Presentation: This presentation was great.  Fast paced and straight to the action. Krispy (the presenter) clearly has talent for presenting and genuine enthusiasm for the product.  His excitement kind of felt like what it would be like if the ShamWow guy made software (I mean that as a compliment Krispy).  Big Kudos to their team (who were all present and proudly wearing their company gear) for launching on stage last night.  As someone who has been part of a live on-stage website launch (I was lucky to be at TechCrunch50… name drop… *cough cough*) so I can totally relate to the pressure the team must have been feeling.  During the 15 second Wireless Internet drop, I glanced over at the dev team in the audience who were all equally relieved when the Wireless kicked in again, I shared their relief.

Killer Feature: 2 killer moments during the presentation.  Their apps magically* sit on a sub-domain of your company URL (search.democamp.com) and the “Look and Feel” easy button which essentially auto-styles a vanilla app install to your caompany’s layout.  Thats a neat trick.

Comments: I got the idea, the demo made it pretty easy for people to get.  The business model is pretty clear to me, they take a 30/70 split in favor of the developer on the apps.  The apps have a monthly fee and its a win-win for small companies and independent software developers.  My only concerns is that their review process will likely run into similar problems as the Apple App store, and the responsibility of service and uptime of each app is really up to the developers.  Now this makes sense for OpenApps, because they could not feasibly support all these user generated apps, so companies must understand that most of the apps will have an “as is” tag stamped on it.  I caught up with Krispy after the presentation who reminded me that they aren’t in the business of hosting applications (though I believe they can, with a cost), they are in the business getting cool apps on peoples websites.  At the same time they are giving developers a distribution platform for their apps, and helping them make money.  +1 for helping developers out.

*Don’t worry, I’ve done the old “host file” hack many many times in demos.

Company: TeamSave.com
Website: http://teamsave.com

Summary: Companies give better deals when you buy stuff in groups.  It ‘s hard to get people to commit to group buys.  Squeeze people to a 24 window and people trying to get the deals will become your sales force.  Cool.

Presentation: I like these guys a lot.  We got a 2/3 life lessons and 1/3 demo which I liked (although I’m sure some didn’t).  I am young, in a start up and trying to make great software that sells.  These guys are all of the above, so the presentation was great for me.  This duo was featured on the hit TV show “The Dragon’s Den” where they successfully pitched JobLoft.com  and eventually sold it to onTargetJobs.com.  Hearing these success stories is always nice.

Killer Feature: The team.  Im not joking.  I’m pretty certain these guys could open an online sock store and be profitable.  They appeared to be good friends, have a history of success, and a drive to make things work well and make money.  They even admitted that they are going head to head with a lot of players in that market space, but reminded the ENTIRE audience that it is about execution.  Thank you.

Comments: Seeing someone get in front of an audience and say that an idea is pretty worthless without execution was refreshing.  Most people in the room know it, but still a lot of people in the room cling on to ideas for dear life.  Chatting about their presentation later at the bar I made a comment about them in particular.  If I could see Mark Zuckerberg talk, or these guys, who would I want to see?  Honestly, I’d like to see Zuckerberg just to say I saw him, but he isn’t going to to tell me how to make the next Facebook (and if you think he is, you are kidding yourself).  People get too caught up over the big names and expect/assume instant results from seeing them talk.   The TeamSave guys were relatable, down to earth and from Toronto.  Their experience is much more likely to be what I may go through than a Mark Zuckerberg.  Can I relate to Mark Zuckerberg?  Not really, though I’m sure he’s a nice guy and I like his website.  He is the same age as me, uses Facebook, and studied computer science.  Beyond that – I can think of 15,000,000,000 (thats billion $) reasons why he is different than me (AND YOU).  That being said, I give TeamSave a few years before they get bought out and move onto the next successful project.  All my criticisms were immediately voided when Chris Nguyen from the team confidently said one word: “Execution” – To me, was telling the audience, shut up and do it.  To quote Clay Davis from the TV show The Wire: “Shhheeeeeeeettt”

Company: Kobo
Website: http://kobobooks.com

Summary: They do everything e-books.  They sell e-books, they let you read e-books, they have multi-platform e-book software, they have e-reader DRM, and to my surprise they even sell e-book hardware!

Killer Feature: I must have that fish bookmark.  In fact, please make that fish your logo and start giving physical fish bookmarks as your company swag.  JK, everything was pretty killer.

Presentation/Comments: This was not a demo, this was a sales pitch (including a price tag of $149.99 for the reader.. coming soon to Canada…. available in US and UK).  To be fair, the iPad reader was a demo, and the audience was lucky to be the first to see their e-reader technology on the iPad – neat stuff.  I have no doubt these guys know everything there is about e-books, and they certainly gave that impression to the crowd.  Their products and website, super slick.  The hardware looked great.  Their iPhone app was sexy.  The instant buy-now Use Case was impressive and IMO totally under appreciated by the audience (Do you understand how much work went behind that 5 second transaction!!? They own the hardware, software, commerce platform, goods exchanged, license AND transaction platform…. HOLY CRAP!! WHATS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!!!? CLAPP!!!).  All around polish on this company.

