This is a guest post from Gary Sharma (aka “The Guy with the Red Tie”), Founder & CEO of GarysGuide and proud owner of a whole bunch of black suits, white shirts and, at last count, over 40 red ties. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“First time at F.ounders?”
“Yeah, how about you?”
“I attended the one in Dublin last year.”
“Nice! Did you guys really hang out with Bono?”
“Yeah man, it was crazy!”
“I heard Obama might show up tonight.”
“No kidding. Really?”
“That’s what I heard.”
The two young twenty-something multi-millionaire startup founders looked expectantly towards the stage, wondering when POTUS would make an appearance.
Ok, so Obama was not on the agenda. But the fact that folks believed there was even a possibility speaks volumes for the quality and reputation of the event that Paddy Cosgrave, a charming 29-year-old from Ireland, had put together. Now in its third year, F.ounders is a must-attend, invite-only, ultra-exclusive annual event bringing together 150 (yup, there’s that dunbar number again) startup founder rockstars, along with a medley of top-tier investors, journalists and executives.
Bloomberg calls it Davos for Geeks. The Next Web calls it the Rolls Royce of conferences. And Mashable calls it the best event they’ve ever been to. I love basketball so I’m-a-gonna call this the “Michael Jordan of Tech Events!” Because it simply doesn’t get any better than this.
We were informed that, “Given that the CEOs and founders of over quarter of a trillion worth of ‘start-ups’ will be in Times Square on Friday, security is going to be very tight.” A quarter of a trillion. Yup, that number has a nice ring to it.
Besides running the much bigger Dublin Web Summit (coming up later this year on October 17 to 18), Paddy is also a UN Global e-Leader for Youth and ICT and an advisor to startups such as SkillPages. The guy keeps busy! Kudos also to the other folks on the organizing team including Daire Hickey, David Kelly and the rest. Throwing an event at the NASDAQ MarketSite in the middle of Times Square can’t be the easiest thing in the world. Especially when you’re coming all the way from Ireland!
As I walked along the cobblestone path down Crosby Street, I noticed heavy green foliage to my left. I had arrived at my destination, the Mondrian Soho, an ultra-trendy four-star luxury hotel inspired by the Jean Cocteau Film, La Belle et la bete (“The Beauty and the Beast”). (Btw, all attendees who stayed at the hotel received a nice discount.)
I picked up my pass and sauntered down into the lobby, where I ran into Ben Parr, cofounder of The Peep Project & ex-Mashable scribe, holding a tall glass of beer. I got a high-five from Ben and we were soon joined by Accel Partners’ Daniel Levine and the lovely Kelsey Falter from PopTip.
“How did it go?” I asked Kelsey, referring to her presentation earlier at the TechStars Demo Day. “Awesome!” she replied. Kelsey’s startup Markover recently won Betabeat’s web series / startup competition The Pitch. After getting into TechStars, though, she pivoted to PopTip. “Any VC checks in your pocket?” I asked “Not yet!” she laughed but the twinkle in her eye told me good things were coming.
We asked Ben what he was drinking. “SmuttyNose! It’s IPA.” he replied. The conversation soon devolved (as it usually does) into discussing the merits of East Coast versus West Coast beer. Conclusion? The East Coast has the better beer, but West Coast burritos rock! (SmuttyNose, incidentally, takes its name from the island where the beer is made, somewhere along the New Hampshire coast. And the place is steeped in history and legend and home to poets, pirates and ghosts!)
On my way to the bar, I ran into the wonderful Cindy Gallop from If We Ran The World. I hadn’t seen Cindy since SXSW, and we caught up and chatted about everything from the pornification of brands to the art of vajazzling and, of course, the upcoming launch of her much-anticipated MakeLoveNotPorn.tv. Her digs in New York (a.k.a. #TheBlackApartment) were recently the backdrop for a photoshoot for singer Amanda Palmer (yes, the same Amanda Palmer who just raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter). During my last visit, I’d presented her with a beautiful statue of Ganesha (the Indian elephant god), which you’ll see on her coffee table, assuming you’re lucky enough to score an invite. Cindy, the jetsetter that she is, had recently attended DLD Moscow and was headed to Cannes Lions after F.ounders NY. In her own words: “From the people inventing the future to the people struggling with it.”
