They are among us. They float, distracted and iPhone-bewitched, from their Downtown crash pads at the Ogden to the counter at The Beat, where they order strong coffees and afford us fleeting looks at their T-shirts, branded with the names of companies they themselves own and operate, before they turn and drift upstairs to Emergency Arts’ /usr/lib coworking space, where potential billionaires mix and mingle with potential gazillionaires.
The Vegas Tech scene is a fact. (Sounds like a university, doesn’t it? Fight on, Vegas Tech!) In choosing to move his billion-dollar online retail operation to Downtown Las Vegas, Zappos’ big-shoed Tony Hsieh has inspired a burgeoning tech culture in what was very recently Not a Burgeoning Tech Culture. But who are these startup firms, the companies who make Vegas Tech a reality? What do they hope to accomplish? How will we benefit from their labors? Is /usr/lib affiliated with the Bavarian Illuminati? And do any of them have a chance of soaring above the mother ship by actually becoming the next Zappos? Let’s meet some of our most promising startups and find out.
Founded: By Mark Cicoria, Mark Johnson, Shaun Swanson and Shavonnah Tièra, all of them core Las Vegans (“One-hundred percent of our team grew up in Vegas,” Tièra says proudly) who racked up years of software development ninja skills before launching Ayloo in 2011.
What they say they do: “Our iPhone app tells you about gatherings you’ll care about in your city.”
What I think they do: It’s a community-center bulletin board made digital, connecting you with all the bake sales, motivational lectures and punk-rock yoga sessions you can eat. It’s pretty dang cool.
Will it become the next Zappos? The comparison doesn’t really apply; one is a storefront, the other a kind of interactive events calendar. However, the two companies share one deeply felt value: They believe that success comes from stirring one’s sense of community. Slap some advertising on this baby and it’ll dominate.
Founded: By Andrew Crump and Piers Rollinson in London in 2010. Before Bluefields, Crump ran a consulting firm (“Great money, but soulless”) and a renewable technology startup, and Rollinson sold his first company while still in college. The company is run from both London and Vegas, but its creators hope to spend more time here in the coming years.
What they say they do: “Organize your sports team without the hassle. Discover the best way to schedule games and communicate with players.”
What I think they do: Once it’s up and running, Bluefields should become the tool for setting up weekly basketball games between friends or softball grudge matches between rival companies. It schedules games, keeps track of player availability and even reminds you of upcoming games.
Will it become the next Zappos? Unlikely; a lot more people wear athletic shoes than actually use them for athletics. But like Rolltech Bowling (see Page 34), it has the potential to compel armchair athletes to get up and do something. I think Bluefields’ post-launch growth will be slow, but steady and robust. That’s how you win.
Founded: By Amy Jo Martin, formerly director of digital media and research for the Phoenix Suns, in 2009. The company moved from Phoenix to Vegas in June 2012.
What they say they do: “We develop digital integration and social-media strategies for corporate and entertainment brands, professional athletes, sports teams and leagues.”
What I think they do: As near as I can tell, they put tweets in people’s mouths. Everybody has a social-media brand now, including your mom. DR fine-tunes your mom’s social-media brand, and also those of Shaquille O’Neal, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hilton’s DoubleTree brand and many others.
Will it become the next Zappos? Unlikely. By design, Digital Royalty has a fairly small base of potential customers to draw from; not everyone cares if their social-media presence is massaged and refined. But those who do care will pay piles of money for a Twitter feed that reaches millions.
Founded: By Jody Sherman and Emily Blakeney in Venice, California, in February 2009. Before running Ecomom, Sherman ran a private-jet booking service that he eventually sold to Richard Branson, while Blakeney ran a retail store for healthy families called Eden’s Green Closet. Ecomom came to Las Vegas last January.
What they say they do: “Ecomom provides easy access to healthy alternatives to conventional products.”
What I think they do: Want to feed your kids organic food? Buy them handmade toys? Dress them in made-in-the-USA organic cotton onesies? Ecomom features these products and more, and at prices that won’t break you.
Will it become the next Zappos? I think it will. Like Zappos, Ecomom is strongly customer-service-oriented; the company tests every product it sells, and is generous with its discounts. And there are a lot of moms in the world, and they buy a lot of stuff.
Founded: By Tom Ellingson and Dean Curtis in Las Vegas in November 2011. The founders proudly say that the company was launched shortly before another important event: the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena, where UNLV beat the snot out of then-top-ranked North Carolina.
What they say they do: “Fandeavor’s game-day experiences provide exclusive access to the field, court, broadcast booth, locker room, athletes and coaches from your favorite teams!”
