10 things you need to know about investors


By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK–Learning about how to find investors is almost always different when you’re in 40s-up midtown (much older crowd) and 30s-below midtown (younger crowd). The former usually frowns on the word “meetup” to describe an after-office talk whereas a few zip codes down it’s less of an issue.

If you’re new to the tech community in New York, just use “talk” to describe what happened last March 19 at the Lee Hecht Harrison law offices when investors from different companies gave people tips on how to find an investor in the city. Here are some of the thoughts of Anna Garcia of 37 Angels, a community of women angel investors; Michael Beller of CoVenture; and Judith Feder of Harvest Capital.

1. Know if you really need investment. Know if you really need venture capital or angel investment or if you need to find out if you can get corporate grants or non-profit grants. Your idea could still be financial tech and still be non-profit.

2. Know when you need to pitch. Angel investors hold quarterly pitch forums. You will also find accelerators and incubators accepting startup funding applications quarterly and may run a pitch training program for 3 to 4 months.

3. How to find out if you’re a good fit for a venture capital investor or an angel investor. With VCs, study their websites and blogs and more importantly, their portfolio. Be aware that VCs invest in themes, while angel investors, because they come from different backgrounds, may have a diverse portfolio.

4. Still, VCs have some differences. There are VCs who are either hedgehogs or foxes. Investors who are hedgehogs are single-minded and tend to invest in teams with deep expertise and come from the same industry. Investors who are foxes are more dynamic, more adaptable and more open to anyone with a transformative product and creating new markets.

5. How to email investors. They prefer that you are coming to them with reference. If you met them before and they gave their contact info, you can contact them directly. For VCs, it’s important you have the same connections. For angels, know one and you raise the possibility of being introduced to another angel. Approach everything not as a mechanical process, but as a relationship-building exercise.

6. How to meet investors. Put yourself out there and be engaged in the startup eco system. Go to meetups, hackathons (even if you’re not a developer), tech talks, founders’ clubs, and mixers.

7. What is a no-no. No investor will read a business plan (but have one for yourself), because investors get it right away. Pitching to investors don’t exceed 7 minutes and can even be about 2 minutes. Also, make sure to describe your startup instead of using big words. When it comes to pitching, though, no is just an opportunity to explain your business better.

8. The bigger pie over small pie. A small slice of pie from a big pie is always better than a small slice from a small pie. Keep that in mind when you’re seeking investment.
When to grow your business and ask for money. Sometimes startups are far too early in the process to think of growth. You’re going to lose money, because you need to care about the growth. Growth is not a proxy for product-market fit.

9. How much money will you need? Think 18 months of runway. When you need to raise money, you need to know for sure how much you need, because sometimes you can underestimate your needs. How do you know if it’s a good deal? Think of how much money you need. Then double it. The best way to negotiate terms is have VCs competing

10. Other takeaways:

  • Be completely researched on what your competition is
  • Don’t be afraid to contact people you haven’t talked to in years.
  • Investors always want an equity deal than a convertible note
  • Husband-and-wife team not exactly ideal partnership to invest in
  • Tantoco, other female tech leaders talk about NY innovation, disruptions

    appnexus event

    By Dennis Clemente

    NEW YORK–Last March 18, some of New York’s top technology leaders shared their experiences as technology officers of their respective domains at App Nexus. The speakers were Minerva Tantoco, CTO of New York City; Lucille Mayer, managing director and CIO, Bank of New York Mellon; Camille Fournier, CTO of Rent the Runway and Catherine Williams, chief data scientist of AppNexus.

    As the first CTO of New York City today, Tantoco likes to see how innovation can work to scale culture and organizational design. She cited the “pockets of innovation” and creativity in the city. In late 2015, the city will be able to make use of old payphones as fast Wi-Fi spots covering 150 feet. With hyperlocal advertisements, the payphone-turned Wi-Fi spot will generate income for the city.

    More speficially, she is looking into how technology can do wonders for every kid in the city. Tantoco’s challenge to anyone up to it, “If you have the technology, how do you teach every kid?”

