Meet Amy, Larry, Alfred and Stefanshead, some app and text assistants

NEW YORK–Some apps certainly function as if they were invisible like Dennis Mortensen’s It’s an artificial intelligence powered personal assistant that schedules meetings for you.

Mortensen was again going the rounds with Amy, the name of his A.I. personal assistant who happened to be in the same room as Larry, which is Raad Ahmed’s text-responder of a lawyer, a mix of automation and human beings. Larry is the text version of Ahmed’s LawTrades. It’s personalized legal help tailored to your business over text.

Both presenters and other startups Alfred and Stefanshead were at The Product Hunt meetup last July 22 at Animoto’s offices.

Launched as a side project two months (and made in only 7 days), Ahmed said Larry has already sent/received over 10,000 text messages pertaining to all matters legal. Perhaps not many know this, but Ahmed said LawTrades maintains a community of vetted attorneys who “work at lower rates.”

So Larry is an even simpler for people to ask legal questions. You text, get help and then pay. “We’re never spammy,” he said to answer a question about a possible concern about giving away one’s phone number.

What has he learned by adding Larry to LawTrades?

“The community is the key to loyal user base and word-of-mouth virality. Learn early and learn often. Don’t worry about launching too early or too often. (And you need) less technology,” he said.

For errands, Alfred is supposed to take care of that for you. Alfred is an automatic, hands-off service. Unlike others who narrow down their service to one chore, Alfred does everything, as the name suggests. If you need laundry done or something delivered, Alfred takes care of it for you.

A Tech Disrupt winner last year, Alfred has come a long way from its first iteration, Google sheets, as it prepares to launch its app in a few months. To make Alfred work in the beginning, the team learned by “going to the streets and knowing their markets.”

Alfred offers errands like grocery shopping, laundry, dry cleaning, house cleaning, tailoring, and pharmacy special requests. Most common special request so far, handiwork, like TV installations. It claims to have vetted partners.

What kind of work is more common in some cities? In New York, it’s shoe repair and dry cleaning. In Boston, it’s grocery shopping. Alfred charges $15 a week.

Trey Sisson of Stefan’s Head spoke about Stefanshead, the first ever text message driven retail brand. Stefan texts you once in a while, offering products you’ve never seen before and can’t get anywhere else.

“We offer a text message list for limited-run apparel,” he said. You can also text Stefanshead to get deals.

Sisson said you just have to listen to the haters, because they can help you and in building its site, he said the moment “pivot enters your mind, pivot.”

Portable drone and your news summaries on video

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK–If you’ve seen a drone, most likely you’re thinking how hard can it be to fly one, right? Well, it was not so easy for Easy Aerial’s CEO Ivan Stamatovski.

Stamatovoski was one of four other presenters at the NY Video Meetup last July 23 at the AOL offices.

“I have been flying a drone for two years but still suck at it,” he admitted.

Stamatovski came up with a drone that can also just fly on its own once you’ve configured it with a Google app from Google Maps. It just comes back to you once it’s done with its assignment.

Easy Drone is an advanced, modular quadcopter designed for videographers that need quick, easy and affordable aerial shots. It is convenient to transport and quick setup without tools. EasyDrone has wireless video and camera gimbal control built in as standard features.

“We also made a drone easy to use, transport and repair,” he claims.

The Easy Drone XP Pro is available for preorder at $1,695.

Another presenter was TouchCast, the leading interactive video platform used by media companies such as the BBC and WSJ, large corporations as well as by students and teachers around the world for video communications.

Co-founder Erick Schonfeld showed how TouchCast creates a full interactive TV studio inside an iPad, along with some bleeding-edge examples of what happens when video and the web merge together.

For publishers, Wibbitz showed how it automatically turns articles into short video summaries.

The scalable video production platform uses advanced text-to-video technology to automatically generate high quality branded content in seconds.

The platform’s unique text-to-video technology allows publishers to easily produce videos from text—at scale—and significantly increase their video ad revenue. The platform supports the creation of thousands of premium videos every day with streamlined editing tools and access to top-quality licensed content from partners, including Reuters and Getty Images.

It’s said to be a 100 -percent automatic process that allows you full control. You can upload your own voiceover and soundtrack.

Wibbitz claims to pay for license for the materials it uses. Because it doesn’t charge publishers, it offers revenue-sharing of ads.

Screening Room is an innovative web-based platform for collaborative feedback on films. You simply upload video drafts, and then engage with team members and screeners who can leave time-coded comments on the draft. The team will be providing a demo of their platform at the meetup.

The idea is to mirror creative workflow.

On the content side, Weirdos Next Door is an awesome series featuring puppets. Now in its third season, the show’s creators Jen and Kay spoke about their experience in the video world and what life is like as a creator.

Getting your startup set up and funded

NEW YORK–Having covered the tech meetup scene for the past few years, it’s interesting how a meetup about “Getting your startup set up and funded” produces a new group of aspiring entrepreneurs, new to the tech scene and what it takes to build one. There’s certainly something for everyone in the fastest-growing tech city and that’s what Megan Hannum, venture partner at Comcast, co-founder at Fundedby, was at Spark Labs last July 15 for–to help newcomers get their feet wet in the startup scene.

