Disruptors tackle retail, art, and even cocktails
It's back to the future for the 3,000 entrepreneurs, investors and early adopters looking for the next big thing at the TechCrunch: Disrupt extravaganza.
The five-day conference in San Francisco is being held as shares of two disruptor companies—Facebook and Netflix—trade at all-time highs. Facebook's social advertising is now making Madison Avenue reconsider everything. And Netflix is challenging traditional cable channels and pushing Hollywood to reimagine its business model.
So which of the 230-plus companies competing and presenting here will take hold and be the next ones to shake up the status quo?
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Here are four start-ups that piqued our interest, each taking on a different business.
Monsieur's robot bartender
Monsieur wants to transform the ways clubs and VIP venues work, with a $1,000 robot bartender, which mixes custom cocktails. The company is targeting its machine at nightclubs and sports venues that offer expensive bottle service.
Instead of customers mixing their own overpriced drinks—the idea is for a club to offer a Monsieur bartender machine. The company charges a $295 monthly maintenance fee.
"It will tell you what ingredients to put in the machine to optimize the cocktail list," said CEO Barry Givens.
"We have a mob app you can order drinks from your phone from across the room. One of the cool features that people really love is the strength slider, so you can change the alcohol level on your drink from lightweight to boss."
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Brandid's affordable personal shoppers
Tackling the $500 billion men's retail market, Brandid aims to connect men who hate to shop with people who love to, to become their personal shoppers. The company collects a ton of information about customers' sizes and style preferences, including by live chat online.
Clothes are delivered to homes, but customers aren't charged until they decide to keep something. If they do, they pay a 10 percent fee that Brandid shares with the personal shoppers.
"I know the pain men have when they go shopping, and I have that pain, too, and there's nothing online at the moment," said CEO Ankush Sehgal, who previously ran a small chain that discounted high-end men's clothing retail products. "There's no market leader in men's commerce. Everyone who's tried it always goes for this fashionista customer, but the majority of men are not fashionistas."
Brandid's inventory ranges from the low to the high end—only limited by what can be purchased online and delivered to customers' homes.
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Beestar's Quasp sports wristband
Beestar is taking on some deep-pocketed established businesses, including Nike and Fitbit. It's "wearable device"' wristband, the Quasp, costs $299, about three times its rivals—the Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone's Up Band, and the Fitbit. But it's targeting a more specific audience than those products: "It's for the 50 million kids and adults who play team sports and don't have a technical solution," explained Beestar CEO Emanuele Francioni.
The company said it features social components to help athletes compare their performance and draw on their teammates to stay motivated. The product, which just launched this week during TechCrunch, drew 200 orders immediately following Francioni's on-stage presentation. The question is how it will compete against so many rivals with better brand-awareness and far more marketing dollars.
Curiator's Art Marketplace
Moenen Erbuer founded his online platform—now kind of like Pinterest for fine art—because he saw that the art market hadn't really moved online. For now, the platform, which just launched this week, allows people to collect images of their favorite works of art, from every era.
But down the line, the company plans to launch a marketplace, focusing on pieces that cost less than $50,000, a market which Erbuer said is worth $12 billion worldwide.
"There's a big hunger for art. Your profile is your collection, and we think there's a lot of money to be made in online art sales."
Proof that that market has potential: Amazon just launched an art store.
—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin