WeWork’s Sharon brings UX thinking to co-working spaces


NEW YORK– Wework is bringing UX thinking to buildings and communities with Tomer Sharon, its VP Head of UX, talking about it last June 21 at WeWork in Chelsea through the Design Driven meetup.

Formerly with Google, Sharon recounted how he went about studying how the WeWork offices could be redesigned starting with its office on 18th Street by asking his new employer not to announce his appointment. “I pretended to be a (startup company) looking for an office,” he said.

In one portion of his presentation, he showed a time-lapse video of the people coming in and out of the building at the lobby, watching how he could make the lobby work efficiently for everyone–those entering the WeWork offices–300 at one point, not including deliveries. But we assume no one missed the big sign at the entrance, “Do what you love.” That should inspire everyone coming to its office.

Sharon didn’t stop there. He showed a photo of a smoker just outside the entrance but he didn’t offer any solution. Inside, he showed a photo of a wooden wall panel that looks like it belonged in the sixties. Perhaps you can gain some more insights in his book, — “Validating Product Ideas: Through Lean User Research.”

What is lean user research? For him, lean user research is a discipline that provides insights into users, their perspectives, and their abilities to use products and then gives this information to the right people at the right time so that the research is invaluable for developing products. Lean user research focuses on answering three big questions about people: What do people need? What do people want? Can people use the thing?

But how is lean user research different than “regular” user research? It turns out lean user research is mostly conducted by non-researchers who have burning questions about their audience (or potential audience). They want to answer these questions quickly, effectively, and on their own without hiring a professional.

However, lean user research can be at times quick and dirty, meaning some corners are cut. For example, since non-researchers might not have very good control of their body language, lean user research calls for more indirect approaches to learning. It values remote techniques over in-person ones.

Where does intuition come in, an audience asked? “We don’t always have evidence. Sometimes we take leaps of faith. But we always test,” he said.

The book is meant for product developers and managers who are not skilled researchers. Thus, research techniques are described in a relatively prescribed manner, skipping underlying factors, options, and dilemmas. The goal is to help non-skilled product developers to do their own research. “We use the language of experimentation,” he said.

If you only have time to read one chapter, he suggests Chapter 3 “How Do People Currently Solve a Problem?” It’s a guidebook, so you can choose to read any chapter in different sequences, depending on your most burning question.

Sharon also talked about the hiring process at Wework, at least for those who applied in the past. “For every role, we have asked people to write something, and asked them about their biggest design accomplishment.”

The other presenters were Mandy Cotta, head of Design at Burt’s Bees Baby & Kids, Simon Corry and Hilary Greenbaum, design director at Whitney Museum of American Art, who showed us the museum in all its new modern glory and the whimsical photos of the goings-on there, some caught napping and making use of the big program museum guide as a face mask, another even showing a blurry photo of her coming out of the subway platform.

Patrick McGinnis: You can be a 10% entrepreneur


NEW YORK—Patrick McGinnis can be very convincing when he tells you that you can have the best of both worlds: Be an employee and be an entrepreneur, at least just a 10-percent entrepreneur, from the same title of his book. “(People may) think it’s an all-or-nothing endeavor but there are gradations to it,” he said.

When he is talking about gradations, he means you could be any of these four types: an angel investor, investor, founder and an aficionado.

At the new Alley meetup last June 22, McGinnis could not have set a better example of how you can be a 10-percent entrepreneur than himself.  The author holed himself up in his hometown in Maine for one month, in the dead of winter between January 2 and January 31. Every single day, he said, he would write from 9 am till the afternoon, taking a quick early evening break, and continued writing till 10 pm.  It helped that he placed a clarion call on Facebook to get some feedback and material to inspire him.

“Entrepreneurship is not a vocation but a compulsion,” he said, proving how our passions can be turned into money-making ventures. “I thought I could help people. I thought I could go global by writing the book.”

How do you determine if you have it and you’re in the right business? “If you have a personal insight into what you’re doing,” he said.

In many cases, he says people either just have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and FODA (Fear of Doing Anything). For the latter, he suggests finding enjoyment in something, so it won’t feel like work at all. If you’ve gone FODA but still can’t do anything, break away from habits that won’t take you anywhere like watching TV and then “figure out what you can do with what you have been known for.”

