Category Archives: E-commerce

Fireside chat with millennials Young, Smith on startups, retail, fundraising

millenials

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—General Assembly hosted a fireside chat featuring two young millennial disruptors– female venture capitalists and entrepreneurs Colette Young and Samantha Smith last March 11 at the Hudson Hotel.

The two young women both started businesses when they were 14, owning and operating retail stores and similarly, working in early-stage consumer tech in top VC companies. They talked about retail and startups.

Young is currently building out the retail and luxury goods division for o9 Solutions, a SaaS-based enterprise planning start-up, founded by entrepreneur Sanjiv Sidhu. She is the founder of Coco Zaza, a boutique consultancy specializing in tech, fashion, food and hospitality. Young is also a co-founder of an NGO called The Happiness Assembly and is currently one of the youth mentors for UN Habitat’s Global Youth fund. Colette previously worked at FirstMark Capital and at Prada Corporate.

Smith, on the other hand, is a former operations manager at First Round Capital. She graduated from NYU Gallatin where she designed a self-directed major in government and philosophy and founded the NYU Entrepreneurs Network. Her prior work experience includes time at KIND Healthy Snacks, DoSomething.org and working at the Office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Below are the highlights of the fireside chat with Young and Smith.

On starting a business
Young: The only way to do it is to do it, but show proof of concept.

On timing
Young: 2010 was the year when social media came into the picture but SEO (prevailed)

Smith: Always look for intent, the founding team. Sometimes there’s not a right time for a product, even when’s it’s a good (product).

On what makes a great company
Young: What makes a great company? Answers these: Does it make money? Is it defensible? How does it scale?

On work-life balance
Young: I was working 100 hours a week. I only do things I believe in. Know that it’s extremely important to have something on the side. Don’t ever work in a job you hate

Smith: Sorry I’m not sorry (about her busy life). (Have) strong relationships and friendships. Set a standard for your life

On how some startups are not making money
Young: There are some great companies not earning. They have not figured it out, but their value is so significant, which was why they were able to raise money

On accelerators
Smith: Use it as resource, not just a way to get funded

On life hacks
Young: Read a lot. Smart people read lot.

Smith: I love to read. I also listen to audiobooks. You can consume a lot from audibooks, read while you’re in-between meetings and at the gym.

The meetup was organized by General Assembly’s Lena Xiao.

David Tisch talks about his Spring e-commerce app, startups’ key to success

david tisch

By Dennis Clemente

Last October 8, Orrick hosted a fireside chat with David Tisch, former managing director of TechStars NY, co-founder of BoxGroup and startup investor at the WeWork offices in Soho West.

The chat centered on his new Instagram-like mobile e-commerce startup Spring where he sits as chair, and his former role as managing director of TechStars.

Spring was funded under Series A by Thrive Capital, Groupe Arnault and Box Group. Other investors included Founder Collective, Google Ventures, SV Angel, and Lerer Hippeau Ventures.

“We believe buying things should be simple,” a listing for Spring on AngelList says. “We are on a mission to build a platform that connects the people who make products directly with consumers who love them.”

Available only on iOS, Spring aims to make the best experience for buying things on your phone or tablet.
Tisch co-founded Spring with his brother Alan Tisch, Ara Katz, and former Googler Octavian Costache with talents from Bergdorf Goodman, Cannon Tekstar Hodge and former fashion director of ShopBop, Kate Ciepluch. The other team members came from Fab, Beachmint, Google, Foursquare, Ralph Lauren, and DVF.

“We launched our company with 32 staff. That’s insane. But each startup is different,” he admitted.

Tisch was quite candid in the chat which was unfortunately marred throughout by a dysfunctional microphone, obscuring some key points. Still, we managed to hear some gems for startups:

RESEARCH
On day one of your startup, do research. The best companies take a lot of time with their idea and research before they start building

MARKET
Have a real understanding of the market

COMPETITION
If you have a similar startup with another and you don’t have the culture (in place), you lost already

SECRET SAUCE
Ask yourself why you are the best person for an idea
The most important for a startup to have—leadership; (it’s crucial) if you can convince people to join you
Those who are ready will be able to accelerate
A startup is rebellious by nature yet so many founders spend a lot of time conforming

OUTSOURCING
You can’t outsource if it requires local discovery and it’s one of the differentiators

DEALING WITH INVESTORS
Food is a great leveler when talking to investors
Build real relationships that will last years; find 5 people not 150 people, and not because they are on a list
They are (investors) not going to take you if you are not ready

FUNDING
We (investors) look at those who have built stuff before. We have to see something, especially (one that matches) your background
You can get money from banks with no equity
When do you need to ask money? If you need to accelerate faster. Money is fuel
How much money do you need? Based it on your milestones
We (investors) don’t even need to see the idea; we don’t even need to see the product—(we look at) the team and the market, because they are easier to identify
Your Idea must match startups with investors

GROWTH SECTORS
Healthcare and automotive sectors will grow

CONTENT
Create your own story. Engagement is key

SUCCESS OF SPRING
As an entrepreneur, he is confident it will succeed but there’s always “my awkward Jewish nervous self.”

