What a strategy kernel can do you for your product development

By Dennis Clemente

A strategy kernel has a diagnosis, a guiding policy, a coherent action.  In diagnosing a strategy, it has to have an explanation of the nature of the challenge

NEW YORK—“Strategy isn’t just something you create, you iterate on it.” That was Chris Butler, senior product strategist at Philosophie, formerly with Microsoft, talking about how to build strategy in an agile environment at the Product School meetup last October 12 at Grind near Times Square.

Butler went about his presentation talking first about what makes a strategy a bad one. “Failure to face the challenge, mistaking goals for strategy, just having a list of things to do,” he said.

Having that out of the way, he proceeds to explain why “having the conversation about strategy, writing it down, and making it part of your process every day” is important. It certainly helps the group fine tune a strategy, a good one that can be the key to the agile group’s success.

Butler proceeds to show his own model canvas for strategy—a strategy kernel if you will. It has a diagnosis, a guiding policy, a coherent action.  In diagnosing a strategy, it has to have an explanation of the nature of the challenge.

“A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as being the critical ones.

A guiding policy is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.

Coherent actions are steps that are coordinated with one another to support the accomplishment of the guiding policy.

For Butler, strategy comprises the following:

  • Largely or entirely drives most of the subsequent decisions and actions of the business
  • Not easily changed once made
  • Have the greatest impact on whether the objective will be achieved
  • Combines your assets and capabilities to deliver value to customers
  • Creates a sustainable advantage based on doing something differently from your competitors
  • Leads to superior growth and profitability

Product management interviews: Listen 90% of the time

NEW YORK—At the Product School last August 3, Marty Cagan presented an hour-long talk on product management and the importance of managing new products and features of your startup using a customer delivery toolkit, which includes one important body part – your ear.

“You should be listening 90 percent of the call,” he said, referring to how you let interviewees talk as you hand out questions the rest of it.

But to start, he suggests on doing customer research/survey as your build new products:

  1. Understand the market, competitors, user personas and processes
  2. Create a prioritized list of user stories, iterate on designs
  3. Look at impressive existing products

Take these steps, he suggests:

  1. Do a survey. Gather general info about a customer problem and source interviewees, citing how this is fast and scalable (1 hour investment of your time plus get customer response); fun and easy for customers, if you design it right; and everything is recorded and standardized.

The downsides: It’s not good for capturing nuance and details, you will miss unknown unknowns and you can’t drill down into critical areas.

The best practices: keep it short, minimize typing and test on a few internal folks and customers

  1. Do requirements interviews: Get a deeper understanding. Understand user personas, processes

Pros: Captures details and nuances; easier to discover unknown issues/ideas and dig further; develops the customer relationships (for design interviews)

Cons: Takes time (1 hour investment/customer response)

Low sample size (max 5 to 10 interviews per feature)

Best practices:

  • Interview your smartest customers and prospects
  • Send a good pitch email
  • Do a screen share (join.me, hangout)
  • Ask to record it
  • Send questions, document in advance
  • Let the interviewee go off on tangent, if worthwhile
  • Ask if they want to participate interview
  • Once that calls become repetitive, you’re done

Ask good questions

  • Ask broad questions first, then get more narrow
  • Embrace awkward pauses
  • Don’t lead the witness
  • Listen 90 percent of the time

 

Expand the format

  • Show versus tell
  • Make it interactive

Get some amazing outputs like “a day in the life” description; a flow chart showing current process and variants; prioritizing list of user stories – top ones are your MVP

3. Design interviews. Present design ideas to the user, get input, keep iterating until satisfied

  • Work with a designer to create one or more prototypes
  • Jump on a call and have the user walk through the prototype
  • Iterate based on their feedback
  • When changes start become less frequent, you’re done
  • Can also email prototypes to get feedback more quickly

Best practices

  • Have both PM and designer on the call
  • Get highest fidelity prototype with lowest effort
  • Don’t explain your design, let the user muddle though
  • Don’t argue over design
  • Act on feedback, don’t be stubborn

4.  Do customer visits

Get out and visit customers where they use your product

Pros:  Get the full customer context, tech, processes, personalities, capabilities; gather tons of photos, videos, and competitive research. The downsides? Lots of time (5-hour investment/customer response); can be costly and is a low sample size.

Best practices:

  • Block a few days and bath visits to multiple customers
  • Send agenda in advance
  • Have multiple interview Q&As and/or design prototypes ready
  • If B2B, make sure the right customer stakeholders attend
  • Record as much as possible (with presentation)

 

5. Do customer summits. Get a group of 5 to 8 sharp customers together and dig into a range of issues.

Pros

  • Fun and inspirational for everyone involved
  • Ideas build on each other to unlock new insights
  • Best tool for building relationship

 

Cons

  •  A lot f time (8-hour investment/customer response)
  • A lot of money ($1 K/customer to book venue, possibly flying them in
  • Low sample size

Best practices

  • Easier if customers are local
  • Keep it to 5 to 8 smart representative customers
  • Prepare exercises well (ex. design breakout sessions)
  • Use for brainstorming, requirements gathering, and design
  • Make sure others in their organization get customer exposure

