Category: startup

Talent Shortage

The tech industry in DUMBO (Brooklyn) is growing fast.  But it could be growing faster.  Like a lot of places in the country seeking technology talent – the right skill sets are scare. US schools are not turning out enough engineers or programers.

A push by city officials to bring talent to NY is well documented.

  • Cornell University and Technion- Israel Institute of Technology won a New York City contest to build an engineering campus with a grant of land on Roosevelt Island and $100 million for infrastructure improvements.
  • NYU-Poly is working with New York City to get access to the MTA Headquarters on 130 Livingston Street here in Brooklyn to expand it’s engineering school.
  • The city has even organized an academy (high school) for software engineering.

Of course this won’t help solve the scarcity issue for years.  And by the time it has an impact, the problem is likely to be way bigger.

Computer software engineer employment is projected to grow by a whopping 32 percent between 2008 and 2018, representing much faster job growth than most other occupations in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance take my tech sector of choice – Big Data.  McKinsey Global Institute projects that the U.S. needs 140,000 to 190,000 more workers with “deep analytical” expertise and 1.5 million  more data-literate managers by 2015.  And that’s just a single data point.

But back to right here, right now.  The Business Improvement District in DUMBO says there are now 17 tech company’s trying to fill some 329 Web, app and gaming tech-related jobs.

Take Huge for example.  Their Washington Street headquarters has grown from eight employees 6 years ago to 350 today.  They currently have 50 open jobs. Or Wireless Generation, and educational-software company and one of DUMBO’s largest employers – who claim to have 150 openings.  DUMBO’s flagship company Etsy has 50 openings.

These businesses are just a few of the more than 65 startups operating in the five-block hub of digital office space in DUMBO.  Publicly acknowledged or not I would wager most of the rest are hiring as well – if they can find talented people.

To attract talent, companies are adding unique benefits to really good salaries.  Certainly they are allowing flexible hours and working remote.  I would argue that Brooklyn specifically and New York in general are good selling points in their own right.

My question to the blogosphere is “what does it take, these days, to get the right person?”  Please leave a comment.

Founders Card

By now most founders seem to know about this.  In case you don’t, this card (FoundersCard) seems like it makes good sense to me.  FoundersCard is a membership organization for entrepreneurs and innovators. Launched in January 2010 by Eric Kuhn, FoundersCard provides access to members-only networking events as well as access to travel, lifestyle, and business benefits. Membership, which offers opportunities for both personal and business use, provides Members access to more than 150 exclusive travel, lifestyle, and business brands such as American Airlines, W Hotels, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Rackspace.  In addition, FoundersCard features a collection of opportunities with select emerging companies, generally founded/created by a FoundersCard Member.

BTW – you can use code FCLAW377 for 40% off the annual fees.

Speed Dating

Tonight I attended the NYC Venture Capital and Angel Showcase.  It is a much hyped event sponsored by Funding Post among others. I was one of the 37 angel and venture organizations that were there to hear short entrepreneur pitches.  Tonight in particular I was representing NY Angels.

My job was to spend a couple minutes with each entrepreneur to determine a reasonable business opportunity, a realistic view of the capital requirements and decide if there is a potential fit with The New York Angels.  If the answer to these 3 questions turned out to be ‘yes’ I needed to make sure that the entrepreneur was invited to put their information into Gust, (the portfolio management system many angel groups use) and given a proper screening by the broader angel group.

Here are my stats: in 80 minutes time I screened about 20 companies (about 4 mins. per).  Of those 20 companies, 4 were strong candidates, 2 were questionable and the remaining 14 were either not properly developed, not properly pitched, unrealistic or a bad fit.

One might expect that a 20% plus hit rate is pretty high, but in reality that is low.  The reason is that these entrepreneurs had to pay for the privilege of pitching investors.  That means they should have been bringing their ‘A’ game – or else they were wasting their money.  And if they had all been top-notch pitchers, chances are the hit rate would have been higher.

