Booktrope (YC W15) Rethinks Book Publishing

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard horror stories about the publishing industry — books that are rejected by publisher after publisher, books that sit in submission piles for years, books that are published but basically disappear without publisher support.

At the same time, self-publishing has its risks for authors, too. You could end up paying a lot of your own money to an editor and/or a designer, and if you don’t, you could end up with a poorly edited book and a lame cover that looks, well, self-published.

So Booktrope, part of the current class of startups at Y Combinator, is taking a different approach. On one level, Booktrope is a publisher itself, but one that allows authors to go around the gatekeepers of traditional publishing while still working with a professional team.

Open Listings (YC W15) Enables Home Buyers To Purchase Houses Without Real Estate Agents

"Open Listings is a startup fresh out of the current Y Combinator batch that’s easing the home buying process by letting people move forward without real estate agents.

Because two-thirds of the overall residential market involves repeat buyers, some people may not want to rely on agents because they’re already familiar with what to do. So instead, Open Listings will refund the 3 percent agent commission, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars here in California, and charge a flat fee instead. It’s basically a self-service platform with on-demand human experts.

Their belief is that the Internet is diminishing the role of the real estate agent by making it a lot easier to find homes, but commissions are getting out of control as they rise with the overall (insane) cost of real estate. (I’m mostly referring to California, which is Open Listings’ first market and makes up about 15 percent of national home sales.)"

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20n (YC W15), A YC Synthetic Biology Startup, Uses Software To Engineer Microbes For Chemical-Making

"20n, one of a wave of biotech-related startups that Y Combinator is starting to fund, is the brainchild of a UC Berkeley professor and a post-doc.

Saurabh Srivastava and J. Christopher Anderson have worked together for several years developing software that can design genetically engineered microbes to make specific chemicals. While at their DARPA-backed lab at UC Berkeley, they created bacteria that could produce acetaminophen or Tylenol.

Their special sauce is their software platform. While there are companies that do license out ways to create bacteria that produce specialty chemicals, the process of identifying how to create these microbes is tedious. 20n says its data mining technology can get to 100 times more chemicals than were previously thought possible."

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Bright (YC W15) Aims To Bring Solar Power To Mexico

"Jonah Greenberger envisions Mexico’s rooftops covered in cost-effective, environmentally friendly, dark blue solar panels. The 28-year-old founder of Y Combinator-backed solar power startup Bright left his job working in fossil fuels at Chevron to work on lowering exorbitant energy costs for the people of Mexico.

“The third world pays the most for electricity. Mexico has the most potential to be disrupted because it’s really sunny there,” he told me over the phone.

The electric system in Mexico is both expensive and complicated. The government subsidizes the poorest people, and the wealthier citizens end up paying the most. Fees can get up to over $4,000 USD in the hot month of August when not subsidized, according to the Mexican Federal Electric Commission."

Answerbook (YC W15) Helps Retailers Automate Personalized Email Campaigns

"A team of e-commerce vets is today launching a new service aimed at online retailers called Answerbook which allows companies to better target shoppers with highly personalized emails based on those customers’ website and email interactions as well as their purchase history. The solution today is largely aimed at smaller retailers, like those hosting their sites on e-commerce platforms like Shopify, where they have somewhere between half a million to a million in sales.

However, the company is already talking to larger businesses in an effort to develop an enterprise tier to its service, we’re told.

Answerbook was founded last year by Chris Nguyen and Lee Liu, both of whom have backgrounds in e-commerce and using data for targeting purposes. The two had previously built and sold their recruiting site JobLoft to onTargetjobs in 2007, and then sold dating site Cupid.com to EasyDate. They also founded a social commerce site called TeamSave in 2010."

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For Y Combinator-funded influencer startup Themidgame (YC W15), it’s about more than money

"This story is not just about a startup that wants to redefine its category. 

This story is about a startup that wants to redefine its category — and become a model to spark the startup scene in the home country of its cofounders, Colombians Andrés Felipe Diaz and Carlos Saavedra.

The company, Themidgame, has just scored $120,000 from famed seed accelerator Y Combinator — and gained access to the accompanying ecosystem of contacts — so it can add human interaction to the management of influencers. Next month, it presents at the accelerator’s Demo Day."

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NexTravel (YC W14) Wants To Change The Way Corporate Travel Is Booked

"Booking travel is never easy, but booking travel for work is even worse. NexTravel wants to provide a better way for employees to search flights and hotels, while giving employers the ability to track and manage costs.

Even as consumers have gotten used to using simple online platforms for booking their own travel, the corporate travel world has failed to catch up. Employees are asked to navigate archaic travel booking websites or talking to travel agents for hours trying to get the right hotels or flights confirmed.

Meanwhile, many small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have a good travel-booking platform. That means employees usually end up booking their own work travel, but managers have few tools to track, approve or control travel expense costs.

NexTravel hopes to offer the same sort of ease and convenience users have grown to love from consumer platforms, while giving employers ways to track and lower the cost of corporate travel. It provides a way for businesses to centralize their booking process in a fast, cost-effective way."

Perceptiv’s SHIFT (YC W15) Turns Drones Into Smart Dollies For Filmmakers

Drone tech is exciting and full of potential, but few companies are focusing on tech that provides benefits drone users can enjoy now, without spending a fortune or managing an architectural firm or large-scale agricultural concern. Perceptiv Labs, a YC Winter 2015 cohort startup with a founding team out of Waterloo’s top-flight robotics engineering department, is offering high-flying drone hobbyists, filmmakers and journalists a relatively affordable, yet advanced way to introduce some highly intelligent automation into their high-flying video antics right now.

Perceptiv, which also has funding from Version One Ventures, is launching SHIFT today via pre-order campaign, a $600 accessory (which will retail post-campaign for $800) that works with the DJI Phantom and 3D Robotics Iris, providing a vision sensor, processor and autopilot program for capturing amazing aerial shots via subject tracking. Essentially, it turns these hobbyist drones into robotic flying dollies for capturing great pans, zooms and fly-by shots, with computer vision tech making sure to keep a user-defined subject exactly where it needs to be in the frame along the way.

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Luka (YC W15), The App That Replaces Your Foodie Friend, Goes Live In SF

"IO, the company that launched on stage at Disrupt Europe and is looking to replace Yelp with a natural language recommendation engine, is today launching its service publicly in the Bay Area.

The app, re-branded from IO to Luka, is going live with more than 2,000 restaurants signed on in the Bay Area. But how does it all work?

Luka is an app that looks a lot like an SMS conversation. Users can message Luka with questions like “Anything fun to do tonight?” or “I have a date tonight. Where should we go?”

Luka then processes those requests and sends back recommendations that are based not only on the request itself but your history and preferences. Luka learns that you are a vegetarian or that you’re addicted to cheese or that a good fried fish taco is your reason for living. Knowing these things, Luka transforms what is usually a tedious browsing experience on Yelp into a relaxed experience in which Luka is doing the work."

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