De Blasio introduces NY’s first CTO, Minerva Tantoco

Minerva Tantoco

Minerva Tantoco

By Dennis Clemente

“New York’s tech story is an underrated story,” said New York mayor Bill De Blasio who graced the NY Tech Meetup last September 9 to introduce “one more thing” on the day of Apple’s big event: New York’s first-ever chief technology officer in Minerva Tantoco.

De Blasio is right. Ask New Yorkers if they know what’s happening in NY’s tech scene and it’s highly unlikely they will know about it. If you drop $128 billion in the conversation, you’ll get an incredulous look. That is actually the money poured into New York’s tech economy last year. While we’re at it, also tell New Yorkers that the city is the fastest-growing tech scene in the world and you’ll get bored looks directed at you.

The tech scene is not exactly a mainstream topic like news and entertainment. But at the NY Tech Meetup, it’s up front and center and fills up 600 seats easily. And yes, it doesn’t help that New Yorkers are not easy to please as well.

With De Blasio and Tantoco, Tuesday’s meetup was also one of its longest events., exceeding two hours on top of its show-and-tell format: 9 presenters and one (sometimes two or three) hack of the month that divides people: Those who think the show’s length is just about right and those who complain how by the seventh presenter, they have mentally checked out or left the building.

The startup presenters were Bubble, Dashlane, Heat Seek NYC, Hopscotch, Knotable, Makr, QuickMVP, Tengrade and The Campus Job. The hack of the month was bitshift.

It was a serendipitous day for Heat Seek NYC. With De Blasio at the event, the team of Heat Seekers asked the city to support its cause: provide a thermometer to residents with no heat in the winter. “It affects 200,000 people in the city and is the no. 1 complaint at 311. We look forward to delivering 100 sensors in buildings.”

De Blasio welcomed the startup’s idea, saying he will present it to the housing authority.

Two startups offered new ways of programming: Bubble is a new way of programming web and mobile apps without code, while Hopscotch offers a fun way of programming.

On the same day Apple announced Apple Pay, Dashlane took to the stage to assure the audience there are other brands and devices for it to compete against Apple Pay.

How do you boost your productivity? Knotable aims to lessen the noise in your email threads. Another startup, QuckMVP, can test a new business idea, reportedly in just five minutes. What about a way to boost students’ productivity? The Campus Job is a marketplace for students to find jobs. Another presenter, TenGrade uses a tornado rating system in its reviews from “reliable” sources—friends.

Makr is relying on its user experience to get people to use its app, a tool for customizing products (eg. corporate gifts, T-shirts), design and have them printed or manufactured.

Bitshift, the hack of the month, is a semantic source code search engine.

The secrets to designing a good game


By Dennis Clemente

Last September 2 at Microsoft, NY Games Forum provided an overview of its upcoming workshop with instructor Mark Heggen, Entertainment Applications director at AMC, talking about “not actual” secrets to designing a good game, pointing out each of his points for the audience, which consisted of beginners and developers.

People are terrible at randomness. Using a coin flip as an example, he asked how much do you let somebody win (7 successive coin flips is too much). It’s up to you to set the rules.

Games are not just games. What’s the best way to raise awareness about hurricane preparedness? In 2011, a bunch of kids took part in an invented ball game where kids fight a “battle storm?” aka the Navy who – for the fun of it– intimidated the kids like they were the storm. Organizers staged it like a big sports event, with videos, interviews, prizes. The kids were made to win, of course.

“A game is only good if it changes the experience,” he said. He believes even a crossword puzzle using pen and paper make a statement.

Tropes and clichés are your friends. You have to have a good reason to buck a trend. If you know what zombies do, the last thing you want to do is make them fly.

Games that are too simple to work, often work. We’re guilty of making things complicated, so when you think you’re making it more complicated than it should be, Heggen suggests the following reminders:
1. Your game + time = A more complicated game

2. Your game is more complicated than you think

3. So aim for too simple (it won’t be)

“Of all the things I’ve said this is the most valuable (to keep in mind),” he said.
Asked if there are rules in designing a simple game versus a serious game? “The principles are the same,” he said. Another question dealt with the thin line between being influenced by a game and stealing an idea for a game?” The lines are blurred.

