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.

If you can make it to Fred Wilson’s ear, can you make it anywhere?

By Dennis Clemente

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If you can make it to Fred Wilson’s ear, you can make it anywhere.

That’s what people like to think when they see the Union Square Venture principal, the man who has helped build, if not backed up startups like Foursquare, Kickstarter, Twitter, Tumblr and Zynga.

Observing how people swarm to him like bees after each talk cues you into how he has become a rock star in the New York tech startup scene. It was like this at the Columbia Engineering’s demo night last December 13 at Time Warner Center. Columbia Engineering dean Mary C. Boyce moderated the discussion.

One attendee followed Wilson’s every move, dragging me along with him. I met Fred Wilson before, so I was not as excited as he was. But I understand. I just feel bad for other guests when he’s around; this time, Tech and the City author Alessandro Piol and Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer.

Wilson minces no words. There’s no hesitancy, even when he replies to a most pointed question. Some may call it candidness where others may see rebelliousness, even recklessness. I think he has answered these questions before and he just decided to peel the layers of half-truths to tell you what it’s really like out there.

This perspective may come from seeing failed startups. The failure rate, as most publications will tell you, is about 75 percent. For those in the industry, it’s 90 percent.

Wilson said he embraces failure, but he is quick to qualify it. He doesn’t mean lifelong failure but failure that toughens you up, because in the fickle tech world, even the most successful ones fail. So he is suggesting that as long “as you learn the tough lessons of failure,” he is willing to overlook it and take a chance on you. “Making a mistake should not be a Scarlet letter, as long as you realize the mistake.”

But to rewind a bit from the talk he gave along with Piol and Oringer, the Columbia Engineering’s talk was centered on New York’s beginnings in the tech scene and perspective on critical opportunities and roadblocks facing innovators and startups in the future.

Where Oringer credited outgoing Mayor Bloomberg for the thriving tech scene, Wilson was quick to counter that it was Google and the hundreds of engineers it brought to the city that was the catalyst for New York’s emergence as the Silicon Valley of the East.

“Bloomberg was friendly, but it (the tech scene) would have happened even without Bloomberg.”

“The biggest thing that happened in New York was when Google’s software and engineering team came to New York. Google is a gift to New York,” he added. Ex-Googlers these days have their own startups in New York.

Still, Oringer pointed out how multilingual New York also made it easier for startups to take their products or business model on a global scale.

Tech and the City author Piol was more specific, saying the turning point was 2008 when the financial meltdown made many people switch to the tech startup scene.
Wilson wrote the foreword in Piol’s book.

At the time New York-born and -raised Jon Oringer was already running Shutterstock. Today, the stock photo company is earning $200 million.

Wilson answered more questions.

Asked how low-income countries with software development capabilities can compete against the United States, Wilson said, “There’s no culture of entrepreneurship in those low-income countries, because there is no capital.”

Asked about 3D printing’s future in New York, he said the city has the talent for it but stopped short of predicting New York is going to be the center of 3D printing.

After the talk, people were led to the startup demos of students and alumni of Columbia University in an open reception. The startups were Urban Compass, Trek Medics, eBrevia, KeyMe, and Meal Logger

Urban Compass offers a technology platform that enables customers to manage their entire apartment search in one place. It has a team of agents for good measure.

Since August 2012, Trek Medics’ dedicated full-time staff has been working to complete beta-testing for their SMS-based emergency dispatching software, Beacon, with efforts currently focused on the southern coast of Haiti. Beacon addresses response gap by allowing community paramedics to quickly locate, treat, and transport emergency victims from the scene to the hospital.

Another startup, eBrevia was created to assist corporate attorneys, in-house counsel and business executives perform tasks more efficiently.

KeyMe is a cloud-based “keychain” that stores key’s cutting instructions, while Meal Logger is a photo food journal designed to empower people to improve their lifestyle.

What does Wilson look for in a startup founder? “You have to be charismatic,” he said, adding that it’s an important quality to have if you are asking people to fund you.

“I like someone who has a vision who can “get to an opportunity from ‘0 to 60’.”

And if you’re a founder, he said the first five people in a startup is the most critical.

But if having Fred Wilson’s ear is going to help you, well, it depends on what you have to offer him, of course.

Dennis Clemente with Fred Wilson back in November
Dennis Clemente with Fred Wilson back in November