Startups in New York: If you know the drill, you can be spared the grilling

Investors at Ultra Light Startup
Investors at Ultra Light Startup

By Dennis Clemente

Startups in New York should know the drill by now. When you go from one tech meetup to another as you present your app or idea, you’re going to get different reactions and even some water-dousing realizations if you’re not prepared, because no tech meetups are alike. You could be largely entertaining in one, but questionable in another; “fundable” in one, need pivoting in another. The difference: Venture capitalists and/or investors are present in some meetups where in others, you’re just facing an audience who don’t care if you have a business model or not. The audience is there to have fun where VCs mean business. Bottom line: Investors want to know if you have a viable startup and if you do, you’re selling it to them properly.

Guest speakers-investors at the Ultra Light Startup last May 8 at the Microsoft Building near Times Square made sure they got their message across where the eight presenting startups may have not been so clear or forthcoming with theirs; it happens to the best startups when nerves can get in the way, as one did when he completely blanked out for 30 seconds in his two-minute allotted time.

The panel that may have intimidated that presenter consisted of Murat Aktihanoglu, ER Accelerator founder; Somak Chattopadhyay, managing partner at Armory Square Ventures; Brian Cohen, chairman at New York Angels; Pankaj Jain, venture partner at 500 Startups.

Each of the eight startups presented to the investors who then asked questions and gave an actionable feedback—a “what-a startup-needs-to–do-the-next-morning?” type of advice—after their two-minute presentation. They were Josh Stein of Adhere Tech; Zeb Dropkin of RentHackr (both having presented at NY Tech Meetup without a hitch); Emily Washkowitz of Shareswell; Charles Brun of Now In Store; Zach Goodman of Unlockable, Claire Cunningham of Lessonface; Rafael de Haro of Lifedots; and Juri Kaljundi of Weekdone.

Since many of these startups are in their early stages, let’s spare them the humiliation and just let you do the guesswork—as a way to determine your capacity to find out which one needs to pivot or reinvent itself, to put it mildly.

Here then are some “editorialized readings” into the questions and advice given by the investors—some brutally honest, another appeasing which compelled one investor to say to another, “You’re so nice,” as if there were no nice VCs.

• Testing the panel’s patience: It went from polite, “Messaging has to be clear.” (Read: What business are you really in?) to serious advice, “Choose another business” to frustration, “I still don’t understand your business”
• The name matters. For one highly personal product, the suggestion was to add a pronoun.
• Bottle pill product. Two investors suggested making it recycled, as the price of every new bottle could be a challenge. A serious question was asked, What if a handicapped bedridden person can’t use it and need help? Another question, Can you add social networking to it?
• On pain points. What is the pain point in the renting space? What is the incentive for the renter? Ask yourself, how many users do you need before you get to the landlord? Build user base first and tell brokers you will give them qualified leads. How are you acquiring these users? Another startup was also asked to answer what pain points he is addressing and why do consumers need him.
• Customer acquisition. Focus on it, or do cool tech. Of course, both would be better
• Pitch carefully because you’re in a crowded space (for investors’ ears)
• Find out the percentage of people downloading catalogs
• Focus on effective than pretty
• Think of Pinterest integration
• If it sells, it’s clever; if not, sell “cleverly.” Think of the tech behind it and the incentive for artists who may not be as receptive to the idea as normal people
• Allow changes… real-time (best advice of the night)
• How much monitoring can you actually do with the space constraints of a mobile phone? Consider pivoting app as report generation
• Think of privacy issues (especially In light of Snapchat’s current dilemma)
• Give first before taking. Give everyone here free subscription, with the investor motioning to the meetup audience.

The night’s winners (presenters) as voted by the audience: For the startup presentation, Shareswell won for its inspired idea: gifting stock inspired by the bridal registry concept. And what do you know; the founder is engaged to be married in a few weeks. The question we forgot to ask is, “Which came first, though: The startup idea or the upcoming nuptials?”

For most valuable tips, Somak, the investor labeled nice guy, won. But do nice guys invest first?

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Dennis Clemente

Shuttling between New York and other US cities, Dennis writes about tech meetups when he's not too busy working as a Web Developer/Producer + UX Writer and Digital Marketer.

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