My only critique is on the value prop of the iPad reader.  They admitted that they would be competing directly with Apple’s own e-reader.  Their differentiating strategy (as explained by them) was the small things.  Customizing bookmarks, shelves, color schemes, the now famous animated fish bookmark.  It was an honest answer, but made the audience uncomfortable.  There are clearly millions of dollars invested in this project, and an animated bookmark (while awesome) cannot be your only differentiator.  Someone asked if the app was GPS enabled, location aware, remembers my bookmark depending on location.  The answer was Yes, Yes, YES!  Why not showcase those features?  I don’t know/care if Apple does it too, wow us, and sort out the details later.  And if you are reading this, please make a “ceiling cat” bookmark too.

I find it mildly ironic that I have been complaining for a year now about not seeing any hardware at Democamp.  Now that I saw it, I am complaining that it was too established and hardly a demo.  I guess I don’t know what I am looking for, perhaps I will create CodeSnippetsCamp, the perfect balance of cool tech without all the business mumbo jumbo.

Company: SWIX
Website: http://www.swixhq.com/

Summary: Manage and view analytics of all your social media channels in one place.  Simply put, Google Analytics for everything your company spends time/money on online.

Killer Feature: Painless 1-click reports that look sexy (I need to stop calling websites sexy).

Comments: “Quick question, put your hand up if you are a social media marketer” In a room of 400 people, at a DEMOCAMP of all things, not a single person put their hand up.  What the hell is going on?  This tool is the Social Media Marketer’s watchdog, oh I get it now.  To Swix’s surprise, their market research showed that companies wanted this product, not necessarily to enable their marketings team with tools to easily monitor/report, but for the companies management to keep an eye on their marketing teams! (Oh the irony)
[Correction: Please see the comment below by Craig from Swix]

<Queue 1/2 the audience chuckling, 1/2 the audience groaning>

The UI was slick as hell, drag and drop here, interactive charts there, no problems in that department.  My only comment (which I was going to ask but someone beat me to it). “Do you allow clients to customize HOW ROI is calculated?”  (most of the audience nods).  They are planning such features but right now the ROI is shown as [the relative measure of increase each respective index being monitored has] over the [cost of the campaign] (my words, not theirs).  The biggest problem I have is this:  The problem with ROI and social media marketing isn’t the information overload, it is the difficulty of translating a unit of social media change (be it a tweet, or follow, or “like”) into an actual tangible/calculable $-RETURN.  So telling me that my video campaign on YouTube which cost me $1,000 and turned into 1,000 views had a ROI of $1 per view isn’t the same ‘returns’ that most people are used to talking about.  If, on the other hand, you are serving ads at $1 per view on YouTube, then technically the ROI = $0.  But even that model is broken.  Forcing a HARD quantitative metric to a style of marketing that sometimes has SOFT returns doesn’t always work.  Saul Colt, a big advocate of “word of mouth marketing”, always talks about creating conversations about the product and brand.  If a single RT translates into a huge offline discussion or opportunity, how can you measure that?  Similarly, establishing 1-1 customer relationships can often create advocates within our community – a process that will easily get lost in the “hard” numbers.  I’m sure that many Social Media Marketers would agree that simplifying the process into a single number misses the whole point.  Having a dashboard of metrics is useful to monitor marketing campaigns easily, but NOT necessarily measure ROI.  It seems like the SWIX team is working on ways to tune ROI calculation, which I think is great and will only help to converge to a solution that both the marketing teams and management can agree on.

If the result is the case where SWIX is just a tool for management types to look at $ and moving numbers,  SWIX’s own social media marketer will soon have a moral dilemma on their hands….

Company: Status.net
Website: http://status.net

Summary: An open exchange platform for microblogging.  A one click deployment of personal/public/company microblogs with their own subdomain.  Techcrunch says: The WordPress of Microblogs.

Killer Feature: 1.)Dead simple setup of your own Twitter or Yammer like environment.  2.) Cross communication between other open microblogging platforms.

Comments: I’ll be honest that I got a bit confused with the demo.  Using the syntax @name@network allows users on this platform to message someone on a different network.  I get the idea of consolidating several other platforms and protocols into one place.  The demo showed a message from the status.net network to another member on status.net, so the value was a bit lost.  What I did see though was a true passion for the cause.  The open source approach and cross collaboration from various cities makes this project very commendable and worth checking out.  Smart people working on cool things.  Although, the true passion for the cause was apparent when the presenter pulled up the documentation page for Salmon Protocol.  I’ve never seen a company pull up and advertise another company’s website during a demo before.  So again, its about the bigger picture with these guys and I respect that.  I’m personally not to crazy with the the @name@network syntax because if I send @ian@status.net and drop the first @ I get “ian@status.net”.  It’s like I am basically sending email out and publicly broadcasting to everyone, but perhaps I am missing something.

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