FundersClub (YC S12) goes invite-only

“Democratizing venture capital” sounds great until equity crowdfunding fills startup financing rounds with amateur angels who don’t add value. So while other funding platforms open the floodgates to any accredited investor, and eventually anyone if the JOBS Act goes into full effect, FundersClub will now only accept investors who’ve been invited by existing members or applied for an invite.

FundersClub was a pioneer in the equity crowdfunding space when it launched a year ago. The company acts as an online VC that vets startups looking to raise money, secures space in their upcoming funding round, and then lets its members invest money to fill up the space. The idea is not to replace traditional expert venture capitalists, but augment them with a crowd of evangelists, recruiters and connectors.

Since it was founded, the Y Combinator-accelerated FundersClub has raised $6.5 million for itself. It has also collected $7.2 million for its 31 portfolio companies from its crowd of 6,700 investors.

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Coinbase (YC S12) adds SMS commands for easy mobile bitcoin transfers and requests

Coinbase has added SMS commands to their already user-friendly Bitcoin wallet and purchasing systems. The system, which uses simple commands (qr $100 will make a QR code for a $100 request to your account) and a trusted phone to make things a bit easier on BTC lovers.

Another example, “request 1.5 user@example.com sold him a bucket of steam,” allows you to request 1.5 BTC from a certain user with a note in the request. You can read more about the commands on Coinbase’s blog.

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Toutpost (YC S13) is turning online debates into the best central repository for product info and advice

I’ll just throw this out there right now: I am known around TechCrunch for making, let’s say, unwise purchasing decisions. Whereas my problem stems mostly from making those choices without much forethought, others suffer from the reverse. Some people will do research until they’re blue in the face, and they still can’t make a decision.

That’s where Amir Elaguizy, Alex Morse and Paul DeVay come in. The trio has formed a Y Combinator-backed startup called Toutpost that wants to make it easier to figure out what you should buy. How? By basically harnessing the passion and ire of fanboy throwdowns in order to give people actual, valuable purchasing advice.

“We want to remove merchants from the review process,” co-founder Amir Elaguizy told me. “Those other review aggregators are telling a story about stuff; we’re trying to tell a story about people.”

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Bloomthat (YC S13) launches on-demand flowers for $35 in 90 minutes in SF, to disrupt $8B flower delivery market

OK, so there are now Ubers-for laundryhouse cleaningdog walking, and I’ve heard rumors of an Uber-for-pedicures, although I cannot confirm at this time that such a thing exists.

But, in another spin on the growing number of startups that build services on-demand, YC is graduating an Uber-for-flowers startup this summer called Bloomthat.

They promise to deliver flowers to anywhere in San Francisco in less than 90 minutes. And yes, it works.

You pick one of four bouquets or a succulent, which cost $35, submit your billing details and a destination. Voila! About 90 minutes later, a courier will show up at the desired point bearing a bouquet in a burlap sack. The photo below is of an actual bouquet of dahlias I had delivered a few days ago.

There is also a florist’s choice bouquet for $45.

So really, how big could the Uber-for-flowers market be?

Bloomthat’s co-founder Matthew Schwab says the cut flower market is $8 billion nationally and that competitors like FTD, Teleflora and 1-800 Flowers aren’t adapting quickly enough for people to order flowers on demand from their phones.

“Basically our hypothesis is if we offered a better product that’s faster, we’d get people to send flowers more often,” he said.

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Amulyte (YC S13) is building a modern senior monitoring system so you can keep your grandparents safe

Commercial catchphrases like “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” have become the stuff of legend, but it’s not funny when one of your grandparents have been in that same situation.

University of Waterloo alumni Jaclyn Konzelmann and Perry Haldenby have been there with their own grandparents, and after discovering that most senior monitoring systems are terribly limiting they decided to take a stab at it themselves. Enter Amulyte, a YC-backed startup trying to build a smarter sort of lifeline for the elderly.

“All these devices are tied to a base station using 30-year-old technology,” Konzelmann said. And that’s fine when the person wearing them remains within the confines of their home, which is what most of these sorts of monitoring systems are equipped for. But what happens if grandpa wants to go for a leisurely stroll? Or, heaven forbid, visit a friend?

