TechStars TV: Four Name Changes, Awkward Mentor Meetings, and Dick Costolo

[ Onswipe CEO Jason Baptiste runs through his pitch while TechStars cleverly displays this little known fact: Jason has three outfits that he rotates in a variety of colors. Courtesy of Bloomberg's TechStars ] Four companies decided to change their names on the third episode of Bloomberg's TechStars reality program -- and as usual the Onswipe team displayed arrogant awkwardness with every encounter [ Watch the episode here ].

Wiji, the smart billboard company with the terrible name, became Immersive; SocratED, the social learning game, changed its name to Veri; Urban Apt. the apartment finder aid, changed its name to; and Homefield became

Urban Apt. came in looking to create the Yelp for apartments as TechStars New York Managing Director David Tisch explains, but a series of mentors, including Tisch, questioned their audacity to go into a market that no one on the team had any experience working in.

As the criticism rolls in, team leader and CEO Caren Maio's long face is pale, and tears are welling up in her greem eyes, but she maintains her composure as she draws out the gameplan on a white board with broad strokes.

"This is what's great about Caren," David Cohen, TechStars co-founder and CEO, says to Union Square Ventures Managing Partner Fred Wilson and Tisch with a smile and genuine enthusiasm. "She gets it and she goes. I would invest in a percentage of her career."

"I would go in on her career too," Tisch says with a broad smile that warms you up -- it's one of the few moments that makes you say "aww."

OnSwipe changed its name to...oh wait, no, the team just made Tisch and other mentors uncomfortable. In a meeting with Wilson, one of the first to invest in Twitter, the VC rubs his head, his face turns a little red. His eyes never light up with inspiration, and his voice maintains a steady tone and pitch.

In a post-meeting conversation with Tisch and Cohen, Wilson throws up his arms and calls OnSwipe a bridge solution. He points out that companies that emerged as bridge solutions to publish things to mobile devices five years ago have all disappeared, and Onswipe is on the same road.

TechStars Seattle Managing Director Andy Sack meets with Onswipe as well, but instead of finding out how they can improve their product or what they are missing, Baptiste sits back and asks, "If you could pick one to two things that could be helpful to us, what do you think they might be?"

Sack stares blankly back at him. "What do you think they might be?" Sacks responds.

"What do you think they might be?" Baptiste says.

"What do you think they might be?" Sack asks.

The exchange is awkward even for the viewer, but Baptiste shows no sign of being uncomfortable as he sits dead serious in a chair and stares across the small room full of people at Sack. It's yet another reason Onswipe fails to meet social norms of conversation and participation.

Another clip shows Baptiste giggling to himself on his laptop away from other people as he uses a computer program to say "Hello, my name is David Tisch I like hoodies, your pitch sucks," and "I am David Cohen, do more faster."

But again, the company continues to see traction with more than 6K signups, which Baptiste says is really closer to 7K.

"You don't want to be impressed, but you are," Cohen says to Tisch and Wilson, who shakes his head. Wilson wants to shout his condemnation given his tense body language -- rocking to and from the conference table, his right hand clenched near his mouth when he stops -- but he holds himself back.

By far the biggest train wreck is To Vie For.  In episode one, Susanne Greenfield -- who'd already decided to leave the company she'd co-founded -- showed up late for her final meeting with the Daves.

"If getting into TechStars causes you to break up with your founder, there are a lot of fundamental issues going on," Tisch said then, near-joking but with an almost fearful tone of seriousness.

Too bad Tisch kept To Vie For in the program, because the company's situation doesn't seem to improve.  

The remaining founder, Melanie Moore, replaced Susanne with Eric Jennings, who has a background in fashion and technology. But adding a stranger to her company, coupled with a vision she can't express to investors or anyone for that matter, has the team on a constant pivot. Melanie fidgets and twists her hair into loops during meetings. Every answer she gives almost sounds like a question.

By the end of this episode, To Vie For is dead and Melanie is pitching "LinkedIn for fashion" whatever that means. The mentors are not impressed. Will she and Eric be able to build a product by demo day?

More fun to watch is the meeting Veri has with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. Veri wants Twitter to give them user email addresses when users log in to Veri with their Twitter accounts.  

Veri founder and CEO Lee Hoffman looks like he's about to see a dentist for the first time in five years as he runs through the company's pitch in a coffee shop and a cab on their way to the meeting.  

Costolo surprises Hoffman by casually telling him he will help Veri out. Then Costolo leans in and says he wants to know more about the product and its funding, much to the relief of the Veri team.

Next week on TechStars it's pitch practice time as Tisch scares the startups by announcing demo day is sold out.


David Tisch
Twitter: @DaveTisch

David Cohen
Twitter: @DavidCohen

Jason Baptiste
Twitter: @JasonLBaptiste

Fred Wilson
Twitter: @fredwilson 

Dick Costolo
Twitter: @dickc  

Andy Sack
Twitter: @andysack 

Melanie Moore

Lee Hoffman