Nick Churls talks about Betaworks’ syndication of seed investments, his startup checklist

nick churls

By Dennis Clemente

At Hatchery’s Friday speaker series last September 27, Nick Churls, seed investor at Betaworks, did something no one else does here. He faced us in front of the room, removed the high chair and picked a chair that was eye level with 10 of us in the audience, as if we were friends he was talking to. It helped us hear him clearly, as he talked about what Betaworks is up to these days.

Churls announced that Betaworks is syndicating seed investments. With the lifting of the ban on general solicitation effective September 23 through the JOBS Act, Churls said the new funding environment will be positive for startups and how they approach raising capital. Betaworks is excited to partner with AngelList.

“We’re beginning to syndicate seed investments for reasons both philosophical and structural. We believe it’s consistent with our open architecture at betaworks and it gives us an additional advantage as seed-stage angel investors.”

As a new form of startup financing, Betaworks thinks this is innovative and disruptive. “Investing shouldn’t just be for rich people but for everyone,” Churls said, as he pointed how “venture capitalists don’t like crowdfunding, (because) their work is being disrupted.”

In adapting to the new investment climate, Churls also stressed how Betaworks doesn’t want to be insulated (from what’s happening out there),” he said, suggesting how betaworks realizes the changing methods in investing and how they are also evolving to help startups better. “We look forward to building an ecosystem or network (that can help) companies and founders.”

Betaworks has invested in, if not acquired, the most recognizable brands, including bit.ly, dots, digg, instapaper (four months ago) and tapestry with $30 million in capital to invest in startups from scratch. “We manage companies forever,” he said.

To connect with his audience interested in jumping into the startup world, Churls switched to talk about early seed stage investing. “As an investor, I like early seed stage. It’s the most fun. We’re ready to invest $100,000 per company. But if we make some noise about it, we can get much more money.”

What is his checklist in terms of who Betaworks invests in? “We invest in startups with huge traction. I look a lot for a person who is incredibly captivating? I want to know why is this person doing it? What sort of life circumstances led him to his idea/startup. He has to some uniqueness and reason for doing his startup.”

He added how this person “must be able to be able to have a product that solves people’s lives, and (a product that) people (will) love.”

Citing Facebook’s success, he directed the question to his audience, “Are people using your product every day? Is your product part of people’s daily lives? How many people are obsessed with your product?”

Churls thinks highly of engagement with data and metrics to back up any product’s effectiveness. We want to know how many visit you every day and every month, because we are data and metrics driven company. We test products maniacally. We have 10 people we can (trust) who test products.”

Churls spends most of his time in seed investing to make more money, so out of that capital, we can invest more. We like consumer-focused products like bit.ly.”

He also recalls how Betaworks first marketed dots, a game about connecting, and how they used Facebook. “Facebook is the best mobile ad platform for now,” he said, “Facebook ads have been phenomenally effective.”

The company came to the decision of seed investment syndication when they asked themselves the following questions:

• How can we offer great companies the most efficient access to capital?
• Does the existing seed-stage financing system work the way it could? And what will the seed-stage angel/ fund look like 6 months, 2 years, 10 years from now?
• Could users be more helpful to early-stage companies than venture investors are?
• Should early-stage Internet investment opportunities be limited to LPs and wealthy individuals?
• What would happen if we gradually opened up our investment doors to the world?

Churls used to work at HappyFunCorp, lived in China, and briefly traded commercial jet engines at Lehman Brothers. He is Yale graduate who has also studied at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

New apps for anti-legalese, impulsive event finder

By Dennis Clemente

It’s not every day you find a bar and gallery space as the venue for a presentation of new apps, but Culturefix makes it interesting that way. It also tells us how every nook and cranny of New York–East Village in this case—is open to what is fast becoming a cottage industry in New York—the tech startup.

So between sips of house red wine and small bites of tapas, the startup presentation looks like it is indeed getting a cultural fix—and a multicultural one at that based on the different ethnicities that presented their apps last September 25 at Startupfix’s meetup.

In the first performance art, er, presentation, Run Smart Project presented the Jack Daniels’ Running Calculator, a free mobile app designed to help runners quickly calculate their running and training paces. The calculator offers runners and coaches an app that factors in wind, temperature and altitude.