What I think they do: Want to see the San Diego Chargers from a premier suite, attend their pregame party and pose for photos with the Charger Girls? Fandeavor gives you all that in one package, priced slightly less than a used Honda Civic.
Will it become the next Zappos? I’m kind of amazed it hasn’t already done so. I’m interested in what they do, and I detest virtually all spectator sports … with the exception of women’s flat-track roller derby, of course.
Founded: In May 2011 by Phu Nguyen, Keller Rinaudo and Peter Seid. The three Arizona-raised partners have known each other since grade school. Fun fact: Rinaudo was a professional rock climber for a time.
What they say they do: “We build simple, affordable and flexible robotic platforms that interact with humans in meaningful ways.”
What I think they do: They build robots! Romotive makes your smartphone into a robot that can roll around your home, shoot video and make cute faces at you. At first blush it may look like a simple toy, but its ease of programmability can make it a useful household tool. At the very least, it moves us one step closer to the day Skynet becomes self-aware.
Will it become the next Zappos? You bet your life it could. These little robots are cool as hell. You can play games with them or use them to frighten your pets, and they can even learn from your behaviors over time. I wish I had one to write this article for me. (For more on Romotive, read our February 2012 feature story at VegasSeven.com/Romo.)
Founded: By Rich Belsky in Las Vegas in May 2011. Before starting Rolltech, Belsky—a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law—worked in the poker industry as a writer, tournament reporter and talent manager.
What they say they do:"We love bowling. Heck, we even love watching bowling. But we wanted an easier way to connect. A platform to help us improve. We wanted detailed stats of our performance over time. In short, we wanted to make the sport that we love that much more lovable."
What I think they do: They make an app that tracks and shares your bowling score and stats in real time, essentially making real bowling into a kind of video game. You can compete with friends in other cities, other countries—or at different bowling alleys on opposite sides of the Valley.
Will it become the next Zappos? Probably not. When was the last time you went bowling? Even I haven’t been in several months, and I’m a Little Lebowski Urban Achiever. But that’s OK. Rolltech abides, man. And they just might get lots of us bowling again, if this thing catches fire.
Founded: By Dylan Bathurst, Ray Morgan and Alex Coleman during the first Las Vegas Startup Weekend in June 2011. All three are Zappos alums: Bathurst and Coleman were on front-end development teams, and Morgan was on the mobile-development team.
What they say they do: “Connect people through the simple act of buying and selling.”
What I think they do: Rumgr is an app that allows you to put most anything up for sale in seconds, except for animals, weapons, booze, drugs and pornography. (What’s left?) It’s got a snazzy look, too—like the love child of Craigslist and Instagram. You can leaf through it like you’re skimming an online catalog.
Will it become the next Zappos? It could. This is the Amazon of secondhand trash and treasures. Buying and selling on Rumgr is addictive and fun; it’s like yard-sale shopping without the sticker shock and creepy, muumuu-clad salespeople inviting you into their homes to “come meet Mother.” (For more on Rumgr, see VegasSeven.com/Rumgr.)
Founded: By Joe Henriod, Dylan Jorgensen and Jacqueline Jensen. It launched in January 2011 as the nightlife ticket supplier to the Sundance Film Festival. The Salt Lake City company moved to Las Vegas last May.
What they say they do: “An online event-management system with low service fees, great customer service and social-media tools to help you sell more tickets.”
What I think they do: They’re a true “ticketless” ticketing company with low service fees. We’ve elected presidents for doing less. Ticket Cake por la vida! Rubbin’ it in Ticketmaster’s stupid, omnipotent face!
Will it become the next Zappos? The next Ticketmaster, you mean. I hope it will be, but there’s a lot of competition out there: Eventbrite, TicketWeb, Brown Paper Tickets and many other hungry upstarts. We need to have a ticket-broker cage match. But who will sell the tickets?
Founded: By Jimmy Jacobson, a former Zappos software developer and API advocate, and Porter Haney, formerly a product owner for Salt Lake City-based startup eXperticity, in Las Vegas last summer.
What they say they do: “What is a Wedgie? It’s a simple, tweetable poll with real-time results.”
What I think they do: It’s an online survey tool that’s ridiculously easy to use, and just as fun. In just seconds, you can build a this-against-that poll that you can put on your Facebook, Twitter or Web page. Boxers vs. briefs? Should I stay or should I go? You can make all your decisions with Wedgies.
Will it become the next Zappos? I’m tempted to make a Wedgie for this question, though I know the answer to my question is “yes.” Social-media add-ons are becoming big business indeed—just look at Instagram and Klout, both of which have raised mountains of money in the past year.