It’s important to use the right tools and activities for the job:

  • Market research (surveys, summits, interviews
  • Requirements fathering (surveys, requirements interviews)
  • UX design (design interviews)
  • Pre-release (alpha/beta testing)
  • Post-release (customer tickets, usability tests, usage data)

Make time for customer research:

  • Worst. You respond ad hoc to your gut-feel ideas, customer request and bug filings
  • Absolute minimum. Do proactive interviews, analyzing usage data and examining customer tickets before deciding what to do
  • Basic. The above, plus some onsite visits quarterly NPS score surveys, and occasional discovery surveys
  • Advanced. The above plus frequent focus groups, on sites and competitive walkthroughs. And you use all of the tools well and adopt the latest tech.

If you forget everything else, here are some more tips:

  1. Gather requirements before design testing
  2. Prepare hard for interviews, mostly listen, and use visuals
  3. Document and share insights with the whole company

Individual customer’s input is one data point. You can choose to ignore it. But when the data lines up, act on it. As for the elephant the room; that is, how do you get people to do the survey with you? Do a good pitch in your email and best of all, give a gift card.

NewsCred, Skimm reveal product management process

NEW YORK —  The Product Council’s meetup last May 24 at the Pivotal Labs featured guests from the news business, Benjy Boxer, former staff of NewsCred, which offers content marketing software, and Dheerja Kaur of The Skimm, the national news as email newsletter.

http://www.meetup.com/Product-Council-NYC/events/229812443/

Now doing his own thing at Parsecloud, Boxer walked us back to five phases NewsCred underwent to improve a process aimed at helping content marketers out there.

In phase one, Boxer said NewsCred tried to truly understand and empathize with content marketers, prospects, and partners, taking very detailed notes wherein they “abstracted 700+ informative comments to drive our understanding of the customer challenges and solutions.”

As they analyzed the feedback in phase two, Newscred identified four particular jobs its customers were trying to accomplish via its software:content management, project management, analytics, and integrations.

In phase 3, it broke down “each of the 700+ comments and bucketed them into the four jobs and created thematic categories.” This was for product managers to decipher themselves.

Boxer said they designated a room where every member of the NewsCred team contributed feedback. “We lock 10 to 15 people in the room…where product council debates all challenges for 3 hours,” he said.

Should they have had non-staffers be in that room, someone in the audience asked? The exercise, he said, was about establishing trust and transparency about its R&D and product organization and in (making) better decisions and (fulfilling) commitments.

“Consensus builds trust in the organization,” he said. “We were trying to understand why we were making the choices even if we knew what would be chosen.”

In phase four, he said the design and engineering teams broke this experience down into smaller tasks as they created wireframes, selected success metrics for the experiences, and assigned prices to each experience based on the level of effort. The price was important because it wanted to implement the auction process that Pandora used to prioritize product development. They distributed these experiences to the entire company to have managers force rank the experiences with their teams. .

In phase five, the auction process helped them prioritize across the competing interests of its stakeholders. “The market dynamics forced every member of its voting committee to consider exactly what they were spending their limited money on…,” he said.

In the end, we come to a consensus on the most valuable challenges to solve for our customers

The group prioritizes valuable challenges. We call them challenges, not solution,” he stressed .

In closing, he said a great product team should have its engineers talking to its customers.

Dheerja Kaur of TheSkimm presented next, talking about how it has amassed 3.5 million subscribers to date with over 12,00 Simmbassadors in 20 cities.

Kaur talked about how how it came to build the Skimm iOS app with email, messaging and a calendar.

In Phase 1, tts team conducted a focus group as they tried to identify challenges. In Phase 2, it had a pre-MVP test. They tested editorial ideas and heard weekly feedback. They even put news in its calendar.

In Phase 3, they started building the app by finding out how to create a seamless experience where users can experience SkimmAhead content. “We did polls on Facebook and communicated constantly with users,” he said. They also recruited 300 beta testers testing via TestFlight. They also collected engagement data.

In Phase 4, they tested pricing. “Testing pricing is hard,” she said as she mentioned going over .99 cents to 1.99 cents to $2.99 a moth. They also tackled reminders when people need to pay again. In Phase 5, the team launched the app with the help of its 12,000 Skimmbassadors. They also showed an insider look of their process to generate some PR mileage.

The team worked closely with engineers with them to build the app from September to December. They figured the money and accounts part in January and April.

What’s next for them? They will continue to iterate, as they also target more platforms and grow the larger Skimm audience.

Going back to its audience of 3.5 million subscribers, Kaur said, “I would not have done an app first if we didn’t have an audience.”

Grist for the tech mill: 2015 events from over 1,100 NY tech meetups

data-driven meetup-nov2015

By Dennis Clemente

There are more than 1,100 tech meetups in New York. Here’s a summary of what happened in one year from March to December 2015.