With so many running apps out there, Run Smart has had the good sense of going beyond targeting elite runners by reaching out to schools with their app. Run Smart Kids is a running program for pupils from third to sixth grades with a goal race at the end of the program. For Run Smart, it’s the way to motivate the young to achieve higher fitness levels.

Brian Rosetti, founder, has always said that it’s easier to educate young people when there’s a specific goal to hurdle. So Run Smart is doing more by partnering with four schools in New York as it also works with over 100 students who have reportedly logged 5,000 miles since 2010.

How would you like your Facebook page to look like a website? Rebel Mouse is the best-looking one so far, but Pagevamp thinks it can still compete, because it captures your activity on Facebook where others may just serve up links.

“All our sites are responsive. You can also pretty much embed what you want,” said Vincent Sanchez-Gomez who presented it with his two other young co-founders, Atulya Pandey and Fred Wang. The three go a long way back from University of Pennsylvania when they were students.

Pagevamp got funded by the Dorm Room Fund, First Round Capital’s student-run investment arm, which gives it access to the fund’s mentorship and network, as well as $20,000 in funding.

Sanchez-Gomez said users from more than 80 countries have created more than 7,000 sites and is looking to expand beyond Facebook. “We look forward to turning Pagevamp into a platform for add-ons from third-party developers.”

Creating a Pagevamp site is free, but you have to pay a subscription fee if you want to publish on a non-Pagevamp domain and if you want access to the add-ons.

Third presenter, Shake, is shaking things up in the legal field. Even presenter-lawyer Vinay Jain has shaken up, if not totally disrupted his legal profession. Founders are RRE’s Stuart Ellman, BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg and Spotify’s Jared Grusd and legal entrepreneur Abe Geiger.

How is it different from any other legal app? “We are anti-legalese,” said Jain explaining how Shake has trimmed the legalese fat for plain English in order to make it easy for anyone to understand contracts, and still make them legally binding. More than 1 million worth of contracts (eg. independent contractor, personal loans, rent-buy) have reportedly been created on the app which is easy to navigate. More important perhaps, the contracts are free.

Last presenter Strito has an interesting Android app that founder Elad of Israel called “Foursquare meets Twitter.” It’s for people looking to find exciting events and activities where they are at the moment. It appears to be more of a search discovery tool for the impulsive in you—or adventurous in you, if it serves up something you think could be exciting but something you have not tried before.

It is clearly not eventbrite.com or any event reminder site. “We like you to interact with events. We allow commenting. We like you to use your social networks with it,” said Elad who said his developers took a year to develop the site, because they were all working on it part-time.”

Since Strito is fairly new, it is focusing on New York City first—and Android first. Elad said it relied on the growth of Android’s market share on a global scale.

Startupfix partner TriNet sponsored a Beats Audio headphone giveaway with Pagevamp co-founder winning the Atulya Pandey winning. Wouldn’t it have been better if the presenters were not included in the raffle?

Silicon Valley giant Steve Blank on demo days, pivots, entrepreneurship

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By Dennis Clemente

How much evidence do you really need before you launch your startup? The person at the receiving end of that question responds: “That’s like guessing how much sex is enough. I’ll let you know when I get there.”

The crowd of about 200 people burst into laughter, hoots and whistles. That set the mood for Startup Grind’s event at Alley NYC last September 23. The man speaking was Steve Blank, the pre-eminent Silicon Valley entrepreneur, author of several books (one of which launched the lean startup movement), an educator and the man that continues to remain in most top 30 influencers’ list in technology even after more than 33 years in the tech world.

True to how he espouses his ideas and the way his highly organized mind works and because he’s a teacher at heart, he responded, “But who are you building it for?” Blank said more and had the audience hanging on his every word.

On demo days. “An incubator is like the Miss Universe contest.” He decried how many are graded by how well they pitch instead of whether their startups are a good product-market fit and if they have run enough experiments with customers, citing even VCs are getting burned down (sic) on demo day.”

“It should be more of ‘how we got here, where we are and what evidence we have’ about where we are going?” He thinks there should be a “Lessons Learned Day” than the continuous Product Demo Day.”

On thermometer of success. He tells the story from 30 years back when NASA and the Department of Defense decided to come up with a Technology Readiness Level. “Level 0 could be demonstrated the principles, Level 5 and 6 could be you have something working. Level 8 or 9 could be you have reached nirvana.