Heggen started his career nine years ago as a game designer for Area/Code, which was bought ago by Zynga where he also worked. He helped create hit games like Drop7 and Parking Wars, as well as a huge range of experimental real-world gaming experiences.

After leaving Zynga, Heggen helped build the New York studio of Hide&Seek, an independent studio with an emphasis on developing new types of play. He now leads gaming efforts for AMC, including web, mobile, social, and second screen games.

NY Games Forum’s full day workshop for all experience levels will be on September 20. It will be platform agnostic, so it doesn’t matter if you are using PC or mobile and if you are developing LARP, sports or board games.
“It’s a great time to be making board games,” he declared.

What makes a great game designer? He said it’s about understanding the process. The workshop topics will cover concept development, rapid prototyping, playtesting, flexible design strategies as well as design resources, tuning and balancing, polishing, managing a live game and the secrets to a winning game. In playtesting, he is expected to tackle when to implement suggestions or ignore changes.

For more info, visit

Audience favorite BoardRounds improves emergency patient follow-up


By Dennis Clemente

The way startups are named these days, it’s hard to tell what they can really do for you. Can you tell what these eight startups do– BoardRounds, BotFactory, yourMD, Care + Wear, Blood, Sweat & Cheers, Modabox, and Cosign–without looking them up online? Even more challenging, is two minutes sufficient time to get to know them and for VCs to give them feedback.

Last September 10, the Ultra Light Startup meetup was back at Microsoft to give us another interesting show-and-tell from startups and advice plus feedback from VCs, this time featuring panelists Weston Gaddy of Bain Capital Ventures, Taylor Greene, principal at Lerer Ventures, Andrew Mitchell, managing partner at Brand Foundry and Michal Rosenbloom, founding partner at Founder Collective.

BoardRounds is improving follow-up for emergency room patients; BotFactory’s Squink creates circuit boards in minutes; YourMD is the doctor in your pocket; Care + Wear customizes arm bands for a charity you want to support; Blood, Sweat & Cheers helps people find the most fun activities; Modabox is data-driven personal styling and shopping for women; provides early stage testing for startups and Co-sign gives your monetary rewards when your social network “tag” followers buy the items.

The audience favorite was BoardRounds with Rosenbloom as the panelist of the night.

The feedback and advice from the VCs:

On BoardRounds: Get the largest hospital, the rest will follow

On BotFactory: On Kickstarter, make a video talking about its value proposition; don’t charge today to create value; monetize later

On yourMD: Make sure customers are being served the right information; bring data from health monitors and health wearables to the doctors

On Care + Wear: Demand may come from the kid market; consider crowdfunding as huge round may not be necessary; get some licenses

On Blood, Sweat & Cheers: Track engagements; make good use of 250,000+ subscribers

On Modabox: Make it aspirational, humanize it

On Build a side consumer product

On Co-sign: Find tastemakers, as Pinterest is the 1,000-poudn gorilla and monetary reward has not yet worked in social media tagging

When outsourcing work, demand to see ‘visible work’

What is the secret to getting things done?

“The essence of doing anything is making progress. You need visible work,” said Amol Sarva who suggested a radical, no-nonsense approach to outsourcing work. The co-founder of Virgin Mobile USA and Peek is developing a new cognitive enhancement technology called Halo Neuro and an application for better discussions called Knotable.

Sarva suggests testing developers with a specific five-hour assignment and making sure they deliver. For him, it could be as simple as creating a log-in page and if he can deliver in time, then you’ve got yourself a developer.
He is not too concerned if you have unplanned work, indicating how your work will keep changing or iterating anyway. Your customer development here could be even more expensive than offshore work.

“(Your) target markets’ time is more expensive than developers’ time,” he said.