    Being New York’s CTO, she said, “is the hardest job and the best job.” The hardest part about it comes from her next statement about how innovation can be risky for governments as well.

    The talk about disruptive technology provoked Fournier of Rent the Runway to say, “Apps are annoying, infuriating and disheartening.” Anyone could relate to this when you count the fact that there are only few web browsers and most people use Chrome already whereas the total number of apps is now 2.5 million.

    When it comes to online security, Tantoco talked about how it’s crucial to develop a better experience with it. “You can’t even get in yourself (these days)” when you need to have five passwords in anything.”

    Mayer’s own qualm these days was directed mostly at lawyers: “Tell me how I can do it instead of saying what I can’t do.”

    The audience responded well to Tantoco’s talk about New York being the second tech hub in the world after Silicon Valley. New York has over 300,000 tech jobs and non-tech jobs in tech companies. It is center of publishing, finance, health and many other areas. “I think we’ll be no.1 soon.”

    For someone who grew up in Flushing, Queens with Filipino lineage, Tantoco likes how New York has become the most diverse city in the world.

    Fournier responded to talk about the city, by saying how she loves the business savvy of New Yorkers, even in software development.

    Mayer sees the city scaling up with talent and having more role in community building.

    Smith of Qualtrics, Medlock of Swiftkey draw huge crowd at Data-Driven meetup

    data-driven meetup2

    By Dennis Clemente

    NEW YORK—CEO and founder Ryan Smith of Qualtrics spoke candidly about his beginnings in Ohio when he set up his company with his academician-father, ran it in his basement for five years and how he knocked on university doors in New York to offer his service to academicians at first last March 17 at the Data-Driven meetup at Bloomberg’s offices. After 12 years, the company is now valued at $2.1 billion.

    “We built a product together that was simple enough for me, and sophisticated enough for him (his father),” he said of his product that makes sophisticated research simple.

    In a sit-down talk with host Matt Turck, Smith talked about how many companies sometimes miss the forest for the trees. He remembers being asked so many business questions when almost always, it would have been better to ask “your employees and customers.”

    The Data-Driven meetup is a mix of both presentations and sit-down talk in a span of an hour and a half.
    CTO and co-founder Ben Medlock of Swiftkey chose to talk next about artificial intelligence in general as it relates to the future of mobile typing, the way it’s building the world’s smartest keyboard.

    Ben Medlock of Swiftkey talked about his smart prediction technology for easier mobile typing. “Swiftkey is a narrower AI company,” he said of his company designed in 2010, with close to 10 billion users today and 50 trillion characters written down.

    “How can we model how we think?” asked his audience.

    Swiftkey is building language models among other things based on fast and efficient smoothed n-gram models ; optimized trie search; morphemes and neutral nets/representation learning

    For input modeling, it uses Gaussian distributions to model interaction with the keyboard surface and linear gaussians. As for data collection, it has partnered with a UK-based company.

    CEO Paul Dix, for his part, presented how Influx DB works

    InfluxDB is a time series, metrics, and analytics database. It’s written in Go and has no external dependencies. Once you install it, you don’t need to install Redis, ZooKeeper, HBase, or whatever.

    InfluxDB is targeted at use cases for DevOps, metrics, sensor data, and real-time analytics.

    “It arose from our need for a database like this on more than a few previous products we’ve built,” Dix said.
    Dix announced plans to launch the testing build of version. 0.9.0 in a few months. Some new features will include support for tags and API changes. InfluxDB currently supports the following:

    • SQL like query language
    • HTTP(S) API
    • Storage of billions of data points
    • Database managed retention policies for data
    • Built in management interface
    • Aggregation on the fly

    “It’s (InfluxDB) is a discovery engine for what you are collecting,” Dix said.

    CEO Ion Stoic sat down to discuss the history of Databricks which was founded by the creators of Apache Spark.

    Protecting customers, company and brand through cryptography

    By Dennis Clemente

    How do you protect your customers, company and brand? At the IoT Central meetup on security at General Assembly last March 12, Atmel’s Dan Ujvari put it this way: it’s all about the CIA. Well, not the intelligence agency but this: “confidentiality of messages, integrity of transmissions and authentication of messages.”

