19:37 PM

Moderating at Under the Radar. . .startups face the VCs

By Tom Foremski, Silicon Valley Watcher

I haven't been able to post much because of preparation for moderating at the IDB Under the Radar event. I got to moderate all two tracks of the morning session on enterprise mobile apps and the second session of enterprise RFID (radio chip tags).

What was fascinating was how few companies were able to explain what they do. But, let me backup a second and tell you what the event is about.

The Under the Radar series organized by Debbie Landa and Alison Murdock has become almost an institution. It brings startup companies in front of panels of venture capitalist judges. They get rated on their presentation, their business model, and their strategy.

I've been to several of these Under the Radar events and they are always different. This time around there was a lot more energy in the air, a real feeling the valley is back (again...maybe this time, for sure.)

The overall winner of the event was our old friend Zimbra--the AJAX poster child software company.

And overall, the 32 startups presented and interesting mix. But what continues to puzzle me is how few of the startups can say what they do. At least in less than 30 minutes--which is a problem at Under the Radar, because you only get five minutes (moderators are armed with stun guns to enforce the time limit very strictly:-)

I didn't have to reach under the podium and stun anybody--my lot were very well behaved. A mobile apps company called Soonr won the audience vote but the judges preferred Funambol, an open software middleware stackette for the mobile space.

Soonr, I think, deserved a bit more attention. Because when asked what was their business model, they said we have none. Smirks all around, as you can imagine.

But on later reflection, I think Soonr is on the right track. Yes, they lack a business model but, they are focusing on users And this is precisely the right strategy because if you have users you know you have a useful product. If you don't have a useful product, it doesn't matter how clever your business model is.

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The RFID companies on my second panel were a good contrast to the first lot. Interestingly, most of the senior management of those companies had some connection or background in supply chain management.

And supply chain management is one of the big failures of enterprise software markets...so who is to say that RFID will improve this? But at least the people running thse companies knew what a tough problem it is, and were still working at trying to solve it,

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The Under the Radar event was at the Microsoft Silicon Valley center, which is a couple of stone- throws from Google.

This time, in contrast to past visits over the past few years, the MSFT car park was full, and it was early in the morning and there was bustle about the place. It used to be not very busy at all...

Oh, and I spotted Robert Scoble in the cafeteria, MSFT's second most famous employee!

More under the radar stories later in the day...

PS: I will soon start writing a blog for ZDNet, in addition to here, and lately also AlwaysOn.