In the world of stealth startups, the timing of a launch is everything. But Colin Heilbut and Carly Martinetti let the cat out of the bag on their "Uber for Kitty Litter" startup when they advertised for beta-testers on Craigslist May 18.
"We're a new startup that is testing a new Kitty Litter delivery and cleaning service," the ad explained. "During the six-month beta-period we will come to your house or apartment twice a month to deliver our patented next-generation kitty litter product and while there we will happily clean your litter box until it's sparkling fresh."
The $20-a-month poop-scooping service isn't the real draw here though. According to the ad, Heilbut and Martinetti's special sauce is prettier than Kitty Litter 1.0 ("a beautiful Pink sand"); it changes color to indicate when a turd is present; and it is technologically formulated to "monitor for 10 different diseases in your cat's urine and instantly turn a black [sic] to alert you to any concerns (you can use our iPhone app to get an instant interpretation of the shade of black or simply take your cat to the vet to get detailed info)."
This isn't the first kitty litter to get smartified. Another product on the market, Tailio, combines a wifi device under the litter box with a mobile phone app and cloud analytics to track your cat's weight and "elimination patterns," and divine all sorts of information about your cat's physical and emotional well-being.
But the latest invention might be the first techno-cat-toilet whose co-founders are "working daily with a reknowned billionaire investor," according to an email from Heilbut. That investor is Tim Draper, the third-generation venture capitalist who wasted $5 million trying to qualify a ballot measure to split California into six states. One of Draper's other playthings is "Draper University for Heroes," a superhero-themed school/summer camp/ "ecosystem for innovation" (its term) based in San Mateo. At DUH, wannabe entrepreneurs live in an old converted hotel and work across the street at "Hero City," a co-working space that hosts such stereotypically named startups as Loopd, Critiq, and Concrn.
If that sounds made-for-television, it's because it is. Twelve years after The Apprentice proved eccentric, middle-aged millionaires making younger, aspiring millionaires jump through hoops for their approval can be highly entertaining television, Draper University is playing host to a reality TV show of its own. Set to air on ABC Family, Startup U follows "a group of savvy millennials as they suffer through hard lessons and grab opportunities with both hands, all in the pursuit of their dreams."
Filming is going on right now, and one of the cast members is Carly Martinetti. (Her co-founder Heilbut is not part of the cast.) We had hoped to get a firsthand look at the disruptive cat litter in question, but our interview got canceled due to ABC Family's publicity schedule. So if you want to see what happens when Martinetti grabs a litter box with both hands, you'll have to wait until the show airs in August.