Tag Archives: entreprenur

Live Braille Wins at Ultra Light Startups Investor Feedback Forum

24 Nov

Eight entrepreneurs competed at an Ultra Light Startups pitch night at at the Microsoft building in Times Square on November 13, 2014.

Screen shot 2014-11-23 at 11.08.13 PM

LiveBraille, a startup with technology that could eliminate the blind’s need for a cane, won the audience’s vote as the winner of the ULS pitch night, as well as other great startup essentials like office space, consulting and more.

The eights startups each gave a two-minute pitch followed by questions and advice from a panel of investors. Nikhil Kalghatgi of Vast Ventures, Owen Davis of NYC Seed, David Teten of ff Venture Capital and Marc Michel of Metamorphic Ventures were on the panel. Nikhil won the audience’s pick for favorite judge.

Top 3

LiveBraille makes a low-cost 5-sensor glove that uses sonar technology to give a feeling of orientation to those without sight. The company has a patent on the product, which has been tested on 150 users. The glove is washable and water-resistant and is sensitive to the environment – even potholes in India.

The overall feedback was to consider other markets to expand the technology, like the military. Investors also suggested putting the sensor on shirts rather than just gloves, and thinking of more revenue streams.

Pijon: This package company gets brands into impressionable college students’ dorm rooms and reminds them to call home. The company has sold over 23,000 monthly packages to college students that are packed with $30-65 of curated items, like snacks, beauty supplies, etc.

The investors said Pijon should aim to become the preferred vendors at colleges, and of course, consider other markets. They also advised to make their company compelling so people choose Pijon over competitors and subscribe each month.

Meals to Heal: Malnutrition is often an overlooked problem among cancer patients. Inspired by friend who died of brain tumor, Susan Bratton started a company that delivers individualized meals to cancer patients and their caregivers. Revenue comes from weekly meal sales, subscriptions and nutritional counseling. The company also has some b2b partnerships with big box stores like Walgreens.

The judges advised Bratton to clarify why her company is better than other food delivery companies like Fresh Direct and to think about other possible markets.

The other competiting startups

Ketchup: This is a mobile newsreader app for news junkies who are always on their phones. It not only has recent headlines, but a timeline with summaries of related stories.

Jukebox: With this app, you have a say in what music you hear when you leave your house or take out your headphones. The app connects to the speaker system at venues like bars and restaurants.

Tent square: This site dismantles the barriers to enter the movie industry by funding community-created projects. The crowd-powered entertainment and discovery site has about 12,000 members that can assemble movie casts, vote on plotlines and more for the in-platform projects.

Hackers Collective solves a catch-22 in the startup world – in order to get capital you need traction, but in order to get traction you need capital. The site builds a community of peers and users around your product. It also serves as a platform to crowd-fund and discover early stage startups and collaborate.

Job Elevation aims to fundamentally change the job search for the sales profession. The visual online platform allows salespeople to pick what they’re interested in and filter it by sector, location and seniority.

Read the full version at Office Lease Center http://bit.ly/1xDZQzO.


Recaps: Two days of talks with Hooked author Nir Eyal

18 Nov

Nir Eyal, an entrepreneur, designer and author, has been on the event circuit since the release of his new book Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products. I recently heard him speak two days in a row at Alley Boost and StartupGrind events. Below is a post that combining what he said at both events. I guess the next step should be reading his book…it’s on my list!


Nir speaks at Alley Boost event at Mercy College.

Did you know that 1 out of 3 Americans would rather give up sex than their smart phone? Technology has quickly become a pervasive – and intimate – part of our lives. If you’re a designer or an entrepreneur, then you probably are dying to know how technology becomes habit-forming. And if you’re just a consumer, knowing why we get hooked is the first step in breaking unhealthy attachments to tech.

Cue Nir Eyal, entrepreneur, designer and author of Hooked, which was recently released as a physical book that explores what entrepreneurs should build and why. Eyal has a background in gaming and advertising, which both involve some form of mind control. He had his own startup and he has consulted plenty of others.

“A lot of companies were using these [habit-forming] tactics and yet they didn’t really understand why these tactics work,” said Eyal. “They do it without understanding the deeper psychology on how and why these things change users’ behavior.”

Companies want to create products that customers won’t just love, but won’t be able to put down. These types of addictive technologies like our phones, email and apps have a hook so compelling, that we keep using them without anyone prompting us to come back. They become habit, which is a behavior done with little or no conscious thought. This accounts for what we do for about half our day.

There are four parts to the hook, Eyal said.

1. The trigger is something that tells the user what to do and cues the next action. It can be external or internal. Most of these internal triggers are negative – our pain points that we look to solve. We form habits with technologies that lift us out of these negative states, like loneliness or boredom.

When we are lonely we use Facebook. When we’re unsure we go to Google. When we’re bored there’s YouTube, Pinterest, ESPN, etc. Studies show that people suffering from depression check email more often.

2. The action is the simple behavior done in anticipation of a reward. Examples are scrolling, searching or hitting the play button. The formula, created by B.J. Fogg, for predicting the likelihood of these singular actions is behavior = motivation + ability + trigger.

6 factors that can increase motivation are seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, seeking hope, avoiding fear, seeking acceptance and avoiding rejection.  Every ad uses one or more of those levels of motivation.

6 factors that affect ability are  time, money, physical effort, brain cycles (how hard it is to understand correlates with likeliness of doing it), social deviance (see other people doing it), non-routine (you’re more likely to do it if you’ve done it before).