    Atmel is developing what could be the Security of Things: innovative technologies that fuel machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the “industrial Internet.” It’s not new to the tech world but it is trying to address the new demand for Internet of Things.

    Founded in 1984, Atmel designs and manufactures microcontrollers, capacitive touch solutions, advanced logic, mixed-signal, nonvolatile memory and radio frequency (RF) components. Atmel provides the electronics industry with system solutions focused on industrial, consumer, security, communications, computing and automotive markets.

    Ujvari said three things that crypto-authentication and crypto-communication should be able to address: confidentiality, integrity and authentication.

    Ujvari said it should “ensure one can read the message except the intended receiver” (confidentiality), assure the received message was not altered in any way (integrity) and “it should prove something what it is declared to be (authentication).”

    Why do we need crypto-authentication? You will want to prove components and disposables are genuine; ensure clearance level and control delivered services.

    With a “shared security key,” Atmel sees how it can do the following:
    • Assure code is genuine before booting
    • Downloads are from genuine source and unmodified
    • Secure your messages today and tomorrow with its “perfect-forward” security
    • Protection from cloners

    In terms of ecosystem control, Atmel claims it can prove components and disposables are genuine, while also ensuring client clearance- and access- level and control delivered services.

    Crypto-authentication is clearly needed when a study by HP points to 70 percent of IoT devices being vulnerable to attacks. It was also found in another report that here are security flaws in embeddable systems, even in simple USB firmware.

    Put it simply, Ujvari said your device is going to be in the hand of somebody else. “They can easily replace parts (to assess it),” he said.

    With its shared secret key (a combo of private and public keys), he said digital signatures and certificates will create a circle of trust.

    Barton LLC also provided a legal perspective on IoT Security.

    Early startups get their chance to present at accelerator meetup

    By Dennis Clemente

    NEW YORK–ER Roundtable hosts show-and-tell demos like no other tech meetups in the city. Startups present without a deck or without spelling out the name of their startup. They’re not even listed in the announcement.

    Covering this event for over a year now, the presenters are a mix of both months-old and year-old startups. Some are in the building stage, while others have their startups but may change their name later. It’s all early here, but one cannot discount the fact how successful this meetup is in drawing a sizable crowd, precisely because it’s where newcomers to the startup world take their baby steps. It makes sense because ER is an accelerator that guides startups until they’re ready to make more noise out there.

    At its regular venue at Microsoft last March 16, there were 11 presenters plus time for anyone in the audience to present their startup, as long as you’re deemed worthy based on the questions thrown by the host or a guest speaker. LendEDU was the night’s startup winner/presenter.

    There are 7 in 10 graduates with student loans with an average balance of $30,000. LendEDU aims to take the stress out of student loans and refinancing by allowing consumers to view options from several lenders in a few minutes. It also provides student loan tools such as a repayment calculator, a student loan payment calculator and tips on personal finance.

    Aside from having a feasible idea, sometimes winning your crowd is all about how you present your startup.

    “We charge our borrowers nothing. We are paid by our lending partners. We work with private school lenders and don’t compete against them. We are a marketing tool for lenders,” CEO Nat Taylor said.

    Another presentation called Increase likes to call itself a lead generator for business. Because it finds advertising expensive and word of mouth difficult to measure, it aims to address the “how” for small business. It claims to analyze social networks and provide a script that you add to your HTML. It aims to make through subscription plans.

    A company called Lovoy is aggregating volunteer work with the recent Chinese immigrant-presenter saying, “It’s time we contribute to our city.” The site is in beta. It aims to charge non-profit organizations.

    Coming from its Turn to Tech presentation, X Labs’ Oliver Christie is hoping to make the Internet faster in the United States and in other countries. “We’re using AI to compress data. ISPs can’t cope, content can’t deliver.”

    “We think this biz is ready for enterprise in 3 to 6 months,” he said. “The biggest need is for people like Netflix. We don’t want to interfere in their existing business model but maybe we can help them (in other ways).

