About 60 of 200 registered attendees gathered at New Work City last night to hear two-minute speeches by the candidates for an open New York Tech Meetup board seat. Meetup and NYTM founder Scott Heiferman stood in the audience in a red hoodie, board member Esther Dyson settled on the window ledge in a #newsfoo t-shirt, and scene staple Gary Sharma wandered about with his sponsored tie (Pivotal Labs and Inkba) as 15 candidates gave their vision of what should change about the largest meetup in New York, which last year incorporated as a nonprofit 501c(6), giving it the power to lobby government, among other things.
The other bold-faced names, as far as New York tech goes, were among the candidates: Eric Friedman, head of business development at Foursquare; Shai Goldman, a 10-year veteran of Silicon Alley Bank who moved to New York a year or so ago; and David Tisch, the most talked about candidate of those who couldn’t make it, as he had a prior commitment out of town.
NYTM held its first election for the board last year, when proto-blogger Anil Dash and NYU computer science professor Evan Korth were elected. A few things were different this time. Last year, speeches took place at the Skirball Center in front of the usual 800-some audience instead of the cozy New Work City Soho digs; there were also no women running last year, while this year there are four; and only one board member will be elected, rather than two. “This ties us directly to our membership and holds us accountable,” NYTM board chairman Andrew Rasiej told the audience.
Whitney Hess, a user experience designer and NWC resident, almost ran for a seat last year before she realized she had massively overscheduled herself. She was the last candidate to step up to the mic last night, a prepared speech on her iPad, and proceeded to thoroughly critique the NYTM user experience from entry to afterparty, including the hated “hovering” until tickets become available “like a Justin Bieber concert.”
Other candidates talked about improving the experience of attendees, broadening NYTM’s role as an advocacy group, and making the meetup more welcoming to hackers and new members from the outer boroughs and other communities.
First up to the mic was Ben Kessler of CrowdTap–“you guys might know me as @kessler on Twitter”–followed by longtime NYTM volunteer Brandon Diamond, who dumped his script to the floor in favor of speaking from the heart, promising to bring more hackers into the organization if elected. Mr. Friedman’s platform was “always be helping,” which he illustrated with a quick survey of who was hiring and who was looking for work. Other highlights included the cosmopolitan Jalak Jobanputra, whose resume includes “NYC 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.,” stints in venture capital, government and finance. “It’s my goal to evangelize New York as the top tech hub in the world,” she said, promising to make NYTM’s voice heard in the White House.
Jonathan Askin, a tech law professor at Brooklyn Law School, emphasized NYTM’s power to advocate. “We haven’t stepped up,” he said. “We haven’t engaged the government to the extent that we should.” Google, Amazon and Facebook are directing government policy on tech, he said, and that doesn’t represent the interest of startups.
Murat Aktihangolu, director of Entrepreneurs Roundtable, spoke passionately about making New York more welcoming for startups; Mr. Goldman had a three-point plan: making it easier to move to New York, making sure entrepreneurs have a voice on policy, and reforming the image of New York as a two-trick pony (web and mobile) and getting some attention for cleantech and biotech.
Other candidates who showed up to give a speech included Gregory Schnese of Kikin, Jack Welde, Jesse Landry, June Cohen of TED Media, Luke Haseloff, Matthew Knell and Wei Zhao.
Audience members showed a bias toward the candidates “who showed up.” “You just don’t like David Tisch,” one attendee chastised his friend. “These are community board members,” the other pointed out. “Tisch would be better as a board member, don’t you think?”
After the talks, the group swigged the Brooklyn Lager and Blue Moon and gobbled their way through several boxes of excellent pizza, talking enthusiastically about New York tech. “I think New York is the best place to start a company!” Mr. Aktihangolu said. New York is an “emerging market,” founder Mattan Griffel explained excitedly. Many of the attendees had been to their first NYTM in 2004, 2005, 2006, when the scene was much dinkier, they told Betabeat. Now, Vanity Fair and “The Dylan Ratigan Show” are on the Meetup’s press list, managing director Jessica Lawrence told Betabeat. “We should get Betabeat, New York Tech Meetup, Entrepreneurs Roundtable and some cool startups and go to Silicon Valley and recruit!” schemed Mr. Sharma. An entrepreneur in the conversation, Seth Bannon of Amicus, was working on a similar idea (currently in stealth mode), inspired by Paul Graham’s recent visit.
Voting for the board seat opened at midnight, and will close December 20. As NYTM adjusts to its new nonprofit status, board members are figuring out their duties (candidates we asked weren’t quite sure what they would be doing if elected). Board members serve three year terms.