Instead of having the always selling mentality, Mark Roberge, chief revenue officer of Hubspot, suggests having an always-be-helping mentality. Roberge’s sales talk last December 17 at Enterprise Sales Meetup in midtown Manhattan was especially meaningful as it’s not too often you hear someone from a programming background lead sales teams. The topic, Sales Acceleration Formula, was the same title of his book based on his experience taking a job in sales at Hubspot and coming from a programming background.

It was not your typical meetup in the city. For one, it was scheduled on a Friday night last December 18 (most meetups in the city are from Monday to Thursday). Second, it was held at a store, the new Microsoft Flagship Store on the shopping district of Fifth Avenue. But the crowd trickled in to watch the presentation of devices at the meetup curiously billed “Understanding Live Video Streaming with Periscope and Meerkat.”

German startups Keeen, Favendo and Night Adivsors took turns demonstrating their platforms at the German Accelerator NY last December 15 at Rise NY.

Would you rely on Big Data or The Force? It was a Star Wars evening for the Data-Driven meetup last December 14 at Bloomberg, especially for Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight who sounded giddy using the epic fantasy flick as reference for his presentation. He was joined by Arcadia Data, MapR and Datameer.

”How do you make sense of any mess?” That was the first question information architect Abby Covert threw at the audience last December 10 at the Designers & Geeks meetup at the Spotify offices.

“Life’s too short to build something nobody wants,” says Ash Maurya in his talk last December 8 at We Work in Wall Street. Maurya is the acclaimed author of “Running Lean,” a concise guide that helps you take action in using lean startup and customer development principles. He was at We Work to present his ideas for scaling business–clearly a prelude to his upcoming book, “Scaling Lean.” For Maurya, the root cause of a startup’s problem is when solution is perceived as the product. “Your solution is not the product. Your business model is the product.”

Last Dec 9, Uncubed took the holiday season as an opportunity for startups like Moat to discuss their 2015 accomplishments and future plans at its offices in the Lower East Side. By 2016, Moat, an independent SaaS Marketing analytics firm focused on transforming online brand advertising through trusted measurement and analytics, will reportedly be the first third party to measure viewability on YouTube.

Last December 1, Hardware Meetup featured talks from the founders of Grove, OneDrop and Boxee at the Microsoft offices. Gabe Blanchet, CEO of Grove, showed how food lovers can grow food at home while–get this–fish swims below it. Yes, even it will fit in a cramped New York apartment.

How do you make data scientists more productive? Jeremy Achin has an answer for you. The current path to becoming a data scientist is based on learning statistics, programming and algorithms, then applying practical knowledge and practicing real world experience which can unfortunately take up a lot of time. Achin spoke with other presenters Josh Bloom of Wise.io, Alexi Le-Quoc, founder of Datadog and Haile Owusu, chief data scientist of Mashable at Data-Driven’s monthly meetup last November 16 at Bloomberg.

Moral rights versus individual rights. That’s the struggle the entertainment industry faces these days when individual rights have blurred the lines between individual ownership and what is other people’s content, the title of the breakfast forum hosted by Gotham Media last November 18 at the Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz at 40th Street on Madison Avenue.

What is Birchbox? In the city, most tech meetups always asks people by a show of hands, how many people have heard of Birchbox? Most of the nearly hundred people raised their hand. If you’re still wondering, what it is about, it’s this: Birchbox delivers monthly boxes of beauty or grooming samples, picked to match your profile. Last November 19, CTO Liz Crawford talked about her role and how the company operates at the NYC European Tech Meetup at Spotify’s roomy offices.

Last November 9, Coinvent held a whole-day tech startup fair with several startups and inspirational talks at the Metropolitan Avenue in Chelsea. Dog Parker was one of the most popular startups as it showed a “doghouse” that provides secure dog parking when you’re out and about in the city with your dog and you need to run an errand. Dog Parker partners with businesses to place Dog Parkers in front their stores.

Last November 3, Alley Boost held a half-day startup expo featuring more than 60 startups at La Venue on 12th Avenue, blocks away from the Javits Convention Center.

The future of event ticketing will have some kind of empowerment and engagement, according to Taku Harada, CEO and co-founder of Peatix who presented at last November 2 at the Japan NYC Startups at Pivotal Labs.

The NY Expo Business Conference held last October 27 at the Javits Center packs in hundreds of startups, not necessarily all online-based companies or early startups. Touted as the largest New York business conference event, it has exhibitions, seminars and free business consultations for an audience that’s not entirely from the city either.

Last October 14, OLC attended AngelCube NYC Demo Day at WeWork in SoHo. In classic WeWork fashion, it took less than a minute for us to be reminded that there was beer on tap (In addition to a cheese plate and an array of mini-burgers). WeWork’s creative space had a foosball table, a kitchenette disguised as a bar, and hanging light bulbs with exposed filament.

What is the real reason why Microsoft Ventures Accelerator can choose to fund your startup for $500,000 without equity? Not only that, you get work in its Seattle office and have what graduates say are great meals as you work on your startup there.

“It’s Tinder for doctors,” says Toby Hervey about his app, on-demand house-call doctors. He was one of the presenters that included Ulula, Kiddo App and Domain Skate last October 20 at the NY Tech Breakfast at Microsoft.

