Everybody is a Thought Leader, Right?

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Social media has given rise to the age of the self-proclaimed thought leader. Maybe they style themselves ninjas, disruptors, innovators or change agents. Whatever the moniker they are out there and there sure are a lot of them. Should you choose to believe the hype, they are the biggest of the big thinkers, the Star-Bellied Sneetches of thinkers if you will.

For a time I immersed myself in networking hoping to meet the big thinkers, the gurus and the rule breakers. I wanted to learn from the best and brightest. I dashed from meetup to meetup, panel to panel, conference to conference, soaking up all that big thinking. My dance card was full almost every night. I tweeted. I hashtagged. I namechecked. I played the social media game to the hilt. I basked in the glory of all that thought leadership mere steps away.

After months of aggressively pursuing networking opportunities I started to notice a few things.

The same people spouted the same tired opinions on panel after panel. There would be an occasional blast of truly original or even radical thought, but all too often everyone was reading from the same script. The law of diminishing returns set in. The more I went, the less I learned.

With so many panels, conferences and meetups there just weren’t enough brilliant minds to go around. Somebody had to fill those chairs up on those stages. Every event seemed loaded with a bunch of inexperienced speakers selling boilerplate conventional wisdom or just showing up to pitch their company or product. Everybody gets a trophy!

The audience was often bored. More eyes were focused on smartphones than on what was happening in the room. All the onlookers looked as if they were thinking, “Hurry up and let’s get to the part where we exchange business cards.” It wasn’t that much fun.

The end of the night scrum to hobnob with the speakers was always awkward. Business cards sliced the air like throwing stars and the rules of civility were tossed aside by the rabble. Plus, there was always the added bonus of chatting with someone while they half listened and kept a vigilant lookout over my shoulder for someone more important.

What did I learn? I became an expert in buzzwords. I shook hundreds of hands. I made a lot of small talk. I ate a lot of pizza. I collected bushels of business cards. Yes, I did meet some great people and even made a few friends, but it was usually too much work for little reward. In the end, I mostly got bored and wanted go home.

The real lessons are simple. Choose the right networking opportunities with an emphasis on quality over quantity. Make sure the speakers are really at the top of their game and have something brilliant to impart. Try to make a few genuine connections at an event instead of working the room. If in doubt, go workout or head home instead. There are plenty of better uses for yout time.

Sure, some days I want to dust off my business cards, polish up my hashtags, get out there and shake some hands. Then I look at the choice in front of me. This week’s alleged thought leaders or spending time with family and the things I really love?

Yeah, I am heading home.

#NJTech Meetup 63 with Gary Vaynerchuk

NJ Tech Meetup

Gary Vaynerchuk should come with a warning label. DO NOT use @GaryVee if you are afraid of brutal honesty. AVOID @GaryVee if easily offended. @GaryVee may cause epiphany, soul searching and uncontrollable laughter. For best results @GaryVee only as directed.

This past Wednesday night will go down as one of the great NJ Tech Meetups. It was a packed house with barely a seat left. Even with the start moved up at the last minute, everyone got there on time. The crowd was there for one reason, Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur, investor, author and one of the most entertaining and captivating speakers ever to take the stage at NJ Tech.

Like all NJ Tech meetups, Aaron Price @apstartup keeps the trains running on time. He made sure everyone ate, drank, networked and then got down to business. After opening remarks and a shout out to the sponsors, he opened the floor to 20 second asks and offers. About a dozen people gave quick pitches for jobs, services and opportunities.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer @dawnzimmernj made a quick appearance and welcomed all attendees. She reinforced her team’s ongoing support of and commitment to the Hoboken, Jersey City and greater New Jersey tech community.

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There can be only one winner

THE STARTUPS

Each NJ Tech meetup features three quick startup pitches. At the end of the night everyone votes on their favorite. The winner walks away with a stunning recycled baseball trophy.

Startup pitch 1 fusar

First up, Fusar makes wearable tech for action sports. Focused primarily on products and apps to keep motorcyclists safe. they are also working on solutions for skiing, snowboarding, skydiving and more. Their tech features a helmet-mounted camera and eyes-up display so the rider can keep their eyes on the road.

 

startup pitch 2 cosmic


“My name is Alex and I am building the future of commerce”

Second, Cosmic aims to take the pain out of shopping online. They want to be the pipes of commerce and allow you to buy whatever you want wherever you are. Currently they can sell from websites, apps, blogs, HTML5 video as well as microsites on Tumblr and RebelMouse.

