Category Archives: Special Talk

Science writer Steven Johnson talks about ‘How We Got to Now’

steven johnson

By Dennis Clemente

Steven Johnson, author of “How We Got To Now: Six Innovations That Made The Modern World,” likes to tell little-known success stories, sometimes or precisely because they are overshadowed by other bigger inventions or innovation and because people thought little of their connection with each other.

At the Huge UX meetup last September 30, for instance, the bestselling science writer cited the printing press as an example of how it was also connected to other inventions. When the printing press produced books, it also revealed human farsightedness that gave rise to lens-making for eyeglasses and later the telescope and microscope.

“People didn’t know they were farsighted until they read from a print that was too small to read. The discovery of the printing press created a demand for spectacles,” he said.

Johnson’s talk was about his book and his new PBS series this October about the history of technology and how gaining such historical perspective can certainly help us derive insights from it, especially in today’s startup world.

Johnson told one story after another from his latest book. Another interesting story was from an interesting man called Clarence Birdseye who got the idea for flash-freezing from ice-fishing. He discovered eating fish frozen after a days to be edible. Where most of us would just sleep after eating, he bothered to ask why the fish tasted good. He would follow little trails (in his mind), experimenting with other food, even vegetable, before coming up with an industrial product that made refrigeration possible.

“(Birdseye) was just curious (even if he had) no clearly defined path,” he said, as most of his examples confirmed. The other key points in Johnson’s talk included the following, paraphrasing here:

• We are in a complicated dance with innovation. We’re led by what technology is allowing us to do. It has flexibility
• When you are trying to get genuinely new ideas and pushing the envelope, you can have these crucial blind spots, because you are working at the edges of possibilities.
• Conscious of patent protection will only make you build walls within yourself
• Focus is not a big deal to him. You want to be a little distracted
• Invention overlaps with innovation but it’s almost the same thing
• When you are pushing the envelope, you get extraordinary insights.
• Don’t assume that technology has its own deterministic logic
• Ideas become imaginable at a certain point in time

Johnson is also the author of “Where Good Ideas Come From” and “Everything Bad is Good for You.” He is one of the foremost experts on the intersection between science, technology and personal experience. He recently gave a presentation at TED Talks.

Jason Klein explains angel work; Sailo offers you a boat to rent

jason klein

By Dennis Clemente

How many times have you seen investors make actual Powerpoint presentations? Another question, how many of them have you seen present in front of a big audience in an engaging way—smiling at that? Even more pointedly, when did you last get a great handshake, smiling again and with steady eye contact?

In a job that requires lots of patience, it’s refreshing to see angel investor Jason E. Klein do all these in front of all the aspiring entrepreneurs at the ERA Roundtable last September 18 at Microsoft. Last time this blogger met a smiling investor it was Fred Wilson.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, you wouldn’t probably care if they were stone-faced and taciturn as long as your startup gets funded. Still, it certainly works for Klein and his investments.

Klein is founder and CEO of On Grid Ventures LLC, an advisory and investment firm in digital media, marketing and information. He also is chairman of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Alumni Angels of Greater New York, a member of New York Angels ad several NYC-based incubators.

Klein was at the ERA Roundtable meetup to give his feedback to the startup presenters who can also learn a thing or two about presenting with a PowerPoint deck, even just to show the landing page and twitter handles of their startups—the better to promote them and engage attendees.

Klein talked more in behalf of the HBS Alumni Angels, explaining how its members invest on their own individual accord:
• They invest in what they know
• They seek ROI
• They do diligence (20 hours of work, background check)
• They build a portfolio. They want to build a range of investments
• They want to add value

More important perhaps for startups is what HBS Alumni Angels looks for when investing in a startup. Here’s what Klein outlined:

A game changer, preferably. If not, then a key piece of a game changer that could be a part of a greater solution.
Competitive edge. Why you will win vs. your competition? Assuming the competition wakes up, how do you defend your turf?
Angel and entrepreneur-friendly terms. There are sample term sheets at gust.com. The valuation should be realistic, given the stage need for additional rounds of capital, and potential exit scenarios.
The CEO. It looks for vision, leadership qualities, uncanny drive, intelligence, smarts, results-focus, and high professional standards and ethics
Value added. Having overseen and grown companies, it wants to help grow yours. Respecting your time and full plate, your involvement will vary over time based on circumstances. A New York City metro area location is preferred. To apply, visit https://gust.com/organizations/hbs-new-york/apply

“Typically, I or more investors become investors,” he said, clarifying again that the HBSAANY as a group makes no recommendations for investment.