I met 18-year-old Harvard dropout Sujay Tyle who heads biz dev and strategy for Scopely. Sujay is one of Paypal godfather Peter Thiel’s 20-under-20 fellows (yes, THAT program–where Thiel writes you a check for $100,000 and you drop out of college). “I’m a big fan of GarysGuide!” he said. “Thanks!” I smiled. Sujay, incidentally, from age 11 to 16, conducted biofuel research surrounding the conversion of cellulose to ethanol, for which he won the International Energy Olympiad and was named one of the Top Young Scientists across New York. Impressive! And hopefully an inspiration to the kids these days, if the US is to get serious about closing the education gap in science/engineering, where we’re falling way behind the rest of the world.
I met the founders of hot Y-Combinator startup Pair and we talked a bit regarding strategies for mobile user acquisition. Pair is inherently not a viral product (it’s a social network for couples) and while it has received a lot of buzz in the tech community, they really needed to figure out a way to reach the broader mainstream audience. But it does seem to have struck a chord with many users, so I’m sure they’ll figure out a way.
I chatted with a bunch of other folks at the reception including Google Ventures’ Rich Miner, Redpoint’s Satish Dharmaraj, Mashery CEO Oren Michels, Agent of Change’s Marcy Simon, Decide.com CEO Mike Fridgen, Class V Group’s Lise Buyer, Irrive’s Steven Cohn, Quixey’s Tomer Kagan, Aframe’s David Peto, Apax Partners’ Tripp Lane, Social Bakers’ Jan Rezab and Talenthouse CEO Roman Scharf.
I had a nice conversation with Polaris Ventures’ Noel Ruane (who also leads Dogpatch Europe). Noel created and managed LaunchPad, Ireland’s first digital tech accelerator program, inspired by Y-Combinator. They are accepting applications for their Autumn 2012 program (deadline is July 6)
NYC Tech was fairly well represented with a bunch of familiar faces including the lovely Shauna Mei from AhaLife, Foodspotting’s Soraya Darabi (who is now working on a new startup), and Blip cofounder Dina Kaplan (also working on a new startup and others.)
Later we all headed over to the Charity:Water offices, which were lined everywhere with their trademark ubiqitious yellow jerrycans.
Founder Scott Harrison talked about the origins of the idea (bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries), their philosophy (100 percent of all public donations directly fund water projects) and how they almost ran out of money (Bebo Founder Michael Birch and his wife saved the day by wiring them a million dollars). They’ve since raised about $50 million and helped two million people gain access to clean water. Scott also shared a few stories from the trenches, showing how lives were being changed. By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
After the speeches, I ran into WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. “I thought I recognized you from the red tie!” he smiled. Matt had recently reached out to me, as he’d heard about my red tie and was interested in sponsoring it. We reminisced a bit about the early days of blogging (when they were duking it out with Movable Type).
I met the Turakhia brothers, Divyank and Bhavin, who both handed me what looked like gold business cards. Divyank (aka Div) started his first business when he was 14 and later, at age 18, he cofounded the Directi Group with his brother, taking $600 from their parents as seed capital. Directi is now worth $300 million and the brothers are multi-millionaires. Not bad at all! While Bhavin is focused on Directi, Divyank has a new startup, Media.net, with an ambition to take on Google Adsense. (Okay, so I’m guessing those gold business cards are actually for real. Guys?)
I struck a conversation with Ville Vesterinen, founder of Grey Area, a gaming startup, who was here all the way from Helsinki! I gave him my business card. “I’m subscribed to your newsletter,” he exclaimed excitedly. I was flattered–my first Helsinki subscriber! Ville and his girlfriend were planning to move to NYC soon (she’s joining hot local startup Codecademy). “What’s a good neighborhood for couples?” he asked. I recommended Park Slope in Brooklyn and promised to connect him to my Brooklyn friends.
