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.

Hatchery fundraising pitches are back with investor, presentation feedback

By Dennis Clemente

The exciting Hatchery meetup startup presentations are back after laying low for a few months with its Friday speaker series, the intimate fireside chat with venture capitalists, other types of investors and some notable startups. For those who haven’t heard of Hatchery, it’s Shark Tank exclusively for tech startups. No, there’s no fundraising that happens on the spot, although this blogger certainly wished something like that could happen in the future. Still, many companies value the experience as they improve on their pitches and presentations—and their ultimate goal of getting funded.

With the startup presentations, the Hatchery has also moved from its American Management Association building back to Chadbourne & Park’s offices at The Rockefeller Plaza last November 13 where Fantrotter, Pijon, Shopbeam and The Dating Ring pitched to a panel of investors consisting of Sachin Jade of Klifer Capital; Angela Lee of 37 Angels; Bill Reinisch of Paladin Capital Group and Vincent Tang of Canrock Ventures.

The startup founders used their Executive Summaries and some relevant data in their five-minute presentations followed by honest-to-goodness feedback from the investors and, in a twist to its programming, the first critique of a presenter’s presentations offered by GK Training & Communications. Host Yao Hui Huang introduced it as a new segment in her meetup.

Georgie Bernadete, head of strategy for Shopbeam, clearly knows its affiliate business model as she presented how Shopbeam is making publishers’ sites more interesting. Imagine buying a product or item directly from a publisher’s site instantly, without the need to go to another site, a brand’s site in this case. Think about it. There are 31 million bloggers in the United States with 528 million daily page views, and Shopbeam thinks it has success on its hands.

Launched in October this year, Shopbeam offers a revenue share per sale. “We negotiate 12 to 25 percent revenue share with brand partners. We split it 70/30 with publishers. We’re looking to raise $1.5 million (to grow).”

In explaining the technology being in-house with an embeddable Javascript, the investors’ feedback stressed reviewing indirect competitors and the chance of raising more money if it can wait to dig and present more solid data.

The next presenter Rob Caucci, CEO of Pijon, pitched his subscription-based curated monthly care package loaded with non-perishable products for college-age kids. Pijon takes care of giving the packages for parents who reportedly spend $38 billion in keeping their kids well-stocked with snacks, beauty or personal products and accessories. Pijon offers subscription starting at $25 a month.

Launched August this year, Caucci is raising $650,000. He defended his focus on going directly to the schools and their organizations and not through other marketing or distribution means.

In presenting Fantrotter as the ticket + travel meet search engine for fans, one investor called for a rewrite of its description. But from the name itself, it should be easy to create another tagline that shows how it works – as a site that lets fans check the schedule of any performer, and conveniently compare the best prices for tickets, flights, hotels and car rentals.

The investors probed why the startup took all of 9 months to figure out the technology, how it could offer a cheaper ticket on the site, and how it could go for the community aspect of its business. “Play the social game of community first, (because it is) not sure what problem it is solving yet.”
Fantrotter is seeking $200,000 to crunch more data across event cities and dates in this market reportedly worth $3.3 billion.

The last presenter, The Dating Ring, is for people who hate online dating, as it offers group dating in the 500,000 -single market that is New York City. CEO Lauren Kay said her team screens and curates the group dates, as they match them based on in-person traits. Getting data after each date is important for them now as it aims to raise $500,000.

“We have 1,600 profiles completed, $4,500 revenue in our second month,” she said of this $2.1billion industry, an industry most investors are allergic to. “We offer $10 to join, $10 to date. We have 40 % percent signup, 60 percent paying daters with a churn rate under 5 percent and 2 dates a month.”

Investors asked what the secret sauce is because what prevents other three women (the composition of The Dating Ring team) from doing the same thing. “We are trying figure out what makes this special. There’s no money in this. There’s no data to make this work.”

At the end of the presentations, GK Training suggested the following to the presenters:
• Calm energy is good but give a more personal presentation
• Reduce upward inflection as it entertains doubts
• Breathe and pause; the latter corrects and gets rid of the vocal fillers “ums,” “ahs,” “sort-ofs”
• Reduce un-purposeful shuffling, especially physical expressions without a purpose
• Speed (in presenting) can be your enemy: Throw a tennis ball up in the air. Pause, breathe

Good to know all these tips because most people judge people on the non-verbals. If you want to present at Hatchery, email pitch@hatchery.vc a Powerpoint and executive summary. Visit http://www.hatchery.vc/

Distinguishing relationship and partnership between VCs and startups

By Dennis Clemente

If you can find a “relationship machine” in your company, you’re all set. Thatcher Bell, managing partner at Gotham Ventures, was special guest in the Friday summer series of The Hatchery last September 13 and he was talking about the importance of relationships, especially partnerships.

