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.

Funding your startup with legal, tax and accounting in place

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By Dennis Clemente

New York is packed with tech startup meetups every year, with great speakers and panelists as guests, but StartupNation NYC probably may just have the best moderator, Michael Helman, himself a co-founder of both WILLiFEST and Crowdzu who, along with Stella McGovern, organized this meetup.

In launching its inaugural meetup last October 29, Helman has done what has so far been impossible in a meetup: Put a diverse and important set of panelists together and make each one of them open up and speak clearly, as we not seen much in any meetup this year. Let’s hope it’s not just beginner’s luck.

The panelists consisted of Matthew Zucker of Kelly Drye & Warren LLP, a corporate attorney who represents startup and emerging growth companies; Kobla Asamoah of St. Nicks Alliance, a small business advisor based in Brooklyn; Amy Gaven, a trademark and copyright attorney; Alex Chou, a business development consultant and tax planner; John Ason, an active New York angel investor; and Albert Chcoury, financial advisor of New York Life Insurance Company.

The six panelists talked about a wide range of issues– the importance of a correct corporate structure, preparing initial funding and procedures in compliance with state/federal requirements, shareholder agreements, how to look for/approach investors, valuation, monies to be raised, funding rounds, how to put together an effective business plan or deck and what needs to be included, how to protect your intellectual property, and accounting needs.

From the 2-hour talk, here are some great takeaways:

Choose Delaware or wait for New York in 2014. Incorporate here because it is a comfort level for investors. The laws are efficient and flexible. There are no state and income taxes. Or by 2014, choose New York in designated tax-free areas for 10 years.

Business plans. Doing one is a good exercise, even if not all investors require one. An angel investor may only need an executive summary but an accountant may require a business plan. Have a pitch deck ready anytime.

Executive summary. Ason, who has had 40 investments, said it must be “explained in one page accurately.” It must talk about market size and why it exists. It must be esthetically pleasing. “I receive over 3,000 a year. I spend 10 minutes on one.”

Equity to initial employees. Stock options are good. It doesn’t cost you anything now. Anyway, you can buy shares later.

Legal talk. How important is a trademark? It’s your brand. It’s your identifier. Conduct a trademark search. Know how strong your trademark is. Consider patents and copyright as it applies. Outsourcing? Have a work-for-hire agreement in place.

Make sure IP is owned by company, if there are more founders in the organization. So if the founder leaves the company in a year and there is no shareholding agreement, company keeps ownership. Still, a buyout is ok.
Investment from family and friends. If launching shortly, pay off the loan. If launching much later, give them equity. If you get funding from a seed investor, consider that they might have stronger ideas compared to your family.

Difference between angel investors and VCs. Ason has funded someone who pitched an idea written in a napkin and to someone in 28 minutes—all early stages only. Most VCs will only only invest in post-prototypes. They won’t look at you if you are below $10 million in earnings. VCs are all about expansion capital.

Team composition is most important in a startup. Investors prefer a team who may have a mediocre idea rather than a mediocre team with a great idea.

Exit strategy. No one will reportedly want you if you don’t have an exit strategy. Look to exit within five to 7 years. Ason said he looks to get 10 times return on his investment, because 30 percent of startups he invest in fold up.

Qualities of a good founder(s). Can they execute? Can they make decisions in 30 minutes with data or minimal data? Make sure to be sociable, too

How do startups gets noticed? Ason’s advice: Entertain, impress and inform, and in that order. He can bring in other angels if he decides to be a passive investor, as he prefers nowadays. He doesn’t believe in valuations; it’s all “completely made up.”