Vibease shakes up NY Tech Meetup crowd

By Dennis Clemente

“Software. Hardware. Sexware.” That’s how one attendee described the NY Tech Meetup last February 4 at the Skirball Theater.

The last 3 presenters of the night had the 400 attendees chuckling the whole time. Cindy Gallop of makelovenotporn.com started on a serious note, explaining how any online sex idea is ignored by “Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley and Silicon everywhere,” but she hopes not for long. She advocates for real sex online, not porn, inviting everyone to create their own videos and to share them with the world on makelovenotporn.tv. The TED Talks presenter is an eloquent speaker.

“I aim to make sex socially acceptable. I am diffusing porn for real sex,” she said.

Then there’s Bang with Friends re-launched as Down. The sex app works like a racier, unapologetic version of Tinder. It helps you find your Facebook friends’ friends who are eager for a hookup as much as you–if you happen to like (read: click) each other. You could say Down means getting down to business.

The app can recommend the “hottest” friends of your friends’ friends. Asked how he makes the distinction, the poker-faced founder Colin Hodge said he has “a patent-pending bangability score” which drew hoots. If anyone recalls, Hodge’s controversial Bang with Friends was banned from the App Store.

The night, however, belonged to Vibease’s founder and CEO Dema Tio. The Singaporean’s app is a merging of both hardware and software. It’s a sexware. It’s a wearable vibrator. It’s as simple as making a phone call and a physical vibrator does the rest of the work. His demonstration had the crowd in stitches.

Rejected at first at Kickstarter, Dema Tio put his idea for crowdfunding on Indiegogo, raising $130,000 as of press time. Available on iPhone and Android, it is accepting orders for March delivery.

The idea came to Dema Tio when he was in Boston and away from his wife in Singapore.

The other eight presenters included Birdi, Capti, CircleStop, Confide, Lenddo, Radiator Labs, Soccket and ThinkUp

Launched in Indiegogo, Birdi monitors air quality, everyday health hazards, pollution and emergencies like fire and carbon monoxide so you can stay connected and protected in your home.

Capti captures text online and converts it into audio files, while Confide likes to be the Snapchat of email, which elicited a throwaway question about how it could have worked for Chris Christie.

Jeff Stewart and David Singh talked about Lenddo, an online platform that helps the emerging middle class use their social connections to build their creditworthiness and access local financial services. For instance, getting loans based on one’s social currency works for Lenddo in the Philippines, the social networking capital of the world, as this blogger also wrote about sometime back http://opinion.inquirer.net/20225/the-good-bad-of-ph-as-world-social-networking-capital.

Lenddo was also featured in this blog months ago at http://reimaginetech.com/lenddo-founder-offers-lending-platform-based-on-social-currency/

Next presenter Radiator Labs solves a nagging problem—how it can help stop fluctuating heat in your room, while ThinkUp serves personal analytics for social media, explaining in simple language how to get more out of the time you spend on Twitter or Facebook.

Dennis Clemente with Dema Tio of Vibease
Dennis Clemente with Dema Tio of Vibease

Best New York tech meetups of 2013

By Dennis Clemente

Let me introduce the best New York tech meetups of 2013, my extremely biased assessement of the best New York City had to offer from its startups, investors and tech meetup groups last year. I do hope you can give me some leeway in terms of my choices. After all, I was in more than a hundred tech startup meetups, fairs and other similar events.

It’s also what I could call the 2013 Reimagine Tech Awards or how I spent my night life attending one meetup after another. All in all, I wrote, mentioned and talked to more than 650 startups and investors (angel and otherwise) from these meetups–the ones who make it possible for many of these startups to get funding, of course.

I also logged in some hours talking to lawyers—those who offered their services and those who threw in the towel to join startups. It’s interesting to point out how so many of these so-called secure jobs are not just secure anymore.

So many professions are being disrupted. Jobs are scarce, as operations are being automated. And those who can’t get into entry-level jobs find themselves—what else?—transformed as entrepreneurs, which can be a good thing, if your startup makes it.

Different people from different parts of the world were in the meetups—either to pitch and present, lurk or watch closely. How are these startups doing now? We’ll just have to wait and see how they emerge a year or so from now.

Here are some of the best I’ve seen last year in New York’s tech meetups, not counting those pricey trade fairs I can’t afford to go to, although I managed to make it New York Tech Day and NYC Big Apps with Mayor Bloomberg in attendance.

BEST MEETUP GROUP. Hatchery’s Are You Serious meetup. You want honest-to-goodness feedback on your startup, business model and presentation style? You’ll get it here. Guest panel of investors from venture-backed firms are regulars and are familiar with the five-year long structure of the meetup. Host Yao Hui Huang runs a tight ship.

BEST MEETUP TALK: Steve Blank at Startup Grind. The native New Yorker who made his name as a Silicon Valley giant was entertaining and engaging to listen to. Runner-up: Joe Meyer, former CEO of Hopstop now with Apple, gave us valuable startup advice in a talk that lasted more than two hours—the longest by any one speaker last year.

BEST VC TALK: Fred Wilson. You can divide VCs into two categories. Those who don’t crack open a smile but are very helpful and those who smile but are not really helpful. Wilson managed to be both accommodating and helpful, but he certainly had more bite to his talk, giving a no-holds-barred opinion on NY and its tech startups. The other VCs were just too guarded, most likely because they get wooed all the time but hats off to Shai Goldman of 500 Startups, Adam Quinton of Lucas Point Ventures and Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures for their amazing fireside chats.

BEST ANGEL INVESTOR TALK: John Ason. Last year, there were so many of them who taught us so many things about how to get funding, but Ason was very candid and generous with his time. He didn’t have the stage for himself, but as part of a panel, he stood out. He’s also very approachable.

BEST MEETUP MODERATORS: Helman and Horn. It’s a tie between Michael Helman of Startup Nation and Jeremy Horn of The Product Group. Helman, host of Startup Nation and co-founder of WILLiFEST and Crowdzu, is a great interviewer with just the right pace and structure to his gentle grilling. Horn, on the other hand, is able to make nearly all 400 of his attendees speak up.

BEST MEETUP TALK SHOW: Startup Grind. Hats off to StartupGrind’s Brian Park for having the most important people in the tech world open up about what it takes to succeed as a startup—or in the world in general. Guests have included Steve Blank, Gary Vaynerchuck and Chet Kanojia.

Best venue. Skirball Theater, NY Tech Meetup's home.
Best venue. Skirball Theater, NY Tech Meetup’s home.

BEST VENUE. NYU Skirball Theater, home of NY Tech Meetup. With its cavernous 700-seating capacity, it’s even bigger than most Broadway stages with balconies and boxes, and huge after-presentation mixer on another floor. Runner-up: Queens Tech Meetup is on the top floor overlooking Manhattan’s skyline.

BEST AUDIENCE. Startup Grind’s. It won me over for having the most engaged audience. Others have the most number of attendees for their venue but with Startup Grind, no matter where it holds its next meetup, the audience just keeps on coming.

BEST TIP OR QUOTABLE QUOTE. It’s a tie between John Ason and Shai Goldman. When pitching to Ason, you need to do the following, in order: “Entertain. Engage. Inform.” Goldman had this to say, “All startup teams need 3Hs—hustler, hipster, hacker.” Runner-up: Mike Bloomberg, on not joining 2013 NYC Big Apps contest: “I didn’t join because it would be unfair to everyone here.”

BEST STARTUP. It’s hard to determine this from more than 600 startups I wrote or talked about last year. Besides, what would the criteria be for that? Instead, I have the BEST STARTUP PITCH OR PRESENTATION: The Lux Animals team and Dennis Crowley of Foursquare. The Lux team came in full force at the Microsoft Building to talk in detail about the many facets of its gaming business and advertising work. On the other hand, Dennis Crowley of Foursquare proved to be an engaging storyteller about his beginnings and his success now.

One final award goes to the MOST GRATEFUL STARTUP, because they took the time to say thank you for my write-up even with just a Tweet. It’s a tie between Lux Animals and Warby Parker. They thanked and tweeted me profusely for the blog write-ups. Thanks, guys.

How to reduce constant customization and still satisfy your clients

mpp global

By Dennis Clemente

Being a slave to client demands for constant customization beset MPP Global Solutions. To the rescue is the Product Group, the meetup group that utilizes the wisdom of its nearly 400 attendees at the Viacom building in Times Square.

The meetup presents an hour of free-wheeling discussion on an issue before host Jeremy Horn introduces the featured company. Last November 7, MPP Global Solutions turned to the group to find a way to unshackle themselves from clients used to getting customized solutions.

MPP Global Solutions works directly with publishers and media organizations to provide advanced eCommerce solutions integrated with multiple payment types such as credit and debit card, direct debit and mobile billing, as well as payment methods such as pre and post-pay micropayments, subscriptions and real time payment channels, including the web, mobile and connected-TV.

Media and entertainment companies are able to unlock the value in both their digital and physical assets and charge for access, products, subscriptions, and downloads using services like MPP’s.

The crowd puts their minds together to suggest some solutions.

Since MPP’s APIs can be done in 10 different ways, the group suggested splitting the license with big companies and its mom-and-pop shops. “There are just too many choices, so much customization. You just need enough to protect your legacy system. Having a plug and play solution will help.”

MPP claims to have level 1 PCI-compliant platforms that enable clients to deploy any number of revenue generating business models and gain a greater ROI. It’s called content monetization.

Among its more than 100 clients, UK’s Daily Mail is reportedly getting 15,000 new subscribers a day. Publishers are able to monetize with MPP’s pay wall system.

For more than a decade now, MPP has provided customer relationship management, payment and eCommerce solutions to the media and entertainment sectors in Europe, but it is confronted with another challenge. The United States is a tough barrier to entry.

“Publications here are fragmented, but the market is big enough,” said Meghan Wright, VP Publishing and Media.
At the meetup, each of the attendees is encouraged to provide his or her own insights on a given topic. Last week, it was about how to maintain good communication across continents.

The product managers at the meetup believe in the following:
• Don’t do email. Use Skype, so you can see people’s faces and their reactions
• Earning badges and points encourage more cooperation
• Have a daily scrum standup in the morning
• Use open-source product management tools like Podio
• Shame people into transparency

The latter point was certainly brought to the table, literally the “large Thanksgiving table” as Horn likes to call it, not only because of how nearly a hundred people can fit in there (on top of the chairs surrounding it) but also how people are more encouraged to speak their minds in this setup.

The attendees also provided additional market research information and resources using Google Ad, Knodes and Touchstone Research, to name a few.

Lenddo founder offers lending platform based on social currency

Jeff Stewart_ NYC Angel Investor + Lenddo + Mimeo + Urgent Ventures .... - The Hatchery - New York Dot Comers (New York, NY) - Meetup-1

By Dennis Clemente

Having invested in half a dozen startups in the United States, angel investor Jeff Stewart knows how to find a great opportunity wherever it takes him. This time, he found it in the Philippines and Colombia where he started a lending platform called Lenddo.com.

Co-founded with Richard Eldridge, Lenddo is an online platform that helps people in emerging economies use their social connections to build their creditworthiness and access local financial services.

“Lenddo is focusing only on the the Philippines and Colombia for now, but it plans to expand in other emerging economies as well,” said Stewart last August 23 at the Friday speaking series of The Hatchery.

What makes it different from standard lending institutions? With chief scientist Dr. Naveen Agnihotri, Lenddo is banking on a person’s trustworthiness than a credit score based on his or her social graph. However, Stewart is quick to point out that it does not facilitate lending between members. “We lend our own capital and the capital of our investors and partners,” Stewart said.

In the Philippines, the average loans are $400, and they are used for tuition, health care or repairs after a natural disaster, such as floods in the Philippines.

Lenddo takes the wealth of data from your many social networks (including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), looks at the people in your Lenddo Trusted Network (family, friends, co-workers), verifies you have a full-time job, and uses predictive algorithms to confirm your identity and calculate if you are a risk. The site reportedly uses these algorithms: Bayesian (pattern matching), validators (identity verification, other information provided), and homophily (bonding with others of the same persuasion).

Being matched with the right investors is important. Lenddo’s investors include Accel Partners, Blumberg Capital, Omidyar Network, iNovia and Metamorphic Partners – some of the same investors behind the world’s top technology companies, from Facebook and Groupon to Kiva and Prosper.