3. The reward: We like variability; the uncertainty makes returning to the technology exciting. An example is the newsfeed, it’s always different.

4. The investment: The product should have a return on the investment because users put something into it in anticipation of a future benefit. Investments increase the likelihood of passing through the hook. Example – if you send a message on WhatsApp, you’ll get one back. Habit-forming technology should improve or appreciate rather than depreciate over time. Another type of investment is building a reputation or a following, like on Task Rabbit, Ebay or AirBnB. It’s hard to leave that platform once you have value on it.

While all this information has value for designers, changing someone’s behavior to meet our own ends, is a form of manipulation, said Eyal. He believes companies should practice social responsibility and use the psychology of the hook to make products that are good for us.

At Startupgrind, Eyal answered my Twitter question and I had 5 seconds of fame…within the event:

He handled the cynicism well, and said the emotions we want to manage don’t change, the technology and interface do. He predicts n a few years wearable technology, like Google Glass and smart watches will be the next big thing.

At the same time he’s teaching the hook, Eyal calls himself an advocate for breaking hooks. You can use the information to break habits and build good ones, he said. In the future, being able to control our habits will be a competitive advantage, said Eyal.

Maybe he’s saying we swap the juice cleanses and do the digital detox to prep for 2015? Maybe I’ll wait til 2016…Eyal’s “future” has no deadline. 🙂

Recap: Peter Thiel discusses Zero to One at Columbia University

18 Sep

[This was written for Office Lease Center’s blog]

Hours after PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel provocatively proclaimed Twitter to be “run by potheads,” he kicked off the release of his new book at Columbia University. The entrepreneur, investor and author shared his “contrarian” ideas from Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

“Tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on,” is one of Thiel’s favorite interview questions, he said, hinting at his innovative yet unconventional opinions and affinity for nonconformity.

It must work for Thiel, whose resume includes co-founding Palantir Technoliges, investing in Facebook back in 2004, and of course, co-founding the ecommerce site PayPal in 1998 and selling it to eBay four years later. Today Thiel manages Founders Fund, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund that he co-founded.

Thiel’s role as adjunct professor at Stanford University, his alma mater, ultimately led to his new book. He posted his class notes on the Internet and they became so popular, he used them to write Zero to One. He outlined the three main concepts in his book – the goal of every company should be to create a new monopoly, why we should explore and solve the unknown when no one else wants to, and the role of technology and innovation in future progress.

While most people think capitalism and competition are synonyms, Thiel believes they’re antonyms. Successful companies need to take majority stake of the market, which yes, is the dirty “m” word. We should not listen to our “powerful psychological” instincts that tell us to imitate each other rather than stand out alone in a monopoly, according to Thiel.

“It is because there’s always this sense that there is safety in crowds,” said Thiel. “Unlike Malcolm Gladwell I believe there’s no wisdom in crowds, I believe there’s generally only insanity to be found in crowds and . . . lots of competition.”

Companies can avoid competition and get closer to monopoly by having a real technical advantage that no one can replicate, solving a hard problem or enlisting a distribution or marketing strategy to scale quickly, Thiel said.

It’s also okay to start as the best in a small market, that’s how companies grow. Thiel used Facebook, which, in its early Harvard days, had a huge hold of the college market, as an example. Boston investors made a mistake fearing that, he said, when they didn’t invest.

There is also something to be said about the characteristics of CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg that lead them to creating solutions in niche areas. Facebook’s founder is infamous for having Asperger’s tendencies, which seems to be a beneficial trait. Thiel asks, what does that say about our society?

“Everyone who is socially adapted will quickly, almost subconsciously pick up on all these social cues and will be discouraged from thinking any of their original thoughts before they’re even fully formed,” said Thiel. “They will sense that the answers to that [contrarian] question are uncomfortable and shouldn’t be pursued and instead veer toward these hyper competitive tracks.”

Those who don’t worry about following certain norms can focus on solving what no one else is thinking about, Thiel said, which is what he ended up doing after a quarter-life crisis in his 20s. He left his hostile, competitive law firm and joined the late 90s tech boom in Silicon Valley.

When we stay on that safe, predictable track, we stunt innovation. The world’s mysteries are the most neglected but also the opportunity for innovation, Thiel said. His theory is that most people categorize things as conventional things everyone understands or “mysteries” that we leave for someone else to solve or write off as impossible to figure out. The “in-between stuff” is answerable, but it’s harder.

“The people who believe that there are secrets, who believe that there are things to discover, are the people that go look for them and will find them,” said Thiel. “The people who believe that there are none, that everything’s already been solved, will not even try.”

He denounces the term “developed world.” The way we talk about our world results in what happens, and we don’t want to foster stagnancy. He asks, “How can we develop the developed world?”

To Thiel, technology and globalization hold the answers. Tech stimulates “zero to one,” vertical progress. Globalization replicates what works to expand for horizontal growth.

In his Q&A with Shane Snow, journalist and Contently founder, Thiel got a bit more candid.

“In Silicon Valley, don’t wear a suit,” said Thiel. “It looks like you’re bad at sales and worse at tech.”

He also said a strong, longtime partnership beats partners that had some tangential run-ins at networking events and decided to start a business together.

“Sounds like, ‘I just got married to the first person I met in Vegas,’” said Thiel.

As for the future of startups, he sees opportunity for growth in energy and biomedical research, especially the study of aging. But of course, entrepreneurs need to find their own mysteries to solve to hit the monopoly jackpot.

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Peter Thiel drew in a crowd.