 

startup pitch 3 gravy

 

Finally, Gravy is a B2B solution for businesses to send gifts to businesses, people and employees. THey have a custom catalogue allowing users to send the right gift to the right person. They also provide hand wrapping, robust “giftlytics” and high touch support from a single dedicated vendor.

**Trivia note: Gravy founder Aaron Flack was the star of 2007 YouTube sensation “What You Know About Math.” Check out his mad rapping skills below.

THE MAIN EVENT

Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur, investor, social media personality, businessman and much more. Born in Belarus and raised in New Jersey, Gary made a small fortune as a kid selling baseball cards. He turned his father’s wine shop into a multimillion dollar business. He was a YouTube pioneer with the daily online show, Wine Library TV from 2006-2011. Today, he run and his brother run VaynerMedia, a powerhouse social media agency. He also runs VaynerRSE, an angel investment fund. He’s written three bestselling books. Crush It, The Thank You Economy and Jab, Jab, Jab, Right-Hook. Plus, he decided in the sixth grade he was going to buy the New York Jets.

 

gary vee and aaron price

“I’m very interested and thrilled to talk about myself.”

The fireside chat was the highlight of the evening with Aaron and Gary covering a wide range of topics from his New Jersey childhood to his rise as a social media personality to his current focus on VaynerMedia and future investment plans. His next project is a new venture capital fund that will go after Series B and C investments. While VaynerRSE spread 25 million dollars across 93 angel and seed investments, he hopes to raise 150 million and invest in 10 to 20 companies.

100% confidence and “disproportionate marketing capabilities” are key to Gary’s success in business. He saw his future when he was 12 and making more on baseball cards in a few weeks than his teachers made in a year. He lives for the thrill of the competition and the risk of failure. The man is a soundbite machine with an incredible knack for storytelling.

“I’m a much fucking better businessman than you!”

“I like losing. Being a Jets fan is good for me.”

“A true entrepreneur loves the process more than the riches.”

“The game is my drug. Competing is my oxygen.”

“I love the I told you so. Nothing makes me happier than to stick it to you.”

“We are the ultimate species. And you live in America. Fuck you to complain about anything.”

When Aaron asked if we are in a tech bubble, Vaynerchuk had some pointed words about startups, entrepreneurs and building companies.

“Yes and no. We are in an entrepreneur bubble. A lot of people think they are entrepreneurs who really aren’t. You just say you are. And that’s not real.”

Regarding Zirtual, a company that earlier this week went out of business overnight, he was highly critical of their failure and startups in general who really too much on raising money to survive.

“You control your burn”

“I can get unfancy real quick.”

“You aren’t entitled to anything.”

“Raising money is a real bad way to learn how to build a business.”

Of course, Aaron delved into Gary’s success on social media and his complete dedication to building his brand and telling his story across all platforms. He control his Twitter and Instagram accounts while his team does Facebook. Much of his Medium content is boiled down from interviews with Gary. Again he echoed the absolute necessity of putting in the hours to create great content and connect with people.

“I find time because I find passionate people.”

“The best way to build a following is to provide value”

“Curation is outrageously valuable.”

“I see a lot of dj’s trying to be songwriters and a lot of songwriters trying to be dj’s.”

He has little patience for people who claim they don’t have enough time to succeed in business and no room for excuses. His passion, determination and fierce intensity reached a peak at this ppoint of the evening.

“If you’re complaining I will audit you and find 4 hours.”

“You’ve got time for angry birds and you’re complaining, Fuck you!”

“Your actions are your game. Putting in the work matters.”

As the chat drew to a close, Gary had some tough thoughts on the future and America’s place in the world economy going forward.

“America lost.”

“Fake winning is really hurting us.”

“The market always rules.”

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How we got to the free hugs from Gary V was pretty amazing

While the crowd could have listened all night, Gary had another engagement. He rushed out  with these final words, “Jersey, I love you!”

Aaron took the vote on best startup. All three gave solid presentations with smart ideas. It was a tough fight, but Cosmic was victorious and took home the trophy!

NJ Tech 64 takes place on Wednesday 9/16 at 6:30 with Kevin Ryan, founder of Gilt, Business Insider, Zola and MongoDB. You can sign up here.

