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?

NY Tech takes a Breather, ShortCut, Stream Web and Fake Girlfriend with Zach Morris

NY Tech meetup audience
NY Tech meetup audience

By Dennis Clemente

If you want to find out about tech startups and be entertained at the same time, there’s nothing like the NY Tech Meetup. The nine to 10 presentations–with hacks-of-the-month specials to boot–are still too many to cover in a span of two hours, but the hosts can be forgiven because they keep things light and playful.

The breezy, relaxed atmosphere can be contagious. Presenters feel at ease onstage, even when the internet connection–not a problem before but has been for the past two meetups—can be scattershot.

It has unruffled some presenters, but Paul Canetti, as one of the presenters last April 1, kept his cool, adlibbing and poking harmless fun on the internet. It helped that his new venture, Stream Web, a smartphone browser for iPhones, was the night’s easy favorite.

Stream Web is a browser specifically made for smartphones. It gets how people use their iPhones, with the search function located at the bottom, instead of the middle of the phone. This makes it convenient for one-hand iPhone users. Yes, Stream Web is only on iOS, for now.

The audience was thrilled to hear from nine startups.

Ny Tech meetup presenters and Adhere Tech's patented bottle
Ny Tech meetup presenters and Adhere Tech’s patented bottle

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Breather offers private rental spaces in New York and Montreal. A question pointed to a malicious reaction, because who knows what you and someone else can do there in a few hours?! Of course, if you have a dormant real estate space, here’s an opportunity to rent out your space.

Adhere Tech was serious in its presentation, as it asked how many times have you forgotten medication you’re supposed to take at the precise time you have to take it? AdhereTech’s patented smart pill bottles can do this now.

How about turning a term of endearment into a crowdsourced knowledge base? Honey.is appeared to have created a more personal Yammer, as it captures and shares conversations and tools you use everyday –text, links, videos, and files of all types but with closing deals, not just social interaction, in mind. Let’s see how that goes for them.

Shufflrr is another app that’s trying to disrupt Powerpoint. It calls itself business social in the sense that you can easily broadcast presentations using social tools.

Everyone already felt so appreciative of the new technologies they were hearing and seeing onstage, but Shortcut, a presenter at AOL just a few months ago, would excite the audience even more. Here’s a question. What if you could control all things happening in your home by voice automation?

That’s Shortcut. You left your lights on, you talk to your phone to turn it off. It’s impressive how it works to make most of your household appliances and electronics stuff at home almost magically turn on with a voice command. However, it’s not alone in this idea; this may become just a race to whoever hits critical mass first.

The last presenter of the night, Kandu, is a tool that lets kids make games and apps without knowing how to or need for code. It’s an “entertainment” tool if you compare it to Scratch. Will it encourage more kids to go to the next level? Learning how to code, that is.

The other presenters included Skillcrush, a place for learning programming languages and WeWork, which announced new co-working spaces for entrepreneurs in New York.

To break the monotony of startup presentations, the NY Tech Meetup has Hacks of the Month. Ricky Robinett’s Fake Girlfriend and Emergency Zach Morris hacks got the crowd laughing. With Fake Girlfriend, he said, you can create a Fake Girlfriend number and equally fake name and then choose to get a pre-recorded call or text message from your virtual girlfriend. For his second hack, he showed how to get your Zach Morris fix. You call 718-395-5255 to hear the voice of the Saved by the Bell star. A voice in the crowd, certainly someone who didn’t grow up in the 80s, asked who?!

This blogger looks forward to the day when NY Tech Meetup gives fewer presentations with more time allotted for startups to talk about their business in more detail, especially how an idea was born, how a product was conceived, how an app was created and how a team was formed. Writers would also be able give these startups fair media coverage–and give Robinett time to explain who Zach Morris is.