On a recent muggy evening, about 70 mostly 20-something, mostly male guests gathered in clusters on a rooftop in Chelsea for the summer’s first “Find a Cofounder” party, squinting at one another’s name tags as the sun set. Red name tags were for programmers; blue meant you were more of a business guy. The blue name tags ran out by the time Betabeat got a drink.
“So three years ago, there was the New York Tech Meetup, right?” Gary Sharma said, referring to the 18,545-member organization that draws about 800 attendees to its monthly demo nights. Mr. Sharma was a mild-mannered Wall Street marketing consultant before he became “The Guy with the Red Tie,” per his business card and neckwear. He has been attending tech start-up events and cataloguing them in his weekly newsletter, GarysGuide, for the better part of four years. “That was the start-up meetup, pretty much. I like to call it the mothership. As that gets bigger, I started seeing satellite meetups coming out of it. Video 2.0, Web 2.0. Then you started seeing even smaller ones. Travel 2.0, Fashion 2.0. Then more niche ones. Some people started the Hoboken Tech Meetup. You know where Hoboken is?” We did; we’ve been. The Hoboken Tech Meetup has 901 members. Its monthly Monday night meetings always have a wait list.
“I want to start a social-local-mobile meetup called SoLoMo!” Mr. Sharma said. “No, I’m just kidding,” he added quickly.
“I knew nothing about Internet start-ups,” Ben Wolff, a smiley personal stylist who lives in Corona, Queens, admitted to Betabeat as we sat cross-legged on a futon in a corner of the patio. “I knew I needed to make an electronic version of myself. That’s why I started.”
Last year, Mr. Wolff, whose business consists of going through client’s closets and refreshing their wardrobes, wrote out a set of “if this, then that” instructions in a spreadsheet to formalize his process. A few encouraging conversations with friends inspired him to turn it into a start-up. His dream is to make the “Faster Pants algorithm” part of every man’s shopping experience, he said, as soon as he can find someone to code for equity. “I equate this with a high school dance where there’s more girls than boys,” he said, mock-twiddling his thumbs. “I feel like I’m sitting on the wall going, ‘Oh, please dance with me!’”
“You’re a reporter? Reporters did a lot for me!” said Ray Schmitz. A former real-estate broker who made a small name for himself by passing out business cards at the revolving door of Bear Stearns the day the investment bank announced its sale to JPMorgan, he was also seeking dance partners. He had the idea for a website that lets brokers refer business to each other in 2009. “I remember reading a book by Clay Shirky,” he said. “He makes a wonderful point that the Internet may be the biggest change in society since the printing press. It may be even bigger. The start-ups in New York are forging the life of the future for everyone right now. The way we’ll live, work and play tomorrow is being created here today.”
On our way out, Betabeat ran into Aaron Price, the fastidious organizer of the Hoboken Tech Meetup, who was standing in the bathroom line. Things were going well, he said. He was recently named to the nebulous position of “entrepreneur at large” for the early-stage venture capital fund DFJ Gotham, opened a co-working space, and was working on his start-up, makeMania, a website where crafty people show off their D.I.Y. projects.
He exhorted us, as always, to come to the next Hoboken meetup. We promised to try.