I chatted with a bunch of other folks including Tagged founder Greg Tseng (doing great, 10 million MAUs, 12 mins spent on site: less than Tumblr but higher than Facebook), UStream founder Brad Hunstable (Livestream? We’re four times bigger!), StumbleUpon founder Garrett Camp, KPMG’s Tim Foster and others.
Later we headed to the Angel Oresanz, a beautiful Gothic Revival synagogue built in the 1800s, for dinner.
At the dinner, I ran into a bunch of folks including Hipmunk cofounder Adam Goldstein, TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque, General Assembly CEO Jake Schwartz, Chegg cofounder Aayush Bhumbra, Wired’s Spencer Reiss, Goldman Sachs’ Jane Dunlevie and others.
I chatted with FirstMark Capital’s Lawrence Lenihan about “Ready Fire Aim,” the entrepreneurship class that he’s teaching at NYU. My friend Gauri Manglik (Fondue) had taken and raved about it. It had been the inspiration that led to her starting a startup. Right on! He invited me to sit in one of his classes. I also connected with Julie Cohn, who covers business and tech news for The Daily (News Corp’s iPad magazine) and we chatted about the NY tech scene among other things.
After dinner, we all headed back to the Mondrian for the after-after-party.
Around midnight, I snuck out briefly to attend the 40th birthday party of Prince Lorenzo Borghese (a.k.a. The Bachelor) which coincidentally (and thankfully!) was also taking place at the Mondrian at their ultra-exclusive Mister H lounge. This is why I love New York. Everything is so conveniently located!
On my return I bumped into Art.sy‘s Carter Cleveland, Gotham Innovation‘s Fahad Khan and Apture (now acquired by Google) founder Tristan Harris. The conversation was all about recruiting San Francisco startups to move to New York City (Yes!) and Tristan had a clever kickstarter-esque idea to help founders take that leap.
Other folks I met were TopTal cofounder Taso Du Val, Curebit cofounder Allan Grant, Mobclix cofounder Vishal Gurbuxani and others.
I had a fun conversation with Ben Milne, Founder of Dwolla, a disruptive payments startup backed by Union Square Ventures and based out of Des Moine, Iowa that is trying to build a bank-to-bank e-payments network bypassing credit cards altogether (and their atrocious fees). “Betabeat, huh,” he smiled, noting my badge. I sensed a little history Ben’s beard may not be as crazy as Techstars founder @workforfood, but it certainly has a personality.
“Any chance you can change the name of the company?” I asked. “Everytime I hear it, I think of that Crazy Joe Davola character from Seinfeld in that clown outfit!” Ben smiled. “I had no idea! I will definitely give it some thought.” Good enough for me, Ben. I’ll follow up in a couple of months
The next morning the action shifted to the NASDAQ.
There were, of course, a bunch of panels and fireside chats. Here are some tidbits:
Arianna Huffington to Mathew Bishop: “Want the one-night stand or the long weekend getaway? Our iPad magazine is the long getaway!”
David KirkPatrick moderating the Future of Education Panel: “Is anybody on this panel close to making any money? No? Didn’t think so.”
MG Siegler: “The Facebook IPO was great for Facebook, not necessarily great for later-stage investors.”
The Hungry Games Panel: “Guy in Saudi Arabia spent $100,000 in one day on Zynga!”
Steve Case commenting on the Aol/TimeWarner merger: “I drank the koolaid. Some would say I made the koolaid!”
Etsy’s Chad Dickerson: “Startups focus too much on a marketplace’s functions, like checkout and search, not enough on its community.”
David Karp: “2-4 percent of all posts on any given day on Tumblr are porn.”
