Thinking of Launching a Startup? Do Hackathons First to Avoid Failure

hackathon-for-startups

By Dennis Clemente

NEW YORK—Nine out of 10 startups fail, studies say. Why? Because many of these startups make products no one wants. This is almost common knowledge by now if you’ve been reading up or attending meetups, at least. Being aware of the high failure rate can be discouraging, of course, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dream.

There are still ways to lessen the risk — and among the three panelists speaking at the Tech in Motion meetup last October 20, it was Dom Tancredi who probably gave the best advice, summed up in three words. “Do a hackathon.” In 48 hours of creating a product, he added, you’ll learn (a lot of things you can bring to your startup). It’s like a “microcosm of a startup.”

Even for someone already established in his web and mobile development business, Dom & Tom, he said, “I make it a point to attend 3 hackathons a year to keep myself relevant.”

Tancredi admitted to failing with 2 of the 3 startups that he started with his brother Tom. Unlike other startups, Tancredi started with 3 startups and proceeded to concentrate on one when the two other startups wouldn’t cut it.  He has more than 18 years of experience as a full-stack web developer and has led Dom & Tom since 2009.

He gave more tips: “Just know where you are spending your time. Spend 30 percent of your time on your customers another 40 percent on your product and 30 percent on yourself. Strive for equal balance.”

Josh Brenner, founder and CEO of bTreated, a yield management technology platform for the wellness industry, thinks failure starts even earlier. “People build this big idea in their head, but who (unfortunately) did not talk to people to validate their idea.”

“Immerse myself in the business. Everyone is better for it in the end,” he said.

Drew Silverstein, CEO and founder of Amper Music has a different take on the 9-out-10 failed startups observation. “5 of those 10 should not have started.”

He agrees with Brenner, though that you need to test each idea at its core and then validate that. Again, we go back to what you need to do: talk to customers.

Tancredi cautions though that talking to your customers is just “half the battle.”

When do you think you can reach some measure of success? For Tancredi, you’ll need to have to have “IP, the technology, the team and your efficacy and sustainability.

Silverstein has a more practical measure of success. When he hits his goal for 90 days, then he thinks he’s had some measure of success.

Brenner took his turn in giving cautionary advice. “People underestimate how much it’s hard to (build and run) a startup. You can be very successful one day and be a failure another day. You will have extreme highs and lows.”

To keep going, Silverstein said, “It is incumbent upon you to find a mentor. Ask a mentor for coffee. Solve one problem at a time.”

Brenner, for his part, thinks that “if you have a passion outside of your job, it helps (to give you ideas). “You don’t have to kill yourself, you need (time) to be creative.”

“You cannot overanalyze,” he added. “Just put out an MVP (minimum viable product) out there,” he said.

As for growing your startup, everyone agreed that you should learn marketing as well.

Out of 14 startups, Flower Turbines get investors’ votes at Startupalooza

By Dennis Clemente

How do you tweak the startup meetup? The drill in New York meetups: Startups pitch for two to five minutes to investors who then provide their feedback. That’s how it goes.

In the Startupalooza meetup last July 24, host Alan Brody tweaked that formula. This time, he had the startups in place while the investors—this time angels, not the usual VC—roamed around asking questions. Think trade fair. And how it could only be pulled off like one because there were just too many startups—14 in all.

Out of the 14, Brody picked four to present to the audience. They were Flower Turbines, Potboiler, 90Grand and CelebDare.

Flower Turbines, the night’s winner based on votes by the angel investors, makes small, easily started, nearly silent vertical axis wind turbines that efficiently generate electricity.

Clustering them causes an additional 20 percent “flower power boost” in net energy output, according to Farb Daniel.

Potboiler produces serialized novellas with graphics, video, animation and social media components and distributed through Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble. Check out getfisk.com where single chapters can be read or refined along the way. Stories are created from scratch.

90Grand, for its part, is looking into the corporate rewards and loyalty sector with its licensed iconic photographic images of luminaries, celebrities and personalities, shot by renowned photographers of the last century.

“We carry no open receivables or inventory, with minimal infrastructure. We are also fully scalable,” said Roger Maggio, chief of operations.

Another presenter, CelebDare is a crowdsourcing platform aimed at engaging celebrities or anyone in the spotlight for the purpose of advancing a common good.

Founder Jeffrey Katz sees it as a new avenue for charities and companies to reach key objectives.

