Summer is over and it's time to get back to business. The NJ Tech Meetup kicked off fall with its 64th meetup. It was a double packed house and there wasn't a piece of pizza, drink of water or seat left in the house. The crowd was there for an evening with special guest Kevin Ryan, "The Godfather" of NYC tech. Plus, three startups were there to fight for NJ Tech glory; Ceros, Vognition and LivnList™, Only one would leave victorious.
The meetup began, as always, with an extended opportunity to network and talk technology. Organizer and ringleader Aaron Price @apstartup made sure everyone ate, drank, connected and then got down to business. After opening remarks and a shout out to the sponsors, he opened the floor to 20 second asks and offers. About a dozen people gave quick pitches for jobs, services and opportunities. Then it was time to get to the startups.
Startup #1: Ceros
They've built an interactive content creation platform for designers and marketers with a big emphasis on interactive. The best part is no coding skills or developers are required. Users plug in their content and it is ready to go live. You can build ebooks, microsites, infographics and more with technology that makes it easy. Their current challenge is breaking down client silos and selling through to the entire company without getting bogged down in corporate bureaucracy. And yes, they will take Red Bull as payment.
Startup #2: Vognition
Vognition provides natural language interfaces for connected devices. It's a B2B solution for apps, products and devices using voice recognition. Think voice-activated thermostats, mobile apps, automotive, home entertainment systems and the internet of things. That's where their software lives. "It's real. It's here. It's now. It works." says Vognition's Saied Seghatoleslami.
Startup #3: LivnList
The third and final pitch came from LivnList™, a Tinder for organizing your friends, deciding what you want to do and coordinating a plan without any wasted effort. By avoiding the endless clutter of group texting and email chains, this messaging app cuts to the chase and will get you out and about faster. Their next big challenge is user acquisition. Party on!
Aaron had a surprise in store for the startups. Victoria Dicce from GK Training and Solutions was in the crowd taking notes and offered each speaker a quick sixty second critique on their pitch. You're in New Jersey boys! We will pummel you with constructive criticism and helpful hints to make your next pitch even better.
Now it was time to hear from the crowd. Thumbs up or thumbs down on these startup pitches. All three had presented great business ideas. A simple telephone vote would determine who would win the ultimate pre-owned 1990s hand-me-down trophy. And it wasn't just about the trophy, it was about glory, conquest and world domination.
And the winner of the Audience Choice Award was...wait for it...LivnList™. Boom! The crowd went wild. Use the power of that trophy wisely.
And now on to the fireside chat with special guest, Kevin Ryan.
During the hour-long interview (watch it, below) Aaron and he discussed success, failure, innovation, rejection, focus, education, the late 90s internet collapse, leadership and more. He is still "super bullish" on the internet claiming, "There is a ton of money. If you're not getting funded you've got to look in the mirror and think why is that."
Throughout the discussion the three themes of team, public policy and family returned again and again as the defining traits that shaped such a wildly successful career.
"You are the recruiter in chief." Kevin Ryan
Building great teams that build great products is a chief driver for Kevin. Recruitment is key and currently only New York and San Francisco (and maybe Los Angeles) have a pool of talented people deep enough to staff a successful tech business. Drilling down on candidates and pursuing multiple references is essential. Without the best people you can't create the best products. He recommends digging deep into multiple references and getting to the right people. "Everyone overvalues the interview and undervalues the reference check." He also believes in hiring and firing for the right people at different stages of a company's evolution.
"The most important priority is computer scientists." Kevin Ryan
This week NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced all of the city’s public schools will be required to offer computer science to all students within 10 years. Kevin helped shape that policy and believes we either need to develop and train more engineers here or bring them in from overseas. We will continue to lose competitive advantage in technology until we emphasize science and technology training across the board. When asked about running for office he admitted to once wanting to be a Senator and hinted that NYC Mayor is an attractive job. However, he prefers to work behind the scenes and influence city and state policy from the private sector.
"Figuring out what you're not going to do is important." Kevin Ryan
Time management is another key to Kevin's success. He has exerted a tremendous amount of control to create a true balance between work and family. He has always taken vacation and takes six to seven weeks out of the office per year, in sharp contrast to many hard driving CEOs and Founders. This balance allows him to focus on what really matters both in business and his personal life. Plus, he is dedicated to personal fitness and runs triathlons every year.
In closing, Aaron presented Kevin with the third Certificate of Mayoral Recognition and Excellence in Innovation from Hoboken Mayor, Dawn Zimmer. From there the crowd dispersed to post-meetup drinks.
Thank you to our amazing help at the event:
- Laura Sankowich, Our Startup Ambassador
- Chef Lizette, Powering Meerkat (600 viewers!
- Joseph Cameron, Powering Persicope (400+ viewers!)
- Jay Treble, capturing the videos that end up on Youtube (including last month's iview of Gary V that is at almost 2000 views!)
- Amanda Morrison of DontSitHome, Powering Instagram and Twitter
- Stevens student, Jesse Dubanow, at Checkin