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10 Hot Startups to Watch

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Five years ago, Facebook was new, YouTube had just launched and Twitter didn't exist. Now imagine, as a marketer, if you had gotten an early heads up that these platforms would become powerhouses. What if you were the first person to walk up to the CMO and say, "We should really be investing in consumer generated content and social networks." You'd be a hero. When you know what's coming up next, you can build campaigns that don't follow your consumers but are already at the destination when they get there.

The secret to being this psychic? Paying attention to startups. I'm not recommending you spend your experimental budget on a library of phonetically spelled company names led by recent college grads. But by looking at the overarching trends in cutting-edge businesses, you can be ready to react when the time comes to put money down.

One of the best sources of high quality startups is seed venture firm Y Combinator. At the end of August, it hosted one of its semi-annual Demo Days. This is when the newest companies from its fold get exposed to the public, and of course, other investors. It was when I perused this list of unfamiliar company names and snappy descriptions that I realized how important it is for marketers to be aware of these up-and-coming gems-and up-and-coming trends in digital:

GinzaMetrics and AdGrok: Both are tools that make online advertising easy for the masses -- in this case the masses are probably small businesses, but I wouldn't rule out departments in larger organizations. For years online advertising has required a relatively steep learning curve for the everyday small-business person. The industry has its own jargon, revenue model and requires a cursory understanding of how the Internet works. The online community has long been trying to break down this barrier to increase demand and CPMs. Looks like this change could be just around the corner. On the same theme but for more experienced online marketers comes GazeHawk, a way to use webcams to track eye movement. This little startup could forever eliminate the default leaderboard/right sidebar display ad layout.

Brushes and Koduco: Both companies produce apps tailored specifically to the iPad experience. Brushes, the most profitable startup on launch day in Y Combinator history, gives iPad users the tools to create quality and complex illustrations through the touch screen interface. Koduco makes multiplayer iPad games. The early success of both of these businesses shows marketers how important it is to create unique tablet experiences instead of recycled iPhone or Web-based apps.

FutureAdvisor and InDinero: People are getting more comfortable trusting the Internet and digital technologies with their private financial information. If the success of Mint.com and the new service from Chase that allows customers to deposit checks via iPhone photos isn't a sign, FutureAdvisor and InDinero is. FutureAdvisor is an online service for personalized financial planning advice and InDinero gives small businesses an easy-to-read dashboard of their finances. This type of trust and openness means marketers should be innovating in ways to use digital to bring the point of purchase closer to the consumer.

The Fridge, MessageParty, FanVibe: These companies are a reminder that social media isn't going away and is only going to get more efficient and more niche. The Fridge allows people to create miniature, private social networking groups; MessageParty lets people in the same immediate area chat with each other; and FanVibe is a sports fan social network, similar to the way Ping is a music social network -- but minus the e-commerce factor. These social startups are diverse, but they show that consumers want to connect with people on platforms that provide smart filters for relevant information and friends. Facebook then becomes pinned as the Grand Central Station of social -- an accurate description. The future of social marketing will offer more opportunity than what's currently available on Facebook and Twitter.

A call for new social strategies, inspiration for e-commerce innovation, insight into online advertising trends and reinforcement of the importance of iPad app development -- all of this came from checking out what's new in the startup scene. It's information that's available to every marketer.

This piece was originally published on mediapost.com