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

odonnell

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.

ER Accelerator presents 4 startups to Greycroft Partners’ Ellie Wheeler

greycroft

By Dennis Clemente

Would you like to watch free online sports you can’t find on TV? Would you dump your broker if you can find an apartment on your own? Would you like to dig deep into your social networks to find work or partnerships? Would you like to increase your traffic as a brand or media company? Now figure out which business fits the name below.

Last August 20, Ellie Wheeler of Greycroft Partners listened to the pitches from four presenters—Sportmantel, Zenly, Simpli.st and Acute IQ-at the ER Accelerator meetup at Microsoft. Twice Zenly and Simpli.st presented this month in separate tech meetups, which just goes to show how slow August is for events.

Perhaps before things pick up again in September, ER Accelerator could improve its meetup presentation. It would be helpful if the email invite included the list of presenters (their startup and names). Making use of the venue’s projector screen can also help attendees picture (and spell) the presenter’s work, as many names conjured nowadays are not in the dictionary anymore. Another group that uses the same venue makes use of the screen effectively.

Ad tech is a crowded space but Acute IQ is looking into how surveys can help mid-tier media companies extend their audience. It claims to use consumer insights and data to source relevant audiences for TV, digital and sponsorship campaigns. This approach relies more on getting users to take brand research questions.

If it works as such, customers should be able to source targeted audiences that meet existing campaign objectives, respond to RFPs with broader capabilities and extend to new platforms & products.

Still in its early stage, Sportmantel aims to make 20 minute videos watchable in just 5 minutes.

An annotation feature is also planned, including incentives for users who share their knowledge about the sports games. There’s crowdsourcing, but it looks forward to seeing some automation working on it as well.

Right now, its sports content comes from sports association. Having it embeddable to other sites is vital, as it recognizes the $4 million marketplace. It hopes to have a white label offering.

Warm connections matter in this world, but when was the last time you saw your connections on Linkedin, for example? Simpli.st likes to think it can solve that.

However, Wheeler suggested adding some content to go with– some “fun fact,” perhaps.

Zenly was the last among the official presenters, claiming you won’t find a fake apartment listing in its site. It’s disrupting the real estate profession by saving you dollars on broker fees—and videotaping all apartments, which can take some time.

Still, Zenly’s Isaac Palka is confident that even if a listing is posted right away before they can shoot a video, an apartment may still be available. “The average time an apartment is in the market is 45 days.”
What makes it disruptive? “We charge a 5 percent fee compared to the broker, who gets 15 percent,” Isaac Palka said. This summer, it charges 3 percent.

ERA will begin accepting applications for its Winter 2015 program soon. Deadline is Nov. 13, 204. The ten companies selected to participate in the four-month program will receive a $40,000 investment and the potential for follow-on funding from ERA’s Fund.

For those looking to pitch to Greycroft Partners, Wheeler said she focuses on B2B and B2C commerce innovation, marketplaces and mobile applications. She currently oversees Greycroft’s investments in BaubleBar, Daily Secret, Buzz Points, NuOrder and Plain Vanilla Games and also works closely with its investment in Plated and Nomi.

Secondmic and David Rose get most audience votes at Ultra Light

SecondMic
Secondmic

By Dennis Clemente

Every month the Ultra Light Startup group asks the audience to vote for the night’s startup presenter and the investor giving the feedback. Last August 14, Secondmic won against eight other startups but it was also interesting to see David Rose, hardly seen in any meetup, get the votes for his comments.

Rose was also one of the four investors and the audience who think Secondmic has a great idea. Imagine broadcasting the sports games yourself, while also talking to fans as they watch a game on TV or at the stadium? And if that’s too daunting a role, it claims to have other pros who can do the job. There’s Chasity Melvin, WNBA veteran and Dave Holcom, Football Nation host and Star Ledger sports reporter to give you the blow-by-blow account.

“We’re trying to figure out partnerships with event providers,” said Francisco Prat of SecondMic who was told about “the importance of keeping the quality of content high.”