Editonthefly is crowd-pleaser at NY Tech Meetup

nytm photo-oct6

By Dennis Clemente

How can you tell if your startup is going to be the crowd-pleaser at the NY Tech Meetup? Every month, almost like clockwork, the last presenter gets the most applause. Of course, it doesn’t mean your startup is the best or the most promising among all the usual nine startup demonstrations.

Last October 6, Fly Labs presented last but came first on top of people’s minds at the after party, as people talked about its iPhone app Editonthefly, which lived up to its name as a fast way to edit videos, literally on the fly. It’s only available on the iPhone (not available on Android yet), because the team focused on “perfecting” its cool features.

The demo showed how it keeps cuts interesting. Each cut stimulates the viewer with a change of perspective or a change of scenery. You just tap to cut. For dissolves, you make the videos dreamy, nostalgic or magical just by swiping. By tapping two videos at once, you get a split screen that allows you to compare them. You can add music and voiceover, too.

The other presenters were Emozia, which is developing technology that enables machines and software to understand and respond to human emotion. It can reportedly tell which “zipcode is really feeling (something).”

Still want another dating app? There’s Glimpse. It matches you with another person via your Instagram photos. Yes, photos, not likes or dislikes but just photos.

“Have you used the product personally?” a woman asked, which prompted a crowd-pleaser of a response, “I use it all the time.”

KuaiBoard turns your keyboard into your clipboard as you type text quicker.

Mondevices introduced Monbaby for monitoring babies. It’s a wearable baby monitor in a smart button that tracks your child’s breathing, movement and sleep patterns on an iPhone/Android app.

This could actually work for everyone, not just babies.

Two other presenters were Partake, which claims to be the easiest way for couples to share expenses as well as PowerToFly, a social platform that connects women in tech to great jobs at high-growth companies.

The latter’s mission is to give women more jobs. The site has a staff of 22 remote locations in 7 countries for faster work cycle.

Shyp, for its part, claims it is the easiest way to send anything, anywhere. It can reportedly lower your shipping cost, because it has a machine that allows packaging items to the precise size of the item. It delivers around Manhattan up to 96th St and in Brooklyn. What? No Queens again.

That same night, IBM selected the Scaffold to compete against other startups.

The site aims to help you discover your leadership style. You take a short quiz and a virtual coach generates customized insights and suggestion how you can become a great leader. Its virtual coach will also send personalized advice, weekly tips and helpful resources to guide you.

A background in organizational psychology helped the team answer questions about the site’s legitimacy.

The hack of the month came from Yin Aphinyanaphongs who showed the results of alcohol intake using Twitter for a specific period of time. It’s not scientific but it clearly showed some interesting insights that can help in terms of monitoring policy changes and the behavioral effect of alcohol.

Yin’s study considered the text categorization, labeled tweets and learning algorithm. His next step is to prove his study over time periods, especially on weekends. Yin wrote about 400 lines of code using R and Python.

Challenges in e-commerce content; big companies investing in startups

orrick  at fulton

By Dennis Clemente

If you have not noticed, big companies have joined the tech investing bandwagon. If you have not noticed, the tech meetups are also adding more topics in one meetup night.

Last September 17, Orrick moved its meetup at WeWork at Fulton Center from the CBS Building to discuss three hot issues.

• The astounding differences on both sides of the buy button by Scott Kumit, founder and CEO of Keep Holdings

• What’s hot in ecommerce? New business models, new markets with content marketing becoming instead the most talked about part of this sector.

• Structuring a partnership with established companies

The e-commerce panel consisted of Adam Kalamchi, founder & CEO of Brilliant Bicycles; Philip Krim, co-founder & CEO, Casper; Matt Krna, partner of SoftBank Capital; Spencer Lazar, principal, General Catalyst Partners, and Amit Mukherjee, associate, NEA. It was moderated by David Concannon, partner at Orrick.