Here’s what I was looking for:

  • Concise description of the business – if the investor consistently interrupts you while describing the business you are not concise enough.
  • High level competitive differentiation.  In the world of ‘speed dating’, the answer should be “We are most differentiated by X”.  That’s it.  No more unless asked to elaborate.
  • How do you generate revenue?  This is not an answer that needs context.  Advertising. Subscriptions. Direct sales.  Then wait for a follow up.  Let the investor drive the conversation.  He/she knows what they have to find out to qualify an investment.
  • Back of the envelope math.  Be able to answer some financials like expected revenue this year, expected revenue next year and normalized gross margin and operating margin. The investor is just trying to get an idea of how profitable the company can be.
  • Most important: How much are you raising? Again, just answer the question.  The correct answer is, “we are raising $xxx,000 to build out our xyz.”  The incorrect answer is, “well that depends…” or “I’d like to know what you think”, or “I’m open to a conversation.” And it is absolutely not, “I’m not really raising right now.” As an entrepreneur, know what you want you to accomplish and the inputs required to do so.  Have a vision.

Of course there are many more potential question including:

  1. Tell me about the competition.
  2. How do you expect to exit?
  3. What’s the IP?
  4. etc.

But if an entrepreneur can’t perform strongly on the bigger questions above, the subsequent questions don’t matter.

What I find is the entrepreneur knows a ton about his business and wants to communicate everything.  This is not a situation where a brain-dump works in the entrepreneurs favor. Stay short and sweet and leave them wanting more.

Moral of the story… if you choose to speed date, be prepared to do it well enough to get asked for your digits!

What the heck do you really know about building a company?

Finally got a chance to get back to my reader list today.  It’s been over a week, so I had kind of a build up.  That really is the great thing about readers and blogs, they wait for you instead of being swallowed up by the news cycle.

The first thing I did was crank up my Findings.  If you don’t use it you should.  Go here and install it: Undoubtedly you will want to collect things you read  fast and easily.  Yes, you can book mark, but this is the best way I know of to get right to what you want.  I go back and re-read my findings pretty frequently. They become kind of like entrepreneur mantras.

For whatever reason, alphabetical or of most interest Fred Wilson’s blog (A VC) is at the top of my list.  About the second or third item was a guest post from someone I’m sure I’m supposed to know who goes by JLM.  It was an awesome, short, sweet description of how to draw up a business model and execute a plan to build it.  Hence the blog title.  This is mandatory reading.  Go here: and read it.

I guess I could have tweeted about this.  I saw Mark Suster do that.  It just seemed to me that it was worth ending up in someone’s reader and hopefully marked with someone’s finder.

One more thing… please answer this quipol question.  Thank you.

p.s. Best of luck to Giants over Pats.

Big Data

Two days ago I went to the PluggedIn Ventures Big Data and Analytics Roundtable. I think New York is a natural Big Data consumer. Financial Institutions want know how to harness mountains of data to make better decisions. Advertisers want to better understand consumers. Certainly Internet sites generate lots of information that can be overlaid onto machine data, inventory data, weather data, etc that can help model a behavior layer into any decision process.

Of course there are huge challenges. What do you do about the gigantic echo chamber that you are creating. Social graphs not only divine behavior, but they reinforce it. If I only look at red shoes on the Internet, the only thing that will ever be recommended are red shoes. Big Data won’t be able to help us branch out or figure out what new, only (currently anyway) refine what already is.

Another problem is what happened when that data points that are captured are a composite of different people sitting at one computer. One of the panelists talked about an article he had read called If TiVo Thinks You Are Gay, Here’s How to Set It Straight.  I’m sure this happens all the time. You get the worst of all worlds instead of the best.

Then there is the problem of how to bring the power of big data to the masses. Right now Data Scientists seem to be the only ones who can harness the power of Big Data. How do we put this into the hands of non-technical people to help them make decisions. In reality the challenge is ‘how do we dumb it down, without actually dumbing it down?’

This gist of it was that there are a lot of amazing uses and there are a lot of difficult obstacles/opportunities as this new frontier is opened up to us. One of the key takeaways was to focus on what benefits are specifically being delivered – not on the mountains of data that goes in or the Hadoop and MapReduce technologies that make it work.  There are a lot of interesting companies in the New York Area that help define what big data will mean to us – companies like 10Gen, Lotame, Networked Insights, C3 Metrics,, Tidal Labs, PlaceIQ, Sociocast, NumberFire and LAB09. Are there any of these types of companies in Brooklyn? If there are I’d like to here from you.  A.J. I already know what you are doing, so you don’t have to say anything.

Digital Community

There has been a bunch of discussion about the differences between East coast and West coast tech.  One of the things that West coast transplants often talk about is how welcomed they were into the community when they arrived.  I’m not bashing the community on the West coast, but what I have experienced here, is a particularly welcoming demeanor at Tech Meetups or startup events.  Conversely it feels a little competitive at similar events in the West.

