Startups in mobility: charters, electric charging and smart automation present mobility concepts to BMW

bmwi

By Dennis Clemente

You know the brand behind the ultimate driving machine? BMW is also investing in startups under BMW I Ventures. And since it’s in the automobile business, you’ll have to be in the area of mobility services like the startups that presented last September 23—Buster, EverCharge, SmartCar and TransitScreen.

Founded in 2012 to help groups and charter operators find each other, Buster might as well be the Uber for group traveling. “It’s a marketplace where customers can discover, compare and book group transportation online,” said founder Matthew Kochman who also offered a similar service to fellow students back at Cornell University.

Reportedly an $11.4-billion market, Buster is for everyone who wants to book private group charters, whether for a school trip, company excursion or fun weekend getaway. Average price per booking is 1,000

With over 20,000 charter industry operators, Buster is reportedly aggregating bus companies and aims to offer centralized fleet services as well as discounts on insurance, maintenance and financing.
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Next presenter, EverCharge is an electric vehicle charger from your parking space or for apartments and condos. You just tap your access card and plug in for EverCharge to automatically authenticate your vehicle and log your usage for billing purposes.

Minimum charge for EverCharge’s membership is about $40 for 500 miles.

From California, SmartCar is automation for connected vehicles. It is a web service that connects to internet-connected cars wirelessly over a cellular network. You should be able to configure and monitor your vehicle’s automation settings from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Founder Sahas Katta talked about the many features of its app. If you want to have the perfect temperature in your, for instance, you can set a schedule and Smartcar will automatically begin cooling or heating your vehicle. It is also reportedly energy efficient.

It can also reportedly learn your driving patterns and automatically create a schedule to charge your car at the right time.

Smartcar is designed for the Tesla but it is working to have connected vehicles from other manufacturers in the near future.

A different startup from all the rest was TransitScreen. Matt Caywood recognizes the growth of smart cities, so he’s concentrating on real-time display of all transportation options at a specific location. This includes digital display ads.

The last presenter, Valet Anywhere, hopes to offer on-demand parking valet service for cities. Right now, it is only offering its service in New York City, the $25 billion parking market. “We hope to solve parking,” said founder Robert Kao.
How does it work? It assigns a uniformed vetted valet who greets you and parks your car for you. Valet also returns the car to you…wherever you may be in the city. Actual parking is said to be included in the price.

“How do you scale?” That was the frequently asked question by the guest panelists Matt Turck, managing director at First Mark Capital; Chris Thomas, founder and partner at Fontinalis; and Ulrich Quay, managing director at BMW i Ventures.

What female founders should aspire to

orrickpicBy Dennis Clemente

Tech meetups in the city have always attracted men, but law firm Orrick clearly knows how to attract women to their own meetups. For the second time last July 15, Orrick only featured all-women founders and speakers in a talk titled “Life of a Founder” with an equal proportion of men and women in the room.

Host Joy Marcus of Bloglovin opened the night’s talk about what female startup founders should aspire to:
• Be tech smart but not necessarily technical
• Be analytical; understand the data
• Be business smart
• Be super-competitive (“great companies are not built on a 9 to 5” schedule)
• Be user smart
• Be a firehouse of new ideas, being careful not to be derivative
• Be curious, thorough and a risk-taker
• Most of all, be communicative

It’s a long list for sure, but Marcus said being a founder is hard. “You make tough decisions every single day, including firing your friends.”

It’s therefore important to foster a great culture to attract the best people.

Managing people well is vital. “Having one day off at least makes everyone so much better,” one said in response to how boundaries have been broken and how communication extends outside of the working hours in the startup world.

Another said she has a gratitude session every day. “We celebrate daily wins. It doesn’t have to big things but small things as well.”
And when it comes to dealing with VCs, you have to m
ake the board work for you and you’ve got to do your work in return. “You benefit from VCs beyond money, but you also have to believe in yourself.”

