8.5 Life-Changing Startups (Including Life Itself!)

So, I've got this idea.

So, I’ve got this idea for a website.

Beyond the buzz, the dubious business models, the TechCrunch posts, and the endless cocktail parties, which startups are making a measurable impact on people’s daily lives?

I posed the question to Facebook and received eight responses, along with a vibrant sidebar dialog on the benefits and drawbacks of the technology-infused world we live in.

Below are the recommendations, with a hat tip to each of the recommenders.

Grovo: Cloud-based E-Learning… for the Cloud!

grovoDigital media pioneer David Kowarsky suggests NYC-based Grovo, a startup that helps people get their heads in the cloud. He offers an endorsement by way of caveat, since he works there: “Kind of a cheat to say — but I work there in part because I believe they’re making a huge difference,” he comments.

Grovo helps individuals and enterprises familiarize themselves with hundreds of cloud-based services, with training programs customized to each individual’s habits, experience, and goals. A Pro plan, ideal for companies, offers over 3,500 training videos, along with certifications, while a free plan equips users with a personalized training program, offering more than 1,000 videos for more than 100 different services.

Glympse: Permission-based Location Sharing

glympseDave Nielsen, Co-Founder of the CloudCamp unconference, recommends Seattle-based Glympse, a service that allows selective location-based sharing, bounded by invitations and time limits.

Integrated with Twitter and Facebook, and recently featured in Forbes, Glympse tracks the location of your iPhone, Android, or Windows Phone, and shares it selectively. Their hilariously over-the-top intro video chronicles a wide variety of use cases, from couples coordinating a meeting place, to laser tag enthusiasts checking in on the coordinates of their teammates.

Wunderlist: Best. Checklists. Ever?

wunder2Impressed by their stunning UI, multi-platform compatibility, famed ease of use, and extensive social sharing, filmmaker and Executive Producer Sarah Fisher recommends Berlin-based Wunderlist.

Wunderlist is difficult to explain to those who have never experienced it — how could a checklist app inspire so much elation and joy? Just ask the company’s millions of users. Wunderlist transforms an everyday activity into a beautiful, seemless, and intensely powerful productivity tool, suited both for individuals and collaborative groups, without sacrificing the intuitiveness afforded by a pen and paper.

Citymapper: Urban Transit in Your Pocket

citymapper-bgForget about Google Maps (as Apple would prefer you to). Chuka Chase, Hackstar at TechStars London (and Ninja in Residence at #sfbeta), recommends next-generation travel startup Citymapper, whose iPhone and Android apps simplify the experience of two of the world’s most complex cities: London (where the company is headquartered) and NYC.

Self-styled as “the ultimate transport app,” Citymapper helps users tackle a wide range of urban logistics — calculating the cost and time of taking a cab vs. taking a bus, for instance, or mapping a route between your current location and your workplace. Incorporating real-time datasets, Citymapper provides up-to-the minute arrival times for transit networks, along with delays and station closures.

Dashlane: Three flavors of awesome.

logo-dashlaneAs soon as Lyne Noella, Director of Sales & Marketing at Speechpad, recommended NYC/Paris-based Dashlane, I went to the app store and downloaded it.

Dashlane expands and simplifies the web and iOS user experience with three feature sets:

  • Password manager: Automatically import your passwords from Chrome or any other browser into your secure password vault. Save any missing passwords as you browse. Make a new password right within your browser. Get automatic alerts when websites get breached.
  • Autofill: Dashlane offers a smart form autofill that works – not some of the time, or even most of the time – but every time. Stop wasting time checking if everything is filled right, and correcting mistakes. Stop leaving your data unencrypted in your browser cache. Dashlaners save up to 50 hours a year with autofill alone.
  • Digital Wallet: Securely store your payment types in Dashlane’s online wallet. Get express checkout and flawless form filling everywhere you shop online. Automatically capture receipts of all your purchases. Always have your digital wallet on you, and never have to store your credit cards on sites that you don’t completely trust.

Splitwise: IOUs Made Easy

splitwiseSplitting bills and expenses generates headaches amongst friends and roommates the world over, but it doesn’t have to. Randall Leeds, Committer at Apache and Developer at Hypothes.is, likes Providence, RI-based Splitwise, the startup that makes group payments a breeze.

Available on web, iOS, and Android, Splitwise tracks group payments and keeps track of running balances, making it easy to remember who owes whom, and for what. The company recently launched Plates, the free iPhone app for splitting restaurant bills.

Rdio: Internet Radio Worth Working For

rdioIt’s a truism that the best startups inspire passion amongst their users, so much so that many will join the company as a result. It happened to David Schleef, whose love of Rdio prompted him to join their San Francisco headquarters as Principal Engineer.

Rdio is the groundbreaking digital music service that reinvents the way people discover, listen to, and share music. With a catalog of 20 million songs — available to play instantly or in perfect-mix stations — Rdio connects people with music and makes it easy to play any song, album, artist, or playlist. The company launched in August, 2010, led by Janus Friis, co-creator of Skype.

Patreon: Bringing the Arts to Life

patreonKickstarter distributes more money than the National Endowment for the Arts, and has itself kickstarted a global crowdfunding movement. NYC-based Patreon, honored in an encore recommendation by David Kowarsky, combines crowdsourcing with patronage, the traditional model for supporting artistic works and the people who create them.

Featured in Billboard, Wired, TechCrunch, All Things D, and Forbes, Patreon helps fans connect with artists, funding each one of their projects, piece by piece. Particularly popular for music videos, current projects also include comics, paintings, portraits, and poetry.

Life: As Seen On TV

lifeWhat if, in the rush toward an augmented life, we lose track of what life is all about? Lifelong technologist, entrepreneur, author, and podcast host Stever Robbins wonders if we’ve gone too far. His favorite startup is “life,” commenting:

Beta is full. We expect several openings shortly after the release of Google Glass, when we expect to lose many members permanently, freeing up a lot of open space.

He goes on to say:

I often see tech fanboys and girls slavishly worshiping at the altar of the latest gizmo or app, as they increasingly make their lives LESS efficient and less productive.

Keep in mind I’m an uber-geek myself. I’ve written more code than most programmers alive today under the age of 40. I own 2.5 computers for every member of my household. I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of imagination. But I do have the perspective to reflect on the quality of relationships, friendships, and interaction both pre- and post- Internet and cell phones.

At least so far, I find pre- to be superior over a wide range of situations.

Watch a group of 20-somethings out together at a restaurant, all texting and web browsing and not interacting face-to-face and that does NOT look to me like people finding meaning in technology. It looks like a lot of people whose dopamine systems have been consciously hijacked by Facebook and other apps that are designed to interrupt, distract, and seduce.

What are your favorite startups? How do you think the pace of technology has shaped our life, for better and for worse? Share your thoughts in the comments below.