The people you meet in this community want to provide introductions to their contemporaries.  They want to welcome you in as a productive resource.  They want to know what you are working on.  Entrepreneurs want to lift up other startup entrepreneurs so that they are successful.  There is a feeling that everyone is in this together. It’s electric.

To me, one of the keys to building a vibrant environment is there needs to be a place that people want to work, a problem people want to solve, and a community of people that want to help others be successful.

Sometimes that means skill sharing and best practices.  Sometimes job referrals.  Sometimes that is spending social time together.

Last night I went to the 3rd Anniversary of Digital Dumbo.  Significant is the fact that this has been done two other times before.  It means that this has been a community almost since it was able to be.  Literally, there weren’t enough tech people here to have a community prior.  I was proud that I was able to walk down the street to an event like this in my neighborhood.


There were multiple hundreds of people in attendance.  There were business development folks, hackers, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists.  In short an ecosystem.  I met tons of new folks.  I saw a bunch of people I know.  The folks at Creative Carrot, have been the driving force behind this community and Digital Dumbo.  They also happened to be the sponsor for the evening (although they are able spread the bar tab around to different sponsor at different events).

My view is that this is only the beginning in nurturing a community.  I really think that we ought to be talking about and developing and action plan regarding:

  • what we need to be successful as group and as a company
  • what our shortcomings are and how we can overcome them
  • what our strategic advantages are and how we can exploit them
  • what we can do to help each other

I want this blog to be a good place to do that. Please leave a comment.


I have recently run into quite a few Brooklyn entrepreneurs that are heading to SXSW.

For those who don’t know SXSW (South by South West) is well-known music festival and a less well-known interactive technology conference (look here: The interactive portion includes a trade show, startup village, panels of speakers and great parties for the networking of entrepreneurs and capital providers from all over the country. If you have a product to launch or a world-changing tech related announcement to make, SXSW has traditionally been a good place to do it. The dates this year are March 9 thru 13. The location, as always, is Austin Texas.

Leading up to SXSW this year I was starting to think that the interactive portion might have to run its course (as many conferences do). What often happens with great shows is that the folks who actually conduct business become a smaller portion of the attendees and analysts, journalists and those who just enjoy standing around watching become larger portion. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still fun and interesting, but it is not as productive a use of time and startup funds as it once was. At the very least, I agree that there are still a group of interested product users, but I was questioning if the number of high-level influencers and write-you-a-check-today type investors are still going? The example I would provide is CES. It’s clear that this stopped being a productive show a long time ago. And when a company like Microsoft realizes it and pulls out of future events (as they have) you know it’s heading down hill.

In a recent blog post Fred Wilson wrote: “I’d rather go to PyCon, RailsConf, or Node Summit than TED, Davos, or SXSW. In fact, I’ve never been to TED, Davos, or SXSW and don’t have any plans to go to them.” On the other hand, Mark Suster, who went for the first time last year says he had, “an amazing experience.”

So there appears to be a couple different schools of thought. I have been running into a lot of entrepreneurs and active investors that are heading west for the event and the 2012 Angel Capital Association summit ( that is preceding it. They are telling me that SXSW is still a great place to do business. I would like to hear what you think. If you are heading to SXSW, I’d be interested to hear why you are going and what you expect to get out of it. If you think that SXSW is no longer what it used to be, then what is the best conference/show to attend if you are a startup? I’ll blog about this again.


Node.js is a software system designed for writing highly-scalable internet applications, notably web servers.  Programs are written in JavaScript, using event-driven, asynchronous I/O to minimize overhead and maximize scalability.  Node.js consists of Google’s V8 JavaScript engine plus several built-in libraries.

Node.js was created by Ryan Dahl starting in 2009, and its growth is sponsored by Joyent, his employer.  Joyent is a global provider of cloud computing software and services.  On Monday the company announced it has completed an $85 million funding round, with European group Weather Investment II providing the majority of the round.

There are similar environments to Node.js written in other programming languages include Twisted for Python, Perl Object Environment for Perl, libevent for C and EventMachine for Ruby. Unlike most JavaScript programs, it is not executed in a web browser, but is instead a server-side JavaScript application. Node.js implements some CommonJS specifications.  It provides a REPL environment for interactive testing.

I found this series of  stories on Node.js useful in understanding how significant and pervasive the technology has become.  Read it.