The second Korean Summit NYC last October 16 at the New Yorker Wyndham. featured several Korean startups with Charlie Kim, founder and CEO of Next Jump, and Murat Aktihanoglu, managing director of Entrepreneurs Roundtble Accelerator as main speakers.

Last October 14, the New York Tech Meetup brought back two of its most popular demos – Addicaid and Pager — to mark the launch of its new “Demo Deep Dive” event series in lower Manhattan.

Last October 12, Area 1 Security, Birchbox, Livefyre and Metamind, presented at the packed Data-Driven meetup at Bloomberg.

It’s seldom you hear honest talk about investors snoring soundly or checking their phones every so often when you’re pitching to them but the founders of these companies — Wayup, F Cubed, Manicube, getringly and ELOQUII — had those stories to share. What’s more unusual perhaps is how even those who they thought couldn’t care less were the ones interested in investing in them.

Last October 7, Devin Rogerino of Inc.com presented a talk on video creation or how to cost effectively enter the video creation community at the Wix lounge in Chelsea. Essentially, you need four things—ideation, inspiration, brainstorming, planning—before you even make your video, and let’s not forget how you have to know whether you need YouTube, Facebook or Vimeo.

Last September 30, Tech in Motion deviated from its usual show-and-tell meetup presentations for an exposition of startups with cocktails at Ainsworth Midtown East. The startups on exhibit were beGlammed, GoButler, FlyCleaners, Zeel and ZIRX, all riding on the popularity of uber and the way it’s propping up the sharing economy.

How do you become a digital nomad? If you care to listen to the speakers of Cafe Numerique (Beligan for digital), you’ll find out how the world is getting smaller the way people from all over the world are finding each other, doing business and sharing ideas.

Last September 17, the Brooklyn Borough Hall was the setting for the International Day, the last of the four-day international Transatlantic Entrepreneur (TEP) conference which brought together investors, entrepreneurs, media and policy makers from the US, Asia and Europe.

Scott Heiferman is perhaps the most unassuming CEO and co-founder you’ll ever meet in this city. For someone who runs one of the city’s earliest and most successful startups, meetup.com, which was formed 13 years ago, he still considers his company a startup. His company, he says, is older than most startups. It’s older than Google Maps, older than Facebook,– heck, older than Friendster and yet, he pauses to think if he’s still a startup.

Twitter’s Adam Sharp, Head of News, Government and Elections and Niketa Patel, News Partnerships Manager were the speakers at Conversations, a series of open discussion held by NY Daily News Innovation Lab, at Microsoft last September 9. It was also a way for Twitter to drum up support for its upcoming Project Lightning, a curated feed of tweets.

When every tech meetup seems to be covered at night, count NY Tech Breakfast counts on the early risers to come to its monthly event, now held at Microsoft for the second month. Last September 8, NY Tech Breakfast featured PolicyGenius, Proscape, TableSwipes and LawGo.

Last September 2, General Assembly held a talk featuring three companies offering online coding courses, One Month, Thinkful and Hopscotch at its offices in the Flatiron District.

The product challenges at the Product Council last August 31 were the digital clinic app offered by Maven Clinic and the new permissions level to be offered by JustWorks starting September 1. The meetup was held at the Pivotal Labs.

What is the future of media? The question may resonate the most among journalists and other media practitioners. After all, it’s their livelihood at stake. The answer in a word may be video, especially the way the panelists talked about how it is going very far and coming in. Even GoPro is reportedly adding some kind of news coverage.

On the second day of the Yahoo Developer Conference last August 26 at the Marriott, breakout sessions were held, with user acquisition as a topic attended by OLC. The key takeways: Developers have a three-month grace period to get sticky; get the app store experience right; app install ads work, but it’s important to talk to your users through a variety of marketing channels.

Is one percent better than zero or none at all? We’re not talking about the affluent in the United States, but if the one-percent effort or initiative that big companies dedicate to social impact is sufficient—or if it’s just a compromise, a public relations move. If you’re keeping up with the tech scene these days, you won’t hear Mock Series A Term Sheet Negotiations too often. It may be your first time to hear it, as we did, so we went to Orrick’s Total Access last August 24 at CBS to find out how it would unravel for us.

Tech meetup groups have taken most of the summer off, but Codecademy took the quiet time to hold an HTML and CSS workshop of its newly released web projects last August 20 at its office in midtown Manhattan with the people behind it in attendance–Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski.

If you’ve seen a drone, most likely you’re thinking how hard can it be to fly one, right? Well, it was not so easy for Easy Aerial’s CEO Ivan Stamatovski. Stamatovoski was one of four other presenters at the NY Video Meetup last July 23 at the AOL offices. “I have been flying a drone for two years but still suck at it,” he admitted.

Some apps certainly function as if they were invisible like Dennis Mortensen’s x.ai. It’s an artificial intelligence powered personal assistant that schedules meetings for you. Mortensen was again going the rounds with Amy, the name of his A.I. personal assistant who happened to be in the same room as Larry, which is Raad Ahmed’s text-responder of a lawyer, a mix of automation and human beings. Larry is the text version of Ahmed’s LawTrades. It’s personalized legal help tailored to your business over text. Both presenters and other startups Alfred and Stefanshead were at The Product Hunt meetup last July 22 at Animoto’s offices.

