DC Tech Titans Talk Entrepreneurship, Co-founders and the Power of No

Tech in Motion’s DC chapter put on their first ever fireside chat this fall, hosting Adam Zuckerman, founder of Fosterly and Dan Berger, CEO and founder of Social Tables to speak about startups. Joe Colangelo, co-founder and CEO of Bear Analytics, moderated the conversation for the night with a heavy emphasis on content but a far more laid-back and intimate approach than the typical panel discussion.

Find a tech talk near you on Tech in Motion’s event list.

The event took place at the Artisphere, a local arts center located in Arlington, Virginia, which was once the site of the Newseum. The evening kicked off with networking in the Lower Town Hall, an open concept space equipped with a bar and art installations. The discussion then moved to the Dome Theater, which provided the perfect setting for the audience to interact with our speakers.

With Joe at the helm of the conversation, his easy-going personality and knowledge of the startup world was on display as he expertly moderated what proved to be a very insightful and engaging dialogue. His two speakers for the night, however, were no strangers to speaking up in front of the local technology community.

Adam Zuckerman of Fosterly was a recognizable figure to many in the audience as an important player in the DC tech space. He is well known for his work at Fosterly as well as various advising roles to the community at large. Adam calls upon his unique background in business, law, and technology to help galvanize the entrepreneurial community in the greater Washington, DC area.

Dan Berger is the CEO and founder of Social Tables, a hospitality software company with a thriving culture based in Washington, DC. Dan has been described as a “relentless and focused entrepreneur” and recognized 40 Under 40 in the meetings industry by Collaborate Magazine and Connect Meetings and named to Successful Meetings Magazine’s “Most Influential” list.

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When the networking portion of the night wrapped up, attendees eagerly took their seats in the Dome Theater to listen to these two experienced entrepreneurs. After going over their individual backgrounds, the discussion kicked off with Joe prompting Adam and Dan about the dedication they feel towards their companies.

Gone is the 40 hour work week – Adam stated the necessity of his 6 day work week schedule in order to make sure that Fosterly happens. Adam recommended that audience members find a job they would normally do as a hobby, because in the entrepreneurial realm, Work/Life balance is nonexistent.

“I’m very bought in, I don’t unplug. It’s a luxury which I don’t allow myself,” Dan remarked.

Dan was on the same page with Adam’s line of reasoning, stating that Social Tables was a side project on which he originally dedicated nights and weekends to. However, he quit his day job when a future investor didn’t believe him committed enough.

If anyone doubted the commitment of these two individuals and countless others in the tech community in D.C., that was put to rest as chuckles and murmurs of agreements followed Adam saying that “Entrepreneurs are the only people on Friday or the weekend who say, ‘Whoa, wish it was Monday.’”

After giving a brief history about Social Tables and how it came to fruition, Dan spoke on the topic of co-founders and how the relationship with his own came to an end. Dan said he realized two major factors eventually highlighted how he and his co-founder could no longer see eye to eye on the best course of action for their company.

“Don’t look for friendship or a different risk profile,” Dan said candidly.

Adam elaborated on the delicate nature of the co-founder relationship, adding that “you might spend more time talking to your co-founder than your family”. In the end, Joe, Adam, and Dan all agreed the most important thing to do was what most benefited the company, no matter how ‘messy’ things became.

Adam brought up a common misconception that a lot of individuals have towards those who have their own businesses; they believe that when you found your own company, you don’t have to answer to anyone. The reality, according to Adam, is that “you don’t stop answering to people. You answer to employees, investors, and the clients you want, have, and lost.”

On another note, it’s easy to take on too much when starting your own business. Dan shared insight on perhaps one of the most difficult lessons of establishing a startup: the power of ‘No’. Both Adam and Dan agree that it’s better to focus on doing a few things well than taking on more tasks or clients; they both firmly stated that it is okay to say ‘no’ and leave things on the table rather than over-commit.

The night ended with an extremely engaging Q & A session, where local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts were able to pose questions to the speakers about their experiences as well as ask for advice. Tech in Motion DC looks forward to the next tech talk – Join your local chapter to attend one of our free events in 2015.