“When it comes to partnerships, the general rule of thumb is for you to have some value to exchange and develop it as early as you can,” he said whose work at Gotham Ventures involves helping early startups get seed stage funding.

Bell said Gotham Ventures focuses only on funding New York City startups who know how big the market opportunity is and how much money is to be made. He added that the team composition of the startup team and their backgrounds is important.

Startups they have worked for include “indigenous” sectors such as: digital and social media, e-commerce, advertising, financial technology, enterprise software and security. Other areas it is watching closely are health and wellness and education.
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In terms of funding, Bell said you have a choice of Seed A ($20 million) or Series A ($2 to S7 million) funding. Gotham Ventures has reportedly we led investments in Seed and Series A financing, and participated and/or led follow-on rounds, between VCs and startups.

Still, Gotham Ventures almost always invest alongside other top investors. By working closely with entrepreneurs to select syndicate partners, it ensures that the Boards of portfolio companies are compatible, capable of continued financial support when needed, and strategically and tactically helpful.

Asked how he sees the VC model in New York growing. Bell said seed stage investing has been growing since 2009, because of so many investment opportunities out there, especially with the increasing number of amazingly cheap minimum value products.
Depending on products, there’s a new startup coming out weekly

Bell went poetic when said there is a case to be made for letting thousands of flowers bloom and watering all of them. And when it comes to marketing your startup, he gave one piece of cautionary advice: Yes, you can market it somewhere else first if you want to, but realize the danger of not being able to go back to your marketplace.

Bell has spent more than a dozen years in the startup community as a venture capitalist and operator. He focuses on investments in software companies in both consumer and business markets across a variety of industries.

Gotham Ventures is part of the DFJ Network, the largest venture capital network in the world. Their portfolio includes companies such as Yipit, Sailthru, Totsy, Altruik, SinglePlatform, and IZEA. Thatcher works closely with Gotham portfolio companies Sailthru, ADstruc, LendKey, EXPO, Verterra, and Widetronix. He also led the firm’s successful investment in SinglePlatform, which was acquired by Constant Contact (NASDAQ: CTCT).

In addition, Thatcher serves on the Board of Directors of the NY Tech MeetUp, co-chairs the New York chapter of Wharton Private Equity Partners, co-founded Penn Digital, and is a strong supporter of Cornell Tech, Cornell’s new graduate school of applied technology in New York City.

Prior to joining Gotham Ventures, Thatcher Bell was a Senior Analyst at North Hill Ventures, the venture capital affiliate of Capital One Financial, where he was a deal team member for the firm’s investments in DealerTrack (NASDAQ: TRAK), Higher One (NYSE: ONE), and Compete (acquired by TNS).

Prior to North Hill, Thatcher held business and corporate development roles at enterprise software vendor OpenPages (acquired by IBM) and SharkTank, an online marketplace connecting lawyers and potential clients. Thatcher began his career as a consultant at Ernst & Young (now Cap Gemini Ernst & Young).

The meetup was hosted again by Hatchery’s Yao Hui Huang.

Mesa’s Jacob Brody talks about challenges of ad tech, promise of data visualization

By Dennis Clemente

Jacob Brody has been working as Business & Community Development head of boutique investment bank Mesa since 2011, but you can’t escape the past. If you’ve been a journalist, you wear it on your sleeve all your life. And what that means is that you’re going to be more candid than most people.

This was apparent in his sit-down casual talk with Hatchery last July 26. “Augmented reality is not where it is yet,” he said. “Google Glass only has a three-hour battery life.”

And don’t get him started on real-time video. “Bandwidth is limited. It sucks,” he said.

Brody was a tech journalist for the Venture Beat who helped get the word out about early stage startups. Today, he is in the habit of scooping up tech talents for boutique investment bank, Mesa.

He’s not one to mince words if you’re planning to be a startup. On the ad tech world, “You’ll have a hard time raising money in ad tech industry unless you’re on the data side.”

How does one find value? His riposte, “What’s the difference between one playing Steinway in your house and Steinway in a concert hall?”

jacob brody

As venture capitalists face some competition from crowdfunding sites, it’s interesting how he said it’s good for use as a “focus group.” Still, he acknowledges how it has helped some startups. “No VC wanted to fund Pebble (the smart watch).” Today, it’s the biggest success story of Kickstarter.

But Hatchery meetup host Yao Hui-Huang puts things in perspective. “Only 2% gets crowdfunded.”

Asked about funding the VC way, Brody said he has seen some investments in the $750,000 to $2 million range. “You have to have something already before you can pitch to a VC.”

He likes to think data visualization is going to have a future. He has a point in the sense that we’re going to amass lots of data and data visualization is going to help us better understand what’s out there.

Brody did have some nice things to say. He credits FitStar for slimming him down. “People pay for fitness videos,” he said. “I got the app.”

Brody is also an entrepreneur. He started Standard Start.