Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Last night's Web Innovators Group event; Swaptree

Back to the Web Innovators Group demo-and-networking event last night in Cambridge. Founder David Beisel has provided a growing forum that makes obvious the rising pitch of enthusiasm for new tech ventures -- for the first time in over five years. Wow; who'd have ever guessed?

The standout presentation to the SRO crowd of maybe almost 200 (wild estimate), from my point of view, was of Swaptree, which you could describe as an online marketplace for trading stuff, focused on books, CDs, and video games. They say they've been working on it for two years, and it shows: what made it look so good is the admirable thoroughness of their design and plans. It's currently in a private beta, which their site invites viewers to write and ask to join.

They seem to have thought of everything: you enter the ISBN number of the item you want to trade, and their database knows what it's worth, how much it weighs and will therefore cost to ship, and who is looking for one. You mail it to them using the shipping label provided on the site, just print it out, and mail it in the groovy, "like Netflix"-but-green logoed envelope they'll send you. They're working on a third-party deal to provide the postage, too.

Naturally, they've included a role for Google Maps (because if your business plan doesn't somehow include or at least refer to Google this year, then you "just don't get it"), but for the clever use of showing where the closest person is geographically who wants what you've got. "Then you can arrange to meet them at Starbucks," the presenter said -- very fast. Maybe he'd just been there, or it could have been from trying to shoehorn two years of development into the six minutes alloted each speed-talking entrepreneur.

You can even do trades involving three or four people: like when...

-- Tangent Alert! --
...the Celtics sent Antoine Walker to the Heat last year (good for you, 'Toine) in a five team deal, receiving in return a dizzying combination of players, draft picks and parking spaces from the Grizzlies, Jazz and Hornets.

That was in fact the largest trade in NBA history, with thirteen players, many of whom were "thrown in just to make the numbers work," given the salary cap. Just for the record, we would happily accept being thrown into any deal "just to make the numbers work" if the portion due us of those numbers ended with five or six zeroes, as it does for all those NBA ballers.

(Now, don't start in again about players' salaries -- how come nobody ever seems to complain equally about the owners' profits? And aren't the latter free to refuse to pay those salaries? ...Okay, we're done -- sorry.)
Oh, and Swaptree, yes... very cool. The next WebInno party is soft-scheduled for September.

The fellows over at the BostonWTF Web Technology Forum were there, too; here's their much more erudite take on it, with analysis of the business models, competition "in that space," etc. (But guys, do you have to make your logo look like Dunkin' Donuts'? It's cute, yeah, but somehow it gives me that faint reminder of indigestion, like...)

Techjots covered it, too, with a similarly healthy dose of VC-speak.

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