My 5 Favorite Startups of 2012

January 1, 2013

11:00 am

As a tech journalist, I always feel this compunction to predict the future. Does this startup I’m reviewing have a shot, or not? Why? When Paul Graham wrote that the best ideas initially look like bad ideas, I wondered why we try to analyze at all.

But today is not about analyzing. Today, I’d like to tell you about five of my favorite startups from 2012. These are the preferences of a 20-something woman, who loves education, who spent six months in Asia recently. But I think they contain a few little lessons for entrepreneurs, too.


Fluidinfo is a startup that’s too geeky for its own good. Founder Terry Jones has this vision of a world where everything is “writable”: you can comment on it, tag it, save it for later, and it will all be accessible in this universal database of everything. I love the ambitiousness, I love Jones’s matter-of-fact passion and devotion to his vision, and I love the idea of making little notes all over the web with bits of information I want to save.

But how do you explain that to someone, enough to make them download an application? Fluidinfo launched this year, scaling back its grand vision to a more simple goal: something like a universal commenting system. When you’re on a website, you click your browser extension, leave a note and maybe a hashtag, and other users will see it. You can also tag pages to save for yourself, like #research or #readlater. I hope the world is ready for this soon.


Besides their serene lighthouse logo, Clarity has a very worthy cause: to connect entrepreneurs with the best mentors around the world. Founder Dan Martell has recruited 7,500 mentors to the platform, including some big names: experts like Andrew Chen and Peter Pham (cofounder of Color). And I like that Martell spends some of his time as a mentor, too, reassuring startups that ups and downs are de rigueur. “Just telling them (and I swear it’s all you gotta say), ‘That’s very normal and it’s going to be okay’ can change somebody’s day,” he says. “To me, those are the best calls: letting them know that what they’re going through is part of the journey.”


Coming back from six months in Asia, I was excited to see Bundshop showcasing beautiful Chinese designs. And I really mean beautiful: this is like the Chinese Fab or something. There’s this wooden fan where each of the arms represents a skyscraper in Shanghai, this austere incense burner that leaves a trail of ash full of symbolic meaning, and this other incense burner that makes steam look like cascading water. Plus a bunch of gorgeous fashion. And their goal is to give a new meaning to “made in China.” Poetic.


OpBandit combines the best data science geekery with a field I’m partial to, journalism. They take a startup’s notion of a/b testing – where you compare the success of two different homepages, or logos, or anything – to the maximum. Publishers can set several different options for titles and images in their articles, and OpBandit swaps them out in real-time depending on which option is performing the best. Not only that, they’ll move articles around the page depending on which is most popular. Geniusly obvious and innovative at the same time.


Dabble is an education site like many others, but they caught my eye with their simplicity: in the beginning, every class was $20 and only one session. You could dabble in Dr. Who, something called “urban foraging,” and even staging your own sexual revolution (inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey). Those parameters have since changed, but it goes to show that little things can make all the difference. Starting in Chicago, Dabble expanded nationwide this year.

What are your five favorite startups of 2012?


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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact

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