In the presentation of the startups, Sailo stood among the other three presenters with a simple but very promising idea—rent a boat from the owner. It makes sense when you think about how many boats supposedly sit idle: 95 percent.

Before you worry about who’s going to steer the ship, Sailo is offering what others have left out: Having a captain of your choice for your peace of mind.

“You need someone who actually knows what he is doing—the captain,” said co-founder Delphine Braas who is looking to raise $500,000 to expand. “We also vet the boats and the insurance.”

Braas assured that Sailo can cover a trip up to a million dollars. If you list your boat, an insurance provider will look into it. Captains have to upload their license.”

Klein was receptive to the idea, suggesting partnering with Active Captain and asking how she is going to scale the business. “We are looking forward to doing a lot of marketing…offering loyalty perks and more.”

Sailo is available in the tri-state area with plans to launch Florida in the Fall.

The other presenters were Hello Fang, Kidklass and CthruNutrition.

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.

The secrets to designing a good game

nygames

By Dennis Clemente

Last September 2 at Microsoft, NY Games Forum provided an overview of its upcoming workshop with instructor Mark Heggen, Entertainment Applications director at AMC, talking about “not actual” secrets to designing a good game, pointing out each of his points for the audience, which consisted of beginners and developers.

People are terrible at randomness. Using a coin flip as an example, he asked how much do you let somebody win (7 successive coin flips is too much). It’s up to you to set the rules.

Games are not just games. What’s the best way to raise awareness about hurricane preparedness? In 2011, a bunch of kids took part in an invented ball game where kids fight a “battle storm?” aka the Navy who – for the fun of it– intimidated the kids like they were the storm. Organizers staged it like a big sports event, with videos, interviews, prizes. The kids were made to win, of course.

“A game is only good if it changes the experience,” he said. He believes even a crossword puzzle using pen and paper make a statement.

Tropes and clichés are your friends. You have to have a good reason to buck a trend. If you know what zombies do, the last thing you want to do is make them fly.

Games that are too simple to work, often work. We’re guilty of making things complicated, so when you think you’re making it more complicated than it should be, Heggen suggests the following reminders:
1. Your game + time = A more complicated game

2. Your game is more complicated than you think

3. So aim for too simple (it won’t be)

“Of all the things I’ve said this is the most valuable (to keep in mind),” he said.
Asked if there are rules in designing a simple game versus a serious game? “The principles are the same,” he said. Another question dealt with the thin line between being influenced by a game and stealing an idea for a game?” The lines are blurred.

Heggen started his career nine years ago as a game designer for Area/Code, which was bought ago by Zynga where he also worked. He helped create hit games like Drop7 and Parking Wars, as well as a huge range of experimental real-world gaming experiences.

After leaving Zynga, Heggen helped build the New York studio of Hide&Seek, an independent studio with an emphasis on developing new types of play. He now leads gaming efforts for AMC, including web, mobile, social, and second screen games.

NY Games Forum’s full day workshop for all experience levels will be on September 20. It will be platform agnostic, so it doesn’t matter if you are using PC or mobile and if you are developing LARP, sports or board games.
“It’s a great time to be making board games,” he declared.

What makes a great game designer? He said it’s about understanding the process. The workshop topics will cover concept development, rapid prototyping, playtesting, flexible design strategies as well as design resources, tuning and balancing, polishing, managing a live game and the secrets to a winning game. In playtesting, he is expected to tackle when to implement suggestions or ignore changes.

For more info, visit http://gmsfrm.com/

When outsourcing work, demand to see ‘visible work’

What is the secret to getting things done?