“That’s a good way to generate long tail,” he added.

But what if your competition is doing more than 10 percent, do you still run your business at 10 percent?  “It takes 7 years to go from Series A to exit,” he said about companies, which should help you gain full steam eventually.

What if you go full time on your business? He only suggests it if you can financially sustain yourself.

For those who prefer to bootstrap their startup, he doesn’t mind but he cautions against crowdfunding, because these investor have no personal stake in your business. “Crowdfunding is like video game. It’s not good when you can’t talk to your investor,” he said.

What would he advice an entrepreneur? “Be a good communicator,” he said.

McGinnis quit Wall Street for a life in international affairs, living in Brazil and Argentina at one point. Being fluent in Spanish and learning French, he said he listens to Podcasts to learn languages. He welcomes feedback and startup stories on his site: patrickmcginnis.com

Culture hack for startups: Understand your values


NEW YORK–To be guided by values is to be successful, but what if you could not see or articulate it clearly? Last June 16, Columbia Professor Paul Ingram conducted a values workshop to willing participants at Alley which, under Culture Hacks, teamed up to hold the special workshop with Columbia Business School.

Culture Hacks is an exercise designed to help startups understand, develop and strengthen organizational culture.

“I know who I am, I manage people better,” a quote read on Ingram’s slide as the workshop tackled the importance of knowing one’s self.

As we know, values can be abstract or concrete. It can mean happiness, respect, integrity, accomplishment and efficiency. You can have a hierarchy on feelings and decisions. For one person, relationships can be more important than trust, integrity and honesty, while another person could place higher value on honesty.  The importance and meaning of values can change with the context.

Context, he said, affects values.  Ask yourself, “What is most important to you?”

One last reflection he asked the participants is to think of a great moment they experienced at work. Identifying the most important values is important but having access to your value lead to your best self

After his brief introduction, Ingram conducted the exercise by asking the participants to do build their own values hierarchy. Having a value at the bottom doesn’t mean it’s unimportant; it could just be a foundation necessary for reaching a higher value. However, he also emphasized how starting with your CEO value (the peak value) is crucial.

Look for means-end relationships (e.g. does openness lead to learning?), he said.

And when you have a working version of your hierarchy, describe it yourself. If it sounds ok, describe it to your neighbor-participant. Ingram said blurting it out loud helps you refine your hierarchy and realize that you can revise it if it doesn’t work for you.”

Have a “functional test of your values hierarchy” when you go over the exercise. Here are some tips:

  1. List your values with “1” being the CEO and move down the hierarchy. Then for the first scenario, point out satisfaction with your current job.
  2. Staring at the bottom of your value list, score for each value how well/poorly it was satisfied (1= violated; 7 = completely satisfied)
  3. Ask yourself for each value in each situation what you could do, or have done, to achieve higher satisfaction for this value
  4. Ask yourself if the values analysis is in line with your overall feeling about the situation (e.g., if you love your job, but feel all of your values are violated, this suggests something is missing from your hierarchy);
  5. Repeat with the second scenario, “Situation Where You Were Hurt or Angry.” The question here is to what extent you see your values are being satisfied.
  6. Make changes to your hierarchy that capture your key work values

Taking an intelligence augmentation journey and harnessing stream data

NEW YORK—At the AXA Center last June 13, the Data-Driven meetup featured speakers Christopher Nguyen, founder and CEO of Arimo (data intelligence platform); Adam Kanouse, CTO of Narrative Science (transforms data into meaningful and insightful narratives); Neha Narkhede, founder and CTO of Confluent (real-time data platform built around Apache Kafka) and Nitay Joffe, founder and CTO of Action IQ (next-generation data platform for marketing and consumer data).

Nguyen talked about his company Arimo, formerly Adatao, which started building its platform with pAnalytics and Apache Spark. It was designed to be a comfortable working environment for data scientists and engineers, who work in familiar tools such R, Python, SQL and Java.