David Rose
David Rose

Rose is a rare sighting in meetups but he addressed the startups by offering his connections and his generosity, jumping at the opportunity to praise a great presenter in nTangle’s Pierre-Marc Diennet. “That’s the best two-minute presentation I’ve heard (for sometime).” Presentations only take two minutes then investors give their feedback.

Rose–considered the father of angel investing and founder of Gust, the Saas funding platform for startups–was part of a panel consisting of Gil Beyda, Genacast Ventures; Jalak Jobanputra of FuturePerfect Ventures; and Jay Levy of Zelkova Ventures.

The other startup presenters who received feedback from them were Closir, Pass, Novaux, Sailo, Simplist, nTangle and Univate. Closir and nTangle were in another meetup last February and presented again at the Ultra Light, hopig to raise funds from the investors.

Closir is a dedicated investor relations platform, connecting companies and institutional investors. “We do engagement whereas Bloomberg does data,” Andrei Powers of Closir said, as it charges $10,000 a year of subscription.

“Why was it not done years ago?” an investor asked him more out of concern than a challenge.

Another presenter, Javier Dutan of Novaux, is into bitcoin payment processing for small businesses through its POS software and terminal packages. Is his timing right or is he too early? That’s the question foremost in investors’ minds. “We take care of all crypto currencies. We partner with resellers, he said, citing how he charges $1 and $2.75 for credit card.

An interesting pitch was from Sailo, a peer-to-peer boat rental service. Jobanputra, the lone female investor in the panel, said: “I don’t even want to rent out my car,” as the investors mulled about the challenge for it. Will boat owners rent out their own boats?

Hosted Mark Caron and Steven Kuyan, the ULS Investors Feedback Forum is organized monthly by Graham Lawlor.

Breakfast with startup champion Mike Edelhart

Mike Edelhart
Mike Edelhart
By Dennis Clemente

A tech meetup at 9 a.m. is a rare occurrence in New York but so is an opportunity to chat with an angel like Mike Edelhart, a current investor in 82 companies, a past investor in 11,000 startups but who is now focused on his “two-sided” company. Edelhart is the lead partner at Social Starts and CEO of Tomorrow Project, LLC, producers of the Pivot Conference in New York and other services for major brands.

At Cowork.rs last August 13, Edelhart was early, talking to his audience even before the talk was set to start. He was serious all the way as he shared his thoughts on many things tech, asking people every now and then to ask questions.

Yes, he has gray hair, but he clearly knows the youth market. Surveying the room, he asked, “What do millennials do these days?”

With some tentative responses here and there, he answered the question himself, telling us the sector most investors avoid but one he embraces. “They’re looking for news,” said the former executive editor of PC Mag.

He thinks one shouldn’t be hang up on demographics, though. “There is no such thing as a youth market. He added that it’s not true the youth don’t care about products they care about what goes into it. And what you also don’t hear these days from other investors: “Cool days for young people are off-internet days.”

Perhaps on account of his journalistic roots, Edelhart had this to say, “Startups with some emanating truth is worth looking into.” From his experience, he can tell, “‘This person’ is actually telling the truth. He actually believes in it.” But he also stressed how pitching cannot be a charm offensive. “You cannot BS your way. You have to put together a cohesive argument of your idea with your team.”

Edelhart didn’t elaborate as much which happens in a fireside chat as opposed to a structured interview. And to accommodate all the questions, he switched from one sector to another fast, talking as both an investor and observer in the tech community.

Clearly a very busy man, he announced that he made four new investments in the past week. Still, he was generous with his time. He answered as many questions as he could and talked with each attendee afterwards.