When it seems hard to convince a VC, “don’t think no is always a no. But know this: “If they don’t respond to your email, they are not interested in your company.”

The speakers were Sarika Doshi, co-founder, Rank & Style; Amanda Hesser, co-Founder & CEO, Food52; Kate Kendall, co-founder & CEO, CloudPeeps; Kathy Leake, co-Founder & CEO, LocalResponse; and Elissa Shevinsky, co-Founder & CEO, Glimpse. The other panelists were Elodie Dupuy, senior associate, Insight Venture Partners; Keegan Forte, general manager, Bowery Capital and Kegan Schouwenburg, co-Founder & CEO, SOLS. Kelly Hoey, chief marketing officer of Cuurio, moderated.

Orrick is global law firm with a particular focus on serving companies in the technology, energy and financial sectors.

No holds barred with top VC investor Nikhil Kalghatgi

Nikhil Kal
Nikhil Kalghatgi

By Dennis Clemente

The best VC events are not posted on social media, says VC investor Nikhil Kalghatgi

NEW YORK–The venue was just perfect. Dark, dingy, almost claustrophobic.  The topic: Getting venture capital.

With eyes squinting, we walked down a dark basement at Grove Street. Below was a tiny, cavernous bar. For atmosphere, the host meetup group, Phat Startup, certainly got the mood right for Nikhil Kalghatgi, the speaker of the night, the VC of Vast Ventures whose portfolio companies include ZocDoc, OpenX, Quigo, Fab, Sweetgreen and many more.

He told us the rules of VCs as if they came from the Fight Club playbook.

“Have you played poker? “Kalghatgi begins conspiratorially. “The game starts before the first cards are dealt.” It turns out where you sit matters, most of all. “If you really don’t know where to sit, you have lost already.”

Investors’ impression of whether you are the winner or not happens pretty quick:
“You have to have the appearance of momentum.”

What is he trying to say?

“Think of being the entrepreneur as the new person entering a poker room. Some tables will be easy, some will be hard. But either you’ll win and take an entire small table of investors’ money or walk away empty handed having to seek another table,” he said.

In his talk, the charming Kalghatgi proceeded to take us into the VC mindset:

Three things you need to make sure you know when talking to a VC: Your team, your market, your traction.

• Team is “squishiest” of them all
• If your market is less than a billion, don’t ask for investment, that’s not VC business
• Traction can be misleading. The only traction that matters for me is revenue numbers

On how to get to VCs
VC 101: Intros through friends of investors, especially CEOs of portfolio companies.

Scheduling meetings with VCs
Create momentum in your fundraising. Don’t take meetings sequentially, book all of them as close together as possible. As for number of meetings, he agreed what an audience suggested: 100 meetings in 30 days

On sharing decks
If they ask for a deck, send them the deck, but use watermarks or tracking systems.

How to best manage VCs:
The best thing to do is under-sell but over-deliver.
Remember, it’s your show.
If you bend (to their demands) all the time, that’s how they’re going to treat you

He said the best people to approach for investments are rich people.
“The ultra wealthy are far more accessible than we think. Find their sweet spot. I helped their kids.” Investor sherpas are your best friend…unless they are doing it for money.

On finding rich people:
You’ve got to be where they are. Host coffee talks at Four Seasons; that will cost you 6 bucks.

On tech meetups to go to in order meet the right investors:
The best events are not posted on social media. It’s in private events.

  • What VCs to avoid?
    If your investor takes lot of your time and they have no control, stop spending time with them.
    Avoid those focused on deal terms, focus on those that are aligned with your principles and values.

What are his biases?
I have a bias for companies who can raise money easily. I have a bias toward younger entrepreneurs, and those living in cities where “business serendipity” exists

On struggling startups, he’s more circumspect
If there’s no progress, he says he digs into the problems the team faced and if reasons for failing were warranted, tells them to “re-evaluate.”