    Ox Content’s Matt Lovett is trying to solve content creation which he said is a
    $44-billion industry. Developed with Gary Chan, his software aims to help automate story generation.

    Next presenter, Stickmen aims to become “the Ikea of the gaming world.” People are already buying casual games, so it looks forward to becoming a one-stop for gamers everywhere.

    Dream Forward asked the audience to ask the hard questions about their 401K and it will attempt to answer it, while BlendCalendar, currently available on Android, offers a productivity tool that aims to become a “digital version of your day-to-day life.”

    Fireside chat with millennials Young, Smith on startups, retail, fundraising


    By Dennis Clemente

    NEW YORK—General Assembly hosted a fireside chat featuring two young millennial disruptors– female venture capitalists and entrepreneurs Colette Young and Samantha Smith last March 11 at the Hudson Hotel.

    The two young women both started businesses when they were 14, owning and operating retail stores and similarly, working in early-stage consumer tech in top VC companies. They talked about retail and startups.

    Young is currently building out the retail and luxury goods division for o9 Solutions, a SaaS-based enterprise planning start-up, founded by entrepreneur Sanjiv Sidhu. She is the founder of Coco Zaza, a boutique consultancy specializing in tech, fashion, food and hospitality. Young is also a co-founder of an NGO called The Happiness Assembly and is currently one of the youth mentors for UN Habitat’s Global Youth fund. Colette previously worked at FirstMark Capital and at Prada Corporate.

    Smith, on the other hand, is a former operations manager at First Round Capital. She graduated from NYU Gallatin where she designed a self-directed major in government and philosophy and founded the NYU Entrepreneurs Network. Her prior work experience includes time at KIND Healthy Snacks, DoSomething.org and working at the Office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

    Below are the highlights of the fireside chat with Young and Smith.

    On starting a business
    Young: The only way to do it is to do it, but show proof of concept.

    On timing
    Young: 2010 was the year when social media came into the picture but SEO (prevailed)

    Smith: Always look for intent, the founding team. Sometimes there’s not a right time for a product, even when’s it’s a good (product).

    On what makes a great company
    Young: What makes a great company? Answers these: Does it make money? Is it defensible? How does it scale?

    On work-life balance
    Young: I was working 100 hours a week. I only do things I believe in. Know that it’s extremely important to have something on the side. Don’t ever work in a job you hate

    Smith: Sorry I’m not sorry (about her busy life). (Have) strong relationships and friendships. Set a standard for your life

    On how some startups are not making money
    Young: There are some great companies not earning. They have not figured it out, but their value is so significant, which was why they were able to raise money

    On accelerators
    Smith: Use it as resource, not just a way to get funded

    On life hacks
    Young: Read a lot. Smart people read lot.

    Smith: I love to read. I also listen to audiobooks. You can consume a lot from audibooks, read while you’re in-between meetings and at the gym.

    The meetup was organized by General Assembly’s Lena Xiao.

    Golfswell aims to improve efficiency and accessibility

    golfswellBy Dennis Clemente

    NEW YORK–Nearly every night, there’s a demo or tech meetup happening in the city. If you’re a morning person, you will like NYC Tech Breakfast. At this monthly breakfast get-together, startups do show-and-tell demos start at 8 a.m. and end at 9:30 a.m. This month, the presenters were Aaron Rosenthal of Golfswell; Jonathan Wasserstrum; Ron Rose of 3DP4E: Kids Creation Station and Justin Panzer of Eventuosity.

    From Washington, DC, Golfswell’s Rosenthal presented next, saying his app is devoted to finding solutions to improve efficiency and accessibility at golf courses everywhere.

    “As golfers, we go to the course for competition, fun and freedom from the daily grind. Too often, customers leave frustrated with course backups, too much waiting and not enough playing, Rosenthal said.

    Only available in the US for now, Golfswell claims to offer the following:

    GPS yardage and score keeping: Get precise distances to the front middle and back of the green at your favorite courses and never choose the wrong club again.

    Traffic map: See where other golfers are on the course and how fast they’re playing. View your pace, course preferred pace, and how you’re saving time.