Business and data science users can collaborate and drive high-quality decisions via Arimo’s predictive applications and tools to companies with fast insights to critical business questions on big data. It is reportedly easy to use and deploy as it runs on existing SQL databases, Hadoop and cloud data sources. Businesses generate value from big data in minutes, not weeks or months. An API is provided for data scientists and engineers to work with the data and build applications on top of the data that expose it to the business users in a more friendly way. This means they can make better use of it and build charts and graphs on the fly in real time to suit their needs.

To that end, the business layer called pInsights lets end users query the data using natural language queries. The  system learns from the data what types of data users are likely to ask about, and even learns as users query to provide an as you type drop-down capability with likely queries as you would get in Google search as you enter a search term.

“We are on an intelligence augmentation journey,” Nguyen said.

Kanouse’s Narrative Science is focused on creating software starting with advanced language generation platform, Quill, which transforms data into narratives people can read, so people will spend less time crunching numbers. ‘Presenting analysis takes 3 to 4 hours of your time.”

Confluent, founded by the creators of Apache Kafka, enables organizations to harness business value from stream data. The Confluent Platform manages the barrage of stream data and makes it available throughout an organization.

It provides various industries, from retail, logistics and manufacturing, to financial services and online social networking, a scalable, unified, real-time data pipeline that enables applications ranging from large volume data integration to big data analysis with Hadoop to real-time stream processing.

Narkhede presented Confluent, emphasizing how Kafka Connect does the hard work

  1. Scale out
  2. Fault tolerance
  3. Central Management
  4. Schema propagation

What is stream processing? It Isn’t necessarily transient, approximate or “lossy”?

Its developers have reportedly contributed more than 76 percent of all the open source Apache Kafka code, and built some of the largest production deployments in the world.

The company recently introduced Confluent Control center which examines their data to understand message delivery, possible bottlenecks, and observe the end-to-end deliverability of messages in their native Kafka environment. Its Control Center UI allows operators to connect new data sources to the cluster and configure new data sources connectors.

Apache Kafka is widely adopted for use cases ranging from collecting user activity data, logs, application metrics, stock ticker data and device instrumentation.

Its key strength is its ability to make high volume data available as a real-time stream for consumption in systems with very different requirements — from batch systems like Hadoop, to real-time systems that require low-latency access, to stream processing engines that transform the data streams as they arrive.

Apache Kafka is key data infrastructure that can serve as a single central nervous system, transmitting messages to all the different systems and applications within an organization.

Funded by leading investors including Sequoia Capital and First Mark Capital,Joffe’s ActionIQ is a stealth startup building the next generation of the marketing technology stack focused on customer data and business users.

Action IQ has designed it to make it look like playing with legos.

“It can be more costly to hire new customers as it is to retain an existing one,” Joffe said, who said he hires as much Data PHDs as he does UX designers.

Customer acquisition: Go out there, sell it yourself–and yes, PR works


NEW YORK—“I was sending 300 emails a day on Linkedin,” said Daniella Weinblatt, CEO and co-founder of TTI (Take The Interview) who even among the female panelists at an Orrick meetup last June 14, knows there are no bounds to customer acquisition for a startup. As a founder — and this was also raised by a panelist — you may actually wonder when you will need to apply the breaks when you’re excited about your journey as an entrepreneur.

Weinblatt was part of a panel that consisted of Hayley Barna, venture partner at First Round; Jessica Beck, co-founder and COO at Hello Alfred; Alanna Gregory, founder and CEO at  VIVE Lifestyle with Gesche Haas, founder of Dreamers//Doers.

As a founder, Weinblatt said,  “You need to go out there and sell it yourself.” Which you won’t mind anyway, because your work can consume you, which is good when you’re just starting out and you need to gain traction.” TTI is a NY-based job interview management solutions provider. The company believes better technology enables greater efficiency and better communications which results in better interviews, which then produce better hires.

It’s interesting how the panelists didn’t even react to a question about the timing for spending for marketing because many of them didn’t do it when they first started.

For Hello Alfred, Beck said, “If you’re first in the market, you have to educate your market and we did it through PR (public relations).” Hello Alfred has staff to take of your household chores, from your laundry to house cleaning to grocery shopping. Weinblatt said the public relations effort of the accelerator program helped as well.

