All-women tech panel talk about customer acquisition and building successful corporate culture

Guest panelists at Orrick meetup at CBS Building
Guest panelists at Orrick meetup at CBS Building

By Dennis Clemente

At the Orrick Total Access meetup last April 30, Joy Marcus, CEO of Bloglovin & venture partner at Gotham Ventures, looked at the panel in admiration. Seeing all were women tech founders, she looked at them proudly before turning to the audience and acknowledging each one of them. She said she relishes the day when she doesn’t need to say the guest list consists of an all-women panel, just a panel.

At the Orrick law offices at the CBS Building that night were women. For the customer acquisition talk, the panelists were Tanya Menendez, co-founder, Maker’s Row; Carly Strife, co-Founder, BarkBox; Kathleen Utecht, angel investor & venture partner; and Danielle Weinblatt, co-founder & CEO, Take the Interview.

For the corporate culture talk after, panelists were Angela Lee, founder of 37 Angels, moderated Mona Bijoor, founder & CEO, of Joor; Kellee Khalil, founder & CEO of; Elissa Shevinsky, co-Founder & CEO, Glimpse Labs of Nina Sodhi, Founder & CEO of Nackina.

In the first talk, Menendez said understanding users is very important. “Do user interviews. Find out if users are obsessed with it (your product), then create products designed for them, making sure you have the right people onboard to tell your story that resonates with the audience, your community and among journalists.”

The other women agreed, but Weinblatt put it in her own way, saying she makes customers “adore us.” How? “Never underestimate the power of ‘polite persistence.’ Not everyone closes doors on your face. Do it over and over again.”

As an investor, Utecht’s comment was right up her alley, “The best way to acquire customers is (by getting into) partnerships.”

Strife, on the other hand, said word of mouth comprises 50 percent of her site’s monthly acquisition with referral as her “most successful channel.” “We pay them real money.”

In terms of measuring success with analytics, the women agreed that SEO, SEM and content creation are crucial, as well as A/B testing everything. Menendez said she should have focused on SEO from Day 1.

The next talk moderated by Angela Lee was tricky, as it tackled something not easy to quantify or measure: culture.

The panel suggested watching out for the following:
1. Ask yourself if you are experiencing something toxic and political?
2. Are you excited to come to work?
3. Are you excited about the product?
4. When something bad happens, who saves the day?
5. Can you bro it out with the guys?
6. Are people buying into the pain points you’re addressing?
7. Do you share the values of the staff and startup?

The panel also shared their hiring choices with Lee the moderator kicking it off. “I don’t do interviews. I ask people to do projects.”

Shevinsky said she finds people overlooked by the industry whereas Khalil said she prefers to test her hires with a 90-day contract.

But how do you become a successful startup? “It’s all about consistency. It’s a marathon,” Bijoor said.

NY Tech Meetup audience has app favorites different from the rest

NY Tech Meetup

By Dennis Clemente

With 9 startups presenting at the NY Tech Meetup almost every month, it’s likely one will stand out. But it’s getting harder to tell who is going to make it these days. Last March 4, for instance, some of the more than 600 people at the NY Tech Meetup at Skirball Theater had different favorites with their favorites challenged by the people seated beside them.

Is replacing the QR Code with simple color codes the answer? Peatix from Japan is not saying that but it may be another way of looking at it, the way it is offering color in ticket confirmations. Just raise your phone with the color confirmation in, say, a bar entrance and if it matches the doorman’s color in his tablet or other mobile device, you’re in.

People later said the color could be faked, even with an earlier Peatix assurance or challenge, “You could try?!”

What about turning the tables on dating sites and using it in your search for the perfect team? Collaborizm matches the entrepreneur and creative minded based on aspects of team building psychology, personality type, and collaborative interests. Not all friends are created like-minded; you need a team up to build and ideate together.

Since we’re in New York, how about solving the perennial problem of finding apartments?

If you’ve seen the movie When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal talks about how people check the Obituaries to find which apartment will hit the market. It’s a morbid thought played for laughs back then. You never know if people watching it this time will think how it makes perfect sense. We don’t know for sure if RentHackr is doing that, but it connects with the best apartments before they hit the market. Call it stalking an apartment.

