XX in Tech
The rain was really starting to come down hard, but the female CEOs at Internet Week appeared undaunted by the passing storm. Birchbox’s Hayley Barna, Learnvest’s Alexa von Tobel, Nest.io’s Caren Maio, Mashable’s Sharon Feder and Artspace’s Catherine Levene joined CNNMoney reporter Laurie Segall for a discussion about gender in tech.
The panel was entitled “Why Being a Good CEO Has Nothing to Do with Being a Woman,” but it was clear from the first question that the women on this panel were more concerned with talking about their businesses than how being a woman has hindered their growth in the tech sector. And who can blame them? After all, the panel was specifically about how gender had nothing to do with their success–though almost all of the questions revolved around their experience as women in a male-dominated world.
Hometown heroines Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna are two of the better-known female founders in New York’s apparently estrogen-powered tech scene, and yeah, their company Birchbox is pretty girly. So it was fun to see the contrast in the dual announcement this week: the launch of Birchbox Man, which was basically like Instagram launching for Android, followed shortly by the announcement of a major partnership with the ladylicious Gossip Girl, the startup’s first major media partnership.
Birchbox, the New York City-based startup that tipped off the subscription services craze launched an testosterone-approved new vertical today: Birchbox Man. Like the OG lady Birchbox, the men’s version will combine a personalized subscription box with four to five samples a month (except shave gel and stylish socks instead of lip stain and bronzer), along with a “handpicked” online shop and magazine-y editorial content. “Winter is over and it’s time to emerge from your man cave,” reads the intro for a manly-sounding section called Great Outdoors.
Cofounder Katia Beauchamp said she had an inkling there was a market for Birchbox among the other half of the population after getting tweets and “real life” inquiries from men requesting grooming and lifestyles of their very own. Not to mention a curious observation from existing female subscribers. “When their box would arrive, the men in their lives would hover around and were so curious about what’s inside the box,” Ms. Beauchamp told Betabeat over the phone.
Jack Leidlein, who was hired last week by First Round Capital to be their head of talent, really loves to use the word “exceptional.” It makes sense, though; the very core of Mr. Leidlein’s new job–recruiting brilliant engineers to fill the ranks at First Round-funded startups–hinges on exceptionalism, and his knack for finding diamonds in the rough.
Entrepreneurs and investors are bullish on delivery. Shoedazzle may be the original delivery gangster, and the L.A.-based company launched in 2009. But it seems that it’s as of very recently that subscription services became the new black; or at least the new flash sale or the new daily deal. Birchbox, the startup that sends subscribers a curated box of cosmetic goodies every month, raised a $10.5 million series A last year led by Accel Partners and has been growing like a patch of weeds, claiming 45,000 paying subscribers in June
Paid customers are a rare breed in the world of internet startups. And although the model has its doubters, as every new business gimmick does, subscription services are taking off in a big way. Investors are running around saying, “Birchbox is printing money!” one source told Betabeat, imagining that if it works for makeup, it could work for other things. How many times have you read the headline “It’s BirchBox for ____” in the last year?
Annals of Boosterism
When it comes to self-promotion, New York’s startup scene is masterful. There was TechStars, the reality TV show. There was New York by Southwest, the RSVP list for New York tech’s collective spring break. You’ve got Made in NYC, the digital equivalent of a “Made in China” sticker. And does any other startup scene have anything like We Are NY Tech, a blog highlighting people working in New York tech? (“We thought about staying in Silicon Valley and we were a little tempted, but we think there’s something exciting going on in the startup scene here in New York and we wanted to be a part of it,” Ryan Bednar of Y Combinator startup Tutorspree, said in his WANY interview today). Now New York tech will have its own calendar.
Master merchandiser Rachel Shechtman is treating the launch of her new store not unlike the launch of a startup. To that end, the stealth shop, which was hidden behind an installation by the artist JR, launches today at 144 Tenth Avenue at 19th Street, “in beta” with the e-commerce component to follow in February.
“I kind of geek out around new business models and I think the future of the physical retail environment are gonna become less about consumption and more about content and community, so that’s what we’re doing.” said Ms. Shechtman, who founded her own retail consulting group Cube Ventures in 2003, and has offered an amalgam of marketing, merchandizing, and business development to clients like Gilt Groupe, Tom’s Shoes, Bliss Spa, and AOL.
“The concept,” she explained, “Is a space that has a point of view like a magazine, but it changes like a gallery and it sells things like a store.”
CHEESE AND CRACKERS. Startup godfather Paul Graham was in town this week to promote Y Combinator, the accelerater program that remains the gold standard despite the fact that it does not have its own TV show. Living in New York makes his upper lip sweat, he shared, indicating a YC branch in the city is not in the cards. Entrepreneurs were salivating over the chance to meet the jolly and gracious Mr. Graham–”never seen so many dudes in a line” as someone on Twttr, we can’t remember who, tweeted. But Mr. Graham is not as beloved when it comes to the investor community. A notoriously fierce advocate of founder power, Mr. Graham pushes for extremely favorable investment terms for YC companies–namely in the form of uncapped notes, whereby the stake in the seed round converts to a proportionate amount of stock in the next round. “Angels and super-angels tend not to like uncapped notes,” Mr. Graham has written. “They have no idea how much of the company they’re buying. If the company does well and the valuation of the next round is high, they may end up with only a sliver of it.”
The main problem with this, one investor told Betabeat, is that Mr. Graham takes a straight six percent stake in YC companies even as he waxes righteous when those companies go out to raise. Entrepreneurs defer to Mr. Graham’s advice, this source said, even when there’s another investor they’d like to work with. “He’s protecting those two blockbusters,” this source said, referring to the relatively small number of mega-breakout YC startups such as Airbnb and Heroku.
It’s fine by some investors if Mr. Graham wants his companies to talk a big game, our source said–personally, this source plans to clean up by investing in YC companies later when they “have to do a down round” after the inevitable failure to meet their investors’ artificially inflated expectations.