As an angel visitor, Stewart gave some tips for those looking to form their own startups: Here are some key takeways during his talk:

• Having a great team is absolutely critical
• Marketing talent is just as important as tech talent
• Start a company you are passionate about
• “Over-invest” in research
• Know that a good business will get funded
• Get advice from those who have succeeded

On finding a business partner, he said it’s not always Macaroni and cheese, but realize that good investors can also connect you good co-founders.

Also at the meetup was Justin Kreamer, senior project manager of The New York City Economic Development Corporation.

In a one-on-one talk later, Kreamer recommended the organization’s NYC Next Idea competition for talents anywhere in the world to showcase their talent in the city.

For more information, visit http://www.nycedc.com/program/nyc-next-idea

Making better business decisions using Agile and lean startup methods

By Dennis Clemente

What’s your process in terms of making better business decisions? Have you considered Agile critical thinking? It’s easy to spot if your company is using it or not. Ask yourself, Is there always someone in your company selling you an idea you have to accept without argument? And if nobody is held accountable, is there actually a bad decision? You’d be surprised how many companies will tell you they are results-oriented but have never heard of Agile or lean startup thinking.

“The greatest risk is when people assume they know what they (really) don’t know,” said Brian Bozzuto, BigVisible Solutions’ principal Agile coach, at the “Techniques, Experiments and Actionable Metrics: Tools for Enterprise Change” meetup last April 23 at the iRise on Madison Ave.

Brian Bozzuto
Brian Bozzuto

Whether you’re starting a new company, launching a new product or introducing a new initiative, BigVisible is one of the companies now offering Agile training courses and coaches specializing in helping you succeed. Agile is a simple but powerful framework for applying critical thinking to business decisions. It’s even more critical to consider it when new research shows that 75% of startups fail, according to Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh.

Bozzuto took us back in time when pets.com, which raised $80 million in early capital, closed in 2000. That was a lot of funding at the time and even to this day. For the challenges facing startups, he recommends Agile or lean startup thinking, particularly in using revolutionary framework that goes with it: Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas.

Borrowing from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup model, Bozzuto suggests this sequence — “idea,” “build,” “produce,” “measure,” “data” and “learn.” Giving your initiative(s) or company an honest assessment is key, so is asking the right questions, i.e., “is it (the idea) feasible.” Even knowing how to accept failure goes a long way in helping people learn, assuming companies can accept failure as part of a process.

Bozzuto finds companies that cannot accept failure cannot believe in testing—and the actionable metrics that help inform and stir good decisions.

Business Model Canvas

The Business Model Canvas chart (also pictured here) is a good framework for a product owner or team leader to ask his participants the following questions as part of the exercise– for whom are you creating value; what value do you deliver to the customer; how do you create and maintain relationships with customers; and how do you deliver value created for the customer. Beyond that, the product owner should be able to ask what will you do with these resources to build value; what will you need to create this value; and who would you partner with that will provide key resources or key activities.

What’s the clear takeaway here? Agile thinking is an invaluable addition to any product development team looking to improve their ability to learn from the marketplace and build solutions more suited to their current and future customers.

Sill, there are the risky assumptions. For any company using the diagram, Bozzuto said the hardest to answer are the columns on customer segment and value proposition.

As a parting shot, he proposed adding a column on a Kanban or task board to validate assumptions. “We should start building into our processes regularly checking the assumptions around work and validating if the work we complete does for what we thought it would.”

For more information or to consult with Bozzuto’s top-notch Agile coaching for your business, visit http://www.bigvisible.com/

The meetup was organized and hosted by Debbie Madden and Eli Bozeman at the iRise. iRise (http://www.irise.com/) takes your mobile and web applications beyond prototypes, wireframes and mockups, creating interactive simulations so you can test drive before code.

Founder of reusable garment bags gets ‘wisdom of crowd’ inputs

By Dennis Clemente

It has been more than three years since Tonia Torrellas, a registered nurse used to seeing disposables at work, invented a reusable plastic bag, a solution to cutting down on plastic waste found in dry cleaning shops.