Hearing the newbie questions seem sound fresh again, like a refresher for some who need to get his focus back. With the high failure rate among startups, somewhere at 90% up, one would think startups should know what Hannum and other VCs say, “You need to remind yourself if you’re building a feature or a product.” For startups, it’s hard to tell.

How do you get funded? The process you go through as the founder is crucial. Hannum said she’ll get your interest based on your early team composition. If you outsourced your idea, how you integrated it to work for you eventually is just as important as working with the first few employees.

How do you know how to value your company? Hannum throws it out there, “Ask yourself if you have a proprietary product” (for a start).”

How do you know if you need help or a co-founder? “You’re going to know if you are wearing too many hats. You’ll be scrambling. You’ll want some expertise,” she said.

Hannum pointed out new trends. Where convertible notes were not popular before, it’s picking up now, because there is plenty of money moving around.

Other than accelerators and incubators, Hannum said there are “bootcampesque” companies that help startups get ready for funding.

And if you already have a startup, Hannum said you’ll benefit from knowing how a VC like her could be meeting 7 e-commerce companies doing the same thing. She stressed, “You need to find out who else is in your space and make your startup 10 times better.”

It’s certainly what most VCs will tell you these days.

Critiquing the media when you’re the media

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK– How do you critique or even police the media when you’re part of it? For its fifth meetup, The Tech Press Meetup invited Jason Abbruzzese of Mashable, Shannon Bond of the Financial Times and Tom Kludt of CNN to tackled this this topic at the Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism at 20 Cooper Square.

Technology has been reshaping the media business in many ways. From the personalities to the type of coverage and the social tools at our disposal, there’s no mistaking how news has changed and is delivered to us faster now — and online.

How much has changed? Kludt recalled when journalists scratched their heads when Ben Smith bolted from Politico to Buzzfeed. That no longer surprises journalists today, as Buzzfeed has grown immensely and gained tremendous clout.

When you’re the media though, how do  you cover the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Bond knows how awkward it is to both safeguard and critique the media, because you never know when editors will become your “future bosses.”

Abbruzzese sees how it can be an advantage to cover the media. “They know the ethics and etiquette (of the job),” he said.

Kludt sees lots of money being pumped into the industry, which some see could result in a tech bubble. It’s possible, if VCs don’t see return on their investment. But they’re certainly looking to make money out of it.

With social networks getting more attention nowadays, it also provokes the question, “Who (among the media) is controlling the audience?”

Kludt thinks it’s just a classic case of going where the fishes are. You see their (social networks’) leverage over news organizations. The concerns are totally with merit. “We’ll see more news organizations coming to Facebook.”

In light of this, Abbruzzese thinks it’s going to be hard to be just a digital media company. It’s not seen as a viable long-term (business) unless media outlets also get into TV or video news programming.

Bond thinks a paywall system may be worth exploring, if applied correctly, perhaps on mobile (phones) if a special coverage merits it.

Is the news homepage going to be where people still find out about the news? Kludt said people are landing on stories through Twitter. “Let’s see if there’s an immediate consequence.”

What will move media forward?

Abbruzzese likes the overall transparency in the dissemination of the news. “I’m a huge fan of explainers (like the NYTimes’ The Explainer). I like that reporters also explain things than just reporting them.”

Kludt sees the improved accountability for those in public life, as breaking stories do not always come from the media. “The industry is more accessible than it ever was.”

The panel also tackled link-bait headlines and their use.

Abbruzzese said you don’t want to go too far; at the same time you want them to click your story. A/B testing headlines has become common.

Kludt said there is no question it influences headline construction, taking him time to stress his dislike for the constant use of “this” and “just” in headlines.

The panel also discussed about pay in journalism these days. They pointed out how young journalists are willing to work as journalists for 25,000 to 28,000 a year. It’s definitely not an easy job, but it’s good to point out how Salon, one of the early online news sites, got unionized.

Otherwise, there’s little protection in the industry. “The people generating content are not the ones getting rich,” Kludt said.

JJ Colao hosted the meetup.

Hyperlocal marketing in New York: Be creative

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—What do you think people would Google: How to survive a breakup or divorce lawyer? You could do both or just the former if you think it’ll be better SEO for your business. “The key is to be creative with your link-baits (to set you apart and own that search), said Kevin Lee, founder and CEO of

If your business resides in one city or state, you will need to know how hyperlocal marketing works. The topic was covered at the joint HelloDotNYC, We Work and CoInvent talk last July 9 at WeWork in Soho. The early evening talk also covered hyperlocalizing SEO and why you need .nyc domains.

Lee added how a high-end jewelry could probably sell well if you choose a certain SEO location with the purchasing power for it, say, the Upper West side.

Do you think high ratings will work? Yes, it will but learn this: “When people love you, they don’t say it. When people hate you, they’re going to let you know it. So you have to remind the users who love you why they love you.”