With 9 startups and almost no technical hiccup for many months now, the NY Tech Meetup may have been due for one when the Wi-Fi failed on two other presenters—ScoreSync and Ziggeo but the presenters and the audience laughed it off; it relaxed the crowd.

ScoreSync is a collaborative digital sheet music that aims to revolutionize music education, rehearsal, and creation. It was one Brit guy’s favorite and why not? Wouldn’t it be cool if people from different parts of the world composed great music together?

And if it will help musicians create, ScoreSnyc could use Ziggeo‘s API. It’s video recording and playback (just 2 lines of code). You can add videos to user profiles, feature video comments and message, or come up with new uses of video.

Ziggeo could also work then with Shodogg. The latter offers a patented technology that connects digital content to any number of web-enabled screens in the world.

Other ways of connecting was presented by Sense Health, an organization tool that helps health professionals connect with their clients and Verbalizeit, a translation platform with thousands of translators on call anytime.

Foreign startups present to media-owned VCs

Win Global Innovator

By Dennis Clemente

Last February 27, WIN (Worldwide Investor Network) hosted Global Innovator featuring five presenters—Hyperactivate, TripTease, Mommy Coach, $Social and 365Scores—to panelists that included media VCs at 1221 Avenue of the Americas.

What is interesting is how the panelists included two media VCs–Cyna Alderman, managing director of Daily News Innovation Lab and Scott Levine, managing director of Time Warner Ventures. The two other VCs were John Elton, partner of Greycroft Partners and Ross Goldstein, managing director of /”>Gotham Ventures. Goldstein was voted best judge of the night.

Hyperactivate offers a turnkey solution that amplifies your brand messages across multiple channels, while $Social figures out the how to monetize “celebrities” social media engagement.

Lastly, 365Scores chooses your favorite team and leagues for you to create a Sports Channel.
MommyCoach connects you to live experts for parenting advice. TripTease, on the other hand, relies on you to be the expert in sharing your travel stories online.

Hyperactivate’s March Fischman likes to point how his startup solves the accountability problem all marketers face when attempting to quantify ROI on any company’s social media investment with its “active management platform” or dashboard.

“Clients don’t know what success is,” said Fischman who thinks he can determine social media success for its business. To scale his business and add new features, he is seeking $3 million.

Triptease’s Charlie Osmond, a presenter at The Hatchery last February 20, says his startup is like a “digital postcard.” You upload or link a photo from a gallery and give your review. He also calls it “photo review” or “user-generated travel magazine.”

Osmond, who was at the Hatchery a week ago, won over the crowd again for his presentation skills, with one panel remarking how it helps to have a British accent, like what another VC said at The Hatchery meetup.

“Hotels love it (Triptease),” he said. “We are connecting inspiration and bookings.”
Osmond said he has signed up 10 hotels, integrating Triptease with the hotel management system in the process.

It may not be so unusual for Osmond to get such high marks from the previous panels he has pitched to as the global travel market is worth $750 billion, with the luxury and hip travel industry amounting to 475 billion. He is raising $1.5 million in mid-year.

Is offering classes and advice for moms a viable online business?

Christophe Garnier, CEO of Mommy Coach, likes to think there is room for him with 90 million moms in the world. It helps if you put a number around its worth: $7 billion.

The Frenchman claims to have 1,000 experts but to keep things under control, he narrowed down his expert mom experts to 250. “It’s like Airbnb (for moms),” he said. “We don’t have doctors but our experts have parenting licenses.”

Having raised $600,000, he is looking to raise $150,000 more to reach his target f $750,000 in convertible note. “I will use some of the funds for market development.”

$Social’s CEO and co-founder Gil Eyal drew chuckles when he said celebrities need our help. He offers a way for high-profile social media users to monetize their online presence. Guy Tamir is CTO and co-founder.

To monetize their idea, they are looking share revenue with celebrities initially before it sets the stage for major brand partnerships in the second phase of its business. Both of the founders are looking to raise $1 million.

For the sports enthusiasts, 365Scores offers your own Sports Channel. It reportedly gathers sports information from hundreds of sources. The site then analyzes and organizes the data according to user preference and delivers the data to users with real-time push notifications.

The presence of two media personalities in the panel shows how most media outlets these days are looking for collaborative opportunities with startups

As befits the meetup, Goldstein pointed out how its firm has 10 countries represented in its portfolio. Gotham Ventures focus on adtech and e-commerce, among others.