A Few Thoughts on the Social TV NYC Meetup

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A few years ago I signed up to attend the Social TV NYC Meetup. It was right around the time that Social TV was really taking off. Twitter and Facebook were blowing up. Tunerfish, GetGlue and Miso were all jumping into the second screen check-in space. Every broadcast and cable marketer saw the opportunity to boost conversation and hopefully ratings. It was an exciting time to be a TV marketer.

The first gathering I attended was terrific, with everything that you want in a meetup. Great presentations. Great people. And snacks! I eagerly signed up for the next one only to show up and be greeted by a sign on the door that the meetup was cancelled. After that I never heard another word until I got an email last June saying the group would be shut down without an organizer.

Damn, I liked that meetup. So I reached out to the one person I know who knows everyone in the social TV universe, Natan Edelsburg of Lost Remote and Sawhorse Media, and said, “Let’s do this.”

Within a couple of weeks we had our first meetup. About 25 people showed up at Sawhorse early on a Thursday morning in July to talk social TV and eat bagels. It was great and Natan and I knew we had stumbled on something special. Nobody shows up at 8am in New York unless they are passionate about a topic and want to connect with others just as enthusiastic.

In August we invited our first guest speaker, Don Steele from Comedy Central. Kelle Rozell from truTV joined us in September, followed by Ryan Osborn of NBC News in October. David Beck from Univision took the hot seat in November and JP Lespinasse from BET finished off 2013.

What was remarkable about all these guests is how candid and insightful they were on the challenges, strategies, tactics and rewards of handling social for a broadcast or cable network. The informal structure of the group allows for a free flowing conversation that has everyone involved and fully engaged.

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Social TV has come a long way in a few short years and 2014 will be even bigger. Just this week GetGlue relaunched as tvtag, Yahoo put IntoNow out to pasture and Viggle acquired Dijit. Hold on folks, this year will be interesting.

I posed a few questions to some of our past guests about what mattered in 2013 and what’s ahead for 2014.

1. What was the most important advancement in Social TV for 2013?

RYAN OSBORN (NBC News)  To me, 2013 was the year that video producers moved beyond the shiny new toys of platforms and realized that at the core of any “social TV” strategy is good content. No one cares about a hashtag or a GIF if the story and media in its original form is not compelling.

KELLE ROZELL (truTV)  Tough question. The Nielsen causal report linking Twitter to driving ratings and ultimately creating a Nielsen Twitter TV Rating. Hopefully these numbers will help with monetization in the near future.

SEE IT logo

JP LESPINASSE (BET Networks)  SEEiT – ability to discover shows/tweets on digital, then take an action that directly affects your TV screen is transformative for #socialtv.

2. What is the biggest challenge when it comes to your brand and Social TV?

RYAN  Particularly in news, our brands are built on trust and a promise to our users that we take very seriously. Any social experience that we create meets a very high editorial standard that we are committed to upholding across platforms.

KELLE  Getting company-wide support. Education on the value of social is key, but not everyone understands it. Building an infrastructure even down to the Network Operations level has also been a challenge, but all parties are on board to breakdown the firewalls for 2014.

JP  Data. Sifting through it, making sense of it, making actionable plans based on it and resourcing. How do you staff social? Where does it live in the firm? How best to ensure it permeates the organization.

3. What do you predict will be a Social TV game changer in 2014?

RYAN  The biggest game changer is going to come from TV producers that experiment, but most importantly have the patience to play the long game in a very complex ecosystem. So many producers announce “social TV” products built by outside vendors that don’t scale and are gone by the time you’ve finished reading the press release. I’m most excited when I talk to innovators like the CTO of Zeebox, Anthony Rose, who has a vision for a real platform that aims to become a utility or when I see Comcast’s vision for an initiative like SEEiT. I think those are the initiatives to watch.

KELLE   Can I get back to you on this?

JP  2014 – Not sure. I know this though, 14 is mobile’s year to shine and with the vast majority of social happening there – outputs of this shift will impact #socialtv in a meaningful way. Your mobile will be your default credit card, your remote control and has already become the primary recommendation engine. Someone will make a mobile sumthin’ – and it will have HUGE social TV. implications. I’m just not sure what it’ll be…yet.

Tomorrow, we kick off 2014 with Jenny McCoy from IFC. It starts early, but the bagels are fresh and the coffee is hot. Join us!

#NJTech Meetup 44 with Vinnie Bharara

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Pizza, beer, startups, guest speakers. Hmm. what’s not to like?