That’s Joe Apfelbaum, co-founder and CEO of Ajax Union and public speaker who also appeared at the talk with David Hirschman, co-founder & COO of Street Fight, a previous editor; Sean Barkulis, director, strategic partnerships of ShopKeep with experience in financial technology and Claudio Schapsis, founder of Georillas, former marketing director at Ripley’s Believe It or Not at one point in time, believe it or not.

So what does it take to succeed in your slice of the world? It’s not about the budget you need to determine first, but what you want to achieve, said Schapsis. “What is your objective? My role as a marketing person is to make people easy to buy.”

Others chimed in, saying how it’s crucial to understand, discover and know what customers are looking for. “If you understand customer journey, you’ve done half of the work already,” he said.

Lee advised knowing your competition. “Do some competitive analysis”.

The panel kicked off its talk in response to this report from Street Fight Insights: a fairly large number of companies, 37 percent, seem to be using social networks without having any expectations. The speakers made sure to share their own insights on how users can do better.

Some of the interesting sound bites included the following, especially in using SEO for your startup:

· Geography predicts wealth

· Income can be important than keywords

· Social media is not free, it’s expensive if you don’t know how to use it

· Factor in opportunity costs and different branch of SEO—reputation management

Apfelbaum tweaked the movie quote to say, “If you built it, they don’t come” as his way of probing on misconceptions about how some businesses think there are simple solutions. “You can’t get people to work for free.”

He added how it has helped his business the way he has coaches for a host of things—marketing, branding. I used to think I was the smartest (in the room), but it turned out I was dumb to think like that.”

“Many local businesses play the SEO lotto ticket. They are trying to get the free approach. But they should think that there is a science to business, to a right product, and to right process,” he said. Even SEO experts are constantly tinkering with it. Think of cost per acquisition and reverse engineering.

Another important insight from one of the speakers includes this admission: “It’s expensive to grow a business.” Top businesses reportedly earn millions but 70 percent of other businesses lose money

For one of the event organizers,, buying .nyc domain names, is a “second chance” because most of the good names in .com are taken.

Summer blockbuster of a tech meetup with VCs

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—More than 35 investors, panel talks, lightning pitches, everyone one-on-ones with VCs, a venture fair—it was a summer blockbuster of a tech meetup what NY Tech Breakfast pulled off last July 10 at Microsoft, near Times Square. What’s amazing is how it was all pulled off in one half day, from 8 am to noontime.

From the usual panel talks of 4 to 5 investors one usually sees at tech meetups, Tech Breakfast had 7 in one group.

The panel on how to get funded in the Seed & Series A stages had BBG Ventures’ Samantha Lynch, Metamorphic VC’s Joshua Nussbaum; Osage Ventures’ Sean Dowling; Primary Venture Partners’ Jeff Prober; Safeguard Scientifics’ David Luk; Samsung Strategic’s Joseph Coyne; and Skyler Fernandes of Simon Venture Group.

· Tell a great story that should not involve a 40-page deck

· Give more detail to the details

· Make it compelling

· A Powerpoint presentation is preferred over MS Word

· Submit a video presentation than executive summaries

· Personalize the email body to the VC’s needs or portfolio, explaining why it matters to a particular VC. Say something like, “I chose you, because….”

· If your pitch is publicly available, make it up-to-date and buttoned down

One VC response about a question on accelerators and incubators did not evince any response or disagreement from the panel. “You get in if you’re coming from the Ivy Leagues (top schools).”

How do you get funded?

Traction, revenue, number of customers, sales savvy and momentum get the nods. One after another, the VCs gave their own take on it:

· You’ll need a $500,000 to 1 million revenue run rate.

· You’ll also get some notice if you have 10 customers paying $50 a month than 100 customers paying $1.

· Metrics is important, but growth is also important.

· Being able to cold sell and having a good sales process are even more important

If you’re a foreign startup, it’s still a challenge, though. You should at least have some track record, an established network, a consistent presence and education in the States, personal contact with investors, which the meetup did, of course.

Other VCs gave their own meaning growth.

· Realistically, one is ok with 10% growth, not as revenue growth but just growth based on the startup’s targets

· The metric that’s important is lifetime value– you have to prove your business model and have it figured out over time

How important is it to find a tech co-founder? It’s one of the most asked questions and in the past, most investors would say, but not this time. “It proves technical capability, but not might be necessary for, say, retail startups.”

But if you’re a software tech company, yes, it makes sense. If your product is proprietary, then you need one. Without tech talent, they said you should at least have the ability to recruit tech talent and “ready tech talent to execute.”

How much do you get? Without a site, you could get $2 to $2 million, already in the thick of it, $5 to $10 million. Some entertain a convertible note at 6% interest rate.

If you think it’s hard to get VCs to woo, think again, because there are many of them now, doing 5 to 7 deals a year and even 10 investments to 15 investments a year.

How is the investment climate like these days? Is it more about conviction (of startups) or consensus (of investors)? “It’s conviction,” one VC said. A quick rundown of this question from each VC would have been great.