The important thing is to have one task done before you give your developer another assignment. He admits to going through so many developers at Elance, his preferred platform for locating developers.
Sarva also recommends the following tools and resources when dealing with developers: Github, the Meteor framework, because it also provides a hosting environment for you to see work and TestFlight, so you can test live.

Looking for developers in New York is definitely not easy, not when every developer wants his or her own startup. So if you’re outsourcing, Sarva reminded us to “hire and fire fast and deploy in a live environment.”
Sarva doesn’t advice outsourcing work to designers. “They are prima donnas compared to engineers.” He spoke at a Startup Boost event last September 10. (DC)

How to build strategic partnerships with financial institutions

By Dennis Clemente

How can financial innovators build strategic partnerships with financial institutions?

PayPerks is one who has made headways in the financial space. CEO Arlyn Davich spoke about it at the Financial Services Innovation meetup last September 8 at WeWorks in Wall St.

Davich’s PayPerks lets you earn points for just learning about and using your prepaid card. It has tutorials and surveys that claim to help you understand the ins and outs of your prepaid card, so you can avoid fees, save time and keep your money safe and secure.

What’s the pull? Each point earned is a chance to win a cash prize in its free monthly sweepstakes. It has reportedly given away over $60,000 in prizes in its monthly sweepstakes.
Based on what Davich has done, it’s all about complementing your business with the big financial institutions, and certainly not about disrupting them.

Aside from Davich, guests from JP Morgan Chase, Ideas42 and Bee’s Max Gasner were also in attendance to discuss the challenges, opportunities and future of financial services:

• The biggest barrier in financial services is regulation and bringing people (together) to understand regulation
• How do you integrate product into a person’s life? It should serve a purpose seamlessly
• Build trust among users by engaging with them
• Changing old banking mindsets and programs is important
• It’s fundamental not to patronize people, not to talk down on people
• It is much more about talking to people. You have to understand (what you’re talking about). You have to integrate with a big bank
• There has to a be a change in how funding is done
• Credibility is very important
• Going to meetups helps

What do wearables have in common with the branding world?


By Dennis Clemente

At the Digital Dumbo meetup at the Interbrand office last September 4, the two sets of panels, totaling 8 experts from various fields, addressed the internet of things (IoTs), including wearables, in terms of what they have in common with the branding world.

“IoTs are a branding problem,” one speaker from Interbrand said. The problem stems from the fact that most wearables made these days are based on an assumption that they can find users to define it for them.

The panelists shared the following insights:

• Technology will need to know how to talk to each other before it makes sense for people to use (read: wear) them (and brand them).
• More people will use it if they know what it can do for them and how it applies to their needs
• Everybody is asking the wrong questions. Wearables are not utilitarian
• People will use it if they know what they want
• Esthetic and utility aspects of it need to be worked out
• What is appropriate? Why are you wearing Google Glass? Are you recording me? Are you documenting me?
• (Wearables) have a kind of weirdness (that should) taper off and become more useful
• Fitbit has a culture around it because of fitness people. They’re buying into the culture of fitness
• We (consumers) don’t know what we want, but we want to be happy

It was admittedly a challenging discussion. However, Robert Genovese, VP Integrated Marketing of Kenneth Cole, may have stumbled on something very important: analog or the power of the less intrusive experience: auditory.

Who would believe analog’s relevance in this day and age? Genovese’s two kids did who, he said, listened to a baseball game on radio with him and asked so many questions about it. Watching how kids tinker with the future of things may just offer some surprises. Has anyone thought of that?

Genovese probed further, “If I i can have a human experience (using it). If we can have a better relationship (because of it)…” He mentioned “Her” the movie and why its technology there worked well–it was like us, just better. People have honed in on the visual aspect of the IoTs when the auditory experience may be just as promising.

Wearables, he said, will work if it doesn’t end up in someone’s drawer.

