Summer of Start-ups: Working with LaunchBox

LaunchBox Digital is a local DC program that gives a small batch of start-ups some capital and, more importantly, guidance through the earliest phase of the product-building process. This is the first year of the program; but, other similar programs like Y Combinator and TechStars have proven the model to be effective. We were lucky enough to be able to work a little bit with the teams over the past couple of months. We had a great time jumping in and giving our recommendations (mostly UX and design). Today, the teams will be pitching their ideas in Reston, VA to a group of potential investors and tomorrow they'll all be on the West Coast (Palo Alto to be exact) pitching their ideas again to another group. I got to meet most of the people in the program and I learned about each of their projects. I was thoroughly impressed with how good the ideas were and how far along they were in such a short period of time. Here are the teams we had the opportunity to meet with along with a brief blurb about what they're up to.

JamLegend - Guitar Hero and Rock Band are pretty big these days. In fact, we have both in our office and while they're great games, they have some limitations. Mainly, they're expensive and have a relatively small catalog of songs - a lot less than people keep on their iPods for example. JamLegend is looking to open up the genre by taking the experience online. Users can play songs at three different skill levels, duel their friends or set up tournaments to take on anyone. What is most exciting to me is that content will be user-generated, so non-major label bands can get in on the action and upload their own songs for their fans to play either on the site or through a widget posted on other sites.

MyGameMug - It can be hard to find other people to game with. Especially if you're not just looking for some random online players, but rather people who actually mesh with your personality and style of play. MyGameMug has created a site that makes finding people to game with easier and better. Think eHarmony for video gamers, except you're just looking to play Gears of War, not date the person. The MyGameMug team has created a quick and easy quiz that allows users to find out which one of 16 gaming personas best matches them. Once users have their persona and log in, they can find other people that own and play the same PC and console games.

BuzzHubb - One of Twitter's greatest strengths is its simplicity. You follow people, they follow you. When you post something, everyone sees it. This simplicity is also one of its biggest weaknesses. What if you don't want to post something so everyone can see? What if you just want to view posts from a particular group?There's simply no way to have that level of control on Twitter and that's where BuzzHubb shines. They're all about segmenting you and your friends into "Hubbs". In fact, the only way to join is to use a university email address where you're automatically dropped into your school's Hubb when you sign up. You can then create or join more Hubbs.

Koofers - At Virginia Tech, they invented the word "koofers". It refers to the old quizzes and exams that students (mostly those in fraternities and sororities) would keep and pass down to younger students. Koofers the web site is looking to take that concept and spread it democratically to the web. But, there's more to it than that. They're tapping into vast amounts of university data that will help students choose the right courses and professors, as well as generate the optimal class schedule.

Razume - Creating your resume is hard. Making it really good is even harder. It's easier to look at someone else's and see what they did well and what they did poorly than it is to critique yourself. That's why Razume's simple, but ingenious, idea of a resume review site is so good. Users can upload their resumes or create them online. Then, the community marks up the submitted resumes with feedback. Razume will be a must-stop for young job seekers especially who need some guidance getting past the first step of the hiring process (i.e., not having their resume thrown away).

Heekya - Content and information on the web is fragmented. Sometimes it's separated by medium - videos on YouTube, photos on Flickr, etc. Almost always, content lives by itself with no connection to a greater story. Heekya is looking to connect content and provide context around stories. For example, they make it really easy to write up some text, drop in a picture or video and then link all that to a map so the reader knows where the story took place. Even better, they make content generation social. If someone else attended the same event that I did, I can clone their story and branch it off into my own narrative.

ShareMeme - Your contacts exist across many different communication platforms - Gmail, AIM, Twitter, SMS, Facebook, etc. Let's say you wanted to send out an invite to all of your contacts. How would you do that now? I'd probably dig through my email contacts and send those out first. Then I'd post it on Twitter. Then I might IM some people. Lastly, I might call or text some friends. With ShareMeme, I would have been able to do all of this from one place. They make it really easy to pull in your contacts from all over the place and send out messages to everyone's preferred method. And it's not just invites. You can send links and polls as well.

For more info about LaunchBox Digital, here's a nice write-up on TechCrunch from last night that includes a screencast demo for each of the teams.

Kevin is Viget's product design director in our Falls Church, VA, HQ. He concepts, launches, and optimizes products for the World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Privia Health, and OPOWER.

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