TechCrunch 50

I’m up at Techcrunch 50 today, along with a gaggle of other folks from the media, startup, and investor community. Lot’s of companies, but truth be told not a lot that I find that interesting.

I sat in on some of the sessions, which are a Demo-style “pitch then sharpshoot” format featuring a panel of know-it-all investors and pundits. The point of my sarcasm is not directed at any one element of this but rather the steep hill that companies have to climb in order to connect with the audience with such a format. I think you pretty much have to give up all of the supporting props in your pitch in order to be effective and further complicating matters is that the audience is the 4, 5, or 6 folks on the panel as opposed to the audience out in the chairs.

Let’s be honest, the value of the elevator pitch is vastly overstated, at best it is an exercise that entrepreneurs should use to prepare for something like this, while doing an elevator pitch on stage simply doesn’t work in practice.

In the absence of a better alternative this is what we are stuck with, and as such it would benefit conference organizers to double down in their efforts to prepare presenting companies to help them take advantage of the format. Quite honestly, I found most of the pitch sessions to be yawners.

This is not to say there is nothing interesting here. Among better known names in the startup community, such as Qik, there are companies that I have never heard of who are new and those that are truly new.

Zong is just such an example of a company that has been around for a while, 8 years to be exact, doing something very difficult and succeeding at it, mobile micropayments. The company behind Zong is Echovox, a transplant from Europe that is now located in Redwood City. The way it works is like this, you setup your service to accept a mobile payment from Zong which then passes a keycode to a user via SMS that the users then inputs into the service to authenticate the user. Neat.

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With 68 carriers currently active, Zong claims critical mass penetration in North America and Europe, and is bringing Latin America online as well which will move them closer to their 3 billion user goal. I like this company because it is mobile payments that work with a developed and deployed infrastructure that serves as an effective barrier to entry for potential competitors.

MAXroam is another very cool company but in the interests of full disclosure, I count founder Pat Phelan as a good friend (and over the weekend he gave me an iphone 3g unlocked sim card, sweet). In a nutshell, with MAXroam you get a SIM that can provide local numbers in up to 50 countries and a local per minute rate no matter where you roam. If you travel internationally or do business internationally and want a local number that forwards to your regular number, you really need MAXroam.

Lastly, one of my favorite companies at TC50 is Shryk, an online banking platform targeted to a young demographic, in some cases very young demographic. Shryke is targeted at young people because financial literacy begins at a young age and there are few, if any, services that enable the 5-24 demographic to engage in financial management coupled with a positive incentive system. I love this company. The one criticism that I would level at the company is that they need to make it easy to move from interest to engagement through their website, in other words, removing the barriers to entry for interested visitors to get on the system.

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