“What we never had was the Investment Readiness Level? But there are some criteria on that now. We may now be able to play Moneyball with startups,” referencing the book where a small team was able to compete against the New York Yankees and their payroll by relying on data—and hiring players who could gets base hits than most other players. “We might be in the beginning of a discussion that could lead to Investment Readiness Levels.”

On rising number of incubators/accelerators. He acknowledged the help these incubators and accelerators provide, which is a long way from just the sharing of physical spaces back in the old days. “What we’ve had last five years are the mentor-based, equity types. We have Paul Graham’s guru-based Y Combinator who mentors, demos and gives you partial funding. We have Tech Stars in multiple cities with community mentoring. Are there too many? “We need to think past existing models. We need to make way for a new model. Accelerators may (want to consider) a curriculum.”

On when to pivot or stick to your vision: “We used to pivot by firing executives. What we’ve learned is that instead of firing executives, we’re going to fire the plan first.” But these days, Blank said pivoting has also been done to the extreme. He said he told Eric Ries (his student and the one who coined it in the book, Lean Startup) that he draws the line somewhere in pivot.

“The problem is that now, it has given rise to its (misuse) by founders with attention deficit disorders. Pivot should not be…like someone told me something yesterday I’ll turn the company upside down.”

On existing markets and new markets. “A small startup is nothing like a large company with its existing markets – how you can find out about size, competitors, pricing and customers. Customer discovery is really easy in existing markets. You can get sufficient data and pivot.

Talking about how startups get started, “Attacking the incumbent (existing market) can be suicidal, but what others see or not see is that there could be a niche (in a new market). But what is a new market? With a new market, you don’t (have data). It’s about seeing something no one else sees. Now you have to go outside and ask the bigger question, where is the world and what do you see?”

On intellectual property. If you’re in the web, mobile or cloud, unless you have a really novel product, it’s going screw your head. What matters most is velocity of learning. Instead of talking (and having it in your head), you can go out and listen (to your customers.)

On gaining the vision to see what’s out there 3 years from now. Rephrasing the question, Blank said, “Can you teach entrepreneurship? We have been asking the wrong question for a hundred years. Of course, we can teach entrepreneurship.

“We can teach it but the question is, who can we teach entrepreneurship to? Yes, we can teach it to those who passionately volunteer… If you desperately want it, we can teach it. If you think it as a job, you’re through. We are now in the renaissance of teaching entrepreneurship. We (eliminate) stumbling blocks and prevent people from doing the wrong things we used to do.”

On why the closest thing to a founder is being an artist. “What we missed for a hundred years is that the closest thing to a founder is (being) an artist. Who are they? When we see a blank canvas, they see a starry night. When we see a block of marble, they see a theater. When we see nothing, they say, ‘Follow me, it’s here.’

On his young self, some 30-plus years ago. Blank is a native New Yorker. He was born in Chelsea, grew up in Queens, and lived in the Bronx for awhile. He went to the University of Michigan, dropped out after the first semester, and joined the military in Vietnam. “I had the lowest GPA. I was ‘thrown out’ with a .5 grade point,” he said. After Vietnam, he went to find work in Silicon Valley in 1978. “I was surprised to see 48 pages of job ads for engineers alone in California.”

Blank worked the night shift at military intelligence systems supplier whose location, to this day, he has not disclosed. Because there were no close vaults during his time, covert manuals were just within his reach. He said he read them because he loved to read, admitting he wasn’t too bright at 24 to think how risky it was for him to do so. He even took notes.

When someone found out and grabbed his notebook, he was told, “You’re not cleared to write this. Wait, I’m not cleared to read this.”

He was told 3 days how it cost the company a lot of money to keep his notebook in a safe place. Telling this story humorously, he was asked and told because there was a cold war between the U.S. and Russia, “You’re not going anywhere, are you? We do have your passport? Do you mind taking on another hobby?”

Blank said he was not a CEO in his younger years and his “career was more of incremental apprenticeship.” Still, he managed to retire from Silicon Valley at 45, so he could see his kids grow up. And take on other hobbies, like writing books and teaching young people to build their own careers as entrepreneurs.