On your educational background, as asked by host James Lopez
No one really cares what school you went to, unless it’s their school.

For more info on The Phat Startup organized by Anthony Frasier and Lopez, visit http://www.thephatstartup.com/

Indiegogo, Alphaworks, TDBank flex meaning of fundraising

Indiegogo's Jerry Needel
Indiegogo’s Jerry Needel

By Dennis Clemente

DUMBO, Brooklyn is far from all the tech meetups happening in New York City, but it makes sense to hold an event here. After all, it’s where many startups hold office.

This makes perfect sense for Digital DUMBO, which produces live events, conferences, content and custom experiences, like it did last June 26 when it hosted a meetup featuring Alphaworks, Indiegogo and even TDBank. Crowdfunding meets Bank—an unusual partnership but one that should make sense. Every startup needs funding no matter where it’s coming from, even from a bank like TDBank.

So other than angel investors and VCs, startups have more choices. Crowdfunding, for instance, is gaining immense popularity, especially those who have tech hardware in or wearable in mind. Crowdfunding sites are magnets for any physical device, because it’s easier for people to invest in something they can physically grasp, literally.

The Pebble Watch’s success was the turning point. Now, people easily identify with physical devices pitched on a crowdfunding site like Indiegogo. Jerry Needel, Head of Growth at Indiegogo, told us the story of how the founder of Bug a Salt, a gun-like fly swatter, invested 300,000 of his own money and maxed out on his credit cards with almost no hope of recouping his investment until he posted his idea on Indiegogo and people responded in kind (read: money).

Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock build a door.”

Even when poked at, one can’t discount how Bug a Salt became a huge success. It’s on Amazon for $39.95.

So ask yourself if you really need the money, because Indiegogo thinks you can bring out an idea much sooner with them. Needel said you need to test your market,
find out your market validation, build buzz, capture data and raise capital.

“Crowdfunding is a proving ground for startups,” he said as he talked about the success stories in Indiegogo like Misfit Shine which raised $846,000 or Knix, which raised $60,000 in 30 days – success is how much money you need to raise.

But what if you want to be a co-owner of a startup? You can do that with Alphaworks.

Nick Barr, VP Product of Alphaworks, said the company’s mission is to empower passionate communities to become owners in the companies they love. Founded by Betaworks, it represents a new kind of ownership, a world in which companies are likely to be owned by a community of people

Alphaworks, founded by Betaworks, represents a new kind of ownership – a world in which companies are as likely to be owned by a community of people as they are by just a few individuals. Our thesis is that over time, this new kind of community owned business will lead to more profitable and lasting organizations.

If you want to invest, Barr recommends Giphy, See me and Quibb.

It was easy to tell who came from TDBank last Thursday. Brandon Williams of TDBank’s Head of US Wealth, even kidded about it. “We’re the ones in suits.”

To express his commitment to startups, he said, “We want to be partners with you. No company is too small,” he said.

If you’re interested in learning more about TD Bank and how they can help you or your company, contact Peter Izzo, VP Commerical Banking, at (212) 918-4186 or Tarryn Kone, TD Private Client Group, at (212) 897 2658, or visit www.tdbank.com.

Digital DUMBO started in 2009 as a social gathering for innovative companies in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, a six-block area with over 100 media and technology companies. If you’re In the neighborhood, there’s no excuse if you don’t what it means. It’s Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

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

Startup challenge: Present in 2 minutes, get feedback from VCs

By Dennis Clemente

The growing number of startups in this city must be overwhelming tech meetups. Last June 12 at the Microsoft Building in Times Square, Ultra Light Startups kept its regular programming of eight startups but with more VCs on the table: Jeff Finkle. co-chairman at ARC Angel Fund; Jerry Hao, associate at NYU Innovation Venture Fund; William Reinisch, venture partner at Paladin Capital Group and Caitlin Strandberg, associate at Flybridge Capital Partners.