Welcome to 2014 and the first NJ Tech Meetup of the year. I’ve written before that this meetup is a personal favorite and the Thursday 1/9/14 gathering lived up to the usual high standard. Startups included Mommies 247, Stantt and Pijon Box. The evening’s guest speaker was Vinnie Bharara, co-founder of Quidsi.

Aaron Price

Aaron Price laying down the law. A ripple of fear runs through the crowd

The founder, organizer and ringleader for the meetup is Aaron Price. The man is a huge cheerleader for tech in Hoboken and New Jersey. He runs this group like a machine which is probably why it is always awesome and sold out. After his opening comments and quick pitches and requests from the crowd it was time to hear some startup presentations.

Mommies taking over the world

Mommies taking over the world

First up was Mommies 24/7. They started as Hoboken Mommies as a way to get moms together online and in real life. “What if Facebook and Meetup had a baby?” is how they position themselves. They’re currently reaching beyond the borders of Hoboken and have a plan for mommy content world domination.

Say goodbye to small, medium and large

Say goodbye to small, medium and large

Next up, Stantt has a serious goal of ridding the globe of small, medium and large (please be gentle with extra large). They make custom fit clothing for men using data and technology. They boast of over 50 size combinations guaranteeing you a perfect fit. While they import the fabric, their clothing is made right here in the USA.

Please don't feed the Pijon, the Pijon feeds you

Please don’t feed the Pijon, the Pijon feeds you

Finally, Pijon Box aims to dominate the college care package industry with their monthly subscription boxes of goodies. These boxes are specifically designed and curated with college students in mind. You can customize for men or women. Plus, there is a social good component and Pijon gives back with every box sold.

Now on to the main event. Vinnie Bharara is the co-founder of Quidsi, an e-commerce company and parent of diapers.com, soap.com, wag.com and more. They sold to Amazon a couple of years back for $545 million. He recently stepped away from Quidsi and is currently plotting his next move.

Powerpoint? We don't need no stinkin' powerpoint!

Powerpoint? We don’t need no stinkin’ powerpoint!

Rather than the usual powerpoint typical of the guest speakers, Vinnie just talked without visual aid. He spoke about entrepreneurship, bootstrapping, company culture, customer service, kindness and rigorously standing by your organization’s core values. He quoted Maya Angelou to prove his point about Quidsi’s mission “to inspire passion in our customers.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

What impressed me was how deeply he seemed to hold the company’s values and truly live them personally and professionally. Having made a recent purchase at diapers.com, I was incredibly impressed with the price, ease of purchase and overall service. It was obvious his passion for excellent customer service and belief in the core tenets were integral to Quidsi’s success.

The final highlight of the evening was the telephone vote for best startup presentation. After using their mobiles to answer questions about the startups and earn points, the crowd cast their ballots. All three companies gave smart pitches. All had compelling stories. Who would win? Both the glory of victory and a beat up hand-me-down trophy hung in the balance.

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The Pijon Box crew revels in the glory of victory. (photo by Dominic Rivera)

And the winner was…Pijon Box. Congratulations!

Next month’s meetup is the daylong NJ Spark Summit on Tuesday, February 25th. You can find the details here.

How To Crush That Networking Event

You say you hate to network? So did I. Not anymore. Here’s something I wrote for AOL Jobs about maximizing the networking experience.

The Jobseeker’s Holiday Survival Guide

The Jobseeker’s Holiday Survival Guide

10 steps to find the joy in the December job hunt (something I wrote for @aoljobs)

The First Rule of House of Genius is…

….You do NOT talk about House of Genius.

Yeah, I am going to drag out that tired quote from Fight Club and I am going to paraphrase it proudly. When it comes to House of Genius this is the one time it might actually apply.

A random invite to a cryptically titled event arrives in the email. If you choose to accept it, you are instructed that it is a first-name only event. You are not allowed to say where you work or what you do. Once you arrive you are greeted with the ubiquitous pizza and beer common to all coworking space, but otherwise the event is shrouded in mystery. After a few bites of pizza, you and 15-20 others gather around a table. Now, it’s time to get down to business.

So what exactly is House of Genius? Why are we here? What is our nefarious purpose? Why all the secrecy?