I ran into 2tor cofounder Jeremy Johnson. I hadn’t seen Jeremy in ages, and we reminisced about the New York tech scene and how it had grown. Speak of growth, 2tor had been doing very well with over 350 employees now, a little over 90 million raised (26 million in a Series D round 2 months ago) and revenues doubling. They have partnerships with top universities such as USC, Georgetown and UNC to offer online graduate programs. And Jeremy mentioned that, going forward, undergrad programs would be on their radar, a much bigger potential market. Jeremy invited me over to their offices for a demo of some of the new stuff they’re working on. “So how’s the culture like at the office?” I asked. “We have a strict no assholes policy!” he smiled. Word.
GenWi cofounder PJ Gurumohan gave me and Facebook Effect author David Kirkpatrick a tour of their tablet publishing tool. Later I connected with Matt Galligan (SimpleGeo, SocialThing) who was now launching a new startup, Circa, along with Cheezburger’s Ben Huh. Circa’s investor list reads like a who’s who including 3 Davids (Tisch, Cohen, Karp), Dave Morin, Rick Webb and others. OnSwipe‘s Jason Baptiste joined us and we had a long, entertaining chat on the future of publishing and where things were headed.
Waiting in line for lunch, I struck up a conversation with Dominique Vidal, who is a partner at Index Ventures and previously ran Yahoo Europe. Index has a couple of funds targeting seed, early and growth stage, and an impressive portfolio including Facebook, Path, Flipboard, Last.fm and most recently, Etsy. Dominique, who focuses more on the later stage, was very much on the lookout for potential growth/IPO-track companies to invest in. “See anything interesting?” I asked. “Quite a few!” he replied and mentioned a few names. We chatted about two hot NYC startups that Dominique sits on the board of, Outbrain and SquareSpace, both of which are going gangbusters and potential IPO candidates down the road. It was starting to make sense why this event was being held at the NASDAQ MarketSite.
A couple of girls walked by and exclaimed “Gary, we’re really looking forward to the party at your loft tonight!” Hmmm, I wondered, this was news to me. Now where did they get that idea? I pulled out the f.ounders agenda booklet and flipped through it. Sure enough, there it was. 6p.m.: Party at Gary’s Loft. Yikes! Who was this Gary? Because it surely wasn’t me. My curiosity was piqued.
I caught up with data junkie and entrepreneur Eva Ho from Factual (Eva was previously part of the founding team at Applied Semantics) We chatted about mountain trekking and the Himalayas and going up to Everest BaseCamp (18000 feet above sea level!), as one of her friends had recently been up there. Adding this to my bucket list! “Would you go all the way to the top?” I asked her. “That might be too much!” she laughed. Eva showed me her calendar. It looked almost as crazy as mine! I noticed she was involved with a lot of incubators (NewMe, MuckerLab) but also many charity and cause related initiatives. One in particular caught my eye. Iridiscent (where she’s a board member), helps introduce high school girls to the worlds of science, engineering and entrepreneurship. They provide the girls with the tools / hardware / software / etc and help them actually create something. How cool is that–their first taste of being an entrepreneur!
I chatted with Matthew Prince, cofounder and CEO of CloudFlare and Jennifer Hyman, cofounder and CEO of Rent The Runway. “We like to think we’re in the business of providing Cinderella experiences for our customers,” said Jennifer. “So that would make you the fairy godmother?” I winked. “YES, story of my life!” she exclaimed. “And now I am going to change your life!” She gave me the contact details of one of the best salons in the city. Apparently they are geniuses when it comes to dealing with crazy curly hair like mine. Fairy Godmother indeed!
I met a bunch of other folks lincluding Locu founder Rene Reinsberg, whom I’d met at TechCrunch Disrupt recently, Qwiki founder Doug Imbruce (who was a big fan of Gary’s Guide :)), mobile payments startup Venmo founder Andrew Kortina, Appthority founder Domingo Guerra, Disqus‘ Ro Gupta, GigaOm’s KiMae Huessner, who I hadn’t seen since the Betabeat anniversary party, Soundtracking founder (and iMeem co-creator) Steve Jang, and David Axmark, one of the founders of MySQL.