“The essence of doing anything is making progress. You need visible work,” said Amol Sarva who suggested a radical, no-nonsense approach to outsourcing work. The co-founder of Virgin Mobile USA and Peek is developing a new cognitive enhancement technology called Halo Neuro and an application for better discussions called Knotable.

Sarva suggests testing developers with a specific five-hour assignment and making sure they deliver. For him, it could be as simple as creating a log-in page and if he can deliver in time, then you’ve got yourself a developer.
He is not too concerned if you have unplanned work, indicating how your work will keep changing or iterating anyway. Your customer development here could be even more expensive than offshore work.

“(Your) target markets’ time is more expensive than developers’ time,” he said.

The important thing is to have one task done before you give your developer another assignment. He admits to going through so many developers at Elance, his preferred platform for locating developers.
Sarva also recommends the following tools and resources when dealing with developers: Github, the Meteor framework, because it also provides a hosting environment for you to see work and TestFlight, so you can test live.

Looking for developers in New York is definitely not easy, not when every developer wants his or her own startup. So if you’re outsourcing, Sarva reminded us to “hire and fire fast and deploy in a live environment.”
Sarva doesn’t advice outsourcing work to designers. “They are prima donnas compared to engineers.” He spoke at a Startup Boost event last September 10. (DC)

How to build strategic partnerships with financial institutions

By Dennis Clemente

How can financial innovators build strategic partnerships with financial institutions?

PayPerks is one who has made headways in the financial space. CEO Arlyn Davich spoke about it at the Financial Services Innovation meetup last September 8 at WeWorks in Wall St.

Davich’s PayPerks lets you earn points for just learning about and using your prepaid card. It has tutorials and surveys that claim to help you understand the ins and outs of your prepaid card, so you can avoid fees, save time and keep your money safe and secure.

What’s the pull? Each point earned is a chance to win a cash prize in its free monthly sweepstakes. It has reportedly given away over $60,000 in prizes in its monthly sweepstakes.
Based on what Davich has done, it’s all about complementing your business with the big financial institutions, and certainly not about disrupting them.

Aside from Davich, guests from JP Morgan Chase, Ideas42 and Bee’s Max Gasner were also in attendance to discuss the challenges, opportunities and future of financial services:

• The biggest barrier in financial services is regulation and bringing people (together) to understand regulation
• How do you integrate product into a person’s life? It should serve a purpose seamlessly
• Build trust among users by engaging with them
• Changing old banking mindsets and programs is important
• It’s fundamental not to patronize people, not to talk down on people
• It is much more about talking to people. You have to understand (what you’re talking about). You have to integrate with a big bank
• There has to a be a change in how funding is done
• Credibility is very important
• Going to meetups helps

How to accelerate the sales cycle in your startup

By Dennis Clemente

How do you accelerate the sales cycle in your startup?

If you’re talking to Mark LaRosa, chief revenue officer of Funnel Fire, he is going to be epigrammatic about it. He will tell you the importance of slowing down to speed up. Essentially, you’re better off really knowing your customer instead of just “spraying and praying” for sales to happen.

He was speaking at the Sales Hacking Series last August 21 at Projective Space with two other guests, Doug Freeman, director of sales at The Muse and Jordan Christopher, VP of Sales at SiSense.

Knowing a customer is important, because “nobody cares about your product.” He cited instances where salespeople make the mistake of talking about the features of a product rather than how it makes “people’s lives better, easier, simpler and richer.”

“Prospects are five times more likely to talk to you if you know something about them and their business,” he added.

Another unusual approach from him: “Push for the No to get closer to the Yes. “A No is an opportunity to get closer to the Yes. The more you ask for the No the faster it is going to go down the pipe.”

How should your calls go? “During each call or interaction, set the landmines that will reverberate after you leave,” he said. His “landmine” is simply a call-to-action message: “If you have any question, feel free to call me.”

In his turn to talk, Freeman was more honed in on the process of sales—and how crucial it is to listen, diagnose and watch your salespeople perform. “Lead generation is important, even at the pre-sales level. Ask yourself where it is coming from.”

