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.

Child welfare management system you can use online

By Dennis Clemente

3 goals of Case Commons: Changing lives above all, helping the helpers and measuring results

NEW YORK–Last September 5, the Product Group meetup moderated by Jeremy Horn hosted a talk featuring Patrick Colgan, product manager of Case Commons, a non-profit software development company aimed at transforming public sector human services through user-centered design and technology.

Case Commons offers a product called Casebook, a collaborative, family-centered case management system for child welfare, which enables workers serving the most vulnerable families and children to be more effective and efficient via Web-based software tools.

“We currently handle all child welfare management for the state of Indiana, and have plans to expand to other states in 2014,” he said at the Product Group held at the Viacom building in Times Square.

Case Commons was founded by and continues to be supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation,  the leading philanthropy dedicated solely to disadvantaged children and families in America.

Colgan said the company has three goals: Changing lives above all, helping the helpers and measuring results.

Case Commons, Inc. is also helping to drive a broader conversation about how to improve technology innovation in government, ensuring that government technology makes lives better for people every day.

The organization believes America’s future depends on government adopting a forward-leaning approach to information technology. The technology gap between government and the rest of society is growing.

Colgan echoes what Case Commons stands for about how they can help government reach Americans more directly; reduce waste; throw open the doors to make government more transparent; and transform the public sector from a follower into a technology innovation leader.

“Analytics and research are important to us. We have set out to apply leading-edge technologies, such as predictive modeling, factor analysis and text mining, to equip caseworkers to make sense of their data and, in turn, help agency managers, researchers and policy makers understand what works and why.

“We continuously analyze Casebook data to explore patterns and prove statistical hypotheses. We collaborate with researchers from leading universities and other policy research organizations to understand what socio-economic factors are mostly responsible for child abuse and neglect.

“We aspire to share our findings with the broader human services community, not only in published papers and conference presentations, but also directly through Casebook features that support day-to-day decision-making. In taking these steps, we can help make policy and practice based on evidence,” he said.

Colgan says Casebook Analytics was built not around units of work, such as cases, but rather around persons, relationships and groups, such as families and households. This person-centric design enables users to follow individuals and families over time.

This means you may not need to repeat yourself like a broken record when you need someone to review your case.

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

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.


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 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.