At the Asbury Agile conference last week about 100 web “makers and doers,” mostly from the Jersey Shore area, listened to a full agenda of useful talks aimed at honing best practices and showcasing local talent. The room at the Watermark “social gathering destination,” overlooking the rain-swept Asbury Park beach, was inviting and the audience animated as it received information and inspiration from speakers and volleyed questions at them. Networking during breaks was laid-back but intense. As Charlie O’Donnell, principal at First Round Capital remarked, “Who knew the New York tech scene extended all the way down here to Asbury Park?”
NJTechWeekly attended the last bit of the conference, organized by Kevin Fricovsky (Monty Lounge Industries) and Bret Morgan (BandsOnABudget.com) with help from the crew, coming in on a talk by Jon Schlossberg, product lead for New York-based Bonobos, about designing with feel. Next on the agenda was Matt Rogish, director of development for Toura (New York), leading a discussion on PhoneGap, an open source software product for developers that facilitates creating apps across multiple platforms.
A popular session was an interactive introduction to search engine optimization (SEO) by Michael Streko, co-founder/principal of Knowem.com. Streko reviewed several conference-goers’ websites and critiqued them from a SEO point of view to help their developers or owners achieve better search results. He suggested a number of fixes, such as tagging photos or adding content through a blog to give the site greater authenticity.
O’Donnell, an experienced early-stage venture capitalist (VC) who deals with startups, gave the web professionals in the room an idea of what happens when they get involved with venture capital just as they are developing their businesses. He sees himself as a kind of a coach who can keep a business focused, help it set goals and push it to reach addressable metrics and milestones without using too many resources.
People in the development world sometimes wind up with blinders on, O’Donnell said, and an investor/advisor can play a part in expanding a startup’s perspective and helping entreprenuers ask the right questions. Developers have to keep in mind that someone else may need to fund the business in the next investment round and that investor will want to find a company that has reached milestones. “I can’t run your company for you,” he said, and added, however “If you come to someone like me and think the only thing you need from me is money,” it’s probably not the right fit.
O’Donnell often recommends that young companies not take money at all. If a developer has an interesting idea and can take it to fruition or a saleable state with a small team, then “develop it on your own,” he advised. Someone might pick up the product for $10 million. Spread the money around your team and you’ll still take home $2 million, he said. In other words, developers should remember to take their own personal goals into consideration. A VC will want the business to continue to the next stage, but the founder/developer may want to cash out.
O’Donnell advised that developers who want to go for capital start acting like a real company early on; for example, taking the time to have off-site meetings. Meetings away from the office give employees a chance to hash out which part of an idea is working and which is not. Entrepreneurs have to take time out from programming/developing to ask tough questions on a regular basis and over time, he said.
Money is really helpful with marketing but not necessarily with product, O’Donnell added. To demonstrate a really good idea, he said, “give me 30 people from whose cold, dead hands I have to pry this thing.” Are there other people like them? How can you reach those people? These are problems that can be solved with marketing money and could use a VC’s help, he said.