“Make sure your activity-to-meetings ratio is fundamental to your sales process. Make sure you’re asking the tough questions, so you can move forward,” he added.

When selling, Freeman could not stress this enough: “Whatever you do, act cool.” What if you’re desperate for a sale? “Have enough in your pipeline so you can act cool.”

To reach prospects, Freeman recommended Connect6 and Rapportive but he admitted to doing mostly email marketing.
Christopher, for his part, talked about he is fanatical about hitting the numbers. “We get 800 to 900 customers a year. We have not missed a quarterly.”

He pulled out some interesting industry data and insights:
• 24 percent of sales reps’ time are spent on research, prospecting
• About half of all reps didn’t make quota FY13
• 94 percent of qualified leads never close
• Average time it takes reps to start producing: 4.5 months
• Average sales: 30,000 bucks
• Long/complex POC aren’t efficient

This is sobering, which makes SEO and SEM, social marketing, blogging, and generating 3,000 inbounds leads per quarter, a must-do for him. “Consumers are smarter than ever,” he observed.
The meetup was hosted by Jake Dunlap, CEO of Skaled and Betts Recruiting.

Breakfast with startup champion Mike Edelhart

Mike Edelhart
Mike Edelhart
By Dennis Clemente

A tech meetup at 9 a.m. is a rare occurrence in New York but so is an opportunity to chat with an angel like Mike Edelhart, a current investor in 82 companies, a past investor in 11,000 startups but who is now focused on his “two-sided” company. Edelhart is the lead partner at Social Starts and CEO of Tomorrow Project, LLC, producers of the Pivot Conference in New York and other services for major brands.

At Cowork.rs last August 13, Edelhart was early, talking to his audience even before the talk was set to start. He was serious all the way as he shared his thoughts on many things tech, asking people every now and then to ask questions.

Yes, he has gray hair, but he clearly knows the youth market. Surveying the room, he asked, “What do millennials do these days?”

With some tentative responses here and there, he answered the question himself, telling us the sector most investors avoid but one he embraces. “They’re looking for news,” said the former executive editor of PC Mag.

He thinks one shouldn’t be hang up on demographics, though. “There is no such thing as a youth market. He added that it’s not true the youth don’t care about products they care about what goes into it. And what you also don’t hear these days from other investors: “Cool days for young people are off-internet days.”

Perhaps on account of his journalistic roots, Edelhart had this to say, “Startups with some emanating truth is worth looking into.” From his experience, he can tell, “‘This person’ is actually telling the truth. He actually believes in it.” But he also stressed how pitching cannot be a charm offensive. “You cannot BS your way. You have to put together a cohesive argument of your idea with your team.”

Edelhart didn’t elaborate as much which happens in a fireside chat as opposed to a structured interview. And to accommodate all the questions, he switched from one sector to another fast, talking as both an investor and observer in the tech community.

Clearly a very busy man, he announced that he made four new investments in the past week. Still, he was generous with his time. He answered as many questions as he could and talked with each attendee afterwards.

On investing in a startup: “I look at great teams”
On future of tech: “Our bodies will produce content,” referring to sports analytics
On healthcare: “We’re not getting into it. We’re getting into the analytics of it”
On foreign startups: “It doesn’t matter what country you’re coming from” (He has invested in a startup based in Slovenia.)
On markets, opportunities to avoid: “The college market is small.” “I would not go near the ad business”
On big data: Look into the shift in big economics, game economics, predictability
On being an investor: I spent my entire life doing what I wanted to do. I would stop sleeping if I can. Investing? It’s a lot of work.”

For Edelhart, tech revolutions are not defined by their beginnings but by their middles. He was a founder and managing director of First30 Services, a new company-creation consultancy. He also served as interim CEO at LiveDeal, Inc. a NASDAQ company that delivers classified and small business marketing services over the Internet. He has been an advisor to Deep Dyve, Inc., which has developed revolutionary technology for high end search, after serving as its initial CEO. He was chairman of the board of Olive Software, a Sequoia backed XML software developer, where he was CEO. He was also CEO at digital magazine distributor Zinio. Earlier in his career, he was a senior executive at Softbank and Ziff-Davis Publishing and the author of 22 books.

