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I was delighted to be invited to serve as a Sage (judge) at this year’s DEMO Spring 2012 Conference.  DEMO, as many of you may know, is a series of conferences sponsored by IDG/VentureBeat that identify tomorrow’s cutting-edge technologies. More than 80 start-up companies brought their new products and services to the DEMO stage to sell the audience of venture capitalists, IT professionals, industry analysts and news media on their ideas.

Along with three venture capitalists from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Menlo Ventures and Greylock Partners, I judged the consumer technology category of demonstrators -- 16 interesting and for the most part -- viable products and services. A lot of very cool ideas!

I’ll share my thoughts on my favorites.  The product I liked the most is a company called DealAngel, a search engine for hotel deals that uses pricing analytics to surface the ‘real deals.’ What I liked most is that DealAngel helps the consumer find the deal (rather than just searching for it). The deals were easy to find and use, and intuitive, not only during the initial travel initial planning stages but also on the fly. As an executive who travels frequently and has to manage flight changes due to weather and delays, I’d love to have an app that helps me find the best deal when I need it most – in the airport! DealAngel helps travelers optimize their company’s or their personal spend on travel. Now if only they’d create something similar for shoes!

Also in the travel category is a product called Eva, an app that enables the travel industry to offer customers the ability to search for travel using free text the same way they search for everything else. Eva stood out in my mind because it has the ability to transform the travel industry.  It crosses the social, mobile, and visual pillars. In addition to being very easy to use, it can change the entire experience, for example, by integrating with Facebook. So if you are traveling with or want to share with family and friends, it is very easy to integrate your travel experience with social media. Truly a transformational product!  

Another favorite is the BodyMedia Patch. The patch combines four sensors to track biometric health data.  It is designed as a diagnostic tool used to track health and fitness. This is a fantastic idea – an easy way to gauge what’s happening with your body such as caloric intake, exercise, blood pressure and stress level.  It is very easy to use and requires minimal data entry. Unlike other similar products, the differentiator with BodyMediaPatch is its level of accuracy – it is also all encompassing and FDA approved. 

A second health-related product is My Coupon Doc, which sources and displays discounts on prescription and over the counter medications. This is an absolutely spectacular idea – online coupons to cut the cost of your medicine!  I imagine that the older demographic is a big audience for this product. My only question is how to encourage the elderly to take full advantage of it, particularly if they aren’t computer, mobile device or Internet savvy. 

I based my decisions on four important factors:  the “experience” matters, ease of use, value add and differentiation. Several of the companies we saw hit it out of the park with their concepts. Others stumbled somewhat on the consumer experience and ease of use. As one of my judging peers noted, it is very hard to simplify a product – but if this isn’t done, you’ll lose the consumer.

I’ll close with a product that was differentiated from the others because it was aimed at a primarily high school and college age market – Intuitive Motion’s ZBoard, the world’s first, weight-sensing electric skateboard that has a top speed of 17 miles per hour. It’s a terrific idea and a great way to think about transportation differently.  ZBoard defines its market opportunity this way:  “Boys with their toys and folks who live/work on campuses where everything is too far to walk and too short to drive.” My only adjustment to that statement is that it’s for girls too – let’s see a model just for the female audience!

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