The second panel consisted of Melissa Gonzalez, founder & CEO, The Lion’esque Group; Liza Kindred, founder & CEO, Third Wave Fashion; Seona Skwara, group marketing manager, digital marketing of Nestlé Waters North America and Kim Grennan, innovation strategist, Global Strategy Group of Verizon Communications. It was moderated by Kelly Hoey, chief marketing officer of Cuurio.

With the e-commerce panel, Warby Parker was considered the standard for success in its content marketing.

Because there is so much noise out there, an honest brand persona goes a long way, said one of the panelists. The product has to reflect its reality.
As for the e-commerce model, many of them agreed that you can test at shopify before you invest in your concept.

One observed how more unique goods have proven to be great sellers. If you’re a small brand, this is good to know. “Consumers now are taking risks.”

When talk moved to pop-up stores as a way to promote e-commerce sites, it begged the question if it’s more of a showroom or an inexpensive way to test.

The other discussion about partnerships with big companies provoked a question from the audience, “How can a startup trust a big company to support them?”

Before the actual responses came, the panelists said they don’t sign non-disclosure agreements, just like any other investor. They assured the audience that an idea still requires execution, which companies can’t reportedly be bothered to do, because of their other vested interests.

One panelist said $15 million revenue may not push the needle if the company is already earning $130 billion.

That may also indicate if a company is going to steal your idea or not.

Audience favorite BoardRounds improves emergency patient follow-up

uls

By Dennis Clemente

The way startups are named these days, it’s hard to tell what they can really do for you. Can you tell what these eight startups do– BoardRounds, BotFactory, yourMD, Care + Wear, Blood, Sweat & Cheers, Modabox, Validat.io and Cosign–without looking them up online? Even more challenging, is two minutes sufficient time to get to know them and for VCs to give them feedback.

Last September 10, the Ultra Light Startup meetup was back at Microsoft to give us another interesting show-and-tell from startups and advice plus feedback from VCs, this time featuring panelists Weston Gaddy of Bain Capital Ventures, Taylor Greene, principal at Lerer Ventures, Andrew Mitchell, managing partner at Brand Foundry and Michal Rosenbloom, founding partner at Founder Collective.

BoardRounds is improving follow-up for emergency room patients; BotFactory’s Squink creates circuit boards in minutes; YourMD is the doctor in your pocket; Care + Wear customizes arm bands for a charity you want to support; Blood, Sweat & Cheers helps people find the most fun activities; Modabox is data-driven personal styling and shopping for women; Validat.io provides early stage testing for startups and Co-sign gives your monetary rewards when your social network “tag” followers buy the items.

The audience favorite was BoardRounds with Rosenbloom as the panelist of the night.

The feedback and advice from the VCs:

On BoardRounds: Get the largest hospital, the rest will follow

On BotFactory: On Kickstarter, make a video talking about its value proposition; don’t charge today to create value; monetize later

On yourMD: Make sure customers are being served the right information; bring data from health monitors and health wearables to the doctors

On Care + Wear: Demand may come from the kid market; consider crowdfunding as huge round may not be necessary; get some licenses

On Blood, Sweat & Cheers: Track engagements; make good use of 250,000+ subscribers

On Modabox: Make it aspirational, humanize it

On Validat.io: Build a side consumer product

On Co-sign: Find tastemakers, as Pinterest is the 1,000-poudn gorilla and monetary reward has not yet worked in social media tagging

Global Innovator presents foreign startups in transit, mobile marketing, marketplace and health

WIN's Global Innovator meetup
WIN’s Global Innovator meetup

By Dennis Clemente

Where most tech startup events lump all startups without geographic distinction, Global Innovator makes it entirely clear that foreign startups has an American audience and more importantly, a panel of guests from New York’s VC world to give them feedback and possibly, funding.

The bi-monthly series is powered by the Worldwide Investor Network (WIN), a New York-based platform focused on helping early stage global tech startups shorten the path to funding and acceleration in the US market.

What also makes Global Innovator different from other tech meetups is how the whole affair has an air of formality about it, quite different from other meetups where the standard garb is T-shirt and jeans and the setup is freewheeling. Here, attendees wear suits, wine keeps flowing, press kits (even without the press in attendance, except this blogger) are provided, and just for added glamour, all the kibitzing continue to the rooftop—for VIP ticket holders. Like I said, it has an air of formality. And it helps that they have sponsors to pull this off.