    Communicate: Send a text message in the Golfswell app to report a jam or request for a ranger.

    Reporting & analytics: Use real-time data and analytics to improve your pace of play

    Rosenthal is responding to how only 14 percent of tee times are booked online – a 25 percent growth since last year.

    What’s interesting about the next presenter, The SquareFoot, was how it lists actual rates of commercial office spaces. It also features a nifty space calculator.

    “It’s Zillow for commercial real estate Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO, said. “Later this year, we will launch a mobile app.”

    Other than that, it aims to please. It has a technology to allow you to browse commercial space all across the country, and an experienced broker team to walk you through the process of leasing space.

    “We work directly with landlords,” he said.

    The SquareFoot calls it a new of engineering a new kind of broker: providing you with great service and advocating for you throughout the entirety of the leasing process.

    Rob Rose of 3DP4E is in the business of converting children’s artworks into life-like 3D creations, as he showed a finished product around.

    “We cut the 2-hour process to 15 seconds,” he said as he showed a video of how quickly it works to use a child’s artwork, usually a 2-D image, and prep it for 3D printing.

    Every order will reportedly include a child’s artwork as a 4-inch 3D printed sculpture; an “openable” diorama case, and a full-color background insert for the diorama case. Turnaround from order to delivery is about four weeks.

    The material is sandstone, a gypsum-based power bound together with an adhesive and simultaneously embedded with an ink jet head. The products are finished with cyanoacrylate sealant to ensure durability.

    Prices range from $60 to $100.

    Panzer of Eventuosity presented a web and mobile application for event planners to manage the people, places and important business events such as corporate meetings, trade shows, marketing tours and even social outings.

    The app, a SaaS monthly subscription model, reportedly works as single tool that allows you to “plan anything by planning for everything.” Panzer of Eventuosity says, “We never to look at another spreadsheet.”

    CogniToys gets crowdfunded on Kickstarter


    By Dennis Clemente

    NEW YORK–CogniToys of Elemental Path more than made its goal go on Kickstarter when amassed over $237,000 from its crowdfunding goal of $50,000.

    Speaking at Turn to Tech last March 8, “The toy for us was Watson (IBM’s AI model),” said JP Benini of its system architecture department.”The toy is the app. The toy is the experience. It’s an adaptive system.”

    Recognizing a gap in smart educational toys, CogniToys is building a patent-pending technology that allows kids to directly engage in intelligent conversation with their toys.

    The technology allows toys to listen, speak and simultaneously evolve, learn and grow with your child, bringing a new element of personalized, educational play to children.
    With your help, we are launching Elemental Path’s first product: CogniToys – a cute cuddly dinosaur that is fun, playful and smart.

    How does it work?

    By pressing the belly of the toy, the child can speak directly to it, allowing the child to:
    • Ask thousands of questions and receive age-appropriate answers
    • Give commands to the toy allowing the child to discover hidden talents
    • Hear a number of stories and even create their own stories
    • Tell and listen to knock knock jokes
    • Create a unique personality for the toy that evolves over time based on the child’s interaction with the toy

    Demonstrating its response using his smartphone, Elemental Path’s JP Benini an audience member asked, “Why is the sky blue?” It responded with an answer. He pointed out how the toy may not stop giving answers if you don’t stop it.

    Elemental Path was a grand prize winner at the IBM Watson Mobile App Developer Challenge with its unique concept, and part of winning was receiving access to IBM Watson — IBM’s powerful cognitive computer – to create a truly transformational toy.

    “We are an ecosystem and business partner of IBM,” he said.

    Since it is internet-connected, Elemental Path sees many way of improving the play experience—in both personal and educational ways.

    It will reportedly get to know the child and grow with the child. It is envisioned to create an experience around a child’s personal interests. The toy will reportedly have a personality of its own that changes over time.

    Of prime importance is how it should create an atmosphere of fun and playfulness—with modules that engage the child in educational play. These include rhyming, spelling, vocabulary and math. As the interaction increases so will the challenge of the educational content continuing to become more challenging as the child learns.