Levin is looking to invest in startups that afford financial return and strategic partnership with cutting-edge media platforms. “Series B is a sweet spot,” he said.

Warby Parker’s prescription for success

dave gilboa
Dave Gilboa

By Dennis Clemente

Never judge a man by his prescription glasses, especially one wearing Warby Parker.

Dave Gilboa, CEO of Warby Parker, is one adrenaline junkie who likes to be transformed by his adventures. He woke up one morning in a flamingo costume to run the marathon (if records mean anything, he was the fastest in that category), climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, backpacked in Thailand where he lost his $700-worth prescription glasses but still continued his Southeast Asia trip without it, nearly blind.

Last October 8, Gilboa appeared before us looking all scholarly with Warby Parker eyeglasses, unassuming and shy in contrast to his adventurous ways; which is really why you should never judge a man by his prescription glasses.

Gilboa was at the Startup Grind meetup at AOL Offices to talk about his other transformation—the designer eyewear everyone is talking about because of its two-pronged offer: revolutionary prices and social consciousness. For every eyepiece sold, a pair goes to someone in need.

The idea itself is revolutionary to think of how it is competing head-on with the giant eyewear company, Luxottica, which has the monopoly on eyewear (the popular brands you can think of plus the stores) with a $26b market cap.

Still, it is precisely because of its David-and-Goliath approach to the business that has endeared it to the press which has made the eyewear startup a huge success (the GQ piece in time for its launch proved to be the game changer), online at first and now with brick-and-mortar stores. From four people, Gilboa now runs the company with Neil Blumenthal as co-CEO. The founders have raised $55 million from venture capitalists SV Angel, Lere Ventures, Menlo Ventures and First Round Capital.

Starting a company with friends can be tricky. But it didn’t matter Gilboa and his Wharton MBA schoolmates. “We trusted each other. We knew we could spend 24 hours together. None of us were even technical.”

But how did they pull it off and compete against Luxottica? The first hire was a 20-year veteran with the right connections; next was getting independent manufacturers to come onboard. They admitted to being initially paranoid about getting investors, because they wanted to maintain control of the business as long as possible before getting capital.

“We bootstrapped. All four of us pitched in and started with $120,000,” he said. “We operated the business for 14 months before we got our first round of funding. In our first round, we got 100,000 customers.”

Asked how you can get your startup funded, he said, “You have to have enough traction. Show them user revenue and profitability.”

Gilbao credits the fashion editorial PR firm they hired for giving them the media push, especially the feature on GQ. “We did it mainly to get credibility,” Today, he said the company wouldn’t be where it us now if they didn’t hire the PR firm. “PR has had a massive impact on our business.”

It was not smooth-sailing at all. Gilboa recalled not having their site up yet when they got a call from GQ saying the mag was going to hit the newsstands early. They managed to make the site work but not with all the bells and whistles they wanted.

He said their biggest mistake was not planning for extreme scenarios. Once the site was up, he had his phone setup to receive orders. They didn’t realize the site was going to get so much traffic. “We were blown away by the traffic.”

It didn’t occur to them that they didn’t have a ‘sold-out’ functionality. “We got somebody from odesk to add a ‘wait-list’ button in 10 minutes.”

To make amends to their customers, they gave everyone discounts. “We just wanted to make sure they would go back to our site.”

What he learned in that experience is that “you’re allowed to screw up, as long as you make each one of them happy.”

That first year, Gilboa said the company hit its sales target in three weeks. “I remember staying all night packing boxes and having strangers in my apartment looking at the eyeglasses.”

Proof of their customer service? WP tweets back a day after the article came out.
Proof of its outstanding customer service? WP tweets back a day after the article came out.

Customer satisfaction is a big part of Warby Parker’s success. Holding employees accountable for how they treat customers can be a challenge, but they make it possible by using Net Promoter, a loyalty metric and a discipline for using customer feedback.

Today, the company has 350 people in its Soho store with showrooms in other stores all around the country. It just signed up an 80,000 sq ft lease for another store.

For Gilbao, Warby Parker is more than an eyewear, it’s a fashion brand.

The meetup was hosted by Startup Grind’s Bryan Park.