The meetup was organized by StartupOneStop and the New York Society Startup Society.

NY Enterprise Tech features Hightower, x.ai, Aorato

Hightower's Brandon Weber
Hightower’s Brandon Weber

By Dennis Clemente

Last July 16, the New York Enterprise Technology Meetup hosted by Jonathan Lehr featured three startups—Hightower, x.ai and Aorato– with Jason Lemkin, managing director at Storm Ventures, co-founder and CEO of EchoSign, and author of SaaStr.com, also talking about how to “Hire (and Fire) Your VP of Sales.”

Founded in July 2013, Hightower is disrupting the commercial real estate market with a mobile technology platform that allows landlords and their brokers to collaborate on deals in real time, track important documents and information, and view real-time analytics, all from the smartphone in your pocket.

Hightower is perhaps the best tool out there with its sophisticated leasing platform for commercial owners and brokers. From its demo of the app, it shows how it is clearly modernizing the commercial real estate industry.

It aims to empower investors, landlords and brokers to make faster data-driven decisions. You can manage your portfolio, deal pipeline, leasing documents, and collaborate with your leasing team, all in real time.

Hightower was founded by Brandon Weber, a high-profile technologist who ventured into commercial real estate. He was a First Vice President at CBR, the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm. He started his career in software product development at Microsoft developing Excel, and later at Zillow.

Weber said customer adoption has been strong and are working with landlords and brokers in over 14 markets. “It’s as powerful on your mobile device as it is on your desktop,” he said.

The next presenter, Dennis Mortensen, got the laughs with x.ai, a personal assistant who schedules meetings for you. He named it Amy.

Mortensen demonstrated the app, showing the pain of scheduling a meetup and how he (and Amy) eliminates that for x.ai customers by showing a side-by-side email conversation display. “We thought a live demo was the way to go,” he said..

A participant was asked to email Mortensen for a meeting in his own words and challenge Amy by not accepting the first option site presented Mortensen would email with an agreement and let Amy handle the scheduling.

With x.ai, he said you won’t need to hire (a personal assistant) in the Philippines, referring to the country which has dominated this space for some time now.

The other presenter was Aorato. It protects your organization and active directory by automatically learning, profiling and predicting entity behavior.

Aorato’s Directory Services Application Firewall (DAF) protects active directory and leverages its central role in the network to secure organizations from advanced targeted attacks. Nowadays, attackers compromise all types of entities (non-privileged and privileged users, devices, servers, etc.) in order to gain a foothold into the network. It is not enough anymore to track only privileged accounts to protect the organization against advanced attacks.

DAF, a non-intrusive solution, transparent to Active Directory, introduces a new approach. DAF reportedly detects suspicious activities through learning, profiling and predicting entities’ behaviors. DAF

Asked how to detect password-sharing, he said, “We look at your role In the company”.
Lemkin

In his keynote talk on hiring your VP of sales, Lemkin said he or she the first VP of sales (VPS) has to be you and then you hire reps “Besides, you cannot attract any one good too early.

But when do you make the hire? “Immediately once you have as repeatable process.”

“A great VPS is accretive, a mediocre VPS is a cost center,” Lemkin said. A great VPS raises revenue per lead.”

For Lemkin, the top 5 things a Saas VP of sales must know and do:

1. Recruit the team (You’re going to need a team and a good one quickly)
2. Player-coach sounds great, but at best, will be quickly obsolete as a role
3. Backfill and help his/her sales team
4. (Develop) sales tactics
5. (Develop) sales strategy
6. Create and sells deals himself/herself

He also added ways your VPS will increase your revenue

• Ask for the most $$$ per lead
• Close: It’s an art — and a science
• Hire (someone) better than you
• Scale: Get more reps quickly
• Position: Give prospects right context
• Go upmarket: Drive to the highest practical deal
• Better: Great VPS makes your product better
• Great VPS makes it fun

But hire wrong and you’re set back a year.

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.