Eleven startups building the “plumbing of the internet” presented onstage today in San Antonio, Texas, for the TechStars Cloud demo day. The common threads running through them all were making it easier to build app-like products and services and an obsession with data.
TechStars Cloud, the fifth iteration of the TechStars franchise and the only one focused on a vertical as opposed to a location, sent the 11 companies to Rackspace’s hometown for a 13-week incubation and sent them off today with spurs in hand — literal spurs. Some companies seemed like stronger contenders than others, but altogether the companies presented offered two insights into the current state of the web.
It’s an app, app world for infrastructure startups today
The shift from building for and thinking about building monolithic web apps such as Facebook or even Twitter has evolved. Now, the “plumbing” for the cloud seems centered around building services and infrastructure for apps, which means APIs and services aimed at mobile developers. Application programming interfaces that allow one program to talk to another are the glue between web services that make things run smoothly, tracking users and delivering quality of service. They also help make apps smaller and more manageable for a world where more and more people are accessing things on mobile devices.
Companies such as EmergentOne, Flomio, CloudSnap, Conductrics and Appsembler all offered products that view the world through this mobile and developer-centric lens. Many help turn APIs from a technical solution to into a gateway for business. Others make building apps so easy that anyone could do it. Appsembler, for example, lets you grab your code from GitHub, pop it on a platform as a service and provide your billing all in a few clicks. Whatever the next level above PaaS is, Appsembler is it.
And in the app-centric worldview, an API isn’t just a way to bridge apps, it actually can become a tool to help drive new business. That’s the case for Conductrics, which offers an API platform to show visitors to a web site an optimized version of the site based on their location, search terms or other pre-determined criteria. Also allowing for new business are EmergentOne, which helps customers build an API in minutes or hours, and CloudSnap, which helps companies link two web-based services together in a couple clicks.
Spending time talking to these companies, I kept thinking of the web as a vast ocean of unstructured data and available services that just need channels to bring seawater to developers and then to users. Companies such as Appsembler and EmergentOne are helping companies build those channels while others are connecting and ensuring the data flows across them. So, in a sense, that’s as basic as plumbing gets.
Making sense of it all
The other theme that linked many of these startups was data. Whether it was Keen.io, which is tracking user interactions on mobile and desktop apps for later analysis, or TempoDB, which has built a specialized database for time-series data, several startups were trying to capitalize on data or help others capitalize on data. Callisto.fm, for example, has a pretty compelling presentation for tracking real-time engagement with a variety of media from video plays to e-book reads.
Others are using data analysis to deliver new products. One of them, Distil.it, tracks who is visiting a publisher’s web site and prevents scrapers from stealing the content. Given how cheap computing is and how much digital tracking is going on, I wonder how long before Distil.it takes its technology and parlays it into a whitelist for other web industries.
I was struck by the subtext in many of these presentations that all data is potentially useful, so grab it, store and then just find analyses to run against it at your leisure. It’s the antithesis of the legacy world in which databases were built based on the types of questions users planned to ask.
The other two startups presenting were Cloudability, which launched last year at our Structure conference in June (psst, we’re holding our Launchpad event again this coming June if you want to apply), and Vidmaker, an online collaborative video editing software. Cloudability provides users with a dashboard that shows their cloud spending, something that’s useful, but also something that big vendors such as IBM and CA are also eager to provide.
Vidmaker didn’t really feel like an internet plumbing company at all, but it was pretty cool. Much has been made of the idea that we now living in a post-document era where versions of files are replaced by online collaboration. This has occurred in spreadsheets and in test editing, but video hasn’t made the leap, possibly because the infrastructure required to host and allow for multiple people to edit online video is pretty daunting. However, of all the startups I saw today, Vidmaker is the one I am most likely to use. I can’t wait.
Photos by Stacey Higginbotham.