Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the offices of a Canadian rarity – a digital start-up aimed at the consumer market, rather than the B2B market.
Claystone Inc. is a dynamic home screen launcher and media player application for Android that replaces an Android device’s entire interface.
What’s cool about Claystone is that it gives users the ability to create “content stacks” where you can queue up content such as news feeds, social media feeds, videos, photos, games, etc for a fast and seamless viewing experience.
CEO Christian Lassonde says that Claystone helps you get more done on the home screen and spend less time switching between apps.
The first thing you notice is how lightening fast it is. I could barely keep up during a demo as Lassonde zipped from news story to video to Twitter feed all on the home screen, all without opening a single app.
You can even organize your stacks into categories of your choosing. For example, you could have a stack for business news, one for sports, one for TV shows, another for games even contacts can be stacked up on your home screen for easy access. The content in the stacks can be saved for later viewing, even offline.
Android’s multi-tasking ability is one of the big feature wins over iOS. It’s easy to see that as our digital lives become increasingly mobile, a fast, flexible time saving interface will become important.
Though Android does offer more flexibility, it's a double edged sword as the phones can seem overly complex, particularly to newcomers. This could be reflected in Claystone’s 3.7 out of 5 rating in the Android market and is why Claystone’s mantra has become simplify, simplify, simplify. One innovative way that they are achieving this is by adding game-like elements to the user experience. New functionality will be enabled only as users master the initial features.
At 37, Lassonde is already a veteran entrepreneur. A Toronto native, he spent 10 years in San Francisco where following a stint at Second Life, he launched digital ad agency Millions of Us and continues to serve as a co-founder and board member at virtual eCommerce business Virtual Greats.
After returning to Toronto in April 2010 (so that he and his wife could raise their two children closer to family), it didn’t take Lassonde long to meet up with two of Claystone’s founders Dale Darling and Prasad Maruvada. After some initial consulting work, they soon asked him to become the company’s CEO.
The business model remains somewhat vague. The app itself is free, so the Claystone team needs to be creative in determining alternate revenue sources. What has been clearly established is that users do not want to see ads on the home screen of their phone. It’s more likely that revenue will come from paid content in the form of affiliate deals with video and other content providers. In the meantime, Claystone design themes are available for purchase in the Android app store.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Claystone is its very international user base. A full 25% of users are Chinese, 25% are American and the app is also popular in India, Italy, Germany, France, the UK and many other countries.
Claystone is proving that Canadians can produce great B2C digital products. So why is there still a relative dearth of Canadian B2C start-ups?
It all comes down to funding. To get a good feel for the state of the Canadian VC scene, one only needs visit the website of the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association. So boring…so unhelpful…snore.
The truth is Canadian VC’s tend to be conservative and are fond of smaller bets (in the $100K to $500K range) in support of early stage start-ups, and lots of them. And it seems this trend is picking up steam: 134 Canadian companies were financed in Q2 of this year, an increase of 11% over the same period last year, but the total value of those investments dropped from $355 million to $328 million.
This focus on early-stage ventures while avoiding larger investments aimed at making big, global scale plays aimed at the consumer market could hurt Canada’s tech scene in the long run. As Mark Evans recently blogged on StartUpNorth, it doesn’t lead to the creation of a vibrant tech culture with hundreds of new tech-related jobs. Instead, most often, Canadian start-ups are purchased by US companies and the business and its founders move south, further draining the small entrepreneur culture we do have.
I think it’s worth keeping an eye on Claystone. I hope they’re a big Canadian success story.