Saturday, May 17, 2008

iRobot does it again with SCOOPR

Scoopr is the latest innovation from iRobot and I my hat goes off to the engineers who made this robot a household reality. For years I have dreaded the weekly lawn "scoop duty" cleaning up after our chocolate lab Bodie.

This Spring iRobot sent me their new product to review: Scoopr. Scoopr is a phenomenol robot that seeks out "doggy doo" on your lawn and efficiently collects and disposed of it. What a wonderful idea!

As you can imagine, I take my product reviews very seriously, so I was determined to put Scoopr to the ultimate test. For nearly 2 weeks I let Bodie have his way with the back yard. After the first week, I was not sure I could take it any longer, but my Scoopr test had to continue.

Finally, the day came and I set the Scoopr robot to work and watched it do its magic. Sure enough, the robot systematically worked its way through the back yard, scooping and dumping, scooping and dumping. After 15 minutes, I knew that Scoopr was going to finish the job well done. An hour and 20 minutes later, Scoopr had docked itself in the self charging station. Not a trace of Bodie's unfortunate daily mishaps were left on the lawn.

I am happy to say that Scoopr will have a home with my family for many years to come. Thank you iRobot!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Buying a car? Dread no more!

Test Drive It aims to change your car buying experience in a radical way over the next few years. Popular setiment declares the car buying process to be one of the most stressful and horrible consumer experiences that exists today. Yet few have really tried to deconstruct the process and improve it.

Test Drive It believes that it has "cracked the code" on the consumer auto purchasing process. Opening a pilot show room in the outskirts of Seattle next month, Test Drive It wants to accomplish one simple thing: to make your car shopping experience a no pressure, one stop experience.

Stocking the top 5 cars in each of the 10 most popular car classes, the team is offering consumers an unbiased and no pressure format for comparing comparable class automobiles side-by-side in the same location! This combined with no haggle price points and on site financiers and insurers from the major players, makes the total experience nothing short of dreamy.

"It is amazing how the experience of buying a car changes when your salesperson does not care if you decide on the BMW, the Audi, or the Lexus," says a regular car buyer and angel investor in the concept, "You make the best choice for you and everyone wins."

One might ask how the auto manufacturers are playing in this new model. They are not - yet. Through some very forward looking deals with local auto dealers and some other high net worth individuals, Test Drive It has the runway it needs to prove out and perfect the model.

What do I think of this? After putting it off for 3 months, I will be first in line to buy an SUV when they open.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wildblotter keeps you informed about crime in your neighborhood

Last year, Jack Robert was sitting in the kitchen of his new home in Eastern Washington. Being a father of 2 young boys combined with transplanting from Seattle, Jack wanted a quick pulse on crime in the little town of Chelan, Washington. Surely it would be something much less than Western Washington, but how could he really know?

Thus began a quest to figure out how Chelan fared from a crime perspective. He scoured the local paper, the web, as well as the local courthouse and police station websites for articles and police blotter information. He then took one more obvious step and did a Google mapping of registered sex offenders in the area on Family Watchdog.

"After nearly 4 hours, I had a fairly clear idea of crime in the area," Jack recalls, "But I should not have had to search so many places for this information - it should not have taken so long."

A former product manager and market analyst from Seattle, Jack set out to see if there was a way to bring all of this information to a single sight for people. Wildblotter was born.

Wildblotter indexes and aggregates data on crime from over 20,000 cities nationwide, and integrates sex offender mapping into a single website. People can also set up alerts for keywords and types of crime that they want to be contacted about. Robert says that the site has become popular for people that want to keep abreast of crime activity in their neighborhood. The free service is ad supported and serves over 177,000 users nationwide, but growth is skyrocketing as parents and neighbors spread the word.

Wildblotter's team of 3 is now working on some tools that users have requested; online tools to help organize and run neighborhood watches, and some tools to help users compare crime relative to other neighborhoods.

"Our data sources are neither perfect nor complete, so it can be challenging to help people compare crime with other locations," says Robert of their site. Missing persons and Amber Alert data feeds are currently in the works.

While basic ads keep the lights on, Wildblotter is in discussion with companies like ADT, Americas Most Wanted's Safety Center, and Dateline NBC. Partnerships like these will further strengthen Wildblotter's value proposition. Other discussions are ongoing which would make Wildblotter a web service for other site, a much more distributed model.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Phatfinger started mobile, going social is a niche mobile community for outdoor enthusiasts. Hardcore outdoor enthusiasts number close to 50 million people in the United States, out of a total outdoor activity group numbering close to 100 million. Of this group, about 20 million are extreme sports fans that make their passions part of their everyday life.

The concept began three years ago as a text messaging solution that allowed whitewater kayakers to retrieve real time river flows on their mobile phones. Soon, the founders were contacted by users wanting to see other outdoor data, such as surf, wind, snow pack, and other related data also added to the service. Naturally wanting the free service to be super useful for the community, they obliged.

That is when it really got interesting... as users nationwide started pinging the Phatfinger network via SMS for outdoor conditions, the next logical step for the service was a group messaging feature that allowed climbers to pass on condition info to a predefined group of friends in the course of planning their next trip.

