Well, here's one thing that doesn't seem to be in evidence in Sicily: a burbling startup scene. I dropped in at Web Innovators 26 (it seems only yesterday I was at Webinno18) at the Royal Sonesta to check out the demos and pitches. As usual, there were some "main dishes" that got longer demo spots and some "sides" that got 15 seconds. All had tables and the big ballroom was packed.
Maybe it's the recessionary times, but I noted that the companies on offer seemed to cluster around the more basic of human needs. Not to say they weren't smart and sophisticated ideas. Here's a rundown, and then I'll get to the strange underwear theme that ran through the evening like an elastic waistband.
Birchbox, a "new concept in beauty retail" that sounds just a little bit like a fancy coffin.
Chargify, a recurring billing service for serial entrepreneurs who have better things to do than worry about dunning and fraud.
DoInk, a community of "artists, animators and doodlers" reusing one another's artwork to create animations and drawings. they ran away with the audience choice award by a wide margin, and many tweets reminded people to "show this to the kids."
JitterJam, some "web-based social marketing software"
manpacks, just what it sounds like, automated underwear delivery for "busy men"
Milabra, a "Visual Intelligence Platform" that serves up ads based on the color and content of a website's imagery. Smart MIT guys, cool technology, kinda sluggish demo.
Trustmarker, a provider of "digital trustmark networks" which are, um, those things, you know, like verisign, but your own. I think.
Marketeers have heard endless variants on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the philosophy of selling "medicine, not vitamins" but I thought this was largely (not entirely!) a refreshingly down to earth bunch of startup ideas. What's more basic than entertaining kids, feeling good about how you look, building trust, and getting around town cost-effectively?
But those concepts are as often as not boring or undifferentiated. And that's probably why what's arguably the most absurd of the ideas - manpacks - was the one that everyone, even the other presenters, was taking about. As the Lorax pointed out, you do not need a thneed, and as I am pointing out, if you're too busy to pull together some underwear, you need to re-think your business. But the image of busy (or more likely, lazy) men ordering a tailored internet subscription to their, um, unmentionables, has a strange appeal.
Manpacks is the youngest of the webinno companies - the only one founded in 2010 - and it's already got a bunch of press. I have no idea if it has or deserves any customers. Maybe it's just a brilliant publicity stunt for some other business, but it helps us ask two good questions...
1. does your business actually solve a real problem?
2. have you built a story around it that would make anybody care?