Asked what is the unique aspect of the business? Katz, a Harvard grad, recalled how another startup back in his day was also not that unique but how it still made it big. He let the audience say it was Facebook.

For Katz’s business model, there’s the challenge of reaching a celebrity, but he is undaunted.

One interesting startup is a white label service offered by datingadvisors.org. Trained advisors give personal live dating advice directly through a dating site.

Among the investors at the meetup were John Ason and Barry Kolevson of Joshua Capital who also announced the Private Equity Forum event on Oct 2 where the winner, Flower Turbines, will get to pitch and raise funding for his startup. Visit privateequityforums.com

Education, dating and e-commerce startups in full force at NY Tech Day

By Dennis Clemente

Last April 25, New York had its biggest NY Tech Day ever with an audience that is triple its size from last year and exhibitors from education, dating and e-commerce industries showing up in full force. All in all, about 10,000 people trickled in to hear from more than 400 startups and not-so-recent startups at the sprawling 75,000-square-feet Pier 92, with majority of them based in New York and its boroughs.

Startup founders talked to everyone who cared to listen.
There was Paul Canetti of MazDigital.com, formerly of Apple, who offers a publication app with no programming required. “Now, the magazine industry need not bother with the million-dollar cost of coming up with their own magazine app if they can use our app system.”
Would it save and even make magazines thrive? That remains to be seen.

There were about a dozen education sites and apps for both young and old—and those looking to transition to another career. Moocdom.com aims to give professionals the chance to upgrade their skills.

Across from each other were MeeGenius.com and Kitukids.com. Founded in 2010 Wandy Yeap Hoh and David Park, MeeGenius digitizes children’s stories in audio playback, whereas the latter, founded by Daniela Arredondo, comes in video format. Both think they can co-exist in the marketplace.

For adult learners, Mediabistro.com and General Assemb.ly talked to everyone interested in their short courses and workshops, which range from the marketing kind (social media marketing) to the startup and programming kind, for those not yet familiar with them.

Learning another language took another dimension with Smigin.com. Susan O’ Brien demonstrated the app’s interactive capabilities; they’re developed as videos and games.

Sites for the romantically inclined abounded. InkedMatch.com is about online matchmaking for tattoo lovers; Cheekd.com is still doing the online matching in reverse; Datenight.is for couples who need dating ideas and Parlor.me dares you to start phone conversations with strangers.

Asked about how she is going to compete against all the other dating sites, Lori Cheek of Cheekd.com raised her hand in a triumphant gesture. “I’m in it to make it!” Cheekd.com was featured in The New York Times sometime back.

To look great in those dates, DietBet offers a unique app game—you lose weight you win money. To begin, everyone puts money in a pot. You’ve got four weeks to lose 4 percent of your starting weight. Whoever hits their 4 percent goal is the winner—and splits the pot.

And for those looking to give special gifts, there’s Egifter.com for those must-have coupons, Giftivo.com, which bills itself as a “smart gifting engine,” and Danggle.com, with the most unique gifting idea—“social gifting for yourself.” You go to the site, post your lusted-after item, let your friends chip in, and get the money to buy it.

Those looking to make skilled, trade and household services easier to find were also in attendance: Handybook.com, Servicerunner.com and Myclean.com aim to fit every possible need outside of IT. Finding IT professionals is an entirely different challenge. For even the best recruiters, like TheLadders.com and Landover.com and the new ones like SoundAdvice.jobs, it must really feel like looking for a needle in the haystack with startups mushrooming everywhere. Some e-commerce sites like Bonobos.com and media companies like Medialets.com also used the event for their tech and marketing recruitment efforts.

Not all startups were for necessarily for consumers. Carlos Carbonell and Mat Gaver of JustEcho.com, a digital agency with emphasis on mobile innovation, launched their new company, EchoTime at the event. “It makes time tracking affordable and fun for employees to fill up.”

There were some physical devices, too—and they’re both made from Brooklyn. Solidoodle.com demonstrated its 3D printing machines which sold for $499. Set to launch this year, Bitponics.com offers a real-time sensor data that allows you to manage your garden from any web browser.

For those who want to start their own online businesses, start getting crowdfunded at Seedinvest.com or Indiegogo.com who were also in attendance. But if you can fund the business yourself like Afzal Faroroqui, owner of Rentagizmo.com, then we should also see you in next year’s tech startup event.