Hope To Happiness

Hope To Happiness

Hi! I'm a developer/entrepreneur from New Jersey, working on my own startup called StartupThreads. A Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Alumni (2008), I've built a few other things like Songsicle, Picsicle, SongVoodoo and SingSend.com. I also am the lead organizer for NYC Startup Weekend, Music Startup Meetup, Queens Tech Meetup, curate the Startup Digest in NYC, and help with tech outreach programs like the Academy for Software Engineering (advisory board), the NY Tech Meetup Startup Summer and MicroInterns. I am here to help you with whatever I can :-)

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If I Ran It: Angel Investing

I’ve been reading a lot recently about angel investing (highly recommend Brian Cohen’s new book: What Every Angel Investor Wants You To Know) and I thought I would play armchair angel and talk about companies that I think are interesting that I would probably invest in if I wasn’t a bootstrapping entrepreneur (2 years strong!). Heres where my monopoly dollars will go:

Kloof - Pet pictures. I know, you are going to dismiss this as a toy, but these folks have something special. They have a community of pet lovers engaged on mobile, helping them pick out great content. I see elements of Reddit + Pinterest + 9gag + Cheezburger in what they do. You dont get to 1mm facebook fans this quickly by accident, and hearing about their secret sauce for rating and publishing the best content lets me know that they can expand far and wide to other verticals. If they can find a creative monetization plan, they will be set.

App.io - Apps in the browser run off of mac minis running the iOS simulator. Brilliant! Not an easy application to pull off, technically. Apple should buy them and let app creators upload playable previews of their apps.

Beacon Reader- Directly fund writers of original content. Has the potential to help writers and the public create original content on the stories that are not written about in mainstream media. So many journalists would jump at the chance at writing (or video recording?) really interesting media that they are most passionate about creating. Beacon could end up having engaging, exclusive content, which is a powerful asset. One to watch.

Keen.io - Analytics as a service. Its the type of thing you don’t realize you need until you see it, and then it makes sense. I’ll be using this for the Startup Threads dashboard. Pretty much every small and medium SaaS company that provides analytics to their users needs to use these folks to run their analytics for them quickly.

1 Second Everyday - Recording one second of every day and putting it in a video. I knew this was an impactful app when I saw two friends at dinner in Seattle sharing the videos they had made with each other. The story and purpose behind it inspires people to create. And its basically a one man show, with Cesar Kuriyama putting his all into it (check out his TED talk that inspired the app). Have to salute fellow solo entrepreneurs making it happen.

GiveIt100 - Similar to 1 Second Everyday but for longer form videos of daily goals, they have already built a great community and have great stories coming out of it. I’m doing my own 100 day challenge and it helps me to keep on track (even though my content isn’t up on the site yet). Was inspired by Karen Chang’s Dance In A Year video. Would love to see a 1 Second Everyday and GiveIt100 collaboration.

Easypost - API for postage. Boring to most of you but good lord do I love this company. We are already using it in Startup Threads and plan to integrate even more. Massive market since all e-commerce sites have to deal with it. They should integrate with Shopify, BigCommerce, Magneto, Volusion, etc immediately. Beautiful service that can completely take over this market.

Lob - API for printing. Similar to EasyPost but for printed items like postcards and letters. Have used this for thank you notes and its a solid API. If they can find the pockets of users/companies who will make large apps on top of it, they’ll make a mint.

Freakn Genius - Apps for animation / creativity. Led by Kyle Kesterson, a creative genius with a knack for storytelling. I can see this team building more apps that impact how young kids (and adults) express themselves creatively. I watched kids light up in Montreal during Startup Festival while playing around with the Yakit app, it strikes a nerve. Check out Kyle’s TEDx talk.

JackPocket - App for playing the lotto. Addictive, much more efficient than running to 7 Eleven. Can use push notifications to drive usage. I doubled my money ($2) so I’m biased. Peter Sullivan is a hustler in the best way (creative, go-getter).

Tailwind - Pinterest analytics. As this ecosystem gets bigger (see the Shark Tank company Grace and Lace that made 1m in sales off the back of Pinterest?) tools like this will become increasingly important. Alex Topiler is another hustler and their team is growing thanks to the round they just raised and the revenue that has been growing.

Namo Media - In stream adds for app creators. Taking the model that is working for facebook and twitter and giving every app owner. If it is as flexible and customizable as they say in their intro video, then app creators will eat it up. Streams are becoming a default format for content related apps so theres lots of opportunities to create engaging (think Facebook App install) stream ads.