The Future of Virtual Reality

1097723620Written by Arthur van Hoff, CTO at Jaunt

Virtual reality is something many people have heard of, but few have experienced. Yet trying to put it into words is, as one blogger stated, “like trying to take a picture of your favorite song.” Poised to disrupt the way we see, live and engage with the world, the fully immersing experience of VR has the potential to change the face not just of gaming or entertainment, but has implications for education, travel, healthcare, real estate, and more.

Today, you can put on VR goggles and have an immersive experience beyond your imagination – with high-definition 360-degree, 3D video and binaural audio, you can feel as though you’re in the world’s most spectacular places, on stage next to your favorite musician, or on the field cheering on your home team, even when you’re thousands of miles away.

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The truly exciting part about virtual reality is that this is just the beginning. The potential applications for this technology is something that excites us tremendously and we are continuously exploring.

Much of the content that is currently being developed for virtual reality goggles is simulated or digitally produced, along the lines of video games. At Jaunt, we’re building the full-stack technology to create cinematic VR. This includes the camera, software editing, and content production. Instead of exploring a simulated world, you can be transported to other places in the real world.

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This also means exploring new means of storytelling beyond the current capabilities of traditional film-making. We’re discovering new ways to use the technology, and it’s opening up huge new doors for writers, directors, actors, artists, and other content creators.

We shared some of what we’ve discovered and created at the Tech In Motion event this week. We enjoyed sharing the experience of cinematic VR with you and you’ll see some action photos in an event recap posted later in the month.

Tech in Motion Silicon Valley is also proud to announce their September event, Security & Technology: BYOD, Home, & Mobile {Sponsored By Microsoft & Appvance}. You can RSVP here.

arthurAbout the author: Arthur van Hoff is serial entrepreneur and was most recently CTO at Flipboard. He started his career in Silicon Valley at Sun Microsystems where he was an early developer of the Java programming language. Since then he has started several successful companies. Arthur has expertise in machine learning, big data, mobile applications, 3D printing, and computational photography. He is originally from the Netherlands and has a master’s degree in Computer Science from Strathclyde University in Glasgow.

Recap: San Francisco Startup to Success Panel

Tech in Motion: San Francisco kicked off 2014 with one of their biggest and most successful events to date. They hosted their first ever panel discussion ‘Startup to Success’ at the awesome StartupHouse in the hub of tech innovation in the city’s SoMa district.

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StartupHouse offers an open plan co-working space for entrepreneurs and their teams. They have a cool, open space on the ground level where attendees enjoyed some refreshments, snacks, and networking before settling down to learn more about the star panel. StartupHouse was the perfect venue for a Tech in Motion meetup, especially with January’s startup theme and their involvement with incubators and accelerators bringing entrepreneurs to San Francisco.

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In this stellar panel, not only did we welcome back some old favorites from meetups past, we also had some fresh new faces on our panel sharing stories about their startups. The amazing Perri Blake Gorman, CEO and Founder of Archive.ly moderated the panel and being the pro that she is, really delved into the interesting differences between each panelist from funding to hiring to going international with your company.

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Jakob Storm, COO and Co-Founder of CrowdCuirty talked about how he and his team brought their idea from Denmark to the Bay Area. While it is a natural progression to move to the tech hub of the world, it was interesting to see how their process had differences having moved from Denmark to Buenos Aires to the Bay.

Scott Bedard, CTO and Co-Founder of thisMoment, offered a great depth of experience having been at Yahoo! and CNET previous to his most recent role. Perri talked to Scott about how he built his team to 15+ engineers and how this team evolved with the growth that thisMoment experienced.

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We also heard from Kieran Farr, CEO and Co-Founder at Vidcaster, the market-leading video training and marketing platform with global clients such as VMware, MIT and Dell. Kieran’s backstory was really interesting as Vidcaster started out as a consumer platform. Having built their business idea upon this, they realized that if Vidcaster was going to be profitable they would have to focus on B2B customers.