Social media is a perfect storm but offers usable insights with the right tools

By Dennis Clemente

When you think of a perfect storm, environmental calamity comes to mind. But there’s an entirely different perfect storm in our midst. It’s big. It’s unstructured. It’s social media.

How do we turn this perfect storm to usable insights, asked Robert Floyd, guest host of Social Data’s Best and Brightest meetup who also happen to be the regional vice president of DataSift.

Think about it. There are now 1.8 billion people on social networks, 400 million tweets a day and 3.2 billion Facebook likes a day. How do we even begin to make sense of it?

Last July 25, DataSift, Porter Novelli, location host, and Tableau talked about how they are analyzing social data and augmenting it with insights for big business at the new World Trade Center building.

For James O’Malley of Porter & Novelli, the data starts with research but that’s too broad. Narrowing it down, O’Malley said the questions people ask is where every data curation begins, as it built on accordingly.

Floyd’s inputs, especially from social networks translate to “the world’s biggest focus group” and from there companies create a process that helps them work out a system. Multi-tracking is key. You could do it any number of ways but Floyd said they do it by gender, language, sentiment, language and topics which sound easy except their technology helps them get results faster—in half a second, for instance.

Social data is getting more complicated yet Tableau’s Michael Kravec makes it look so easy to use with its sophisticated drag-and-drop software for those who can afford it ($500 a pop for one user a month? Tableau is a respected analytics software giant dealing in business intelligence–and one that draws envy and admiration in equal measure.

But why does Porter Novelli, a global PR firm, care so much about social data, too? It’s because of the potential of social data to help scale businesses immeasurably. But where does one begin?

The metrics side of a PR initiative seems relatively easy. “You dial a phone number and you reach millions of people if your pitched story to the New York Times gets published,” O’ Malley said.

But for far more complex PR efforts, Porter Novelli has been known to use a PR robust tracking tool called PN Sonar which follows a four-step process called collect, process, analyze and report. In terms of collecting, you do that from a custom suite of data, load more than 250 items daily combining social, traditional and internal data, and store it long term for trends and modeling.

“We analyze real social data to build algorithms and ontology customized for each client’s digest,” said O’Malley, adding that all the data can even be seen in one single place.

Porter Novelli makes use of research, measurement and optimization. You study audience behavior, find out what your competitors are doing. The measurement addresses what’s happening in the gaps, showcasing the results and providing the basis for future learning. For better optimization, you need to provide content, in term measuring it by performance, as it tweaks messages to what works, and making changes to channels and platform as you go along.

How do these companies determine which data works for its media contacts? It’s good to know for instance that CBS’ 60 Minutes has the largest BMW fan base or that it can spot some inconsistencies which car ads works for, say, an American Idol audience. You would think Ford lords it over any other car commercial in the show because it’s embedded in the show’s storyline, but Hyundai turned out to have three times more audience, based on the social data gathered.

Cristo gives the ‘last word’ on social SEO (for now); reaction to Coke study

By Dennis Clemente

Dan Cristo, director of SEO Innovation at Catalyst Online, a leading search marketing agency, doesn’t seem to have any problem holding people’s attention against the backdrop of a noisy bar on a Friday night. Cristo was presenting “Mastering the Art of Social SEO” at the Joshua Tree on East Avenue early this month. Find out more here at

“I thought for sure I was going to lose my voice,” he said in jest, but the attendees clearly knew why he did his SEO presentation at the bar. In such a setting, people are more comfortable to “expand and deepen one’s network.”


Fortunately, Cristo speaks with emphatic clarity and enthusiastic openness. He genuinely likes to share his ideas. He breaks down traditional search against social search this way: The former is “authority,” the latter is “intimacy.”

He elaborated: “Social SEO is much like traditional SEO in the sense that search engines are looking for relevant, trustworthy answers to people’s questions. The difference is how trust is measured. In a world without online social connections, trust is measured on ‘topic authority’, which links are used as a proxy.

“So where online social interactions abound, a second ‘trust measure’ is introduced, intimacy. The deeper your online connection, the most trust exists between two people. That new intimacy-based trust now affects search rankings,” he added.

He gives an example: “If a good friend recommends a restaurant on Yelp, and I’m looking for a good restaurant, a search engine should rank that Yelp recommendation higher in my search results.

“This translates into an SEO strategy that looks at how brands can optimize not just web pages, but relationships to improve their search rankings.”