Both Beck and Weinblatt didn’t believe in giving away anything for free even from the very beginning. TTI said they had paid pilots and Beck didn’t offer free services.

Barna, co-founder of Birchbox and now First Round, remember starting her startup while at Columbia University. Beck thought of hers while at Harvard Business School. Birchbox offers personalized samples via  a monthly subscription. “We had 8 brands (in the beginning).”

The other panelist was Alanna Gregory, founder at Vive Lifestyle, is a new way to book and save on last minute blowouts at pre-vetted salons in your city.

Weinblatt’s takeaways:

  • First beta pilot clients include ABC Universal. They were paid pilots.
  • First few months they will be using our software.
  • We asked ourselves, Did we accomplish our objective? Once we converted, then we knew we were on to something
  • Initially people who were signing up was not our audience. People were not searching for video interviews or interviewing more effectively
  • They asked themselves, Who will understand the value proposition we’re selling
  • WOM and the community were big for us
  • We worked with Blue Apron, Warby Parker
  • We use salesforce for CRM and Marketo for marketing
  • We tracked number of emails and had set-up demos. Where it gets tricky is in running demos, as you ask yourself, “Am I personalizing the message properly?”
  • We spent as much time on customer acquisition as we did retention;  six people focused on retention of customers
  • Nothing gets investors more excited than performing better every month
  • We learned to fire fast (instead of holding on to someone that was not a cultural fit)
  • If clients are happy, we get testimonials

Beck’s takeaways:

  • We didn’t know who our customer was (in the beginning)
  • Find out how to grow faster
  • In our first year, as part of our growth we had to learn more and scale.
  • Show and you’re your story through photos
  • (“Alfreds”) would make eye contact
  • On sustaining business: “We (offer) a monthly home cleaning. We restock toiletries.”
  • For quality service: We (knew) we needed W2 people, not 1099 people
  • Hire jack of all trades in beginning
  • (Must have in the beginning): Look for someone with finance specialty

Barna’s takeaways:

  • (Be clear with) messaging and how to position your product
  • The box is just the beginning, we’re a retailer.
  • Theres the power of PR and telling a good story
  • We hired an internal PR team, built relationships
  • We track the cost of everything
  • No accident we had a pink box—and people didn’t know what they would see inside the boxes
  • I like founders who have authentic passion for their business
  • What makes a good founder: “You’re the only person who understand (your business well).”
  • A few happy customers is better than a million unhappy ones
  • Sleep more. It’s a marathon, not a race.
  • Highs were highs lows were lows
  • (Give yourself) 12 to 18 months of (financial) runway

Gregory’s takeaways:

  • We had to validate our assumptions
  • We acquired salons
  • (We tried to find out) how many we need
  • We make sure customers are really happy.
  • We are introducing auto-renewals (soon)
  • You need to find investors who really believe in your vision
  • Be honest with yourself and what you can do

Equity crowdfunding vs venture capital fundraising

NEW YORK–This was not Batman v Superman where emotions flare and somebody is flung out of the New York skyline. At the NYC Incubator last June 9, the Equity Crowdfunding vs. Venture Capital Fundraising talk was just a convivial talk about the differences between the two funding methods.


Allen Jebsen seemed to have channeled Clark Kent as he took the side of equity crowdfunding at Start Engine with earnestness. Sumeet Shah of Brand Foundry Ventures, made light of the event, making fun of the fake fight.

“We see VCs as collaborator,” Jebsen said.

“We consider (equity crowdfunding) a competitor,” Shah said, then playfully moving his chair away as he said that in front of Jebsen.

If you don’t know the difference, here’s one thing that should settle it for you.

An accredited investor in the US must have a minimum annual of $200,000, a joint income of $300,000 or a net worth of $1 million. Without this moolah, you cannot be an accredited investor, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But in June 2015, the SEC enacted “Regulation A+” which resulted in a brand new fundraising category for use by smaller companies also called equity-based crowdfunding.  This is different from the reward system used by Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Equity crowdfunding actually affords investors (read: anyone) shares in the company with some type of ownership in the business. It levels the playing field.  Non-accredited investors or anyone can invest in Regulation A+ offerings. There’s more information on investopedia.com

Venture capital is money provided by investors to startup firms and small businesses with perceived long-term growth potential. This is a very important source of funding for startups that do not have access to capital markets.