Last but especially not least, Poornima Vijayashanker represented the ladies on our panel. Poornima is a role model for women in the often male dominated tech industry. She started out in the startup world as founding engineer at Mint.com, and from there founded Bizabee and Femgineer.  Femgineer provides education services to tech professionals and tech entrepreneurs. It was really interesting to listen to Poornima talk about funding and the difference between being a part of two companies – one VC funded and one bootstrapped and the challenges each can bring.

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The ‘Startup to Success’ Panel was definitely one of Tech in Motion San Francisco’s most interesting events. Thank you to our awesome members and we hope to see you all next month!

Know the Value of “No!”

ShervinFounders are in search of “yes”. All day. Every day. That’s just how it goes. Whether you’re dealing with a potential co-founder, early employee, investor, or your first batch of customers, you are looking for the elusive “heck yeah!” So I got up at 4:15am and drove up to Fresno (from San Clemente), way too early for my 2:00pm meeting, but early enough so I could get WiFi and coffee from Starbucks, and answer a bunch of emails. At 2:00pm I met with the president of a local college; a warm lead/introduction that was brokered through one of our investors. At approximately 2:25pm I said “thank you very much!”, got into my car, and drove 286 miles home.
She said “no” in my face. Straight up. And it was good!
Good you say?
Yes. It was good, and here is why.

  1. Sharpen the focus  — Founders have happy ears. Hearing “no!” reminds you that your product is not meant for everyone. It reminds you to segment the market, develop a persona, focus on your early adopters, zoom in on exactly who they are, and be relentless about targeting them.
  2. Find the WHY behind the NO  — I had heard No through email, or through analytics, bounce, abandoned carts, etc. The difference with seeing No as a blip on a dashboard or some red dot in a report, versus looking someone in the face and having them tell you that your product isn’t right for them is HUGE. By being there in person I was able to use other tools (like my eyes!) to capture valuable information: their size (number of employees), the maturity of their systems, roughly how much they spend on IT, the number of calls that were coming in and how many people were answering them (which is important to me)… Furthermore, we were able to dig into what No really meant, and the WHY behind the No.
  3. Test for other parameters — The first thing you do when getting to No in person is to test as many parameters as you can. So I tested other price points, features, even bundles. At one point I found the combination that COULD have turned the No into a Yes, but there was no way I was going to shift the direction of our product for one customer. I simply did this to collect more information and see how far off she was from our target persona. You can even do A/B testing of your feature ideas and see how they react. Not sexy, but valuable.
  4. “What did you think it was?”  — Wow, how easy is it to simply assume that others will see your product as you do. Wrong! This intro came from someone who loved our product, and in turn introduced it through email to a friend. At one point she said “this is nothing like Fred described it!” Through more Q&A I determined where things were being lost in translation, and how she perceived us and the product. Hearing No gave me the opportunity to dig deep in this area as I had nothing to lose. Can you imagine an email exchange asking for this information? What would the response rate be? 2%? What would the accuracy rate be???
  5. Reduce churn early — Lets face it: when you have 100’s or 1,000’s of customers you are are going to have a semi-predictable churn rate, and will do all you can to reduce to maintain it. Early on however, you want to optimize for high-touch, high-love. As a founder you should be in contact with 100% of your early user base (whatever that means for you). By “qualifying out” early you can reduce churn and make a bigger impact with the customers you connect with.
  6. Hearing No makes the Yes even better — I need people to want my product, and in doing so they are validating the past 3 years of my life. As painful as the No’s are they make the Yes all the sweeter. Imagine if everyone said Yes to you? There would be no magic, no pat on the back moment. I’m a big fan of BJ Fogg and Tiny Habits, and this reminds me of his reinforcement principles. It’s tough hearing No, from anyone. But it makes you hungry, hard working, and grateful of the Yes.
  7. Hearing No makes you humble — I had a lot of success in my past life. Not going to lie, it was pretty good. This startup stuff is hard, really hard. I even got a lot of Yes’ when we first started out (focused on F500 market, my background) so my arrogance was unchecked. Hearing No has humbled me. Brought me to my knees at times. I remember hearing No 80+ times from investors, and what that taught me. Hearing No has humbled me, in many ways. It has changed me as a father too. When I hear No I thank the person saying it, because I know it must be hard for them too. Especially when they are doing it to your face.