I later ran into AOL & Revolution Founder Steve Case, and we had an interesting discussion on all the stuff he’s currently involved with, including the recently passed JOBS Act, Startup America, where he is chairman, and, most importantly, the upcoming Startup Act 2.0. “The good news is that senators from both parties are on board and the bipartisanship should definitely help. But it is an election year and we shouldn’t take anything for granted,” he mentioned. Interesting stats: More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. were founded by immigrants or their children, including Google, Apple, and IBM. And new businesses (less than five years old) have created nearly 40 million American jobs.
I congratulated LooseCubes cofounder Anna Thomas on their recent big round (about $7.8 million). “Thank you and so great to finally meet you!” she exclaimed. LooseCubes has big plans and will be rolling out some cool new features. I promised to stop by their offices to co-work sometime soon.
I discussed with Gabe Rivera regarding what was next for TechMeme. He mentioned that World News was one of the categories he’d been looking at. It seemed the right fit for the TechMeme format and was a fairly big market.
Later I ran into Divyank again, this time with Paypal’s KC Fox. We chatted about adventure sports. Divyank has apparently tried everything from aerobatic flying to ballooning, skydiving to paragliding. Oh, and also Wing Walking. Don’t know what that is? Here, check it out. Yup, adding that to my bucket list, too!
I chatted with Apture’s Tristan Harris and Eytan Elbaz, Founder of L.A.-based gaming startup Scopely (yes, THAT one, with the viral hipster jobs page). Eytan along with brother Gil (the founder of Factual) had founded Applied Semantics (a.k.a. Google Adsense). The conversation veered towards the most helpful folks in the Valley. Two names right at the top: Square’s Keith Rabois and YouTube’s Hunter Walk. “Back in the day, they were like the indie bands,” mourned Eytan, “undiscovered and very accessible. But now the secret is out and it’s much harder to get hold of them.” We wondered who the new hidden gems were.
Later in the afternoon we were all handed maps to … err … Gary’s Loft, and we headed over. Encompassing two floors plus a huge rooftop with stunning views of the Empire State Building, it was definitely one of the swankier penthouse lofts I’d ever been to. Whoever this Gary was, I felt a certain kinship with him. He had good taste!
I ran into Ethan Beard, who handles developer relations at Facebook. “So do certain apps get preferential treatment?” I casually asked, mentioning Viddy and SocialCam. “Not really, but when we’re exploring a new use-case we might work with just a few apps initially until the kinks are ironed out, and then we roll it out to all other apps,” he explained, citing Spotify and Rdio as an example. Ethan also mentioned that leading up to the IPO, you could definitely sense a certain tension within the company. It didn’t affect productivity and they tried to adopt a business-as-usual attitude. But I guess when you’re in the quiet period of arguably the most heavily anticipated IPO of our generation, things can get a little stressful, no?
I chatted with Matt Williams, CEO of Digg. Washington Post had recently acq-hired a bunch of Digg employees. And Matt mentioned that various suitors have been sniffing around Digg for the Technology / IP portion. A sale imminent? Stay tuned.
Wix Founder/CEO Avishai Abrahami and I headed over to the buffet to feast on some delicious oysters, shrimp and sushi. Wix.com was doing great. They’d recently made a big push towards HTML5 and were already seeing one million sites on it. Plus, they were seeing a lot of growth in mobile.
An anonymous but credible source who sees a lot of deal flow in the Valley told me that investors had become really spooked with the recent less-than-stellar Facebook IPO. Many of them had been investing in the last couple of years with a little less discipline and a little more recklessness than was prudent, assuming that a successful Facebook IPO was pretty much a lock. More than a few of them were now holding back on investing in any new stuff. And the high valuations (that they themselves have been partly responsible for driving up) were not helping. It may or may not develop into the full-blown nuclear winter that YC’s Paul Graham warned about recently, but the winds are definitely shifting.