Last June 25, the four foreign startups followed Global Innovator’s theme-Mobile Apps. The presenters were TransitApp, YouAppi, Gone! And Nutrino. Following the format, they presented for five minutes with no apparent time limit for VCs to give their feedback. Tanya Prive, founder of RockThePost moderated the event with WIN’s Eyal Bino opening the affair. They may consider introducing where each startup comes from.

Sam Vermette, co-founder of TransitApp, spoke about its app—how its finds your next departure instantly. Free. What makes it different from any other transit app? Instead of giving you just a schedule or map, it tells you when your public transport is nearby.

“People only want one thing: When is my ride coming?” he said.

He’s confident that in the future, people will be using more public transport, citing how China moves 2.5 billion in public transport. He’s eyeing the world. With $17 billion in fares in US and Canada, the numbers out there for his other 70 markets must be huge. His biggest market is New York.

He looks forward to the day when you can just beam your phone on any public transport system. “Our friction-less payment (method) is in prototype.”

But what makes it different from Google? “We think public transport deserves its own app where Google is the Swiss knife of apps,” he said, as he looks forward to the day also when every city has Wi-Fi.

Moshe Vaknin, founder of YouAppi, presented YouAppi, a mobile apps recommendation platform that has reportedly raise $2.2 million.

Using the YouAppi system, publishers of mobile apps, reportedly gain a simple and reliable way to target their acquisition and retention resources for the highest valued and most loyal consumers.

“YouAppi is for mobile publishers struggling to monetize their inventory using traditional banner ads,” Vaknin said.

Nico Bayerque of Gone! showed how his app works as an algorithm-powered concierge service that sells your items, pick them up, package them appropriately and fulfills them.

Addressing what he calls the 350 billion market, he is answering what’s foremost in our minds: What do we do with our junk? And suggesting why not sell them through Gone! Electronics is a best-seller.

He demonstrated how he mines pricing data using ebay, for example, to gauge how much you can sell your products lying in waste at home.

Highest worth of products Gone! has picked up and the windfall the person received for using their app: $1,600. “Once we remove anything from your house, you get paid,” he said.

Why them? He said they know the marketplace. “If you want to sell wine, for example, we know the marketplace for it.”

The last presenter was Nutrino. Using your personal and medical profile, goals and food preferences, Nutrino’s patent pending technology helps create a healthy dietary plan for you.

Nutrino adapts to you in real time, continuously improving its recommendations. It’s supposed to be the first data-driven personalized food recommendation engine in the market.

The VCs at the presentations were Danny Schultz, managing director, Gotham Ventures; Jalak Jobanputra, managing partner, FuturePerfect Ventures; Hadley Harris, founding general partner, Eniac Ventures; and Nic Poulos, principal, Bowery Capital.

The other speaker of the night was Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local and best-selling author, likened fundraising to dating.

Based on his experience, here are his fundraising tips:

• Transparency is good but not o too much

• Don’t waste your time once you know it’s not a good fit

• They’re going through the same thing you are

• Persistence is vital in any relationship worth having

• In the end it’s worth it

VCs at Gotham Media Ventures talk about hot trends, funding issues

Gotham Media Ventures panel
Gotham Media Ventures panel
By Dennis Clemente

A typical New York meetup night usually hosts many startup presentations (seven or more most of the time) and not much about investors alone. At Gotham Media Ventures last April 8, it was refreshing to see no startups, just venture capitalists taking the limelight to talk about funding, trends and the challenges facing startups.

“Funding is hard. It stays hard,” said Scott Kumit, the candid founder and CEO of Keep, Swizzle as well as former CEO of About.com.

Kumit is giving us perspective and a better read of how funding now can be complex, easy in the first seed round, harder in the institutional round. The former is clearly easier, because with less money, there’s less risk. What makes the next stages hard, of course, is how you can ask for more money to scale your startup.

Jerry Spiegel, moderator and partner of Frankfurt Kumit Klien & Selz, got the same responses from the other panelists, Jason Klein, Merrill Brown, and Daniel Schultz.

“Institutional funding takes longer (these days). There will be a crunch,” said Klein, founder and CEO of Ongrid Ventures and board member of HBS Alumni Angels.

It’s common for investors to talk this way to keep things in check as they also talk about trends.

Klein sees geo-disruptive businesses and location-based technologies as the next hot trends. Think drones, although that may just be the obvious complimentary technology right now.

Brown, a venture partner at DFJ Frontier who is also the director of School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, thinks there are still lots of money in a news platform. He was a media person back in the eighties.