How do you cover the media when you’re the media? For its fifth meetup, The Tech Press Meetup invited Jason Abbruzzese of Mashable, Shannon Bond of the Financial Times and Tom Kludt of CNN to shed light on this topic at the Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism at 20 Cooper Square.

Having covered the tech meetup scene for the past few years, it’s interesting how a meetup about “Getting your startup set up and funded” produces a new group of aspiring entrepreneurs, new to the tech scene and what it takes to build one. There’s certainly something for everyone in the fastest-growing tech city and that’s what Megan Hannum, venture partner at Comcast, co-founder at Fundedby, was at Spark Labs last July 15 for–to help newcomers get their feet wet in the startup scene.

More than 35 investors, panel talks, lightning pitches, everyone one-on-ones with VCs, a venture fair—it was a summer blockbuster of a tech meetup what NY Tech Breakfast pulled off last July 10 at Microsoft, near Times Square. What’s amazing is how it was all pulled off in one half day, from 8 am to noontime.

What do you think people would Google: How to survive a breakup or divorce lawyer? You could do both or just the former if you think it’ll be better SEO for your business. “The key is to be creative with your link-baits (to set you apart and own that search), said Kevin Lee, founder and CEO of Didit.com last July 11.

JJ Fliegelman is generous with his ideas and insights into his business, Campus Job, an online marketplace for college students to find jobs that he co-founded with ex-Googler Liz Wessel. Launched only last September, Campus Job has already signed up 2,300 colleges, 3,000 employers, 100,000 students and—music to every startup founder’s ears—funding to the tune of $9 million.

When you have everyone discussing about their design process, it makes for an engaging presentation. Last June 24, Design Driven’s meetup was the best so far the way each speaker presented a specific topic—and more importantly, because the presenters were generous with their thoughts and candid with their answers, especially Bradford Shellhammer, founder of Fab.com and most recently, founder of Bezar.

Joseph Essas of Open Table, the world’s leading provider of online restaurant reservations, opened the talk at the Data Driven last June 16 at Bloomberg’s offices. It was Data Driven’s last monthly meetup as it takes a well-deserved two-month summer break.

“If it doesn’t fit excel, it’s big data.” That was Gilad Lotan, chief data scientist at Betaworks, giving a digestible meaning of how big data is about volume and variety as much as it is about velocity and variety, which conveniently rounds up to the four essential Vs you need in big data. Lotan was speaking at Tech in Motion’s first ever Big Data meetup at the spacious office of Mediaocean, a leading software platform provider for the advertising world. He was with two other Big Data panelists Bruce Weed, program director of Big Data and Watson at IBM and Claudia Perlich, chief data scientist at Dstillery.

Asking if you really need to know the number of your eggs on your fridge is perhaps the best way to determine how much automation you need for your home. It determines if you need Canary, Hggns, Keen Home or Smart Things, the presenters at the IoT Central meetup last June 17 at R/GA Accelerator’s offices near Port Authority. How do you get attention amid all the noise out there? If you ask Ben Parr, he will tell you that you need 7 captivation triggers, which he expounds on his recently launched book, “Captivology.”

How do you get attention amid all the noise out there? If you ask Ben Parr, he will tell you that you need 7 captivation triggers, which he expounds on his recently launched book, “Captivology.” Asking if you really need to know the number of your eggs on your fridge is perhaps the best way to determine how much automation you need for your home. It determines if you need Canary, Hggns, Keen Home or Smart Things, the presenters at the IoT Central meetup last June 17 at R/GA Accelerator’s offices near Port Authority.

Last May 28, The Hatchery presented four startups–Moving Analytics, Crowds Line, Mobiquire, Centrallo and Revenue Mantra at the Microsoft Building. “The Hatchery: Are You Serious?” Meetup group has been holding startup presentations for eight years now, but sometimes this writer wonders if the question extends beyond the earnest question. After all, it’s not easy to launch a successful startup let alone present in front of VCs.

The Market New York Expo for small businesses last May 21 at the Javits Center featured several talks on branding, email marketing, digital sales and mobile marketing. What stood out for us were the talks on Search Engine Optimization by Ruben Quinones, NYU adjunct instructor and VP, Client Strategy at Path Interactive and Mobile Marketing by Warren Zenna, EVP & Managing Director at Mobext (Havas Media).

FlyLabs has wowed audiences at the NY Tech Meetup months back and at the NY Video Meetup last May 20, it again drew some ecstatic applause for its video-editing apps, Fly, Clips and its new one called Tempo, a quick way to alter video time speeds.

Last May 14, PandoMonthly hosted a one-on-one interview with Sheila Marcelo, CEO and co-founder of care.com who talked at length about her Filipino roots and how the influence of her “Tiger mom” and the discipline they inculcated in her formed a big part of her success now.