    In terms of testing with kids, Benini admits that they have mostly done spot testing. On weekends, we let our nieces and nephews play with it. We haven’t had a kid spend a week with it, though.”

    “We’re talking to parents about what information they would like to be in the toy,” Benini added.

    xlabs.ai also presented the idea of having the internet a hundred times faster using AI to build a better software.

    It aims to do this by improving physical infrastructure, compressing the data being sent, and having RITA, its artificial intelligence, work its magic. It reportedly knows algorithm, data and language.

    Questions about the threat of artificial intelligence to our world were also discussed.

    Lyft app claims ‘great feedback loop’ between passenger and driver

    By Dennis Clemente

    NEW YORK— Last March 3 at the NY Tech meetup at NYU’s Skirball Theater, Lyft came to present its “great feedback loop between passengers and drivers.” Yes, it has an app for both passenger and driver. Because of security concerns from riders these days, it also makes background checks on drivers. It also works with companies that offer rides to employees after 8 pm, if not a $50 credit.

    The other presenters were Peloton Cycle, Digital Natives Group, Airhelp, Kollecto, Leasebreak and ListenLoop. Peloton is a company in Manhattan that makes an indoor bike equipped with a touch screen that allows riders to participate in live-stream and on-demand cycling classes.

    “We were addicted to boutique fitness,” said John Foley, CEO and founder of Peloton, talking about himself and his wife. “We asked ourselves if could build something from home that we could stream.”

    It was also a night for kids from ScriptEd who presented their apps, several of them taking their turns speaking to the 400 attendees of the meetup held monthly at NYU’s Skirball Theater. ScriptEd equips students in under-resourced schools with fundamental coding skills and professional experiences to give them access to careers in technology.

    One group talked about the app they were building called knowyourneighbor, which seemed to have been made using goodbarber.com. Many of the kids thought that most people these days don’t really know their neighbors—and thought it great to have neighbors interacting with each other –for a change. Another group came up with a quick translator app, saying how they envision having translators in their app just a click away. “It can be used to business meetings.”

    The students knew why they also came to present, saying they need investors and help with open data.

    It seemed fitting then that one of the presenters, Digital Natives, was doing something like a resource/information site for all things K-12 called Whisper.

    The meetup proceeded with other interesting presenters like Kollecto. It helps people buy affordable art by pairing them with a virtual art advisor & personalized art recommendations

    Another presenter called Airhelp, initially not in the list of presenters, should be welcome news to everyone. It aims to get money back for you when airlines screw up their flights. Most people reportedly don’t get the amount from the airlines.

    The startup is only considering flights you’ve made in the last 3 years, as it promises to take care of all the paperwork and airline. It will get a percentage when necessary and free in some cases. “We do the parsing if you booked from a travel site, for example,” one of the founders said.

    Next presenter just coming out of a year-long beta is Leasebreak, a Stubhub for short-term renters (not less than 30 days). A tenant can post an apartment to rent out before he leaves. It reportedly has 5,000 sign-ups and offers.

    Landlord approval is needed up front and center as well as exact address.

    ListenLoop is the evolution of B2B retargeting, providing advertising automation that displays personalized ads based on visitor behavior and demographics.

    Listenloop talks and converts to known leads, converting emails email even into an ad. It is reportedly seeing 5 to 15 percent click-through rate.

    The hack of the month featured an app called investa_gator which was designed to expose address human trafficking.

    The meetup was co-hosted by Coalition for Queens’ Jukay Hsu.

    This light bulb stays on even when the power is out

    light bulb

    By Dennis Clemente

    Imagine if you had a light bulb that stays on even when the power goes out? Such a light bulb now exists, and stays lit, at least for 4 hours.

    “This has never been done before,” said Shailendra Suman whose LED light bulb, SmartCharge, wowed audiences and the media at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last year.

    The SmartCharge works just like any other light bulb, except that when the power goes out, the light bulb will keep working for up to 4 hours and will remember the last position of the light switch controlling it.

    If you were not at home when the lights went out, you should still have 4 hours of light if nobody turned on the light switch.

    The light bulb is also estimated to last 25 years.

    Click to read more

    Reporting New York's startups and personalities