The invited panel of investors listened to the two-minute presentation of startups and in between, provided them the necessary feedback for possible venture funding. The presenters were a mixed bag.

Wise Banyan claims to be the world’s first free wealth manager. “We’re reducing barriers to investing,” said founder Herbert Moore who said the startup is gaining “incredible traction with millennials.” This report alone could have been elaborated, but because of time limitation, the presentation moved on.

The Loadown is called a real-time marketing optimization platform for apps with clients like PBS and Random House.

The VCs’ advice to David Renard of The Loadown: “Think how pricing will affect profitability and get more data. Plan how to get $100 million in revenue in 5 years.” It sounded like the startup is on the right track, but sometimes it’s really just about the VCs trying to get more data and insights from the startup.

DoRevolution is supposed to be an actionable platform for online advertising based on Watson’s AI engine, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what the company is about when the presenter is in a squirrel mask. Samir Patel removed it eventually, but the distracting mask confused a VC: “What do you do?”

Aarting’s Todd Wahnish describes his startup this way: “It’s a crowdfunding platform that makes it easy for visual artists to create and sell custom products. “We have a product the hustles itself.”

For artists, it’s a way to test the waters and see if there is demand for your work. “We don’t have to make anything. It’s all pre-order. We have no inventory or warehouse,” said Wahnish who has come a long way from “being homeless.”

Echovate reportedly provides fact-based hiring insights for the modern small business. Think FICO score. What is its value? Turnovers can be costly. Matthew Gough said companies should think of reduced turnover.

Chatwala is a two-way, face-to-face ongoing video conversation with your friends and family. It’s been nearly a year since we last saw Chatwala at the AOL building, but Tej Bhatia clearly has to be more aggressive these days when, according to one VC, “Snapchat is rolling something similar.”

What is it? It’s making conversation real-time even if it’s not real-time. Or how you can come back to the great-looking video interface and resume a previous conversation, as if it’s in real-time.

A VC gave some cautionary advice: “Raising 1 million to figure out your startup may not be the way to do it.” That commend would have been normal hearing It from Reinisch, the Hatchery regular, but the VC went out of character, telling Bhatia to “forget the noise.” Reinisch stressed how important it was for Chatwala to hone in on the technology it wants to use. Strandberg said Chatwala may want to study its users.

Binary Event Network with its Pivit is a marketplace that captures, rewards and reports changing public opinion about real-world events in real-time.

Then there’s the “real” software among all the other presenters, AfreSHeet, which presented disposable bedsheets which the young founder Maxwell Cohen thinks would be perfect in dorms—the college market.

“Martha Stewart vouched for this,” said Cohen whose co-founder is his mother.
Strandberg leaned in saying the market is really hot, especially when people are talking about protecting the environment.

Mark Caron of bMobilized and Bill Gallagher hosted the show.

How ripe are you for Seed A investment—and other VC insights

By Dennis Clemente

What makes a startup ripe for Seed A investment? There’s the most obvious answer: “You have demonstrable revenue growth.” There’s the hopeful response: “You’re selling more metrics and data than just sizzle.” And the standard throwaway response: “…If you’ve become a revenue-focused brand.” You’ll do better with the first reaction; keep your hopes up for the second; plan long for the third.”

Last May 13, Rubicon Venture Capital’s Joshua Siegel hosted a night of VC talk and startup demonstrations at Orrick at CBS building. For the first part of the night, Siegel brought in the venture capitalists to answer his prepared questions like the one above. The VCs were Marc Michel of Metamorphic Ventures; Will Peng of Red Swan Ventures; Brad Svrluga of High Peaks Venture Partners; Nikhil Kalghatgi of Vast Ventures and Matt Gorin of Contour Venture Partners.

Elaborating on their responses regarding Seed A investment, the VCs put importance to having customer acquisition metrics and a repeatable sales process. “If you’re past the idea of product/market fit thinking, then you’re ready,” Michel said.