Minerva Tantoco, New York City’s first-ever chief technology officer (CTO), said she pretty much created every job she had at the StartupGrind meetup last May 7. Tantoco directs the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, overseeing the development and implementation of a coordinated citywide strategy on technology and innovation and encouraging collaboration across agencies and with the wider New York City technology ecosystem. “We are a little startup inside city hall,” she said.

It’s good to see Scott Heiferman show up at NY Tech Meetup last May 5. Once a regular fixture of it many years ago, even as co-host, the Meetup founder has understandably been busy building his community of meetups, 30,000 for tech alone around the country. It was, as he has explained over time, a “9/11 baby.” He was at this particular meetup to announce the NY Tech Meetup Apple Watch app. The presenters of the night were Ananas, AptDeco, Amadeus, CornellTech, Epicure, OneDrop and X.ai with Wikitongues as hack of the night.

Adesoji Ojugbele of Google Android may have nailed it when asked about how to measure people’s attention span these days by using Instagram as an example: How long does it take you to post a photo on Instagram? The photo app is a good example, because as more people get used to its quick functionalities, the more people will not have patience for everything else that takes longer. The word “longer” here has come to mean longer than, say, 10 seconds; that could be an eternity for some people. Instagram is quick enough that anything else will be slow.

Last April 29, Uncubed held its meetup, “Hacks that saved my life” at Refinery 29 with the World Trade Center building gleaming behind it as early evening set in. This is not your typical show-and-tell meetup. It might as well be classified the hacked-and-tell meetup as each presenter talked about how a new app or site made their life easier, more fun and even useful in an unusual way.

Hardwired’s 19th meetup last April 22 might just have assembled the most interesting mix of startups so far —a drone that collects data fast, a pet activity and health monitor, a virtual reality content creator and—are you ready?—a new way of growing meat. Not your typical tech meetup in the city, folks.

More than 400 startups pitched to 10,000 attendees at the fourth-year of the largest annual tech fair called Tech Day. The event held last April 23 showcased startups in various industries such as education and e-commerce, design and deliveries, food and fashion, music and things mobile as well as that services catering to them like co-working spaces, immigration and recruitment companies.

Last April 22, a new venue emerged from the meetups gaining popular steam in springtime New York, just as the Tribeca Film Festival was rolling its week-long fest of indie and alternative films. It had the same makeup as the tech meetup talks, except it was held at the De Niro-propelled film center and headlined Designing Innovation.

Last April 14, the Data Driven Meetup featured How Liu, founder and CEO of Airtable; Scott Crunch, co-founder and CEO of Mark43; Bob Muglia, CEO of Snowflake and Emil Eifrem, founder and CEO of Neo Technologies at the Bloomberg offices.

Last April 8, AlleyNYC’s SquadUp featured three female-owned startups Bird and Stone , Plum Alley, Quarterlette and Dreamers//Doers with some VC guests giving tip on how to get funded. Made in New York, Bird and Stone sells its own jewelry line with 15 percent of sales funding micro loans and agri-business training in Kenya, where 75 percent of its people live in rural areas. So far, it has funded 8 women with $200 microloans and provided them with financial training, industry training and mentorship.

Dash, City Maps and even a 105-year-old startup named IBM stood out from the demonstrations hosted by NY Tech Meetup last April 7 at the NYU Skirball Theater. But Dash was clearly the night’s favorite the way it connects cars to smartphones and unlocks enhanced performance, cost savings and social driving.

Sometimes the title of a meetup ends up being more. You simply need a host who knows how to push the right buttons and no demos. Last April 1, the Disruptive Technologists group planned a forum called “Balancing a Cool Idea with Profitability” with host/moderator Bruce Bachenheimer, a Pace University professor. It turned out to be about a lot more, including a call for immigration reform to fill up the critical need for developers and other talented people in the United States.

How would you like your bike to guide your way with navigation lights? Hammerhead wants to lead the way with this idea. How would you like virtual reality as a productivity tool? IrisVR aspires to make that a seamless experience. These were just two of the presenters at Hardwired NYC’s meetup last March 24 at Quirky at 28th West and 11th Avenue. The others were Brilliant Bike, American Prison Data Systems and Wink.

Last March 23, the On-Demand Economy meetup featured Button, Managed by Q and Minibar at the Animoto offices in midtown Manhattan. Much of the tech world is trying to figure out deep linking, that is, making the mobile app ecosystem work more like the web.

Silicon Alley is extending all the way to Queens as the Digital NYC Five-Borough tour made its stop at the LA Guardia Community College last March 26. An initative of Mayor Bill de Blasio, digital.nyc is the city’s online hubs for all things tech and startups. Eric Gertler of NYCEDC (New York City Economic Development Council) said it is making sure all of its programs extend to everyone in New York as part of an initiative to reduce income inequality.