New video startups keep it simple and fast

By Dennis Clemente

Last September 19, NY Video hosted another interesting video meetup at Columbia University with video startups Buzz 60, DecisionDesk, Productive Minds, Project ED and VSnap as presenters.

Buzz 60 showed how they have successfully partnered with Yahoo. It produces 50 shows a week. Founded by 3 broadcast journalists, Buzz 60 is a work-for hire production house that distributes topical short-form videos fast, with focus on on-demand news and entertainment content. Started in 2011, the company works with ad agencies, brands and media companies.

Steve Bradbury, COO and Rachel Trobman, director of Partner Relations and Content Development, are behind Buzz 60. “We produce co-branded videos in 2 hours or less,” Bradbury said who has a staff of 20.

How do they do it? “We do our research, look for what’s trending, and get in touch with creators. Plus, we have people who locate assets,” Trobman said. “Sometimes we have videos 2 days ready.”

It’s interesting how Buzz 60 can fit it in so many newsy stories in one short video. ProjectED, on the other hand, likes to have their videos breathe, as it is in more in the educational space.

Project ED is a new initiative that allows young filmmakers to use their talents to change K-12 education. Young creators from across the United States and Canada have created videos to help students learn, like the “Is Air Matter” video they showed to the 60 people at the meetup.

As incentive, they award cash prizes for the best videos.

“We aggregate these videos into a large, open, online library of the most engaging educational resources available on the web. Then we showcase these videos globally on the web and in K-12 classrooms,” said product manager Girish Gupta said. Community manager Sandie Cheng was also in attendance.

Project ED gets funding from Amplify Learning, Inc.

Companies that make use of collaborative tools were the next presenters. Production Minds Platform (PMP) and VSnap.

David Becker, co-founder of PMP, presented his online pre-production software, custom-made for film and TV industry professionals and is designed to replace Excel.

The software features a full pre-production process starting with crew management, through script breakdown, shot lists, production design as well as location and talent management.

“All crew members are kept up to date in real time,” he said, adding that it works for any production from commercials and music videos through indie films and documentaries as well as multi-million dollar feature movies.

“This is a record or archive as much as it is a tool,” he said.

Can you ultimately give up email with video?

VSnaps’: CEO and co- founder Dave McLauglin said no, even if his main focus is how to improve communication via videos. VSnap is a video tool that people in sales and support can use as a way to inject warmth into their interactions with customers.

“This platform allows you to record small personal video messages on any device,” he said. “We consider it a modern version of a thank you note.”

How confident is he with his startup? “The consumer thing has to happen before enterprises like Yammer. Yammer would not exist without Twitter,” he added.

At the meetup, he showed how VSnap is integrated with Salesforce. From his demo, you can send VSnap video messages from Salesforce and to have a record of that video message with you. His clients include All State.

Based in Boston, the company raised $1.25 million with six staff.

Ever thought how online portfolio should really work?

DecisionDesk’s: Eric Neuman, CTO/VP of Products and co-founder and Marc Plotkin, co-founder, showed how their web based service streamlines the submission and review process for any organization.

The two said 150 organizations are already on board with their online application management system. “You can put out a video and explain how you’re qualified to get into Yale or a company, for example, because resumes don’t represent us anymore.”

With this setup, he added, “You lower the BS factor.”

The affable Steve Rosenbaum moderated the event.

Value or vibe, what is a startup culture and what does it take to build one?

By Dennis Clemente

A pingpong table does not a startup culture make, as six distinguished panelists can attest to at the meetup, “How to build a startup culture” last September 17 at the Orrick offices at CBS building.

The panelists were Dane Atkinson, CEO, SumAll; Wiley Cerilli, former CEO of SinglePlatform, Current VP of Constant Contact; Mark Peter Davis, managing partner, Interplay Ventures; Allyson Downey, co-founder & CEO, weeSpringZain Jaffer, CEO, Vungle; and Joaquin Roca, consultant & COO, Venwise.

How do you build the culture you want throughout the life of your company?

For Roa, it’s about “knowing your culture is connected to your business strategy and how you must all be together in knowing how to win your market.” He insisted on having “core values that rarely change” right from the start. For Downey, an ideal startup culture is about having “some radical transparency.”

