The Real Startup Dogs of Silicon Alley
He Said He Said
Betabeat is inclined to lump hardy-har April Fool’s Day humor in with Dad jokes. It’s sweet you tried, but we’ll keep our sullen face on all the same. Tech companies in particular seem to attack the holiday with all the corporate-sanctioned zeal of a marketer at SXSW. As esteemed president Adrianne Jeffries put it, “I feel like it was a gift that it was on Sunday so we can just ignore it.”
But Warby Parker’s seasonal prank turned our head for one reason: puppies in glasses–a genre in which we have some personal experience. Why try to be funny when you can just give the Internet what they really want? Anthropomorphized fur-balls. Thus with help from photographer Noel Camardo and videographer is Kenie Huber, the New York-based online eyeglass purveyor redirected visitors to Warby Barker where the company offered up doggy monocles and “chew-resistant” eyewear in colors like dusty bacon and gravy burst–complimentary gluten-free dog treat with purchase.
Yesterday a Williamsburg-based startup called Classic Specs posted what looked like a rather damning open letter accusing one of its competitors of attempting to tamper with investors. “We’ve been having a number of great meetings with advisors and potential investors lately,” Classic Specs cofounder Andrew Lipovsky wrote. “That’s why we were surprised to hear that someone was telling them, ‘hey..make sure you know the full story behind Classic Specs (wink).'”
Who would want to spread rumors about Classic Specs, which sells its stylish glasses at Brooklyn Flea and donates a portion of its proceeds to charity? “Our sales keep growing because we have a great product that people love (and that we hand deliver if you’re nearby) and because we have a very attractive dog as a mascot,” Mr. Lipovsky wrote in the stirring letter, which embedded a picture of said pooch.
Mr. Lipovsky suspects that the rumormonger is Warby Parker: the eyeglasses e-vendor, investor darling and customer sensation, that also happens to be based in New York. Why? Because the much-larger Warby had tried to shut Classic down before, he alleged.
The story seemed to have it all: copycats, unfair competition, and underdogs, and it shot up to the top of Hacker News yesterday afternoon, garnering at last count 169 points and 71 comments. “Hipster fight,” wrote one commenter. “This whole thing makes me so glad I got LASIK a few years ago,” said another.
But what, exactly, is the beef?
On its Tumblr, the New York City Economic Development Corporation posted an announcement this afternoon about the 28 individuals named to the city’s NYC Venture Fellows Program. The press release was actually issued last Tuesday, the NYCEDC confirmed by phone, but was only just added to Tumblr. C’mon, guys, until they plant that RSS chip in our brains, you gotta get with El Bloombito’s new social media agenda: everything updated all a’ the time.
This is the second year of the Venture Fellows program, developed with the agency along with Fordham University. “NYC Venture Fellows promotes emerging business leaders and encourages international entrepreneurs to start or expand their operations in New York City. The program connects fellows with mentors who are investors, serial entrepreneurs, CEOS, and operational managers from New York City and abroad.”
Combine that description with the word “fellows” and you might picture some accelerator-stage startups in real need of mentorship and connections, not far off the the lean Ramen life. Not so with the 28 rising stars on this year’s list, which includes BillGuard founder and CEO Yaron Samid, MakerBot cofounder and CEO Bre Pettis, Warby Parker cofounder and co-CEO Dave Gilboa, and charity: water founder and CEO Scott Harrison.
Series of Tubes
NO, YOU AREN’T CRAZY. Twitter asploded with soul-searching tweets as New Yorkers wondered if they’d really felt something. Haha, Warby Parker evacuated; so did Jordan Newman, Google spokesman and a recent transplant from the Googleplex, who felt it on the 15th floor and evacuated himself although people on the fourth floor didn’t notice anything. Gary Vaynerchuck wondered if it was because he had just announced his retirement from making wine videos. There was some alarm when the newsroom saw a tweet that trains were down, which turned out thankfully to be untrue. The earthquak’s total DMG to NYC was more along the lines of this. But we have already an animated .GIF, a mug (thanks Etsy!) and a check-in (thanks Foursquare!) to remember it by.
GUNS AND STEEL. Remember Silk Road, the website with an absurdly-long URL where you can buy drugs and other wonderful things with Bitcoin, and lots of its harmless customers gave quotes to Gawker? There’s a similar underground site that’s a little more ominous, a source tells Betabeat. It’s called Metal Storm–another common name that makes it tough to find by a search–and senators might want to pay more attention to this one, because it sells guns.
Warby Parker, which now has more than 40 employees and more than $1 million in revenue, is subject to laws that vary state-by-state. “Dispensing eyeglasses is not that complicated and even if it were complicated, there should be uniform rules,” co-founder Neil Blumenthal told the New York Times. The designer eyeglasses distributor sent Mr. Blumenthal to Washington last month to be a face for entrepreneurship, and what he heard didn’t inspire much confidence. “It might be too much to ask Washington to help with entrepreneurship when they can’t even get the basics right, like maintaining a decent credit rating,” he said.