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11/8/2011
12:37 PM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
Slideshows

12 Tech Startups To Watch, For SMBs

Keep your eye on these 12 innovative technology firms that will step into the limelight at the Under the Radar Conference in San Francisco.




If you've ever said "there has to be a better way to do this," good news: These days, the short odds say there is indeed a more efficient, effective way to perform key business tasks. The trick lies in finding the right tools for the job--and the choices still seem to multiply daily.

Enter the 2011 Under the Radar Conference, hosted by Dealmaker Media. The event will shine a spotlight on 12 growing startups that either have a focus on fellow small and midsize businesses (SMBs), or may simply make good sense for the SMB environment. (You can read the complete list of companies featured at this year's conference, which kicks off Wednesday night in San Francisco, here.) From employee incentives to timeless back-office functions to email productivity, these tools are poised to help SMBs do things smarter and faster--without breaking the bank. In fact, some of the services that these companies offer are completely free.

In an interview, Dealmaker Media CEO Debbie Landa gave her take on some of these companies and why they were picked for Under the Radar. You might notice a recurring theme: Each firm on the list hopes to solve a particular problem or business need. In some cases, these services apply new technologies to long-standing--and often cumbersome--processes like tracking expenses, balancing the books, or employee motivation. Others deal with new-world arenas such as online video, social business, and dynamic email content. Read on for Landa's thoughts and a snapshot of each company.


Recognizing and rewarding strong employee achievement is crucial to ongoing organizational health, perhaps even more so at smaller firms. The Web-based BetterWorks platform aims to help SMBs retain their top talent by offering performance-driven perks--big-company budget not required. Employees get a personalized online dashboard for monitoring progress and cashing in on rewards when key milestones are met. The service is up and running in the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets, with Austin, San Diego, and Orange County, Calif. to follow.

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The Under the Radar blog touts Expensify as "expense reports that don't suck!" Salespeople and other road warriors might agree--there's a high risk of suck inherent in expense tracking and reporting, but it's a necessary beast. Expensify can indeed help streamline the function. The service includes "guaranteed eReceipts"--digital replacements of paper receipts, generated directly from bank or credit card accounts, for purchases up to $75 dollars. Automatic receipt scanning creates expenses automatically--including from images pictures taken on an iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry device.

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"Everyone here loves Ginzametric--it's really amazing," Landa said. In short, Ginzametrics provides analytics for search engine optimization (SEO). Their platform tracks millions of keywords across its existing clients; the underlying goal is to give businesses action-oriented insights they can tailor to different search engines. That's something that time- and budget-conscious SMBs will appreciate, particularly if their current SEO efforts take a shotgun approach. Ginzametrics integrates with Google Analytics, Omniture SiteCatalyst, and other applications.

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This online education and training site gives SMBs a tool for ramping up employees quickly on a variety of digital topics, such as social media, productivity, and video. Grovo bills itself as "your field guide to the Internet." Example courses include an introduction to Basecamp's project management suite, a primer in email etiquette, and an overview in Google AdWords Match Type Strategy. Everything's available on demand. Perhaps best of all, much of the training is available free. It's worth a look the next time someone on your team--or you yourself--says "I don't know how to do that" about a website or other online tool.

"You just send them to Grovo and [they] can learn in two minutes," Landa said. "The courses that they have are just so simple and smart."

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Personalization now means much more than including a customer or prospect's name in your marketing communications. The Movable Ink platform enables online marketers to address a growing challenge: How to keep email communications from aging exponentially from the first second they're sent. The tool adds live, dynamic content to email that changes based on geo-location, social context, when the message is opened, and customizable business rules. The goal: Personalized, relevant, and timely content that won't go straight to the trash folder.

"Movable Ink has said: That's crazy, why should daily deal sites be the only ones that can create that?" Landa said. "Anything that a big site like Groupon can do [email marketing], you can do, too."

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This cloud application aims to roll up accounting, CRM, invoicing, and inventory functions in a single online suite--no multi-month on-premises software deployment necessary. The platform integrates fully with Google Apps, and is available free for up to two users. (Additional users will require a premium plan.) "Another great one," said Landa.

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With the tagline "bringing order to order management," Ordoro aims to take the headaches out of managing an online store. It offers a set of tools for managing orders, inventory, purchasing, and shipping that integrates with Amazon Marketplace, a variety of e-commerce platforms, and major shipping firms like FedEx and UPS. Ordoro also offers analytics and reporting to help online merchants make data-driven decisions about their stores.

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Landa likens Sprout Social to a Salesforce.com for social media, noting that you never need to leave. "You can do it all from within Sprout Social," rather than updating your Facebook Page, Twitter feed, and other sites on an individual basis. The monitoring platform features tools to help a business organize and manage a growing social presence--and to actually measure what all of that outreach and engagement is actually worth.

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This software-as-a-service application is aimed at SMBs that design and make products for sale to retail stores. Landa said Stitch Labs grew out of an old-world fashion industry problem that still persists today: "Any time you want to take an order from a customer--and I promise you it still goes this way--you write it down on a piece of carbon-copy paper and fax it into the manufacturer." Inventory is similarly stuck in analog mode and usually requires a phone call to find out what's in stock, Landa said. Stitch Labs mixes multi-channel inventory management, order fulfillment, invoicing, accounting, and business analytics in a single online suite.

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If you like to moan and groan about how far behind you are on your email, this one's for you. ToutApp enables you to turn repetitive emails into templates, a potential boon if you feel like you send the same messages over and over (and over). This could cross a variety of businesses and job functions, but anyone who receives--and must respond to--a deluge of email from both internal and external sources might find a cure for what ails them here. Tout App integrates with Salesforce.com, too.

"When you have a lot of people you have to follow up, and you sort of just have to say the same thing--Tout lets you create email templates that you can just reuse over and over," rather than re-typing the same message time and again, Landa said.

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The power and popularity of online video is well-documented, but the YouTube world--though doubtlessly huge--can pose some serious complications for businesses. "Vidyard has stepped in where YouTube is a bad idea," Landa said. By that, she means the common use of YouTube as a publishing platform and host for online video--and the fact that if someone clicks through, they do so to YouTube's site, complete with user comments. "The problem is: Maybe you're RIM," or another business dealing with outages, bad reviews, or general customer satisfaction nightmares, notes Landa. Vidyard puts control back in the hands of businesses and publishers, while still enabling YouTube syndication.

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Among the number of firms applying technology to traditional back-office functions, Landa said "one of my favorites is Wave Accounting, because they're free." Indeed, Wave's "un-pricing" plan won't cost SMBs a penny--the vendor makes money from targeted special offers for businesses that a user sees when they're signed into their account. You can do away with manual receipt tracking--Wave will import both income and expenses from your bank and credit card accounts and categorize them automatically. And if you're a control freak? You can bypass the automation and enter information by hand.

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