On investing in a startup: “I look at great teams”
On future of tech: “Our bodies will produce content,” referring to sports analytics
On healthcare: “We’re not getting into it. We’re getting into the analytics of it”
On foreign startups: “It doesn’t matter what country you’re coming from” (He has invested in a startup based in Slovenia.)
On markets, opportunities to avoid: “The college market is small.” “I would not go near the ad business”
On big data: Look into the shift in big economics, game economics, predictability
On being an investor: I spent my entire life doing what I wanted to do. I would stop sleeping if I can. Investing? It’s a lot of work.”

For Edelhart, tech revolutions are not defined by their beginnings but by their middles. He was a founder and managing director of First30 Services, a new company-creation consultancy. He also served as interim CEO at LiveDeal, Inc. a NASDAQ company that delivers classified and small business marketing services over the Internet. He has been an advisor to Deep Dyve, Inc., which has developed revolutionary technology for high end search, after serving as its initial CEO. He was chairman of the board of Olive Software, a Sequoia backed XML software developer, where he was CEO. He was also CEO at digital magazine distributor Zinio. Earlier in his career, he was a senior executive at Softbank and Ziff-Davis Publishing and the author of 22 books.

The meetup was organized by StartupOneStop and the New York Society Startup Society.

Designing your web or app? Axure can make you a prototyping badass

Danielle Tomson
Danielle Tomson

Click here to view the presentation
Badass prototyping

By Dennis Clemente

Last August 12, about 80 people showed up at Kaplan center to “Learn (how) to Prototype Like a Badass” with the host group, the Agile/Lean Practitioners visibly surprised by the audience’s strong interest and engagement in the demonstration presented by Occum’s Danielle Tomson.

The audience warmed up to Tomson’s presentation style right at bat. She gave an equal dose of expertise and humor (“no slow claps please,” “there’s always a troll”) on a tool not many people use but which is considered the best out there—Axure.

The slow adoption of Axure in the U.S. may account for the fact that other tools are more affordable (it’s too expensive, with the pro version over $589) while the rest of the world may have “copies” to use freely, if you catch my drift. This is just to stress how the tool always intimidates with its price, more than its effective use.

The huge turnout shows the strong interest for it but it’s also surprising how many UX designers in the States don’t know how to use it, even if Axure has been around for more than a decade. It is actually everything that a UI/UX designer can dream of in prototyping a website or app without front-end coding.

But old habits die hard. Some designers use Adobe Creative Suites or even more basic ones like Balsamiq. Among graphic designers transitioning to UX, Omnigraffle seems to be the most popular choice as well, as one designer claimed that it almost mimics Adobe Illustrator which she has used for many years.

Axure does better. It mimics a finished site or app without a single line of code, saving developers from the constant changes a project undergoes. On the other hand, there are developers who prefer to code right away.

They plunge right into coding because they work on their startups and think they have a clear vision of what they want, while designers who work with companies would need Axure to give them more leeway to pivot when a company’s far more complex business needs require it. The coding happens once clarity is achieved.

Still startups would do well to recognize how it’s important to learn lean principles and agile development philosophies beyond its business model. Honing a vision, giving it life with a prototype, and validating it with users first are just as important.

In her presentation, the audience followed Tomson in prototyping a travel booking platform in minutes. She also showed some prototyping tips and tricks and how to test Axure prototype on customers using Validately or share within a network using Axure Share. The audience was receptive to the idea of a possible follow-up meetup.

Tomson, a Yale grad with an international development background, is a product partner at Occum which, in turn, has Avon, Johnson & Johnson, KPMG and the United Nations Foundation for its clients, among others. She echoes the company’s belief that a great idea starts from a real, clearly articulated problem.

As for the title of her presentation, “Learn (how) to Prototype like a Badass.” It’s really more about how the best prototyping tool, Axure, can make you a badass. Like this blogger thinks he’s on his way to becoming one, too—if not yet.

Improving people’s lives through water, coaching and code

By Dennis Clemente

Last July 30, Inside Startups showed what some people are doing to improve people’s lives, why people need each other, and what you can do with your life. Kunal Mehta of charity: water, Christina Lewis Halpern of All Star Code and Michael Miller of TeamPossible were guest speakers at the meetup held at Projective Space.