Recently, the SEC adopted rules to permit companies to offer and sell securities through crowdfunding, including to individuals that are not accredited investors, which is anyone out there.

Some differences are obvious. Crowdfunding in general requires a lot of time and effort. When raising money from people you have never met, you better have a good product to show – that means, you’ll need great content and video – to make it easy for people to decide if you’re a good investment.

Jebsen breaks it down: You can set the term. If you hit your goal, you can write an amendment. You can get a few hundred thousand possibly between 1 and 3 months; for $50 million, 4 to 6 months. If you don’t hit your goals, your money goes to escrow. You can choose to do equity or debt (convertible debt), if you don’t want equity crowdfunding.

You could say there is some overlap here, especially when it comes to the reason you want to get funded. Like VC money, you have to know why you have to take the money but Jebsen said it’s important to know your product more than conveying a message. But that’s about it.

When you approach Sumeet for funding, you’ll need to recognize how much funding you need, because you’ll need to know how to scale up to 18 months. Once you figure out the amount of capital you need, and then you’re good.  “I wished there were so many more whiteboards in the world, so you can put all your ideas (that will help make you a decision),” he said.

As for the other side of funding, Sumeet said it would be hard to get anything done with 6,000 investors.

Why would you invest your money in a startup, as a non-accredited investor?  Jebsen said it could simply because you are a “believer or consumer of potential products.”  In advertising, it’s what’s called brand ambassadors.

StartEngine launched with two partners, Elio Motors and game publisher XREAL. Elio Motors is an alternative transportation startup as it has an “ultra high mileage car (84 MPG) and costs only $6800, perfect for first time drivers and college students.

“It’s less about product, but the democratization of investment,” Jebsen said. “You need to have a strong vision and message in equity crowdfunding.”

On the other hand, VCs can help startups do much bigger rounds if they see a billion-dollar opportunity while also giving you connections and instant legitimacy. It’s only important to know if you can meet your targets. Can you actually rely on crowds for your fundraising efforts?

You’ll have to think both options thoroughly to find out what you really want. But if you don’t have money and you want to invest, your only option is to try equity crowdfunding.

Allen Jebsen focuses on educating entrepreneurs everywhere of the new fundraising options available under the JOBS Act. Initially created in Los Angeles as an accelerator by Howard Marks, co-founder of Activision and Acclaim Games, StartEngine has grown to become the leading equity crowdfunding platform. Since June of 2015, when Regulation A+ was enacted, StartEngine has helped companies raise 17 million dollars from over 6,000 non accredited investors. StartEngine has continued to help companies raise capital under Regulation Crowdfunding, the newest rules to be enacted by the SEC on May 16th, 2016.

Sumeet Shah handles sourcing and managing new opportunities as a Senior Associate at Brand Foundry Ventures, an early-stage consumer product and device venture capital firm. He has 6 years of experience across the startup and private equity industries, formerly running new business strategies at Gist Digital and handling business development and project work at Gotham Consulting Partners.

What early stage CleanTech startups can expect from incubator

NEW YORK–CleanTech was the big topic at the Japan NYC Startups meetup last June 6 at Pivotal Labs. Jiro Otsuka, program manager at Urban Future Lab/ACRE at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, talked about how the cleantech business incubator and how it supports early stage companies in the industry.


NYC ACRE is a cleantech, smart grid and sustainable, smart cities incubator that supports early stage business ventures with innovative technologies and new business models for a greener, smarter and more connected world.

NYC ACRE offers an extensive community of cleantech industry stakeholders as well as exclusive access to professional services. The incubator grows its member startups from prototypes and pilots phases to fully commercialized entities.

Companies that are accepted into the incubator program get a shared office space in Brooklyn on top of mentors and advisors to guide them. They are also introduced to an extensive network of industry contacts, and customized support services.

If you have a cleantech idea, one can count on the fact that New York City is positioning itself as the future of energy innovation in the US and NYC ACRE it throwing its support in various ways, including the way it positions itself on climate change. Otsuka said there is a need to need to reduce fossil fuel use.

