On the Saturday that thousands of protesters marched to Times Square, the brass bells of the New York Stock Exchange rang out at noon–signifying the takeover of the trading floor by the New York startup community. Companies like Etsy, Meetup and ZocDoc were handing out t-shirts and branded ping pong balls to fresh-faced engineers in backpacks who circled the screen-filled roundabouts while munching the complimentary sandwiches provided for SA500, a Silicon Alley recruiting event.
The choice of venue could be interpreted as symbolic aggression. New York startups compete fiercely with the finance sector for programmers and MBAs–and while they can’t match Goldman’s salaries, they do make the social argument. Knewton wants to transform education, Sulia wants to reinvent news, and the mobile payments app Venmo wants to replace credit cards. Meetup is “starting a local community revolution”; Etsy’s mission is to “empower people to change the way the global economy works.” The lofty talk of startups is not unlike the rhetoric of the protesters, who are advocating–albeit vaguely–the most radical agenda of any political movement in recent memory.
“I see them as very, very similar,” said Scott Heiferman, co-founder and CEO of Meetup.com, who orchestrated a field trip to the protest after a recent board meeting. “Most of the successful startup people are out to make a dent in the universe and change the world in some way, and that’s what they’re trying to do downtown. I can’t speak to the people who are just hanging around for the free pizza, but there are people downtown who are really fired up to see some sort of systemic change in culture.”
But while they’re definitely talking about the protest, many techies aren’t sold. The movement has high engagement (and revenue!) but the brand, the marketing and the roadmap need work.
The Real TechStars of New York
The finale of the TechStars reality show is out, and it’s starting to look like Bloomberg took the Davids for a ride. Everyone in TechStars was required to participate–Bloomberg kept referring to the show as a documentary, and the program directors insisted it would be good publicity for everyone. “Tisch and Cohen fought VERY hard to make sure the finale episode was positive,” Melanie Moore, one of the first New York session alumni who was uncharitably portrayed, wrote on Hacker News last night when her blog post, “TechStars, Lies and Videotape,” hit the front page. “They felt just as disappointed and betrayed by Bloomberg as I.”
The show stitched together unrelated scenes and built a narrative that was in places entirely fabricated. It made Ms. Moore look like a ditz, David Tisch look like jerk and Jason Baptiste look like a braggert. But how did it make TechStars look?
Entrepreneur-turned-investor Mark Suster has already dispensed email advice for “us sarcastic bastards who have slitting tongues,” but on this week’s episode of TechStars he gives David Tisch a run for his money on the real talk/insult-o-meter, to some amusing ends. (Check out our top five list after the end.)
In Episode Four, Mr. Tisch is trying to prepare the teams for Demo Day and “access to a room full of money,” in some cases by throwing ping pong balls or fake cash to see if he can distract them. He also encourages them to “try your best to get a third of what you’re looking for soft circled,” so they can present with some momentum. The VC weather report might be frothy, but not all the teams are finding it easy.
Real TechStars of New York City
TechStars New York alum and co-founder of the high-flying-for-a-while-but-now-defunct ToVieFor Melanie Moore didn’t mourn for long. ToVieFor closed up shop just months after it graduated from the local TechStars incubator–Ms. Moore penned a long and thoughtful post-mortem with her reflections on the fashion industry. “No regrets,” she told Betabeat.
Apparently. “Hurricane Melanie” has already launched into her next project, another fashion startup with Girl Develop It co-founder Sara J. Chipps. “We got our first customer (and she bought the largest subscription option)!” Ms. Moore wrote in an email to Betabeat. “We have only sent the site out to about 20 people, so that’s a great conversion rate. Very exciting.”
Indeed. The new startup, Elizabeth & Clarke, is a subscription-based delivery service for “women’s basics” like “designer-quality white shirts, delivered to your door each season, for under $30.”
That’s the business? Every three months, you get a box of white shirts?
The Real TechStars of New York
This is a guest post from “Hurricane Melanie” Moore, co-founder of Elizabeth & Clarke, a stealth fashion/tech startup in New York. This is a post-mortem on Ms. Moore’s first startup, the high fashion deal site ToVieFor, which was part of the first TechStars class in New York.
As you all know by now, the grim reaper has paid ToVieFor a visit. Sad face. I want to talk a little about the root cause of the closure, in the hopes that others who might be starting a new business do not make the same mistake. Also, some broader industry thoughts below–as I’m sure no one wants to hear me keep yapping about my failed startup for weeks on end.
The reason ToVieFor failed is the same reason almost all businesses fail: we did not build something that people wanted. I know it sounds like a *facepalm* moment, but following the steps of the Lean Startup method in order to discover what people want is so easily said, but so hard to actually do.
Real TechStars of New York
Last week on the premiere of TechStars, the startups got the good news about their golden ticket into the inaugural New York class (more selective than Hahvard, didja hear?). Last night, the reality show’s second episode (you can watch the whole thing here) focused on Lesson One: Humility–as in, it just might behoove you to get some. Fast. One startup picks up $1 million in funding. One startup goes to Hollywood to meet their idol. And we learn that you don’t have to know a whole lot about gaming to throw around the words “gaming mechanics.” Here’s what you missed!
Although the tongue-in-cheek excitement of a reality show that substitutes David Tisch for Heidi Klum and Bloomberg for Bravo was lost on some people, exactly no one in the packed house at Fiddlesticks in the West Village last night seemed to give a hoot. They were too busy watching their friends–and themselves–show up on teevee for the New York tech scene’s illustrious small screen debut.
RRE Ventures footed the bar tab for a breathing-room only crowd that included the grinning founders of TechStars companies like OnSwipe’s Jason Baptiste and Shelby.tv’s Reece Pacheco, along with the usual suspects like GroupMe’s Steve Martocci and Jared Hecht and Aviary’s Alex Taub, and the adorable “Bubby” Tisch, the eldest of the three generations in attendance, who gamely sat near the screen in over-sized glasses watching her grandson getting the f7$%ing bleep bleeped out of him on Bloomberg TV.
Seed Stage Slaughter
E-COMMERCE COMPANY MOVES IN ON CONCRETE JUNGLE. Amazon is building a new team in New York, Betabeat is hearing. Details are vague, but recruiters are reaching out to developers via emails with spelling mistakes.
No, wait! Didn’t Jeff Bezos invest in someone local recently? Someone, someone, who was it? Ohhh, now we remember: Mr. Bezos deigned to gave the local startup scene a boost in the form of a check to General Assembly. Standing on the shoulders of giants!
THE NEW BLACK. We recently wrote that TechStars alum Melanie Moore has officially shuttered her fashion startup ToVieFor for pastures unknown. Last we heard, she was considering two opportunities and would decide in the next few months. Ms. Moore has quietly updated her website, however. “I run an awesome fashion / tech startup called Elizabeth & Clarke in New York City. Though, you might know me from my first company, ToVieFor.”
New York-based ToVieFor, a members-only auction site for women’s luxury goods, has closed up shop after about a year of building the business followed by a spring at TechStars. The site is shuttered, the Twitter account is down, Tumblr is quiet, and co-founder Melanie Moore changed her LinkedIn profile to the past tense. “On the surface, we shut down because we ran out of money,” Ms. Moore said. “However, the root cause of this was a flawed business model. We were attempting to compete solely on price in a world where brands not only do not compete on price, they have essentially formed an oligopoly and set prices (vs take prices). As a result, it was incredibly difficult to convince brands to allow us to change up their pricing structure. And in retail, having those brand partnerships is critical to survival.”