"Soon, we started seeing activity levels that led us to believe we could create an even more interesting service that acknowledged these groups, creating a social network as a natural byproduct of using the service," says co-founder Bodie Chreesta.

So where's the money?

With healthy usage during peak seasons, Phatfinger is monetizing the network through (you guessed it) advertising. In addition to tagline text adds appended to SMS message traffic, online ads also accompany the group and activity profile pages. The text ads are particularly exciting because in many cases Phatfinger understands geographic context and is able to deliver the most relevant ads to the users.

"When a group of 5 or 10 kayakers are running the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and use our service, the local North Bend Bar & Grill delivers a half off ad to the group as part of the text message," explains Bodie, "You can bet those paddlers will think twice about grabbing a burger and beers on their way home."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Coming to a Soccer Game Near You

Coffeestream has been slowly building their brand in the Seattle area since 2005. Their signature is their fleet of classic Airstream trailers retrofitted into high tech latte stands. James and William Scorky, two brothers from North Bend, started the company by taking their parent's old Airstream and turning it into a latte stand for games and other local special events. Soon, the the local community began to expect an Airstream at every fair and event. To make matters more interesting, event and fair organizers from across Washington State soon began calling the brothers to request their presence, by popular demand.
One key to their success is their commitment to great coffee and a super clean operation. Brewers of the delicious Zoka Coffee, the brothers' mobile coffee business appeals to all types of coffee taste. Add to that the brand recognition, and you have a recipe for success.

What's next for the business that has grown to a fleet of 35 Coffeestreams? James says they are experimenting with placing Coffeestreams along interstate travel corridors like I-90 and I-5, focusing on locations where no alternative exists for weary travelers that need a latte fix. Rest stops, and remote gas stations along the well traveled Interstate seem to be picking up on the Coffeestream brand.

"The great thing for Coffeestream is our inherent ability to experiment with location and make adjustments quickly," says Will, who heads up the customization shop for the Airstream trailers.

myHybrid unleashed

MyHybrid LLC today unveiled their social network for hybrid enthusiasts. The concept is pretty interesting. By forging partnerships with Toyota, myHybrid will be embedding their technology in all 2008/2009 Toyota Hybrid models, allowing the car to upload statistics periodically to the myHybrid network to compare with a broader community of hybrid drivers.

The first feature that is already gaining a lot of momentum is the myHybrid Leaderboard. The Spokane, Washington based company MyHybrid captures the statistics of thousands of commutes each day by hybrid owners, and posts the most efficient to the myHybrid Leaderboard. Drivers can view the leaderboard from their dashboard, and set goals for their commute. Additionally, myHybrid delivers low impact suggestions to the driver on how to make their drive more efficient. To make it even more interesting, drivers can access the network online to create/join groups, as well as narrow their focus to only drivers in their city, or those that share some of their commuting route. The next step for myHybrid is a real-time leaderboard showing cars that are actively commuting around you along with their stats.

Of particular interest is that new Toyota owners will be invited to join the myHybrid community and create their profile from the dashboard of their car when they turn on their navigation system for the first time! The founders of the company believe that this sort of interaction between user and car will spawn an entirely new set of web services centered around the commuter.

Friday, October 5, 2007

PicturePal launches beta

I have been following the stealth startup PicturePal for sometime. Unfortunately under NDA, I was unable to post anything about it - until now. This weekend, some of the most popular resort destinations on the island of Kauai will feature PicturePal kiosks for guests to upload their pictures from their digital camera memory cards.

Founder Sommer Jayson has been developing this offering for the last 10 months, "On my last trip to the islands, I was struck by the fact that every tourist struggled with the same problem as I did." Jayson, on an extended family vacation with a party of 12, found she had used up all of her camera memory in the first 2 days. On a quest to buy more memory, she found not only that prices for memory were very inflated on the resort island, but most memory types including hers were out of stock.

Jayson's ONLY CHOICE was to stand in a hellishly long line for the Kodak Picture Maker and go through the painful process of selecting which of the hundreds of photos she wanted to print out.

"I was really annoyed that I was spending my precious vacation time sorting through photos and printing them out. Unfortunately this was my only choice," Jayson recalls.

PicturePal aims to solve this problem by offering resort and hotel lobby kiosks that allow guests to simply upload their pictures to a secure web folder, allowing them to clear their memory for another day of picture taking. When their vacation is over and they are back at home, they can simply access their photos to download, print, share, or buy prints online.

Even better is the cost of the service: FREE.

Jayson believes that by offering the upload service for free, that other revenue opportunities will surface with online photo companies. In fact, Kodak and Yahoo have already been calling the small Seattle-based firm, wanting to initiate partnering discussions.

From our perspective, we see PicturePal taking advantage of two key trends that show no indication of slowing: (1) Digital cameras continue to offer more megapixels despite the diminishing returns to the casual photosnapper. This will in turn drive the demand and cost for digital memory. (2) No matter how many Gigs a memory card is, it never seems to be enough for digital photographers. While digital allows photographers to take and review multiples of the same picture and then delete the bad ones, our theory is that few have the discipline to delete the bad photos.

As long as digital memory is in constant shortage for vacationers, PicturePal should see strong growth. I will be watching the PicturePal team, seems like they are onto something...