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Elevator Pitch: Keen Guides

Keen Guides makes iPhone travel apps for the hearing impaired. Can it get $1.2 million to cover more cities?
Capital Gains Catharine McNally's company offers video tours of nearly 75 sites in Washington, D.C., including the Lincoln Memorial.

The Pitch: "Audio tours of attractions like museums often aren't accessible to the 36 million people in the U.S. who are hearing impaired. Keen Guides makes an alternative: captioned video tours for mobile phones. Our iPhone and Android apps can detect a user's location and show video tours of nearby attractions. Most of the videos come from partners such as public television stations and tour guide companies, which pay us to configure their content for mobile devices and add closed captions. Our apps are free to download, but we plan to include advertising and to offer premium content, such as guided museum tours, for a fee. We will split the revenue with our content partners. We're raising money to launch guides in more cities and to secure new content partnerships."

Co-founders: Catharine McNally, Karen Borchert, and Martin Franklin
Location: Arlington, Virginia
Employees: None
Founded: 2008
2009 Revenue: $59,000
2010 Projected Revenue: $65,000
Number of Videos: About 200, covering attractions in seven cities, including Washington, D.C.; Austin; and Seattle
Most Popular Video Tour: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Number of Downloads: 18,000
Funding Sought: $1.2 million
Background: Co-founder Catharine McNally, who is deaf, got the idea for Keen Guides after she was handed a 50-page transcript as an alternative to a museum's audio tour.

The Experts Weigh In

One Step at a Time
This is a very creative product for a targeted market. The question is whether this business will be attractive to investors. I think it will be tough for Keen Guides to raise this much capital. Right now, $1.2 million seems like a lot of money to ask for, given the company's current revenue. I recommend that the company seek a smaller amount -- say, $400,000 -- to reach a smaller goal, such as adding another city. The company should seek partners, such as travel sites and credit card companies, to promote and distribute its content.

John May
Managing partner, New Vantage Group
Vienna, Virginia

Look for Other Funding
From an altruistic standpoint, this is a great concept for an underserved market. But I'm not sure that market is large enough, since it probably includes many elderly people, who may not use mobile apps. Plus, advertising-supported businesses are very difficult to make work right now, so the company's proposed revenue model may be a stumbling block for investors. I think Keen Guides should focus more on developing premium content. The company should also consider looking for alternative sources of funding, such as governmental grants.

Jay Levy
Principal, Zelkova Ventures
New York City

Tweak the Business Model
Curating videos that provide location-specific information to tourists seems like a good business opportunity. But Keen Guides needs to work on its business model. If the company's content partners are paying an upfront fee to have their videos included, they will probably demand most of the advertising revenue. Perhaps Keen Guides could find a model that allows it to make more money directly from users. The company should also think about including user-submitted content. It's less costly, and it's a good way to engage users.

Joseph Steig
Director, Venture Well
Hadley, Massachusetts

More:
IMAGE: Melissa Golden
Last updated: Dec 1, 2010




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