I chatted with 99 Designs cofounder Matt Mickiewicz, Scribd cofounder Jared Friedman and Microsoft startup evangelist Sumit Shukla. “Thank you for acquiring Yammer,” Jared (an early angel investor in Yammer) told Sumit. The conversation shifted to the rumors regarding an apparently very lavish party that Yammer CEO David Sacks was throwing for his 40th birthday and also to celebrate the acquisition. Details were hazy but apparently involved a $125 million mansion in L.A., 18th century costumes and Snoop Dogg. Sounds like a party to me! Matt entertained us with stories from his trips to the Playboy Mansion. Bucketlisted!
At the bar I ran into TechCrunch Europe Editor Mike Butcher and the lovely Silje Vallestad, founder/CEO of Bipper. Mike was his usual hyper-energetic self, while Silje regaled us with stories from her time visiting the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
I ran into Gary Vaynerchuk of Vayner Media and WineLibrary TV fame and author of The Thank You Economy. “Loving your Betabeat articles!” he exclaimed. “Thanks!” I smiled back. And then, of course, we had to tackle the elephant in the room. “Is this your loft?” I asked. “No, I thought it was yours!” he replied. Hmmmm, the mystery deepens, so who is this Gary of Gary’s Loft anyway? I plan to dig my investigative journalist nose deeper into this, folks. Stay tuned!
Other folks I met were Redeem and Get CEO Gene Murphy, Tripping founder Jen O’Neal, CNN Money’s Laurie Segall, A&L GoodBody‘s John Whelan, Livebookings (the OpenTable of Europe) founder Chris Persson and iZettle founder Jacob de Geer (who showed off their Square like phone dongle).
I met world-renowned photographer Kevin Abosch who’s worked with everyone from President Obama to Johnny Depp. He did the amazing founder photo portraits displayed earlier on the NASDAQ, an exciting preview of a large-scale project FACES:TECH. As tech products like Google, Facebook and Twitter become more pervasive and ubiquitous in our lives, he thought it’d be interesting to bring focus to the entrepreneurs & visionaries behind these products such as Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Skype’s Niklas Zennström. A major bi-coastal exhibition of FACES:TECH is planned for later this year.
I ran into Indiegogo Founder/CEO Danae Ringelmann. Of course we had to chat about the whole Oatmeal / FunnyJunk situation and the related fund-raising project, Bear Love Good. Cancer Bad. “No, we didn’t take it down. And actually it’s up to almost $160,000 now” she told us. The power of the Internets!
Polish serial entrepreneur the lovely Ela Madej and I sat down to take a breather from the non-stop networking. Ela is the founder of Credictive, a new startup that helps you get credit for all things you’ve created–images, sounds, videos, etc. “Kinda like an IMDB for creative content,” she explained. Ela got accepted into the latest batch at Y-Combinator. Mazel tov! We chatted about a bunch of other stuff including CEO coaching (Jerry Colonna is helping her), bootstrapping companies and her upcoming trip to India.
At the after-party at Number 8 in Chelsea I ran into 4chan / Canvas Founder Chris “Moot” Poole. We chatted about what’s next for Canvas, an image-heavy website for creative outlet. The answer was easy: mobile, of course. “A tablet app is in the works,” he said. Fun fact: Chris was banned within 45 seconds of using Airtime, the ultra-hyped-chatroulette-without-the-penises startup by Napster cofounders Sean Parker & Shawn Fanning. Way to earn some geek cred, Chris.
As I was leaving, I ran into Rick Marini waiting outside for his Uber ride. Rick’s the founder of BranchOut, a LinkedIn-style professional networking app on Facebook. BranchOut has impressive traction (25 million users, 60 percent monthly active) and an even more impressive war-chest ($49 million). And the mobile app released in December has really spurred growth (3 new users every second, 40 percent traffic on mobile). “We’ve kind of figured out user acqusition and our focus now is on retention” said Rick. They’re planning to roll out a new user interface in a couple of weeks. “I’ve made my money.” he said refering to the $100 million exit he got for his previous company Tickle sold to Monster. “But now with BranchOut there is an opportunity to build something for the ages. I want to swing for the fences and take it to an IPO. I want to go all the way.” Spoken like a true F.ounder