Alex Lirtsman, co-founder & chief strategist of Ready Set Rocket, moderated the first panel consisting of Liesje Hodgson, senior consultant, Innovation of Interbrand as well as Nick Panama, co-founder of Cantora, a venture studio focused on building technologies and entertainment experiences that reshape the relationship between audiences and performers.

The two other panelists were Colin Vernon, director of Cloud & Platform at Little Bits. Most recently, as LittleBits’ cloud platform lead, he spearheaded LittleBits’ newly announced cloudBit, which allows anyone to turn any object into an internet-connected smart device – no soldering, wiring or programming required. The other speaker was Jun Shimada, CEO & founder of ThinkEco, an energy efficiency startup based in NYC that offers its patented, internet-of-things platform to utilities.

The second group of panelists was moderated by Forest Young, creative director of Interbrand. His panel consisted of Genovese. Genovese is responsible for leading the integrated marketing and communications practice at Kenneth Cole Productions. The other panelists were Gareth Price, technical director of Ready Set Rocket and Richard Talens, co-founder of Fitocracy & Adviser at Pavlok.

The host, Digital DUMBO, produces live events, conferences, content, and custom experiences that connect companies and brands with our community of digital tastemakers, talent, and executives.

Sensors, wearables and devices: Progress, fashion or better sex?

New strap-n for better sex

New strap-on for better sex

By Dennis Clemente

If last August 27’s meetup at Wework is any gauge, Ignite NYC may just be the counterculture to NY’s predominant pitch-and-get-funded startup scene, the way it tackled how people relate to sensors, wearables and devices from various anthropological, existential, medical and even recreational standpoints.

The speakers presented their ideas and thoughts on the subject with an academic formality with just enough eccentricity to appear like the East Coast of TED Talks—only shorter, unfortunately. A welcome change in the tech space indeed!

Jacqueline Kurdziel, the first presenter, cited a study about how “people are more open to (talking to) a virtual shrink.” It made us think how the premise of “Her,” a movie about a man’s romantic relationship with his operating system, can happen to us sooner than we think. People’s tastes and habits, she said, evolve with their web-based interaction.

Virtual empathy, it seems, can carry us through our loneliness, but only up to a point. The next presenter makes a strong point about how we will still crave for physical contact with another human being. Said Lux Alptraum said, “We do not want to have sex with robots. We want to make our sex better.” She also brought up a tantalizing question, “What metrics are we using to measure sex?”

Alptraum showed the sex strap-ons, emphasizing the importance of its progeny—bionics, which essentially makes sex devices more affordable.

If all these sound too self-serving, former journalist Amy Vernon asked if all the technology we want is for the greater good or for ourselves — and where we need to draw the line with privacy.

Vernon thinks we’re at that point where we can’t have both privacy and progress. “We can’t complain about giving up our privacy at the same time that we love the technology that comes about as a result of the information we’re sharing ourselves. Still, how safe is our quantified selves?”

Adds Mari Kussman when it was her turn to speak, “Were quantifying like we know where we’re going and we’ve never made a mistake before.”

Kussman observes how IoT promises better living through ubiquitous connectivity. But she asked, “What metrics are we using to measure success (read: this better living)?”

Beyond the question of metrics, Krysytal D’Costa’s talk centered on how technology in general is making us better liars the more we lose our privacy.

D’Costa thinks even fitness wearables are teaching us to be better liars. “We are using social pressure to stay fit,” she said, “but are they really changing our behavior or simply teaching us to game the system?” If that means lying how much we’ve lost calories.

“Wearables help us with deception. We lie online, because it’s just easier to get away with it. It could be as simple as having a photo on your social networks taken years ago.” Online, we can certainly have a better version of ourselves.

Graeme Ossey thinks wearables are helpful as digital health devices. “Not only does it tap into the mainstream quantified-self movement but allows greater points of engagement for providers and patients.”

He looks forward to technology that prevents injuries, provides early diagnosis, reduces cost and time, and increases providers’ information.

