The economy is still in the doldrums but it's not such a bad time to be a startup. Cloud technologies like Amazon Web Services have made it less costly for new companies to get off the ground, and 70 of them will be at the Demo Fall conference in Silicon Valley this week to launch new products.
Demo gives startups six minutes to present their businesses to an audience of press, analysts and investors. The show had more than 1,000 applicants this year, the most it's had since about 2005, said Neal Silverman, Demo senior vice president and general manager.
That's partly because companies are able to get started with less funding, he said, and also because Demo offered a tiered fee structure this year to accommodate businesses with less cash. (Demo is run by International Data Group, the parent company of IDG News Service.)
Here's what five startups aiming at business users will be pitching Tuesday.
Whodini -- finding colleagues with the right info
Whodini is announcing a service that helps employees at big companies find colleagues with the expertise that can help them. Instead of workers building their own knowledge profile, Whodini creates it automatically by scanning their work email with a contextual language tool that pulls out 30 to 35 keywords that show the customers, products or business issues they know about. That goes into a database where colleagues can search or click on keywords to find people working in those areas.
Whodini says it addresses the obvious privacy concerns by allowing employees to approve the keywords before they're published and remove what they don't like. It also filters out profanities and other "inappropriate language," said Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Ani Chaudhuri.
Scanning people's email ensures they actually know about a topic, rather than just claiming they do in a résumé or LinkedIn profile. It also helps to uncover "quiet achievers" -- people who are good at their jobs but don't shout about it.
The software works only with Outlook for PCs to begin with. Whodini is working on Outlook for the Mac and will add Lotus Notes and other email clients after that. Because of the linguistic analysis involved, it's currently limited to English-speaking markets.
Chaudhuri claims Whodini beats tools that search content repositories such as SharePoint, because "only a fraction of the knowledge in a company is documented." And social tools for the workplace, such as Yammer, only connect people who know of each other. Whodini can identify a colleague working on the other side of the world.
It consists of a client application for the desktop and a server component that Whodini hosts in the cloud. It's available now and aimed at Fortune 1,000 companies, priced at about US$15,000 per month for 1,000 seats, Chaudhuri said.
Unrabble -- a new tool for hiring
Unrabble says it takes the pain out of the hiring process by replacing paper résumés with an online service that aims to match employers with the right employees. Employers sign up for the service and provide a description of the job to be filled, and Unrabble creates Web links that the company posts with their ad on job boards and social networking sites.
Job hunters who click on one of the links are taken to Unrabble, where they create a profile if they want to apply. They fill in the usual information on a résumé but have to rank their skills in order of strength. They can attach documents and videos and import data from a social networking profile.
Unrabble sends an email to hiring managers when it finds good candidates. The employer logs in and can flag favorite candidates whose skills and other attributes match what they're looking for, and they can slice and dice their requirements so different candidates float to the top. The service quickly whittles a list of 50 applicants down to five or 10, said Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Chris Rickborn.
Applicants can "brag" about certain achievements -- "I doubled sales in my region last quarter" -- and have the brag "verified" by a former colleague willing to sign into the system. And they can tell when their application has been looked at to avoid the "black hole" feeling.
Plenty of job boards offer tools to help sift through candidates, but they're usually tied to each job board, Rickborn said. "That's not the real world, you need to source candidates from everywhere."
Unrabble charges US$29 per month to post one position to five job boards. A Pro service, for $49, allows for 10 job openings, 20 posting links and the ability to invite 10 colleagues to view the applications.
Fluxx -- getting more use out of enterprise apps
Fluxx offers a cloud-based service that pulls information from disparate company applications and makes it viewable in a single Web-based interface. The goal isn't to show all the data in every application. But there are pieces of data in most applications that would be useful to a lot of employees if they could view it easily, said Fluxx founder Jason Ricci.
Fluxx is a self-serve system that lets employees pick the applications they want to use, select data fields and compile them into a dashboard. A CEO at a small company might build a dashboard that shows sales data from a CRM (customer relationship management) system, the progress of an application development team and the latest trouble tickets issued by the customer support department.
"As a CEO I probably don't want to log into the customer support application, but if I see there's a job assigned to an important client I'm going to want to keep tabs on it," Ricci said.
It works initially with Salesforce.com, the XenDesk customer support application and Jira, a software development tracking tool. Fluxx is working with a few larger customers to build connectors to Oracle and SAP applications, Ricci said. Fluxx can also create feeds for social applications such as Twitter.
Fluxx is also creating a software development kit so companies can build connectors to custom or legacy applications. "You might have a 10-year-old Cold Fusion application that only five people can access. You could build a connector that opens that up to the company," Ricci said.
It's aimed primarily at larger companies, but for small companies Fluxx can also function as a basic CRM and workflow system, he said.
For a company with about 100 employees the cost would be about $15,000 for an initial setup fee and $1,000 per month for service and support, Ricci said. The service is available now and works on both desktops and smartphones.
Hold-Free Networks -- relieving the agony of voice-activated customer service
Hold-Free will unveil a software-as-a-service offering that aims to help banks, airlines and other large companies "put a pretty face on customer service." It lets their customers use a smartphone app to resolve queries, and if that doesn't work, they can use the app to request a call back at a certain time, so they don't have to sit through endless hold music.
Hold-Free essentially recreates the menu choices in a company's voice-activated system within the smartphone application. It's designed to complement the existing customer service system, rather than replace it, but there's no hefty integration work between the two, according to CEO Lance Fried. Hold-Free provides the code to update the smartphone app, its customer submits the code to the app store for approval, and the updated app gets pushed out to end users.
If the end user can't resolve a query in the smartphone app, they punch a button to request a call back. Hold-Free connects to the company's call center system and relays the expected wait time back to the end user. The call center worker can return the call over Hold-Free's IP-based network or via its own PBX. There's also a built-in secure messaging system to deliver promotions.
Hold-Free cuts call center costs, according to Fried, because customers can find an answer to their query more easily in a smartphone app than in a frustrating voice-controlled menu system. And it's a more pleasant experience because they're not on hold for hours or madly hitting "0" trying to reach a live person.
Hold-Free has been in beta with a few customers and is generally available this week, for iOS and Android. Pricing is based on call time and messaging volumes.
We Are Cloud -- "true BI in a Web browser"
We Are Cloud launched an online analytics service that allows business users to run queries on data from multiple sources, including from on-premise and cloud applications, using a rich Internet application built with Adobe Flex.
Users can select data from applications such as an Excel spreadsheet or an Oracle database, and from online sources such as Google Analytics and Salesforce.com. They write queries that can execute across data from all the sources, and the results are blended into a single graphic, showing monthly sales overlaid against monthly website traffic, for example.
Queries aren't executed within the source database. Instead, users select a data set that is loaded in memory on their local machine and executed by We Are Cloud's proprietary OLAP engine, said Rachel Delacour, the company's founder and CEO. Larger data sets can be loaded into the company's cloud database.
The service, called Bime (for "BI for me"), can't run extremely large data sets, but it also doesn't require companies to build a costly data warehouse using a traditional ETL (extract, transform, load) process, she argued.
End users need only understand how to build a pivot table. The rest of the work is done through a drag and drop interface, and users can publish results to the Web for sharing.
The service is hosted in the Amazon Web Services cloud. An existing version of Bime has been available for some time, but it can't blend data from multiple sources. The new version, Bime 3.0, was released Tuesday. Pricing ranges from $60 to $240 per month, depending on the number of data sources and the number of dashboards created.