Time can decrease goodness (of your product)

NEW YORK–Technology is rapidly changing our world. There’s IoT, new software development and big data platforms for both commercial and consumer applications and as it so happens, it become an exercise in complexity management.

https://www.nytech.org/events/UX-Design-and-Software-Development

Last October 19, The NY Technology Council hosted a discussion of the cognitive science behind complexity in all the products designed today hand in hand with technology at LMHQ in lower Manhattan.
Bonnie E. John, Ph.D. , a leading expert in techniques to improve the design and implementation of computer systems with respect to their usefulness and usability, introduced Dan Ward, noted authority on product development complexity as the main presenter.

Ward is the author of numerous publications on the topic of complexity, including his most recent book “The Simplicity Cycle: A Field Guide To Making Things Better Without Making Them Worse.”

Ward talked about his book, a field guide that equips readers with practical tools to produce elegant, effective designs. It takes a deep but lighthearted look at the way complexity enhances or diminishes the things we make and use, from PowerPoint presentations and pizzas to spacecraft and software, and shows readers why simplicity is the key to innovation and good design—whether you’re creating new products, services, or consumer experiences.

Ward said he was inspired to write the book when someone told him, “I don’t care how good it is. If isn’t easy to use, I don’t want it.” He challenged how we think about what seems good but actually confusing. In a computer, he asks, what is the difference between sleep and hibernate. “Perhaps what we need is a nap button,” he teased.
Ward makes use of the Y and X axis for his Simplicity Cycle–the Y axis for complexity—interconnected parts; X axis for goodness—it might mean clarity but also, depending on context.

He stressed, though, how today’s breakthrough can be tomorrow’s commodity. “Time can decrease goodness.”

Ward challenged previous assumptions with the following insights:

Simplicity is not the point. Balance complexity and goodness towards simplicity
Limiting our ability to learn with the KISS concept. Make it MISS, make it simple and you know the word that follows that.
Good design is just bad design redesigned

John, who works at Bloomberg, left us with some food for thought, especially what designers can do:

  • Understand the task
  • Make useful simplifying assumptions
  • All users are part of the designed system
  • Training is just as much a design problem as
  • UI or software
  • Learning is not just a one-time occurrence
  • Optimize representations/mappings
  • Resist giving too much choice to the user

Sensors, wearables and devices: Progress, fashion or better sex?

New strap-n for better sex
New strap-on for better sex

By Dennis Clemente

If last August 27’s meetup at Wework is any gauge, Ignite NYC may just be the counterculture to NY’s predominant pitch-and-get-funded startup scene, the way it tackled how people relate to sensors, wearables and devices from various anthropological, existential, medical and even recreational standpoints.

The speakers presented their ideas and thoughts on the subject with an academic formality with just enough eccentricity to appear like the East Coast of TED Talks—only shorter, unfortunately. A welcome change in the tech space indeed!

Jacqueline Kurdziel, the first presenter, cited a study about how “people are more open to (talking to) a virtual shrink.” It made us think how the premise of “Her,” a movie about a man’s romantic relationship with his operating system, can happen to us sooner than we think. People’s tastes and habits, she said, evolve with their web-based interaction.

Virtual empathy, it seems, can carry us through our loneliness, but only up to a point. The next presenter makes a strong point about how we will still crave for physical contact with another human being. Said Lux Alptraum said, “We do not want to have sex with robots. We want to make our sex better.” She also brought up a tantalizing question, “What metrics are we using to measure sex?”

Alptraum showed the sex strap-ons, emphasizing the importance of its progeny—bionics, which essentially makes sex devices more affordable.

If all these sound too self-serving, former journalist Amy Vernon asked if all the technology we want is for the greater good or for ourselves — and where we need to draw the line with privacy.

Vernon thinks we’re at that point where we can’t have both privacy and progress. “We can’t complain about giving up our privacy at the same time that we love the technology that comes about as a result of the information we’re sharing ourselves. Still, how safe is our quantified selves?”

Adds Mari Kussman when it was her turn to speak, “Were quantifying like we know where we’re going and we’ve never made a mistake before.”

Kussman observes how IoT promises better living through ubiquitous connectivity. But she asked, “What metrics are we using to measure success (read: this better living)?”

Beyond the question of metrics, Krysytal D’Costa’s talk centered on how technology in general is making us better liars the more we lose our privacy.

D’Costa thinks even fitness wearables are teaching us to be better liars. “We are using social pressure to stay fit,” she said, “but are they really changing our behavior or simply teaching us to game the system?” If that means lying how much we’ve lost calories.

“Wearables help us with deception. We lie online, because it’s just easier to get away with it. It could be as simple as having a photo on your social networks taken years ago.” Online, we can certainly have a better version of ourselves.

Graeme Ossey thinks wearables are helpful as digital health devices. “Not only does it tap into the mainstream quantified-self movement but allows greater points of engagement for providers and patients.”

He looks forward to technology that prevents injuries, provides early diagnosis, reduces cost and time, and increases providers’ information.

All these talk about the rapid of technology is hogwash for Chris Allick. “2013 and 2014 were supposed to be “The Year of the IoT” connected devices and big data! A revolution was supposed to take place in which we would sit back and watched data, wearables, and sensors talk to each other, and magically our lives would be better.”

Well that has not happened. “I’ve researched most, if not all, of the development platforms for people to create products for the IoT and I’ve found some interesting things about people’s ability to understand scale and value.”