She considers the official day of her company’s inception, June 9, 2009, as a fateful day because, on the same day, a United Nations official also called for the widespread ban on thin film plastic bags. See
http://www.rona.unep.org/documents/pressreleases/2009PR-LaunchOfMarineLitterReport.pdf

It’s My Bag is a reusable dry cleaning bag for the eco-minded in us. It’s made of vinyl but for Torrellas, green in this case is about the reusable aspect or sustainability of the product.

At The Product Group meetup hosted by Jeremy Horn, Torrellas presented the challenge she faces with dry cleaning companies who prefer to stick with disposable plastic bags. The group was more than willing to give suggestions on how she can market her product, including how she can better address her foremost concern–getting distribution chains.

For now, her product has become more of a corporate gift; she is looking to sell to more dry cleaners and big home furnishing stores who have, for now, “rejected me.” One suggested she concentrate on getting local stores other than dry cleaners.

tonia-torrellas

Torrellas is quick to point out though that her dry cleaning customers like her product. Still, buying it is another matter altogether, as plastic coverings are still much cheaper than her product. “They (dry cleaners) just want somebody else to buy it.”

Obviously exhausted from selling her product with no big distribution chains to make her company completely take off, Torrellas intimated also how she is relatively unknown, being from a small town in Hicksville, New York.

The participants were in agreement about one suggestion to sell her product to the luxury market, giving hotel chains the opportunity to place their branding or logos in the bag. The product may also need to be redesigned, aside from considering how it can be packaged better.

To scale her product, the attendees also suggested crowdfunding sites like kickstarter.com. Made in China and New Jersey, Torrellas said she has 3,000 bags at the moment and they retail for $12.50.

Without technology, are millennials no different from everyone else?

By Dennis Clemente

How do you tell a New Yorker from a tourist? In the sea of humanity that fills up Times Square, it’s the ones who feel relieved just making it in one piece at the Viacom Building, at MTV Networks for the Product Group meetup last March 7. Nearly 400 people came to learn something at the meetup, but the organizers knew they would also be getting lots of insights from a group just as eager to be an “instant focus group.”

The diverse audience came from various backgrounds and ethnicities–marketers, programmers, startup founders–to tackle some serious questions like “What are millennials?”

Jeremy Horn, the host and organizer of the Product Group meetup, kicked off the proceedings by asking everyone to introduce themselves—obviously to find out the type of participants it was getting, some admitting to being a Gen Xer. A roundtable discussion ensued.

Horn only needed to ask two questions to get the crowd’s utmost attention. The first one that got everyone stirred up was, yes, the question, “What are Millennials?” Echo founder Mat Gaver leaned in later to say conspiratorially, “It’s the question that gave the much older ones reasons to get back at the younger ones for the life they can’t live anymore.”

Going by a very loose definition, millennials (or Generation Y) are those born after 1977 all the way up to the 2000s. Gen Xers are those born from 1965-1976. At the meetup, the attendees were a mixed of both generations.

The insights the attendees provided made for good entertaining talk. Even the millennials in attendance didn’t challenge the assumptions flying thick and fast.

How much do millennials really know? From a media standpoint, one said “they get news from social networks—Twitter, “political” comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart,” but is that enough when “they can absorb information in big chunks.”

Others said they look for the best information, but they have a short-attention span. One explained this to mean how “cachet is moving quickly” (i.e. who is popular now is just as easily forgotten the next few weeks), and loyalty is non-existent, because there’s always ”something new.”

How can they be loyal when “they do internships without pay?” and companies lay off people without care. On top of that, “they have student loan debt” they can’t pay. So it’s not surprising why they have such a blasé or numb reaction to employment. “They can easily spot a company with integrity, but they can also spot ‘phony’ instantly.”

They live in an era where they have probably seen more companies closing down. “They have seen more people get laid off” and this is probably why more of them “want to do something for themselves, or for the world through social entrepreneurship. They are fearless.”

They are also the multitasking generation. Realizing the world is moving faster than ever, they think success and failure could hinge on a missed twit or Facebook posting. For this reason, “living an intense public life” is absolutely essential, damn privacy.

“But weren’t we all these, too?” a Gen Xer quipped. “Technology just makes millennials visible.”

After an hour, the second question came, “What do all of these mean for our products?”

This time, the group had more questions than answers.