All these talk about the rapid of technology is hogwash for Chris Allick. “2013 and 2014 were supposed to be “The Year of the IoT” connected devices and big data! A revolution was supposed to take place in which we would sit back and watched data, wearables, and sensors talk to each other, and magically our lives would be better.”

Well that has not happened. “I’ve researched most, if not all, of the development platforms for people to create products for the IoT and I’ve found some interesting things about people’s ability to understand scale and value.”

“Today, we don’t have an internet of things we have an internet of products,” he added.

If IoT is not in the horizon, this could prove to be disappointing for Nick Doiron. He hopes to see new wearables and handheld technologies bring fictional plot devices to life.

Having studied product design, Bernard Mehl would be content though to see this happen in the workplace.

He longs for Star Trek technology at the workplace. “What do I have in my pocket now? Boring stuff,” he said. He’d like to know when a room is occupied and how to switch off lights when not in use.”

Ignite NYC was hosted by co-directors Oscar Torres and Martha Denton.

How to accelerate the sales cycle in your startup

By Dennis Clemente

How do you accelerate the sales cycle in your startup?

If you’re talking to Mark LaRosa, chief revenue officer of Funnel Fire, he is going to be epigrammatic about it. He will tell you the importance of slowing down to speed up. Essentially, you’re better off really knowing your customer instead of just “spraying and praying” for sales to happen.

He was speaking at the Sales Hacking Series last August 21 at Projective Space with two other guests, Doug Freeman, director of sales at The Muse and Jordan Christopher, VP of Sales at SiSense.

Knowing a customer is important, because “nobody cares about your product.” He cited instances where salespeople make the mistake of talking about the features of a product rather than how it makes “people’s lives better, easier, simpler and richer.”

“Prospects are five times more likely to talk to you if you know something about them and their business,” he added.

Another unusual approach from him: “Push for the No to get closer to the Yes. “A No is an opportunity to get closer to the Yes. The more you ask for the No the faster it is going to go down the pipe.”

How should your calls go? “During each call or interaction, set the landmines that will reverberate after you leave,” he said. His “landmine” is simply a call-to-action message: “If you have any question, feel free to call me.”

In his turn to talk, Freeman was more honed in on the process of sales—and how crucial it is to listen, diagnose and watch your salespeople perform. “Lead generation is important, even at the pre-sales level. Ask yourself where it is coming from.”

“Make sure your activity-to-meetings ratio is fundamental to your sales process. Make sure you’re asking the tough questions, so you can move forward,” he added.

When selling, Freeman could not stress this enough: “Whatever you do, act cool.” What if you’re desperate for a sale? “Have enough in your pipeline so you can act cool.”

To reach prospects, Freeman recommended Connect6 and Rapportive but he admitted to doing mostly email marketing.
Christopher, for his part, talked about he is fanatical about hitting the numbers. “We get 800 to 900 customers a year. We have not missed a quarterly.”

He pulled out some interesting industry data and insights:
• 24 percent of sales reps’ time are spent on research, prospecting
• About half of all reps didn’t make quota FY13
• 94 percent of qualified leads never close
• Average time it takes reps to start producing: 4.5 months
• Average sales: 30,000 bucks
• Long/complex POC aren’t efficient

This is sobering, which makes SEO and SEM, social marketing, blogging, and generating 3,000 inbounds leads per quarter, a must-do for him. “Consumers are smarter than ever,” he observed.
The meetup was hosted by Jake Dunlap, CEO of Skaled and Betts Recruiting.

Charlie O’Donnell: A refreshingly candid VC at NJ Tech Meetup


By Dennis Clemente

The attendees at the NJ Tech Meetup held at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NH last August 27 were all praises for venture capitalist Charlie O’ Donnell of Brookyln Bridge Ventures and his “refreshingly candid” talk as a VC. The meetup also featured three startups.

The Hoboken audience listened intently to O’Donnell as he talked for over an hour, showing his appreciation for the effort put in by host and organizer Aaron Price in making sure New Jersey also has its tech meetup as well as the startup presenters – Cartwheels, Share911 and WRM4.

