New York Tech Meetup: July 2011 edition

Tonight was my first New York Tech Meetup – a virtual institution in the NYC tech scene since its humble beginning in 2004 (!! Did internet even exist back then?). There is a cap of about 775 tickets that can be sold and the NYTM’s growing popularity has even created a secondary market for these high-demand spots. 

The meetup, as I understand, serves to mainly feature demos from technology startups or smaller-scale hacks. It also encourages audience members to connect with each other during the event and at the after-party. (Though I don’t think it’s much of an after-party without an open bar.)

First to demo was one of Silicon Alley’s newest darlings, Sonar. It was actually the first time I watched their demo (despite visiting their office during the Walkabout) and I was impressed by the app’s simplicity and powerful functionality. Audiences liked it, too. Someone asked Brett whether he was concerned that foursquare or Facebook could just easily duplicate his product. It seems to me that these social media giants are definitely paying attention – perhaps Sonar could be a good acquisition? 

Watchlr was the first demo of the night to get a spontaneous reaction from the crowds. Instapaper for videos (as someone obnoxiously put it), Watchlr allows you to save videos for later viewing as well as resume a video across platforms at the exact same spot you stopped watching earlier…! This is definitely a product that I could see myself using, as I am often in the situation of receiving video links from friends at the most inopportune time to watch them. The interface is pretty slick, and if they integrated video sharing and “less savoury” websites, they may just get some traction. 

CityPockets is another one of those Groupon spin-offs, but with a slight twist. They called themselves the hybrid for your daily group deals, with a secondary marketplace for these deal vouchers. While the idea is quite solid, it was disappointing how many holes there were in their product. For one, the presenter couldn’t give a straight answer on whether companies like Groupon actually allowed resale in their policy. When confronted with the possibility of fraud (someone selling a voucher multiple times to different customers), their only reply was that their marketplace operated on a “honour system”. 

Last, but not least, I (and the rest of the auditorium) was seriously wowed by the big guns at BioDigitalHuman. This product featured a 3-D rendition of the human body, with incredible detail and functionality. Oh, and probably a shit-ton of code. Seriously awesome. 

Other demos included:

  • LocalBonus – a website that allowed your registered credit card to act as a loyalty card for local businesses. Personally, I am already drowning in all kinds of loyalty programs and couldn’t see myself signing for another unless the execution was markedly better and provided me with better rewards. 
  • Viva La Playlist – a website a la, allowing users to listen to the same stream together. Instead of specific DJs, listeners get to vote on the next song in the stream. By using embedded Youtube videos to source their audio, it may cleverly avoiding a lot of legal red-tape. 
  • SnapGoods and/or – this presentation was a two-fer, and as a result, I had no idea what was going on. (In all seriousness, looked like a seriously useful product, but I was just not feeling the presentation.)
  • – mobile, local marketplace a la Craigslist. Users can snap a photo of their item for sale and list it from their phone.
  • Skillslate – a pivoted startup that now helps people find skilled people to do specific tasks. Demo was killer – the presenter showed us how he put out a search for b-boys to come perform at NYTM and then brought said b-boys on stage to actually perform. 

While the audience was probably only a quarter technologist, there was definitely an anti-business vibe. People were there to see cool products and were apparently also schooled in the new ideology that a business model isn’t necessary to build a successful company. I can totally buy into that spirit of things, but at a certain point, I find it very discouraging that business savvy and knowledge can be met with this kind of hostility. When one woman asked “What are your financial models like?”, she was booed by the entire audience. For a full 15 seconds. 

It was all in good fun, I’m sure, but it does also point to a kind of unrealistic expectation that as long as you follow this line of thinking (user growth without revenue streams), you’ll eventually make it as big as Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr. The thing that often gets lost is that there are hard-working people dedicating hundreds of hours per week to these startups and their product. If the idea can never be eventually monetized, how can it be sustained? 

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