Mehta helps people in need of water. He found his true calling after leaving the financial world as an investment banker. So far, he said charity: water has done more than 12,000 projects in over 22 countries.

“If everyone in this room donates, 100 percent goes (to those in need),” said Mehta, who is also an author of the book, “Disruptors” about tech startups. “We have provided clean water to over 4 million people in developing countries.”

Hearing inspirational and motivational talk is not too common in a meetup, but Miller also went there, offering TeamPossible’s three life-coaching programs. For those who feel stuck, it offers an Executive Leadership & Life Coaching program. For seasoned executives and entrepreneurs looking to create something that matters, it has a Create Your Legacy program. Finally, it has a Scale Your Impact program for experts who have mastered their craft but are not achieving the results they want.

The meeting was certainly about coming unglued.

All Star Code’s Christina Lewis Halpern runs a new non-profit initiative that prepares qualified young men of color for full-time employment in the technology industry by providing mentorship, industry exposure, and intensive training in computer science.

All Star Code is passionate about closing the opportunity gap between minority males and the tech industry. As it is, African-Americans comprise less than 1% of startup founding teams, a critical sector for job growth and wealth creation.

Also, there are few tech careers that focus on under-represented male youths of any ethnic background.
So All Star Code offers a six-week intensive summer experience for high school male students in New York City. Twenty students in New York City will attend a program in the summer of 2014.

The curriculum will have a rigorous computer science course, but also a soft-skills curriculum (leadership, innovation, team-work.) to help its students stand out years later when they enter the talent pipeline of top companies.

For Halpern, giving young African-Americans an early introduction to the world of technology provides a mode of entry to an industry that has been closed to them.

The meetup was hosted Ali Nicolas.

Who wants to challenge the YouTube business model?

By Dennis Clemente

How would you challenge the YouTube business model? Nine years since the video platform launched, no viable competitor has emerged, even if major media companies are reportedly working on plans to disrupt it. Can one really take on Google in the first place? If so, what could a new platform mean for content creators?

Last July 30, VideoInk, in partnership with BigSceen LittleScreen and Magnet Media, hosted a fireside chat with guest speakers Shira Lazar, co-founder and host of What’s Trending and Erika Nardini, chief marketing officer of AOL Advertising, to talk about YouTube and how to diversify the video ecosystem. Sahil Patel served as moderator.

“If you want to develop and nurture an audience, YouTube is the platform to do it,”
Nardini said. However, she also points out that it’s not a curated environment. If you look at iJustine (who has her own show on AOL), YouTube offers the same box that YouTube offers Conde Nast, my kids, and anyone here.”

AOL is known for pursuing personalities like iJustine, an internet celebrity and occasional TV host, as well as Nicole Richie, TV personality and fashion designer. “We love looking to YouTube to find talent for our programming. We love [iJustine’s] YouTube following. We discovered her there and we want her to grow it.

“But we believe there is an opportunity to program and distribute premium environments, and one thing YouTube doesn’t do is distribute. What we believe is having a really significant syndication platform that curates content,” Nardini said.

How does anyone grow a business on YouTube these days? For the panel, the glass half-full scenario is that YouTube allows zero barrier of entry; but the glass half-empty scenario points to the platform earning money, nor the person.

Asked if YouTube didn’t exist where can content be distributed more effectively? Lazar took on this question: “(Choose) either Netflix or Hulu. Amazon is harder, as they don’t curate as much as Netflix or Hulu.”

Two short videos were screened at the event. Set to start on August 11 on YouTube is “Master Date,” a comedic series about dating in New York City featuring Kate Oliva and Bryan Pauquette of Covert Bacon.

The other video was by Ryan Holloway of Forge Apollo. Showing on YouTube channel since May is his short-form series, “American History X-Men.” It’s about what happens in the future when Hollywood runs out of movie ideas.

The meetup was organized by Tiffany Asher.