#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.

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.

Belonging – Past, Present and Future

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Today I visited the Hoboken Historical Museum for their excellent new exhibit I Belong: A History of Civic and Social Clubs in Hoboken. What was truly remarkable was how strong the need to belong to a group has been throughout the history of Hoboken.

More than 250 groups have bonded together in the Mile Square City going back to The Turtle Club, an organization dating back to 1796 initially dedicated to eating all the turtles on the west side of the Hudson. Freemasons, Elks, Oddfellows, theater groups, singing organizations and the ubiquitous social clubs all followed. Today, the Elks and many of the social clubs are still around as well as new groups dedicated to running, motorcycles, parenting, skiing, theater and more.

I had an interesting conversation with the curator, Bob Foster, about the impact of social media on Hoboken’s groups and organizations and on the museum itself. I introduced him to Fourstalgia and solved the mystery that had brought me to the museum in the first place.

Fourstalgia kept surfacing a vintage picture of the Quartett-Club whenever I checked in on Foursquare in uptown Hoboken. Where was this striking building and what was this club? It turns out that the club was a German American singing organization formed in the latter half of the 19th century and their hall was right next to the present day Elks Club on Washington between 10th and 11th. It became the Gayety Theater early in the 20th century and was unfortunately torn down in the twenties.

Throughout the exhibit the photos, stories, programs and memorabilia told a fascinating narrative of proud people uniting around common interests and fulfilling that strong basic need of belonging. We marvel at the power Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to attract millions of users, but sometimes forget how people have always come together to share stories, laughter, causes, passions and fellowship. Maybe we just have better tools today.

I love the power of social media and the ability to find my people, but wonder if gathering online adds or subtracts from our capacity to come together in the real world. What do you think?