Still, at least two VCs said it has become harder to pinpoint what Seed A means nowadays. “The nomenclature has changed. What was an A can now be B.”

Peng said strong engagement with a group of people is key, but he also attempted to simplify it, “Early stage is, ‘Do people want it’ (your startup)? Series A is, ‘Do a lot of people want it’?”

What areas or sectors are ripe for Series A funding? VCs may not always give you a straight answer, because even without them saying it, the tech space is always evolving, if not converging with some other service or technology. Michel considered marketplaces, the shared economy, even mentioning Uber as a marketplace, but to avoid pigeonholing himself, he said, “Every firm will have its own idiosyncrasies.”

Really now, why can’t they say more? Peng doesn’t want to influence mindsets, “We don’t want you to change your business model based on trends, because we look for companies that come from a genuine place. If you are building something you are passionate about and you have the conviction to make it work, then we’ll take a look at it.” For a few seconds, he buckled and said food, but stopped short of elaborating. If he is talking about Soylent, look into it if you haven’t heard about it.

Asked if they work with other investors, Michel said, “We syndicate everything we do. We look for good partners and share financial risk, because most companies take time to develop.”
VCs have the resources to add value to your startup where angel investors can only provide expertise. Kalghatgi, however, is not one to share a startup with another investor if it means he’ll be hampered by what his firm can offer.

The difference between East Coast and West Coast investors is a topic not brought too often in public, but Siegel tried to say who would respond. Without going into detail, he said, “We hear a lot of crazy stuff in San Francisco, (how) it’s easy to get money.”

Svrluga said, “It’s 10 times bigger (there). There are also better entrepreneurs out there.”
In New York as opposed to Silicon Valley, there was also a comment about how good VCs see through the hype—and fakery. They ask about hitting milestones that attract investors. They want the right team, the right technology, the right differentiation.

Peng added how he doesn’t like you buying traffic, because it’s fake growth, akin to what we’ve learned with the Emperor with No Clothes fable. “It you stop buying traffic, you will (see) that you don’t have anything. Don’t go this road of lies.”

A question that pops up every now and then is how to get noticed by VCs. The response has always been the same: (face-to-face) networking, but Svrluga went a step further. True to how technology has improved networking, he said Linkedin is the greatest referral tool. “If you can’t figure out Linkedin, then you won’t be able to get the audience.”

Naiveté permeates entrepreneur novices, according to Svrluga. He suggested you come to him with a warm lead; for Gorin, a strong reference; for Kalghatgi, a person who knows you really well and can give you an accurate portrayal.

It’s true what they say. Mondays are no-nos for VCs. Michel laid out his schedule on the table: “I have 30-meeting slots dedicated to meeting new companies. But he is also quick to say how it’s physically impossible to meet everyone. Mondays are a no-no. It’s all a day of meetings.”

After the VCs’ talk, the startup demonstrations followed. The presenters were Jeremy Kagan of Pricing Engine; Michael Ibrahim of Whisk, an Uber competitor; co-founders Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty of TodayTix; Peter Stebe of nextSociety, and Doug Chambers of Field Lens.

For those starting out in New York, nextSociety’s Stebe tells us how networking with the right people proved crucial in his life away from his home, Germany. Now he’s monetizing it with nextSociety, an iOS networking app using a relevance score, a smart indicator that tells you how well a connection aligns with your professional interests.

Every startup has an interesting back story. For Stebe, who is from Germany, it was always how he dreamed of living in New York. Now he has a startup here.

Field Lens’ Chambers was succinct and to the point in his short presentation. In his construction work app, he talked about how he is answering the problem of communication breakdowns typical in construction work. He has a solid team, another important ingredient in a startup.

Having been funded, he knows the drill. Determining a problem and how you can solve it is crucial to your success and VC funding.

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 Lover.ly; 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.

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.