For him, there will be more ways to do voice and data, citing box.com, messaging systems and platforms, and ad-supported media or ad tech.

“Stock prices look encouraging in ad tech. That means that news and TV will be disrupted.” It looks like the internet of things can pave the way for the disruption of communication channels. Think drones again.

Kumit agrees with Brown about content and ad tech, encouraging people to just go out there to do business. “Last year ad tech was nothing. So if you invent something, there is something for you.” BuzzFeed was cited.

Schultz, managing director and co-founder of Gotham Ventures, thinks the challenges are easy to overcome: “Anything you can think can be improved upon can be improved,” talking about the limitless possibilities out there. “We can improve quality of life on a global basis.” That includes home safety in a connected house.

Amazon was mentioned and it too can be disrupted, according to the VCs who think e-commerce is a multi-trillion dollar market. It’s just a matter of who is up to the challenge.

A question that has popped up lately is crowdfunding and almost always, VCs like to say they embrace it. Like Schultz. What’s not to like about it when customers fund a startup idea initially, half of the work for VCs (customer acceptance of a product or idea) is done. VCs can take the next logical step of scaling the business.

Kumit is averse to angels, though. His advice: “Take professional money over angel money. And take 3 or 4 times more money (that) you need.” Why? “Everything is twice as hard. You’ll work 18-hour days. Take more than you need,” he stressed.

The panelists also talked about big data and what you can do with massive amounts of data, but thinks the bitcoin craze is something else entirely. Only Klein seemed to be open about his skepticism over bitcoin—at least the technology behind it.

Infomous gets top nod from VCs at Innovator Evening event

By Dennis Clemente

At innovator evening, host Alan Brody will tell you his meetup is not a meetup, “it’s a crafted conference.” Brody means business. So does his esteemed panel of guests last April 2 at Dorsey & Whitney LLP near Grand Central Terminal.

Brody kicked off his conference with a two-hour workshop that asks (and answers) the question, “Are you Fundable?” followed by the presentation of six startups in front of some discerning, no-nonsense judges.

Alan Brody of ievening
Alan Brody of ievening

In order of their presentations were ColdSteel Laser, Infomous, Vidaao, Soshio, BeautyStat, Nonnatech and JetRyte with Infomous getting the top vote and the opportunity to present to Private Equity Forums on May 1. Visit privatequityforums.com

CEO Jerry Korten presented ColdSteel Laser as a startup medical device company that has developed a novel technology, one that remotely controls an endoscopic surgical laser. The technology is being licensed from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. To date, ColdSteel Laser has raised $1.125 million and expects delivery of a functional platform in June this year.

How does it work? The technology allows a surgeon to visualize an operative field on a graphics tablet and, by tracing a stylus over the image, control a CO2 laser as it cuts tissue inside a patient, in real time.

The next presenter, Infomous, looks similar to a tag cloud, but founder and CEO Paolo Gaudiano shows us how trending topics pop up right from its “cloud.” It claim users can find quickly the information they care about, as it appears to get rid of the media noise all-too prevalent out there.

Vidaao’s Justin Park said his startup reduces the cost of creating videos by 25 to 30 percent. This is accomplished through an online marketplace—one that connects brands with more than 500 video creatives in 48 US and EU cities.

Soshio is into Chinese social media analytics using technology that analyzes content in native Chinese text, with a proprietary emotion analysis, for which it reportedly has an approved provisional patent application.

CEO Matt Grotenstein sees a big market, more than 600 million in China, in fact. With Facebook and Twitter blocked in China, he sees a more focused approach is required to address and understand the rapidly growing Chinese market.

BeautyStat led by Rob Robinson also sees potential in the beauty market amounting to $32.4 billion. The site is a search and discovery site that gives consumer alerts of beauty product deals, exclusive offers and ways to discover products.

“Consumers need unbiased info to help them make smarter purchases,” he said while also announcing the partnership it struck with Amazon last week.

Nonnatech presented remote behavioral monitoring using its connected aging devices.

The last presenter was Pillar Rock USA Corp, a nutraceutical company that specializes in the development and distribution of over-the-counter effervescent tablets that fit in water bottles. Its mission is to build high-quality effervescent nutraceutical niche products. Its flagship product is jetRyte, a patent-pending effervescent tablet that is a refreshing change from hard tablets and messy powders.

Guest Wazi Wazihullah, professor of entrepreneurship at Molloy College, also provided valuable insights and feedback.