3 Early-Stage Startups to Watch

My pick of three highly-compelling, yet not over-hyped, early-stage technology startups to watch in 2019.

While most early-stage technology startups fail to return the invested capital, select few find a way to thrive and make it big, against all odds.

I am really excited about these three, little-known yet very promising ventures:

1. OpenPhone.co is a mobile app that adds a second phone number on your existing device. Keep your personal phone number, personal. Disruptive mobile phone technology SaaS app.

What to Expect from the Open Phone App

• This SaaS startup has the potential to impact the future of how people use their mobile phones.
• In my view, this product is especially useful for small business owners and folks who are a part of the rapidly growing gig economy.
• The company is already generating revenue, and hence ready to scale.
• The startup has recently raised its series A round of financing, after graduating from Y Combinator, the world’s most respected startup accelerator whose alumni include the likes of AirBnB and Drop Box.

To see for yourself, you can try OpenPhone service for free

2. Service.com is a two-sided home improvement market place leveraging their website and a mobile app to connect homeowners with remodeling contractors. The service enables a differentiated level of experience by streamlining communication between homeowners and contractors, as well as facilitating the payments between the homeowner and a pro.

• This startup is “uberizing” the home remodeling space (a notoriously fragmented industry plagued by over-payments, project cost over runs, and bad outcomes/dissatisfied homeowners) by helping homeowners connect with service pros, as well as save time and money.
• To protect the homeowners, contractors only get paid when the homeowner is satisfied with their home remodeling project.
• The use of mobile technology for payments and connecting the service pros to homeowners is the pinnacle of the gig economy.
• The company is somewhat of an enigma, because it’s not your typical Silicone Valley startup. In fact, this “series A” stage startup was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. The company is already serving homeowners across the US and generating revenue.

In my view, Service.com is a compelling case of a startup trying to solve a very difficult problem; ensuring positive home remodeling outcomes for homeowners at a fair price, all through the convenience of a streamlined experience of a mobile app, which is quite similar to Uber.

The upstart is challenging some very serious entrenched players such as the 10,000 pounds Gorilla HomeAdvisor.com, a company that generates and sells each homeowner’s lead directly to several contractors, but stays out of the transaction between the homeowner and contractor.

Then, there is also the good old Angie’s List, a contractor review and lead generation site that has been acquired by Home Advisor in 2017.

Notably, aside from generating and selling homeowners leads directly to contractors, these old school competitors don’t provide the full level of service (akin to Uber and Lyft) to homeowners. This vacuum of service is where Service.com comes in with their differentiated business model of being the Uber of Home Remodeling services.

Service.com also competes with Porch.com, a Seattle based contractor referral service backed by Lowe’s.

Indirectly, Service.com is also competing with another Seattle based startup Pro.com whose recent and prior backers include Maveron, Madrona Venture Group, Andreessen Horowitz, Redpoint Ventures, Two Sigma Ventures, Sherpa Foundry and Bezos Expeditions, the venture capital firm of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

Interestingly, Pro.com started out as a true full-service home remodeling (Uber-like) concierge for homeowners — facilitating the entire home improvement process for homeowners, which included project estimating and project management, project payments, etc., but the company has recently pivoted to a completely different business model — becoming a full-service (technology-enabled) general contractor — carrying out the actual home remodeling work for homeowners in select geographies including Seattle and San Francisco.

As an aside, if you are into “Big Data”, there is also a later stage (series B) San Francisco’s based BuildZoom.com, a 2013 Y Combinator graduate, leveraging various sources of public data to assess the contractor’s quality score (BZ score) and allowing homeowners to view the contractor’s recent projects (and project costs) in the area via a simple and intuitive map overlay, which is pretty cool.

The bottom line: Service.com is the latest true early-stage technology startup trying to become the Uber of Home Improvements.

3. RevenueCat.com “boring” SaaS helps mobile app developers manage their in-app subscriptions.

Revenue Cat In-app subscriptions made easy for Android and iOS

• Offers API that app developers can use to support/enable in-app subscriptions on iOS and Android.
• This seed stage Y Combinator startup is already generating respectable $350,000 in monthly revenue (the revenue data as of five months ago).
• If I were to make a prediction, this startup will likely evolve to become a full-fledged mobile app development platform/SaaS or get acquired by a bigger player like Apple/Samsung/Google to enhance their existing mobile app development offerings.

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