Apparently, Cristo leads by example. His name appears on every page of Google results–his main website, twitter profile, linkedin account, Google +, interviews, and articles, among others. “Use social SEO to dominate the Google results page. You can do this by optimizing you social profile, sharing multimedia content and creating long-tail content.”

Cristo is also persistent in saying “don’t neglect Google+.”

Whether you like it or not, Cristo said you need Google+ to establish a strong social presence. “If you want to use any of Google’s products, you will also be using Google+. Why? Search is at the core of all Google products.”

That search algorithm is being personalized for you. It comes from actions you perform on each of Google’s products–Chrome, YouTube, Maps Android, Music, Docs, News, Calendar, etc. His insights appear to be plain common sense but he is clearly making people more aware of it.

In response to the recent report about online buzz not working for Coca Cola sales, he acknowledges the brand for mastering traditional marketing, but not as much in terms of its social media approach.

Cristo is fully committed to his thinking: “Take a look at Coke’s Facebook and Twitter pages; 99% of the time they are talking about themselves. They do that, because that’s how TV works, but that’s not how friendships work. How long would you hang out with a friend who talked only about themselves? Look at the engagement their posts get on Facebook: Out of 62 million fans, only 4,000 to 5,000 on average ‘like’ a post, with maybe a hundred or 200 comments.”

“Compare Coke to Red Bull which has 37 million fans. Red Bull posts get 35,000 and 45,000 likes with 3,000 or 4,000 comments. The difference here is Red Bull is talking about extreme sports, athletes and amazing feats of accomplishment, not their own product.”

He concluded: “It’s not a question of whether social media drives sales. It’s a question of whether Coke is participating in social media in a way that drives product sales. The data may say ‘no’. However, run the same test with Red Bull, and the data will say, ‘yes.’”

Catalyst manages 100 brands in the consumer package goods, automobile, B2B, retail, entertainment, software, technology, travel, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Its clients include P&G, Microsoft, Novartis, Whirlpool, and Pfizer. Headquartered in Nevada, it has offices in New York, Seattle, Chicago, Toronto and Montréal.

Geer of Badoo fame gives tips on how to get first million users

By Dennis Clemente

How do you get your first million users in your online business? Michael Geer, who helped grow and internationalize to 70 million users (it now has 175 million users) said you need three things—virality, revenue and user utility.

Geer was at the Grow/Hack meetup last March 12 at the NYU Stern School of Business talking about the methods, strategies and lessons he learned from his career, both local and overseas. Geer has worked with Y&R and Badoo ( in Moscow, also with Badoo in London, leaving the company in July 2010.

michael geer

For Geer, there are 3 levels of virality—inherent (eg. Dropbox’s offer of free space online), draw something (eg. referrals) and sharing (as you can with most Web sites). For best viral results, he thinks you need two buckets—the paid buckets (ads) and your viral techniques (organic).

As yardstick, Geer recommends using Google Analytics and MixPanel. Recoding your progress is key—there’s the past stage, current stage (with limited interference from non-development team and the future stage—having plan a/b tested and measured against past-stage results.

But how do you get users to join your system? Geer refers to what he calls the Pavlovian viral loop, in the following order: motivation–what a user wants to do; trigger—what prompts them to do it; action—importing contacts and inviting them; and reward—giving feedback and reward for action taken.

What would motivate people to go to your site? It’s not surprising what he says are the four essentials–sex, power, money and status/recognition.

He said the top triggers are a) access to information about yourself; b) connection/access to other users; c) getting more attention about yourself or self-generated content; and 4) the ability to get a special deal/give special deal to friends.

“A trigger can be as simple as about having a pop-up button image, which compels people to ‘push me,’” he said to explain his fourth point about triggers.

Geer said give rewards “as early as possible.” But do rewards always work? For example, does it wear off its welcome in the case of, say, an invite system? He said it always works. “You feel a sense of exclusivity when you get an invite to an app,”

He demystified conjectures, saying a good product retains, not attracts, users. He said public relations can work to attract millions of users, just keep in mind “it is not a scalable acquisition tool.”

Geer is also a Techstars mentor, a board advisor to several startups, a user acquisition teacher at SkillShare, and maintains a social good for-profit meetup. Recently, Geer started a couple of personal projects where he is the founder: CauseCart and YourDecision. Both are expected to be launched this year.