Cerilli, who probably has more staff than all the panelists with more than 120, agrees. “Hire people brutally honest with you and have a no-a–hole policy.”

Creating and preserving your startup culture requires some honest assessments. Cerilli likes to give leeway when it comes to off-hours camaraderie.

“As you get bigger, not everyone likes going out for drinks. People have different ways of celebrating,” he said, in response to how some startups think: “You must work together if you look at someone and think you can drink with him.”

As for how people choose a startup culture, Jaffer, who has about 40 staffers, responded to how people sense it, intuitively. “Culture is about unspoken things.”

When it comes to hiring people, Cerilli said he doesn’t do interviews anymore but at one point in time, he said a person who often said “I” instead of “we” and those who mentioned their previous bosses (in an unflattering light most likely) are big no-nos.

For Davis, it’s crucial that he gets people who think in terms of being a partner than just an employee. “If you feel you can’t deliver bad news, that’s a boss-employee relationship, not a boss-partner relationship.”

In terms of talent, Jaffer said he likes “hiring people smarter than me” whereas Atkinson puts a high premium on “trust” and, borrowing from Cerilli’s management style, having a push-up drop-down policy for those who think they’re getting “pudgy.”

“We ask if a someone had a bad day for three successive days,” Atkinson said. This way they can respond accordingly and do their best to help.

For Roa, diversity is the most important thing. “Ask yourself what you are missing in your team, because oftentimes we like people who like us. And if we’re white and we only have white men, that’s not good. A diverse team sees things wholistically.”

In Downey’s case where she and her husband are co-founders, they try to be honest about what the other half can’t do—and that includes knowing how to balance work-life balance and a virtual workforce. “If you can’t do (the latter), you’re doing it wrong.”

But how do they communicate culture? For Davis, he likes to “drop the F bomb” and see how his interviewee reacts. “It’s all about show and tell.”

Jaffer went for a more measured approach. “We do anonymous surveys,” especially for those exiting the company, because they’re more honest. Cerilli likes how people communicate Wow moments on a wall at his company’s office.

But how do they handle a problematic employee?

Davis said you don’t want to be last person to find out if there’s a problematic employee, because it can affect your bottom line. He said he has given someone another change, but when things didn’t change, he went by “addition by subtraction,” as he noticed the company and staff became more productive. “We just had to let this person go.”

Jaffer likes to ask himself, “I ask “Is it my fault? Did I give this person an opportunity to succeed. If we didn’t, everybody is accountable. You have to give this person a chance.”

The meetup was hosted by David Concannon, a partner at Orrick.

Distinguishing relationship and partnership between VCs and startups

By Dennis Clemente

If you can find a “relationship machine” in your company, you’re all set. Thatcher Bell, managing partner at Gotham Ventures, was special guest in the Friday summer series of The Hatchery last September 13 and he was talking about the importance of relationships, especially partnerships.

“When it comes to partnerships, the general rule of thumb is for you to have some value to exchange and develop it as early as you can,” he said whose work at Gotham Ventures involves helping early startups get seed stage funding.

Bell said Gotham Ventures focuses only on funding New York City startups who know how big the market opportunity is and how much money is to be made. He added that the team composition of the startup team and their backgrounds is important.

Startups they have worked for include “indigenous” sectors such as: digital and social media, e-commerce, advertising, financial technology, enterprise software and security. Other areas it is watching closely are health and wellness and education.
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In terms of funding, Bell said you have a choice of Seed A ($20 million) or Series A ($2 to S7 million) funding. Gotham Ventures has reportedly we led investments in Seed and Series A financing, and participated and/or led follow-on rounds, between VCs and startups.

Still, Gotham Ventures almost always invest alongside other top investors. By working closely with entrepreneurs to select syndicate partners, it ensures that the Boards of portfolio companies are compatible, capable of continued financial support when needed, and strategically and tactically helpful.

Asked how he sees the VC model in New York growing. Bell said seed stage investing has been growing since 2009, because of so many investment opportunities out there, especially with the increasing number of amazingly cheap minimum value products.
Depending on products, there’s a new startup coming out weekly

Bell went poetic when said there is a case to be made for letting thousands of flowers bloom and watering all of them. And when it comes to marketing your startup, he gave one piece of cautionary advice: Yes, you can market it somewhere else first if you want to, but realize the danger of not being able to go back to your marketplace.

