500 Startups’ Christine Tsai and Liking Unsexy Companies

By Lauren Keyson

500 Startups held their annual Demo Day in NYC to show off some of their newest and brightest companies. 500 runs a prolific early-stage venture fund; a large, global accelerator program for tech startups. It also runs a series of tech conferences and events such as “HYPERLINK “http://geeksonaplane.com/”Geeks on a Plane”, an invite-only tour for startups, investors, and executives to learn about high-growth technology markets worldwide. They travel by planes, trains, and automobiles to international startup scenes with the mission of uniting geeks and exploring cross-border opportunities. At their 2014 event, the companies weren’t as exciting as the event itself.

The companies were more plain vanilla than chocolate swirl. But while almost teetering on boring, these companies are extremely practical and had inventive solutions for everyday problems. While headquartered in Silicon Valley, they invest in companies from all around the world. They invest heavily in international companies, as well as companies in the US.

500’s managing partner Christine Tsai said they invest in these types of companies. “We are big on what we call unsexy verticals — so verticals that are disruptive, but maybe not necessarily trendy or the next photo sharing app. Good examples are the companies presenting here, like the startup that is trying to make in-home tax reporting better. It’s probably not initially what people will think about but it’s an industry that has a lot of problems.”

Other businesses 500 likes include startups that are targeting families and kids; things that make money; where there is distribution and where getting customers is very scalable. But they do have trendy companies such as HYPERLINK “http://www.twilio.com/”Twilio, one of the fund’s earliest investments. They create a platform for voice and telephony API and have done well — becoming a platform themselves for a lot of companies that need SMS apps or connections to phone lines without having to actually pay.

Startup’s has many NYC-based companies such as Daily Worth. It is geared toward helping women to take control of their personal finance. It’s based on the premise that women do not necessarily have that much knowledge about how to take ownership of their personal finances or general investment knowledge, including savings. “So it’s really empowering women to take more interest and be more active in their finances,” said Tsai. “The actual product is a daily email newsletter but is larger with their subscriptions and the community that they’ve built around the product.”

Other NY-based startups she likes include online video education for Latin America because online education is a huge emerging market there. Other companies help businesses connect to online influencers and help African American hair stylists sell inventory and increase their own income in every area. “We are big on startups that address huge but largely untapped markets and that have commerce and revenue models that are very clear.

“I think the mission is to find and invest in talented entrepreneurs all around the world,” she continued. “I think we’ve made this analogy that we want to be sort of a “Walmart Venture Capital” that lets startups around the world get access to our network, because we believe that talent is not only in Silicon Valley, but also around the U.S.”.

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