ACRE hopes to grow an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, international companies, and innovative local businesses that provide solutions to climate and energy issues in NYC. Marketing, design, art, engineering, and data science will all be required in this effort.

How does one apply?

Otsuka said applicant companies undergo a VC style due diligence process. As a result, less than 10 percent of companies have been accepted. However, once you’re in, you’ll receive comprehensive services and benefits—from direction, consultation with and introduction to market channel partners, decision makers, investors and many more.

Plus, there’s no equity cost and a very low monthly membership rate.

Mentors provide counsel, pitching and pitching practice as well as researchers and seasoned entrepreneurs for product development. Professional services include access to financial, accounting, legal, sales, marketing, and design services.

Among the companies it has helped and/or supported include the following: Keen HomeEnertivAgrilystHonest BuildingsEnerKnolRadiator LabsVoyage Control,EcoLogic SolutionsVoltaiqREGEN EnergyBandwagonSealedHEVO PowerSistine Solar,RentricityEcologicalBlocPowerMJ BeckDG Energy PartnersAnellotech, Inc.Lumiode,ClearGrid EnergyCleanCapitalEV-BoxThinkEcoSmarter Grid SolutionsProjectEconomics,Sollega and Smart Data Science.

Words recreated into 3D scenes, homes more connected than ever

NEW YORK – How do you create 3D scenes by simply describing them in words? How about conjuring some magical UX for IoT? Or having your home products connect with any device? These and more were tackled at the Hardwired NY meetup last June 8 at WeWork in Chelsea.


Bob Coyne, founder and CTO of WordsEye, showed the packed audience how to create 3D scenes simply by describing them in words. Users can reportedly make artwork, express visual opinion or simply play with it. They make good conversation pieces for social networks.

Those concerned about their privacy? Users have the option to keep their input text private even when sharing a scene itself. Any scene that is posted to the gallery or made public via a permalink can be copied by other users if the original scene’s text is disclosed.

When a scene is copied from another scene and then posted to the gallery, the new scene will display a small thumbnail in the bottom right hand corner, showing where it was derived from. This way, it claims, users can riff on each other’s scenes while still crediting the original artist. Only make use of personal and non-commercial use of their scenes.

How can you take it further? You can comment on existing scenes by opening and modifying them, if not responding with a new scene. If you want to play around with it more, you can change effects with illustrations, even add thought balloons, among others.

Coyne also shared what he and his team have learned.
•    New features/content fuel engagement
•    Users riff on each other’s scenes (visual banter)
•    Shared scenes attract new uers
•    Users like a token system
•    Giving a title is an important part of creativity
•    User requests: storyboarding/comic’ new 3D content choices; user 3D uploads; VR output; animated output

Chris Allen, founder and CEO of iDevices, has a growing line of HomeKit-enable products sold at Lowe’s stores. The company builds products that are compatible across platforms with focus on Siri, Google and Amazon.

iDevices’ products include the Socket, Wall Switch, Dimmer Switch and Wall Outlet. These build upon iDevices’ first three Homekit-enabled products: the iDevices Switch, an indoor connected plug; Outdoor Switch, a rain-tight, dual outlet connected plug and Thermostat.

Through the use of Apple HomeKit technology, iDevices is able to provide different ways for its users to control their home’s lights, outlets, thermostats, and more from their Apple’s iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and with Siri voice commands.

The iDevices Connected app provides users with ultimate convenience, comfort and security allowing them to control their home using their iOS 8.1+ mobile phone or tablet from anywhere.

Allen shared a few points about the direction of the market for 2016:

HomeKit: It’s early days for Apple HomeKit but there are lots of promising signs
Expenditure: Growth in smart home product and service spend continues to grow, estimated to reach 128 million households by 2018
Intent: 43 percent of consumers are most likely to purchase connected home products when renovating or upgrading their home

Next speaker was Josh Clark, founder of Big Medium, a company that specializes in designing multi-device experiences that blend function and inspiration. The challenge for him is how to create great individual experiences and create experiences across all of these devices.

Martin Broen, VP of Global Product Design at Pepsi, talked about how his design team uses prototyping to lead development of ideas. He cited the importance of not waiting too long to finish products, not skipping steps and not spending too much to test them.