How to make money from your own videos

By Dennis Clemente

From video consumption, the four startups at the NY Video Meetup in Columbia University last January 24 were excited to declare how anyone can profit from video production using different platforms, even without YouTube in the picture. The companies are Montaj , Vidwala , NowThisNews and NYVS.

Montaj co-founder Demir Gjokai called his new app, “Instagram for Video.” Using an iPhone, Gjokai showed how to use the app to make short clips, edit it with the special Montaj storyboard and provide the score from one’s own iTunes playlist. How easy is it to use the app? He proceeds to show a graphical interface on how to shoot videos and shake the phone to edit or change a song. Once satisfied, you can share on YouTube and other social networks.

Emphasizing his preference for storytellers as opposed to clip-makers is one way he foresees his company working on a business model that helps him connect with brands. Being a fairly new product, Montaj works only on the iPhone for now.

Talking about storytelling , NowThisNews is looking at redefining journalism for the mobile generation with video news coverage that could pit them against Vice Media and even BuzzFeed, the company where it gets its share of funds from Lehrer Ventures.

Drake Martinet, co-founder of NowThisNews, says that journalists can grab a video camera and report the news and have his young demographic view the news in his platform. Asked how he will monetize the site, he says the company is considering producing branded content.

Martinet finally put rumors of NowThisNews’ connection with Huffington Post to rest.


For its part, Vidwala’s video distribution platform is aimed at independent video producers looking to make a profit for themselves. It aims to empower indie video producers to be in control of monetizing its distribution, especially with its new iPad app.

“By utilizing Apple’s micro payment system, Vidwala’s iPad app allows fans to buy shows, which translates directly into earnings for video producers,” says co-founder Kabir Mohammed

Not only that, producers will reportedly be able to promote their films and web series, reach new audiences with easy video uploads and set their own prices or even offer free episodes as part of a marketing strategy. Fans, on the other hand, will enjoy the security and ease of in-app purchase to buy their favorite shows and even have the option to download episodes to watch them offline.

But for the easily intimidated, how can people even begin to learn how to make high-quality videos let alone edit them like a real pro? How do you become video literate?

Alex Collmer of NYVS believes that his company can help users learn about producing high-quality films. NYVS is an online film school that allows anyone in the world to learn how to make videos, discuss them with peers, get useful instruction from the NYVS staff and share experiences with people from all over the world for a small fee.

Collmer doesn’t believe everyone needs to go to a top-notch film school in order to be able to make a video to sell a car or house or meet someone online.

The lively Steve Rosenbaum, founder and CEO of, hosted the meetup.

How to Wix and Yodle together to SEO success

By Dennis Clemente

Wix Lounge, through its Digital Creatives Meetup group, held another well-attended class on Search Engine Optimization(SEO) billed “How to be found on Google” at its Chelsea office. It’s certainly an effective way to sample its website builder, Wix.

If it wants to expand its reach in no time, a block away to its New York office is Yodle, an online advertising company for small businesses that is looking at $135 million in revenue for 2012. A collaboration of some sort may be in fine order.

On the topic both love talking about: SEO, as discussed by Ariele Krantzow, Training & Support Manager of last January 8.

Freelancers and small business owners in the hour-long class learned about the importance of using the most relevant keywords for their websites. Krantzow emphasized the importance of “having 10 keywords” defining your site, “listing all the services/products you are offering and more important, “not to forget (mentioning) your location.”

Krantzow also tackled content to a great degree, making sure the attendees understood the difference between relevant and fresh content—all crucial to being found by Google, as its title event addressed.

When attendees asked the use of photos or images, Krantzow showed its much-talked about Wix website builder to explain how one must at least have “three keywords to describe” them.

It was refreshing to see how Krantzow used Wix layouts not to promote it but merely to make her case about SEO. She pointed out how you can test keywords on Wix at (make sure you’re logged in to see this), which should convince anyone a good product can speak for itself.

Wix’s “design suggestions” tool is one of many website builders, of course, so it remains to be seen how it will evolve in a very competitive field. But it may just leapfrog over competitors like and if it also remains “absolutely free,” simple to create—and if it can really answer the needs of small business owners–in SEO, for one.

Or they can yodle to Yodle for help.