House of Genius logo

Your purpose will soon become clear, maybe

Here’s how it is described on their website. House of Genius “brings together entrepreneurs and a diverse mix of business leaders from the community for an evening each month of disruptive thinking, supportive input, and creative new ideas.”

And here’s how it goes down. After a few ground rules and introductory comments from one of first name only hosts, a brave soul stands in front of the panel and introduces his or her business and discusses the challenges they face.

The focus then turns to the panelists all who are given the opportunity to offer instant feedback, questions, criticisms and solutions. The presenter then has a few minutes to address the panel’s comments. Generally, there are 2-3 presentations for the evening and it adds up to 2 hours of complete engagement around the room.

At the end of the night each panelist reveals their last name and a little bit about who they are and what they do. The big reveal, if you will. Of course, hugs, high-fives and handshakes ensue.

Both times I have attended I was incredibly impressed with the intelligence of the presentations and the compelling feedback and encouragement from every corner of the room. Watching entrepreneurs define a problem and present a solution is powerful stuff. Experiencing a room of smart people provide insight and observations can be revelatory. Perhaps that is why the light bulb is such a prominent part of the House of Genius logo.

The brilliance and beauty of House of Genius is in the anonymity. Those offering feedback might be a top VC or just another struggling entrepreneur. Each panelist’s feedback has equal weight and removes all bias that comes with knowing your audience. It also is much more collaborative and supportive than typical startup presentations. Something magic happens at House of Genius. It is truly a remarkable evening.

If you get ever get the cryptic invite make sure you say YES. If you are interested in attending or presenting just click. I can’t wait to be invited back.

A Few Thoughts on NJ Tech Meetup with Lewis Schiff

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Hoboken’s Finest Meetup

One of my favorite Meetups is the monthly NJ Tech gathering. It’s a great crowd with excellent speakers and there is always a wait list.

Here’s how it works every month.

    Pizza and networking.
    Opening remarks.
    A word from the sponsors.
    A chance for the crowd to give rapid fire pitches or requests.
    Three quick startup presentations with Q&A.
    The guest speaker.
    Vote on the best startup.
    Adjourn for beer.

Repeat that formula every month and you have a pretty killer meetup.

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Aaron Price – Master of Ceremonies

Aaron Price is the mastermind who organizes this extravaganza. Every month he lines up both smart startups willing to throw themselves to the lions and high profile special guests. Just a few of the past speakers include Ari Meisel, David Kidder, Scott Belsky, Peter Bell and Bob Dorf.

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NJ Tech’s Stanley Cup

Tonight, three startups each got five minutes to present and five minutes to answer questions. Yes, the stakes are high. The merciless crowd picks the best pitch and awards them the highly coveted, “recycled and rebranded” trophy.

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Startup #1 iBE.net

First up tonight was iBE.net. They provide an enterprise cloud software solution for small and medium sized businesses that works across devices.

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Startup #2 Geekrowd

Then, Geekrowd pitched their “platform as a service.” They are a jSON api for developers who want to build social apps and tools.

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Startup #3 Sproute

The final pitch came from Sproute. They provide a B2B2C white label digital concierge for travelers. Currently, they are working on a new name and prepping for launch.

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Lewis Schiff on how to be Business Brilliant

The main event was a speech from entrepreneur and writer, Lewis Schiff. His focus tonight was the major points from his recent book, Business Brilliant. Outlining his simple four point LEAP strategy on how Ultra High Net Worth players get wealthy and stay wealthy, Lewis spoke with conviction and drew on hard data to back up his findings.

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LEAP – Learn, Earn, Assistance, Persistence

1 LEARN Discover the few things you are exceptionally good at that will make you money. Focus almost solely on those skills.

2 EARN Make money doing what you do best. Move up the ladder from being a player to being the proprietor. A job will make you money. A business can make you very rich.

3 ASSISTANCE Develop your network. Know the people who will bring you business and opportunities. Choose wisely and surround yourself with a few truly great people.

4 PERSISTENCE Fail, fail, fail…and learn from failure. Don’t give up and keep going. Stay focused. Have faith in failure.

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And Sproute wins it all!

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for. Which startup would bask in the glory of the NJ Tech Meetup’s blessing? The audience voted by phone and the real-time results yielded a winner….Sproute. And the crowd went wild!

This is a can’t-miss meetup. Come join us on August 2nd with Scott Heiferman, founder of Meetup or September 16th with Michele Brown, CEO of the NJ Economic Development Authority. It would be great to see you there.