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!
First things first, how can Betabeat score an invite to the weekly 10.10 pm parties Wednesdays at the TechStars loft? There appears to be pizza and shots of Johnny Walker. We want in.
In true reality show format, this week’s winner (as determined by the
judges mentors) gets a special prize: a chance to meet with their tech idol. Urban Apt’s Caren Maio says Guy Kawasaki; one of the dudes from Homefield says Al Gore “because he invented the thing.” Pretty much right off the bat, the producers make it clear the lucky lady isn’t going to be OnSwipe.
After finding out about a $1 million investment from Spark Capital while “chomping on a hamburger” at Wendy’s, OnSwipe CEO Jason Baptiste comes into the TechStars loft a little too cocky. “‘Mo money, ‘mo problems,” quips Mr. Baptiste and indeed an Antoine Dodson reference (“Hide your developers, hide your designers because we’re hiring everybody”) does not go over well with other finalists. “Let me give you some advice, I wouldn’t tell the other companies you’re trying to hire their people,” says David Tisch on the special black-and-white David’s cam set up in his office. OnSwipe appears confused. “We can hire their teams?” asks Mr. Baptiste. “No!” exclaims Mr. Tisch.
Hey, it’s not Mr. Baptiste’s fault they didn’t get his sense of humor. “You know what, I like to speak in soundbites,” he admits.
Next up comes the mentor speed dating, which is giving startups like ToVieFor, UrbanApt, SocratED, and Homefield mentor whiplash just in the first week. Homefield might like the emphasize their athleticism–and the Bloomberg TV producers might like to emphasize co-founder Reece Pacheco’s chiseled cheekbones–but it’s Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson who agrees to mentor them and urges them to pivot into a bigger market that just sports: video.
Mr. Tisch, David Cohen, and Roger Ehrenberg, who function not unlike the prophetic Three Witches in Macbeth, are skeptical.”Do they have the technical chops to go build something in a technical market where everybody else is lining up with Google engineers?” wonders Mr. Tisch. “The road is littered with video companies that have gone splat,” says Mr. Ehrenberg. At least Mr. Pacheco picked a direction, earlier he said, “In the last week I’ve been sitting right on the fence about where to go and I fucking hate it.”
Speaking of swears, even the announcer got in on the game. “It only takes a few mentor meetings for Urban Apt to realize they don’t quite have their shit together,” intones what we think is the Bloomberg voiceover. “Urban Apt at the beginning–coming in and thinking they’re gonna dominate the real estate market in New York without a day in the real estate industry? Arrogant,” says Mr. Tisch. “I think that’s been a lot of my frustration seeing these companies think that they could do stuff without knowing how to do it/why they are he ones to do it.”
Investors may be turned on by the notion of a gamification, but both ToVieFor’s “Hurricane Melanie” and SocratED are struggling with layering in gaming without, well, quite knowing what they mean by that. “Maybe Angry Birds for fashion, or I dunno something not cheesy,” says ToVieFor CEO Melanie Moore.
Lucky for SocratED Gary Vaynerchuk gives the startup a solid pro tip. After admitting, “[SocratED] was the one that was least in my zone. Learning? I don’t like to learn,” Mr. Vaynerchuk tells offers some advice on finding someone who’s “Jedi” in gaming. “I highly, highly, highly, highly, highly, highly, highly recommend putting somebody on your board–and give them real equity–that comes from Zynga or Playfish or Playdome or one of these companies that really really really gets it.” Afterwards, he tells the camera, “That could be one of the better mentor jobs on my part . . . because I’m completely right,” before scrunching up his face in self-mockery.
In prescient bit for Ms. Moore, whose startup started winding down two months after Demo Day, she seems sanguine after a rocky meeting with a potential retailer wary of discounting their handmade handbags to play ToVieFor’s game, “Even if we do totally fail and the company blows up, it’s fine, it’s a good thing,” says Ms. Moore. “An investor is much more likely to invest in a failed–an entrepreneur who has done a startup and failed rather than someone who’s a first-time entrepreneur.”
SPOILER ALERT!!! The week’s winner ends up being Wiji, who got to meet every tech blogger’s favorite brainiac, UI designer John Underkoffler the man behind the futuristic devices and technology in Minority Report. That prize should cushion the blow when Wiji, which is now called Immersive, hears what the Davids & Co. said about their name. “Everybody hates the name,” says Mr. Tisch, “Roger, what is your reaction to the name?” Mr. Ehrenberg, “I think Wiji is the shittiest name I’ve ever heard in my life. Easily top five shittiest. It sounds like a disease. Oh, my Wiji!”
The best takeaway, however, might be from Jeff Clavier, who urged Homefield, now ShelbyTV, to give investors a demo to look at during a pitch. “I was listening to you, which was interesting, but I was like what the fuck does that mean?” Mr. Clavier told Mr. Pacheco. “You never want the what-the-fuck to happen because some investors will try to engage and others will just check out and take their BlackBerry out.” Cue Mr. Tisch in the audience, tap, tapping away.