Bell has spent more than a dozen years in the startup community as a venture capitalist and operator. He focuses on investments in software companies in both consumer and business markets across a variety of industries.

Gotham Ventures is part of the DFJ Network, the largest venture capital network in the world. Their portfolio includes companies such as Yipit, Sailthru, Totsy, Altruik, SinglePlatform, and IZEA. Thatcher works closely with Gotham portfolio companies Sailthru, ADstruc, LendKey, EXPO, Verterra, and Widetronix. He also led the firm’s successful investment in SinglePlatform, which was acquired by Constant Contact (NASDAQ: CTCT).

In addition, Thatcher serves on the Board of Directors of the NY Tech MeetUp, co-chairs the New York chapter of Wharton Private Equity Partners, co-founded Penn Digital, and is a strong supporter of Cornell Tech, Cornell’s new graduate school of applied technology in New York City.

Prior to joining Gotham Ventures, Thatcher Bell was a Senior Analyst at North Hill Ventures, the venture capital affiliate of Capital One Financial, where he was a deal team member for the firm’s investments in DealerTrack (NASDAQ: TRAK), Higher One (NYSE: ONE), and Compete (acquired by TNS).

Prior to North Hill, Thatcher held business and corporate development roles at enterprise software vendor OpenPages (acquired by IBM) and SharkTank, an online marketplace connecting lawyers and potential clients. Thatcher began his career as a consultant at Ernst & Young (now Cap Gemini Ernst & Young).

The meetup was hosted again by Hatchery’s Yao Hui Huang.

Fashion tech products showcased at Alley NYC

By Dennis Clemente

Last September 12, Alley NYC was transformed into a mishmash of a trade fair’s open layout with cocktails all around, as it held coincided demonstrations of fashion tech products with Fashion Week just a few blocks up Midtown.

Acustom Apparel, Bauble Bar, Gilt Groupe, Hukkster, Makerbot and MaterialWrld founders and staff talked about their fashion tech products along with Buncee, not in the list of exhibitors, showing off its new content creation tool. It looked like a game-fied Pinterest but with interactivity functions.

Nearly 600 people crowded Alley NYC to watch the simultaneous demos going on.

Acustom Apparel is using new technology and a 3D body scanning process to make custom clothing better fitting, easier to purchase and less expensive than traditional methods. A 3-second scan allows you to download over 200,000 data points – combined with our proprietary digital bespoke technology. Acustom can reportedly make Bespoke jeans for under $200. Bespoke jeans usually cost $800-$1,200.

Acustom currently offers custom-fit men’s suits, shirts, blazers, jeans, winter coats, polo shirts, and khaki pants. But how do you get scanned in the first place?

Jamal Motlagh, CEO and co-founder, said Acustom is opening its new retail store at 330 West Broadway this Fall.
The ladies will have to wait.

For those who want to envision a dress they may want to buy or make or share with friends, Buncee showed how its interactive multimedia creation tools can do that.

Not exactly new but still a startup, Bauble Bar is an ecommerce start-up based in New York City “It is building a unique retail destination for fashion jewelry. It closed Series A funding in April 2012 and are backed by Accel Partners and Greycroft Partners.

No introduction needed but perhaps the most visible this year in various meetups, the Gilt Groupe is still the leader in terms of providing instant insider access to today’s top designer labels at up to 60% off.

This year, Gilt spent much of 2013 exploring the exciting world of personalization–releasing test roll-outs of personal sales to make offerings even more relevant to its eight million members. Gilt said feedback shows how Gilt members love personal sales

Hukkster demonstrated its online shopping tool–a bookmarklet that installs in your browser and optimizes your shopping experience online. As you visit all your favorite e-commerce sites you can “hukk” products to collect them in one place for immediate access and be informed via email or text when those select products go on sale. You will also find out about any site-wide promotions or coupon codes!

Perhaps fashionistas can make use of MakerBot the desktop 3D printing service that must be like how sawing machines inspired many back in the day. Founded in 2009, MakerBot has reportedly built the largest installed base of desktop 3D printers sold to innovative and industry-leading customers worldwide

Material Wrld is all about luxury resale. Founded in 2012 by experienced online fashion professionals who love to shop, Material Wrld has been featured in many fashion publications, clearly a win for them in terms of getting the necessary media mileage.