Teddy The Guardian - Teddy bear with sensors that measure a kid’s vital signs. Reminds me of Ava The Elephant (Shark Tank, $1mm retail sales 1st year). This could be sold directly to medical organizations & hospitals as well as direct to consumer for parents who want a way to monitor their child’s health. I liken it to my freshman year business plan idea at Lehigh for a “SportsTech Patch” that would track athletes vital signs. Met at TechCrunch in Berlin, solid team.

NaturalSins - Baked fruit chips that retain the look of the fruit. Met them through mentoring at La Idea (laidea.co) and was impressed with the product. I snacked on it through the full pitch (actually I am craving it now). They need to build a stronger brand and hustle their way onto more store shelves (very difficult industry) before some big player tries to copy them. Rooting for this one.

Plae - Kids shoes designed for them. As someone who has foot problems because of wearing the wrong shoes as a child, I know how important this solution is. They have developed shoes that promote the healthy growth of children’s feet (which are mostly cartilage and quite malleable). They have opportunities to also make it “cool” with the interchangeable straps. Even Batkid had his own pair. Hope they spread far and wide.

Teespring - Crowd-sourced apparel campaigns. Traction. Traction. Traction. These guys are killing it (probably over $1.5mm / month top line) and have a baked in viral loop that converts to sales. Not bad for “just a tshirt site” thats not 2 years old right? ;-) Its a great model (very different market / target customers than Startup Threads) that still has room to scale (notice how CustomInk raised $40 mm? This market is much bigger than people realize). With a team of at least 50, I expect them to do well.

TellSpec - A spectrometer than analyzes the food you point it at for its contents. Huge. This device (if it works as advertised) could have a huge impact on society. Check out their Indiegogo

Diseclar - Furniture made from agricultural and plastic waste. Their tagline should be “I cant believe its not wood!” I felt their materials and couldn’t believe it was made from waste product. Like Diseclar, they also have a solid product but need to amp up the distribution and marketing efforts to really make a splash. Another La Idea team I spoke to about their pitch that blew me away.

Pijon - Care packaged for college students. Simple concept that has room for growth (reminds me of DormAid, a HS colleague’s startup and my PimpMyRoom I did back in the day). Hard part is that the LTV of many of the customers is going to be short (for example if you get the parent of a student who is a junior to purchase) so have to reacquire quickly. I would go after companies and be their snack delivery service (throw in some surprises in each one). Bigger order volume for the effort and longer customer lifetime (another idea on my todo list that I have no time for).

Stripe - API for payments. They are huge and well known but I still am so bullish on this company. I continue to be impressed by the tools they create for developers and how they continue to make progress. As they find ways to cut down on the time for transfers and the rates, they’ll convert more and more of the bigger customers.

What do you think of these companies? Are there any underrated ones that you think are interesting?

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BASE High School Mentors

This year, the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering (BASE - http://bronxsoftware.org) opened up its 4 year high school. It is a sister school to the Academy For Software Engineering (http://afsenyc.org). 

BASE is looking for 30 male mentors to connect with the students. It is done through iMentor, and I have seen how impactful having these mentors can be for the students. I would highly recommend being involved.

More information can be found below or apply directly at http://www.imentor.org/become-a-mentor: 

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Without Their Permission Review + Giveaway

Without Their Permission is a new book by Alexis Ohanian that explores what its like to start a company or movement, and the power of the internet to fuel these ventures.

The central theme is of doing things without permission, finding a way when there seems to be no natural official route. The book is filled with small anecdotes of entrepreneurial hustle that many founders would appreciate.

PART ONE

This section dives into Alexis’ entrepreneurial life story, mainly the founding story of reddit through its acquisition and the founding of hipmunk. The style reminds me of Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness” in the tone, which is very laid back and smooth flowing. Lots of stories that I haven’t read about online that help to add color to the reddit / hipmunk story (damn you Alexis for getting this song stuck in my head, though)

PART TWO

The next section is the Startup MBA, a series of short essays with general advice for founding a startup. It crystalizes much of the conventional wisdom that those in the startup world have heard before in a succinct way. One great quote is

"Outliers are outliers, remember, so instead of being disappointed when you’re not the next Facebook, be happy to be your own company that solves a real problem with an elegant solution an wins in a market thats underserved".

Theres even a section titled “Once You Get Press, Make Note of It, Then Get Rid of It” which reminds me of how my sensei used to take all of our karate trophies away from us for at least 6 months after any tournament.

The best part of this chapter is the section called “Love Thy Haters” and the story of how Yahoo! made its way to Alexis’ “wall of negative reinforcement.” 

PART THREE

The last section contain stories of others using the internet for good. Some involve familiar properties like DonorsChoose, while others talk about stories I hadn’t heard of, like that of Zach Anner and his attempt to get a TV show on Oprah’s OWN network.