O’Donnell, who has been a VC for 15 years, dislikes being approached as if he were doing them a big favor. “Without pitches, I won’t have a job,” he said, assuring the audience that “it’s not a bother.” It’s important to approach a VC with confidence, not officiousness.

He said pitching to him in meetups is not a good idea, only because he thinks it’s unfair for the person seeking funding. “He may have worked on it for many years and for him to squeeze in 15 seconds of his time (is not worth it).” He said he was open to the idea of meeting somewhere else, so one probably discuss his or her startup.

Asking him about trends is not a good idea, too. Using bitcoin only as an example, he said, “You should tell me what’s exciting about bitcoin (or any sector). I’m surprised when people tell me about a sector (they know very well).

How does he know if a startup entrepreneur has the wrong mindset. “If he’s thinking more about pitching and he’s not worried about selling.”

He gave some important takeaways for the aspiring startups in the audience.

• He has favored founders with the average age of 33, because he favors those who have already some insights into their field already
• When pitching, think of a great hook (citing a female startup founder for her strong opening line about how her company’s fast start)
• How does he know who to invest in? When it doesn’t make more than two meetings to make him invest
• When an initial email to any VC goes unnoticed, ask if he or she received your email. Keep nudging

O’Donnell is an “early chap” as VC, taking in 5 percent where others in advance stages may take 20 to 25 percent.

As for the presenters, Cartwheels talked about how it offers locations and reviews of food trucks in New York City. It hopes to get place-based advertising and in the future, on-cart advertising. Some challenges it hopes to address is the unreliable location of moving vendors (they’re mobile, after all). There’s also lack of accountability.

Next was What Are Minds For, Inc. (WRM4) is the provider of Vognition. It is designed to control devices using natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU). Using its platform, it expects to cut development time from months to weeks; provide high voice recognition reliability with NLP and NLU; reduce long term support costs and most importantly create an improved user experience.

Last presenter, Share 911 is a real-time Emergency Information System for schools that enables educators and employees to share information with one another and First Responders.

The social network for emergencies is for connecting directly with police officers, firefighters and the people around you at your school or in your workplace. This way, you can share what’s happening in a specific location (eg. text alerts) and receive real-time visibility to what’s happening around you.

There’s nothing to download, so people can use it right away.

What size is the rumored iPhone 6? Get instant iPhone case with 3-D prints

By Dennis Clemente

Have you tried 3-D printing before? Makerbot is everywhere these days, in retail stores around the country, where you can see how they work and how it hopes it will speed up mainstream adoption. With the rumors of a new iPhone 6 swirling around (Apple released media invites for a September 9 event), Fraemes as its second printing enabled app could help produce those cases.

Last August 26, Brooklyn Tech Meetup hosted an event featuring Makerbot with Maureen Coiro and Ben McCallum talking about 3D printing and 3D scanning, respectively. Coiro showed a video of its type of users – engineers, designers, educators and students.

What is 3D printing and how did it come to be? For the uninitiated, it was used for prototyping. It’s still used in the regard but now it’s also used for function, fit, user testing design, validation, packaging and of course, for fun.

How does it work? At Makerbot, Coiro said, it’s as simple as setting up the replicator, sending file to printer, and start printing.

In terms of 3D scanning, McCallum explained its value proposition as follows:

• Reduction of the customer timeline: 8-man weeks to integrate customer timeline
• Cost savings of staffing years: No need to build an enterprise platform
• Platform as a service, minimal permanent staff
• Risk is reduced: To deploy a voice control
• Premium price now: Staying competitive long term

Radiolab used the Digitizer to help “tell the story of one little thing that has radically changed what we know about humanity’s humble beginnings and the kinds of creatures that were out to get us way back when.”

In the not so distance future, consider facial analysis, identification, security and contextual interfaces, even gaze tracking and emotion recognition.

Reporting New York's startups and personalities