“Today, we don’t have an internet of things we have an internet of products,” he added.

If IoT is not in the horizon, this could prove to be disappointing for Nick Doiron. He hopes to see new wearables and handheld technologies bring fictional plot devices to life.

Having studied product design, Bernard Mehl would be content though to see this happen in the workplace.

He longs for Star Trek technology at the workplace. “What do I have in my pocket now? Boring stuff,” he said. He’d like to know when a room is occupied and how to switch off lights when not in use.”

Ignite NYC was hosted by co-directors Oscar Torres and Martha Denton.

What size is the rumored iPhone 6? Get instant iPhone case with 3-D prints

By Dennis Clemente

Have you tried 3-D printing before? Makerbot is everywhere these days, in retail stores around the country, where you can see how they work and how it hopes it will speed up mainstream adoption. With the rumors of a new iPhone 6 swirling around (Apple released media invites for a September 9 event), Fraemes as its second printing enabled app could help produce those cases.

Last August 26, Brooklyn Tech Meetup hosted an event featuring Makerbot with Maureen Coiro and Ben McCallum talking about 3D printing and 3D scanning, respectively. Coiro showed a video of its type of users – engineers, designers, educators and students.

What is 3D printing and how did it come to be? For the uninitiated, it was used for prototyping. It’s still used in the regard but now it’s also used for function, fit, user testing design, validation, packaging and of course, for fun.

How does it work? At Makerbot, Coiro said, it’s as simple as setting up the replicator, sending file to printer, and start printing.

In terms of 3D scanning, McCallum explained its value proposition as follows:

• Reduction of the customer timeline: 8-man weeks to integrate customer timeline
• Cost savings of staffing years: No need to build an enterprise platform
• Platform as a service, minimal permanent staff
• Risk is reduced: To deploy a voice control
• Premium price now: Staying competitive long term

Radiolab used the Digitizer to help “tell the story of one little thing that has radically changed what we know about humanity’s humble beginnings and the kinds of creatures that were out to get us way back when.”

In the not so distance future, consider facial analysis, identification, security and contextual interfaces, even gaze tracking and emotion recognition.

Earnest talk on product costs, no-holds-barred dissection of Vintage 141

By Dennis Clemente

Jeremy Horn’s Product Group meetup is a hybrid of the focus group and brainstorming session. A topic is explored followed by the dissection of a startup, which clearly benefits the startup founder, as he or she listens to different points of view from the audience. Steve Blank would be proud.

As is always the case, the most attended meetups in New York can draw in a sizable crowd, even if it’s a stormy night and Independence Day is the next day. The lure of the meetup is its earnestness. In most cases, the attendees share their expertise, knowledge and insights.

Last July 3, it tackled “product costs,” with the attendees speaking about how it relates to infrastructure that incurs technical debt; that’s when you do it the wrong way, because it’s the fastest way to do it.

Then there’s product costs that ties in with development, when the quality of code is not up to par or worse yet, not scalable. There’s also the usual tug-of-war that happens between engineering and product. Engineering wants to scale, while Product wants as many features.

A proof of concept helps to rein in costs, but it’s not exactly fool-proof. Most people naturally agreed it’s different when you have infinite sources like Google.

At the Product Group, the discussion is also freewheeling, so if you’re reporting the meetup as is, it’s not wrapped up in a specific theme, like an organized event. One person talked about acquisition costs, but the topic swerved to marketing strategy and plain old tactics as part of product costs. where it is free to market your startup, how to find bloggers and partners that can champion you, and how social media visibility is essential. Marketing is a topic that clearly needs a separate session.

The featured startup of the night, vintage 141, is an app that socializes small groups of trusted friends or co-workers. “Vintage groups are akin to digital cocktail parties (both social and professional) and allow for information to be safely passed on from one group to another (and back) without broadcasting the information to an entire network or spamming everyone with emails and text messages. Our goal is to take the ‘work’ out of networking,” said founder Andy Kennedy who comes from the finance world.

Other than the description of the app, Kennedy was right in assuming a neutral stance on his app, the better for the attendees to speak freely about it. By distancing himself, he explains how friends can help each other share knowledge quickly—noise-free and in a more enjoyable manner. “(The app) is information passed on like a baton.”

The broadness of information gathering is, of course, a challenge. How do you begin? Kennedy is thinking information becomes a trusted source when it moves to relationships.

Kennedy said the app will be renamed grapevine.im and will be launched three months later, which will benefit him as he takes in all the inputs and use it to pivot before his product launch.

Some insights from the audience:

  • Understand that people need an ego stroke, so have some vanity metric in there
  • Pick a small segment and market it
  • Think of the noise-to-signal ratio
  • Think life milestones
  • Think authenticity
  • Think gamification
  • It could be an enterprise solution
  • “What I’m learning now is how it’s important to position this (app),” he said whose comments on various social networks were also interesting. He’s clearly not a fan of Quora and Twitter, but thinks “you don’t do anything there (on Linkedin)” and Google + is a list-based structure.”

    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

    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.