Modified from Shervin’s blog.

What have you learned from No?

Capturing the Rise of Philly Tech

When I got to Philadelphia in 2004 there was not much of a tech scene to speak of. At least not one I could see. As I would find out later, a lot of the people were here, but they had not yet coalesced into a community. Within a few years, however, events like Ignite Philly and the first BarCamp Philly began to reveal a Philadelphia that looked a lot like the temporary tech community I witnessed every year at SXSW Interactive.

This whole time I was a filmmaker, having made my first movie in high school, when editing meant wiring two VCR’s together and hoping for the best. So it was only a matter of time before my two passions collided.

In 2012, my co-producer Maurice Gaston and I began shooting the web series Developing Philly, about the rise of what we called the “innovation community” in Philadelphia (because “tech” was just too narrow). We interviewed luminaries like Alex Hillman, who helped define coworking not just for Philly, but for much of the world, Wil Reynolds, who showed how you can build a tech business that helps sustain a neighborhood, and Josh Kopelman, who took lessons from the last tech boom to empower this one.

Earlier this year, we completed the series and debuted the first episode during Philly Tech Week. It ran for seven weeks, got lots of acclaim, and is available now at DevelopingPhilly.com. It was very fulfilling to give back, in our own way, to the community we love by attempting to document it and how it has impacted – and been impacted by – the city we love.

My co-producer and I are working on season two now, but first we have to go run that very conference that helped build this community. In part based on our work with Developing Philly, we’ve been asked to organize this year’s BarCamp Philly! How’s that for coming full circle?

You can check out the first episode of Developing Philly below:

Episode One – “The End Is the Beginning”

 

Why Los Angeles Was the Right City for cyPOP

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I co-founded cyPOP.com two years ago while an undergrad at the University of Washington in Seattle. My co-founders and I raised a seed round, built an initial Beta site, and launched. Just prior to graduation, I began looking into where we would base the company.

In deciding where to base the company, there were many factors to consider. In the end, we decided that Los Angeles was the best place for cyPOP to call home for several reasons.

  1. Talent Pool. You are only as good as the members of your team. One of the great aspects of Los Angeles is the fact that not only do you have a large tech sector to draw talent from, but you also have great Universities and a large traditional industry sector. While technology is certainly important to a tech startup, it is not the only concern. Being able to hire great people from across industries is a significant plus for LA.
  2. Content. You would be hard-pressed to find a city that has a greater impact on the world through its content creation than Los Angeles! Movies, fashion, magazines, high-profile sports, and entertainers are all here. For websites, the technology is again important, but the thing that makes people want to keep coming back is what they find once they visit your website. For us, the access to strategic marketing and partnerships across all these industries was a big part of what made LA so appealing.
  3. International market perception. This may sound strange, but if you are marketing a product that no one has ever heard of, it is important that they be able to identify something with who and what you are. By being from Los Angeles, cyPOP is immediately identifiable as being ‘from the USA and from a major, recognizable city’. This plays a part when bringing our product to users in other parts of the world. In Asia for example, cyPOP has received solid market awareness in part because our home market is one that the target market recognizes and can identify with.
  4. Money. A startup lives (and dies) off of investment. In the case of cyPOP, we believe strongly in a diverse and strategic investor base. Similar to the ‘talent’ section, having access to traditional tech investors and later on VC’s is important, but we also strongly believe that non-tech strategic investors are equally, if not more important to our long term success. By bringing on the right high-wealth Angel, you can open up industries (content), partnerships (distribution), and influence (more money & more strategic relationships). Los Angeles has a great diversity within its investor ranks, so as you grow your company, certainly look for technical investors and influence; you have the rare opportunity of also pitching other industry leaders.

Last point I want to touch on here is the support of the community. Since relocating the company to LA, I have experienced a tremendous welcoming and friendly attitude. This has been from both the startup community and many other areas including the wonderful USC community (at which I am currently an MBA candidate). All of these aspects are why I feel having my startup cyPOP.com here in Los Angeles is the best place for us to be.

Twitter: @JosieBaik I @cyPOPINC