Should startups cash in early or stay on?

By Dennis Clemente

So if you’re a startup, would you rather cash in early or stay on for the traditional 7-years long cycle to profits before cashing out? Which one makes more sense?

For those who are thinking of a quick exit, lawyer Roman Fichman had the following to say after hearing from a five-man roundtable panel of executives from a cross-section of verticals who spoke about how they pick founders, define startups, prepare for acquisitions and exits, and predict the hot trends.

• Founders get cash quickly
• Because there aren’t too many investors at that point, founders get a larger percentage which translates to higher dollars per year of work, in contrast to having continued on a longer path and collected investors along the way
• They get an exit notch on their belt which is important if they intend to start up a new company
• Bird is on hand versus who knows what the market is going to be like in 7+ years?
• Smaller deals can be done quicker and cheaper
• Founder relations haven’t had the time to sour yet, i.e., one can remain friends with fellow founders

Either way, it should encourage anyone to start a, well, startup if you’re not there yet and for those in there, to think how you can stay long enough to learn more, as we did with the panel of speakers consisting of Anand Sanwal, CEO/co-founder of CB Insights; Barry Silbert, founder and CEO of SecondMarket; Ben Boissevain, founder of Bois Capital, Ed Zimmerman, venture lawyer and tech chair of Lowenstein Sandler and Wiley Cerilli, VP of Constant Contact. They all made for an interesting mix of proselytizing speakers, pragmatic ones and even slightly controversial ones.

“I want people to leave their safe jobs,” said Ed Zimmerman last September 11 at the Enterprise Tech Meetup at the Midtown office of Lowenstein Sandler where he is the tech chair.

The point Zimmerman was trying to make was how our jobs don’t guarantee us a golden parachute but which is possible in the tech world. “Can you get a $200 million exit strategy from you jobs?”

But if you did listen to him, how would he go about choosing you? For Zimmerman, it’s all about charisma and what he thinks is almost impossible to find. “Unfortunately, technical talent and charisma don’t always come in one package,” he said. This makes a technical co-founder vital in a startup.

Zimmerman represents start-ups and growth companies in raising money, selling the company or cashing out, and depending on market conditions, considering public offering.

Zimmerman has angel invested in more than 30 companies and invested as an LP in several venture funds. One of his VC clients called the companies Ed likes to help “tinkertoy internet companies” (as opposed to heavy core tech and drug discovery companies) and that suits Ed fine. Digital media, e-commerce, social media, fin tech, SaaS, cloud/virtualization, enterprise software and adtech are, apparently, all tinkertoys. Ed also founded First Growth Venture Network for startups which doesn’t charge or take equity, GrabArborVC, AngelVine VC, and the charity HoopAPaluza.

Once you have a startup in place, Cerilli said you will need to find out where you in your startup phase and in the process figure out, “Are you in the family, tribe or organization?” phase. Cerilli clearly knows what he is talking about, having been in two startups, Single Platform which was acquired for $100 million in 2012, and Seamless Web.

In front of all these VCs and executives, the obvious question is, how do you know when you need to raise money? “The time to raise capital is when you have a perfect storm of an idea,” Zimmerman said. “You have a great idea? Get enough money to survive till seed (funding) stage.”

Boissevain added how important it is to “get funded right away” and iterate like a “rocket ship before big companies” catch up on you.

And once you get the funding, Silbert said it’s important to stay focused.

How do you know if your company is doing well early? Sanwal said if startups can hit the milestone, good. If it pivots all the time, there’s a problem. Silbert cautioned, though, how companies do a lot of zigzagging and should always be aware of not “misinterpreting it.”

In terms of recruiting talent, Zimmerman said he keeps a wish list of founders and tech talents, even if I don’t have a business in mind yet. Having done a lot recruiting, Sanwal said he always felt pressure when hiring. “We hire the wrong person and recruiters are just useless.”

The meetup was moderated by Deirdre Bolton, an anchor on Bloomberg Television and host of the alternative assets show “MoneyMoves,” airing weekdays at 1 p.m. ET, across Bloomberg’s digital platforms, including Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg.com.