As far as the team is concerned, he should be able to grab a $99 (if you preorder) Amulyte and be on his way. The company’s eponymous gadget is a small pendant that can be worn around the neck or stowed in a pocket, and while it looks simple enough, there’s quite a bit going on inside. The Amulyte sports a cellular radio, Wi-Fi and GPS modules, an accelerometer, a micro-controller to keep all those bits running in harmony, and (most importantly) a battery will keep the thing running for up to a week. The final version of the device will also include an integrated speaker and microphone to allow for two-way communication, but at the moment the team is still trying to squeeze those components into the Amulyte’s tiny frame.

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Panorama Education (YC S13) makes polling easy for educators in 3,000 US schools, grew customer base by 100%

New Haven-based startup and current Y Combinator Summer 2013 participant Panorama Education is looking to address a major pain point for educators, students and parents around school with its polling app targeted at K-12 students. The technology is designed to replace cumbersome legacy players, and improve on less targeted, general-purpose tools like SurveyMonkey to really help survey provide meaningful insights for education.

Panorama came out of Yale alumni Aaron Feuer’s own personal frustrations with conducting surveys of classes. Feuer teamed up with fellow Yale students David Carel and Xan Tanner to create Panorama, drawing on their expertise with tracking and analyzing other types of data (sports) and their experience with the education system.

“We’re helping schools measure things, gather feedback and then use that data to improve,” Feuer said in an interview. “The big reason schools use us over SurveyMonkey is that we help them figure out what to ask, and we help them figure out what to do with the information. Tools like SurveyMonkey are great to just tell you the answers to whatever your surveying someone about, but if you want to understand what that actually means and how to interpret it, and you want to look at it in context with other data than you need something like Panorama.”

Though it’s new to YC, Panorama Education isn’t new entirely. The team started the company just before their senior year of college and have managed to sell their product into 3,000 schools in the U.S., and more than 500 abroad. Their annual recurring revenue run rate is currently at around $500,000, which is especially impressive as they only offer a paid product to the education market, which is traditionally reluctant about making budget bets on new products. During their time in YC, they’ve managed to increase their customer base by over 100 percent, and that’s a key goal they had coming into the program. But their ambition goes beyond that, Feuer says.

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Crowdery (YC S13) provides AB testing for a brand's physical products

Clothing sales can be awesome, but they can also mean racks on racks of ugly shirts that no one wanted to buy. While some customers will scoop a deal, inevitably someone gets stuck with a bunch of unwanted inventory. Crowdery, a Y Combinator startup, offers an e-commerce tool to help brands test out product designs before production to decrease surplus inventory.

Crowdery helps companies host contests, which last 10 days, on their websites to determine the most popular styles. Co-founder Maran Nelson says this approach is bringing A/B testing to physical products. While software and online platforms can beta test products before launching, industries such as clothing, furniture, jewelry and consumer electronics will end up slashing prices on unwanted inventory and losing profit.

“You have [companies] producing physical products, where these people are literally crossing their fingers and blindly making big financial decisions that they can’t iterate on,” Nelson tells me. “So we’re trying to step in and bring the user to the product at a point in the production cycle that’s still relevant.”

After a brand signs up, Crowdery sets up a white box widget for the company website, featuring several different styles for consumers to vote on. Participants are then asked for an email, age and gender, or to log in with Facebook. After the contest ends, anyone who voted for the most popular choice has the option to pre-order the item at a 30-50 percent discount. Crowdery then takes a percentage of pre-order sales.

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Swiftype (YC W12) raises $1.7M seed from A16z, NEA, Kleiner Perkins for rock solid site search

Swiftype, a Y Combinator startup that creates search engines for websites, has raised $1.7 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz, NEA, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Ignition and several angel investors.

Founded in 2012, Swiftype builds search engines in real time, organizing pages based on importance rankings from your site. After creating your search engine, the Swiftype dashboard allows you to customize search results, by editing titles or deleting entries. You can install the search engine simply by pasting the supplied JavaScript code into your website.

Co-founders Matt Riley and Quin Hoxie tell me the funding will go to developing products to improve mobile search and branding for the company. Riley says Swiftype wants to turn the search box into a strong marketing tool by offering customization and analytics. The team is also working on a tool to show what is trending on the search engine, so users can direct visitors to related content.

“With Swiftype, we’ve made it really simple to figure out what your users are searching for, what they’re searching for and not finding, and we give you the tools on the backend to make changes to the search engine itself,” Riley says.