Overall its a great read for entrepreneurs and those looking for the kick of inspiration to be involved in entrepreneurship. Its a light read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the internet movement.  

GIVEAWAY

In the spirit of doing things without permission, I’m doing an unauthorized giveaway where you can win:

- “Make Something People Want” Poster. Offical YC version via AlvyBrooks (more info)

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- A copy of “Without Their Permission”  (more info)

- “Make Something People Love” Tshirt from Startup Threads 

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If we are lucky we may be able to scrounge up one of this amazing Hipmunk hoodie (which has made its way into my daily rotation) for the winner.

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Enter the contest by 10/15 below

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The Academy for Software Engineering (http://afsenyc.org/) is looking for mentors for our next class of students. 

AFSE is partnering with iMentor, a nationally recognized mentoring program focused on preparing high school students for college success.

Located in Union Square, AFSE is the brainchild of Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, and legendary Stuyvesant High School computer science teacher Mike Zamansky. AFSE is trailblazing education in NYC by giving students the skills they’ll need to pursue a career in software engineering, design and development.

iMentor is designed for busy professionals. Mentors and mentees exchange a weekly email, and attend a monthly event at the school.

To ensure that you can take advantage of this mentoring opportunity, we encourage you to complete your application by April 15th .

AFSE has a finite number of students to match with mentors in their 9thgrade class so iMentor will be accepting a limited number of mentor applications for this specific opportunity.

Please contact Larry Mahl, Volunteer Manager, if you have any questions or visir iMentor.org
The Academy for Software Engineering (http://afsenyc.org/) is looking for mentors for our next class of students. 

AFSE is partnering with iMentor, a nationally recognized mentoring program focused on preparing high school students for college success.

Located in Union Square, AFSE is the brainchild of Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, and legendary Stuyvesant High School computer science teacher Mike Zamansky. AFSE is trailblazing education in NYC by giving students the skills they’ll need to pursue a career in software engineering, design and development.

iMentor is designed for busy professionals. Mentors and mentees exchange a weekly email, and attend a monthly event at the school.

To ensure that you can take advantage of this mentoring opportunity, we encourage you to complete your application by April 15th .

AFSE has a finite number of students to match with mentors in their 9thgrade class so iMentor will be accepting a limited number of mentor applications for this specific opportunity.

Please contact Larry Mahl, Volunteer Manager, if you have any questions or visir iMentor.org

The Academy for Software Engineering (http://afsenyc.org/) is looking for mentors for our next class of students. 

AFSE is partnering with iMentor, a nationally recognized mentoring program focused on preparing high school students for college success.

Located in Union Square, AFSE is the brainchild of Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, and legendary Stuyvesant High School computer science teacher Mike Zamansky. AFSE is trailblazing education in NYC by giving students the skills they’ll need to pursue a career in software engineering, design and development.

iMentor is designed for busy professionals. Mentors and mentees exchange a weekly email, and attend a monthly event at the school.

To ensure that you can take advantage of this mentoring opportunity, we encourage you to complete your application by April 15th .

AFSE has a finite number of students to match with mentors in their 9thgrade class so iMentor will be accepting a limited number of mentor applications for this specific opportunity.

Please contact Larry Mahl, Volunteer Manager, if you have any questions or visir iMentor.org

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Academy for Software Engineering - Mentorship & Clubs

Mentorship

The Academy for Software Engineering is just about done with its first semester of the inaugural year. Through iMentor, a mentorship program was setup pairing each student with an older mentor who meets with them once a month and emails with them regularly. A picture of one of the mentor sessions is here.

It was inspiring to see the students interacting and learning from their mentors and I hope they continue to get a lot of value out of the experience.

Student Clubs

One of the other initiatives we are working on is creating a set of after school clubs for students to engage in their passions when school is over. Its important to help nurture their interests and give them enough resources to fully explore.

We are looking for people to help lead the clubs each week (2 hours after school) and for companies to donate some of the items that would help run these groups.

A few of the requested clubs from students includes:

Video Game Creation

Robotics

Programming Team

3d Printing (Makerbot 1 has been donated)

Chess

Photography/Video

Art

Dance

We are looking to find student club leaders who can commit to 2 hours a week after school starting in February. If you’re interested, please send an email to fdenbow@afsenyc.org by January 23rd with more information about yourself and how you’d like to contribute.

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From the story “Inspirations from Africa” by frank. Read it on Backspaces.
From the story “Inspirations from Africa” by frank. Read it on Backspaces.

From the story “Inspirations from Africa” by frank. Read it on Backspaces.

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