The Enterprise Tech Meetup, the only community-run network of support for technology startups driving innovation in the enterprise, brings together large corporations, entrepreneurs, investors and others to help grow the next generation of influential startups in NYC.

Child welfare management system featured in Product Group meetup

Last September 5, the Product Group meetup moderated by Jeremy Horn hosted a talk featuring Patrick Colgan, product manager of Case Commons, a non-profit software development company aimed at transforming public sector human services through user-centered design and technology.

Case Commons offers a product called Casebook, a collaborative, family-centered case management system for child welfare, which enables workers serving the most vulnerable families and children to be more effective and efficient via Web-based software tools.

“We currently handle all child welfare management for the state of Indiana, and have plans to expand to other states in 2014,” he said at the Product Group held at the Viacom building in Times Square.

Case Commons was founded by and continues to be supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is the leading philanthropy dedicated solely to disadvantaged children and families in America.

Colgan said the company has three goals: Changing lives above all, helping the helpers and measuring results.

Case Commons, Inc. is also helping to drive a broader conversation about how to improve technology innovation in government, ensuring that government technology makes lives better for people every day.

The organization believes America’s future depends on government adopting a forward-leaning approach to information technology. The technology gap between government and the rest of society is growing.

Colgan echoes what Case Commons stands for about how they can help government reach Americans more directly; reduce waste; throw open the doors to make government more transparent; and transform the public sector from a follower into a technology innovation leader.

“Analytics and research are important to us. We have set out to apply leading-edge technologies, such as predictive modeling, factor analysis and text mining, to equip caseworkers to make sense of their data and, in turn, help agency managers, researchers and policy makers understand what works and why.

“We continuously analyze Casebook data to explore patterns and prove statistical hypotheses. We collaborate with researchers from leading universities and other policy research organizations to understand what socio-economic factors are mostly responsible for child abuse and neglect.

“We aspire to share our findings with the broader human services community, not only in published papers and conference presentations, but also directly through Casebook features that support day-to-day decision-making. In taking these steps, we can help make policy and practice based on evidence,” he said.

Colgan says Casebook Analytics was built not around units of work, such as cases, but rather around persons, relationships and groups, such as families and households. This person-centric design enables users to follow individuals and families over time.

This means you may not need to repeat yourself like a broken record when you need someone to review your case.

How to promote, use PR for your mobile gaming app

By Dennis Clemente

Making a great mobile gaming app is only half the battle, getting people to notice it is the other half. That is where public relations work comes into the picture, according to TriplePoint’s Sam Dalsimer, director of TriplePoint PR New York.

Dalismer gave the mobile app owners a PR how-to at the Deep Dive meetup at the Microsoft Building last September 3 based on TriplePoint’s experience working with successful mobile games like Temple Run, Candy Crush Saga and Pocket God.

With over 800,000 apps in the iTunes App store, Dalismer said it’s more important than ever to consider having a PR plan. “PR is an important piece of the overall marketing mix,” he said. “It can impact your outcome.”

But where do you even begin? Dalismer said it’s important to figure out your messaging and positioning early—your USP, differentiators and key themes. “Think early and often during development. Plan and build awareness as you go. It’s important to prepare campaign in time for the launch of your app.”

Identifying your targets is essential– and appeal to them accordingly, making sure you’ve done your home work. “A little research goes a long way.”

How do you make media take notice of your app? “You’ve got to have a review of your app, a trailer and trips or strategy guides,” he said.

But how do you even get media to call you back? “Offer a great UX, localize app in as many languages as possible offer media an exclusive story about your app, create content in forums, follow blogs and go to events—WWDC, GDC, PAX,” he said.

“It’s ok to follow up media, but don’t annoy them,” he stressed.

But how do you measure the success of your PR effort? Keep this in mind:
• Know impressions/circulation as well as SEO, sales & downloads
• Find out the social chatter about your app
• Think of quality of users you have
• Also check out appannie.com for data

The talk was aimed at the predominant mobile gaming audience but it applies to anyone with an app these days.

Dalismer said you can do your own PR initiatives, but asked how much hiring one would cost you? For 2 months work, it could range from 8,000 to 12,000. Or if that is too much for you, one month for some agencies cost about $2,000.
In closing, Dalismer reminded everyone that PR isn’t just about press releases it’s about taking the story and telling the right people