Coming to New York City to establish a startup can be seen as a luxury to some, or even as an unnecessary step, but for those of use who are working on it day in and day out, we know it’s a roller coaster of continual work and hustle. Beyond the 24/7 work weeks, NY-based entrepreneurs know the advantages of living in a city such as Gotham, the first one being so close to other entrepreneurial hubs including Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, and even closer, New Jersey. The land where legendary inventor Thomas A. Edison established his lab to work on more than 400 patented inventions or the overly creative minds who used the classrooms of the Stevens Institute of Technology to innovate the future. Little did I know that I would be stepping in the footsteps of my great-uncle, Enrique Uribe White, who right after graduating from civil engineering at MIT, he worked for Thomas A. Edison at his Menlo Park lab. Even though we didn’t visit the lab, we did attend the first version of Propeller Festival in Hoboken, a full-day innovation event to bridge the entrepreneurial minds from NJ and NY.
Envisioned by long-time entrepreneur and founder of the NJ Tech Meetup, Aaron Price, the success of the event was really possible because it was thought out as a minimum viable product itself. As Price puts it, we were their first beta users, the sponsors served as angel investors, and the group of volunteers resembled the early hires. What made it exciting was also the hustle and bustle of absolutely everyone at the event (even the entrance, which wasn’t as smooth-sailing as it could’ve been), from the attendees all the way to hotshot VC’s and entrepreneurs including Gary Vaynerchuk. We were prepared to learn, network, and be part of this growing community.
The rise of innovation
After introductory speeches by Aaron, Hoboken’s mayor Dawn Zimmer and Stevens Institute of Technology President Nairman Favardin, the panels and keynotes began. Kicking off with Marcus Weldon, the Nokia CTO and president from Bell Labs made it clear on how innovation has evolved over time. Nokia, being the inventors of the transistor, all the way to programming languages including C++, has been at the forefront of innovation and invention. Weldon formulated innovation as the sum of invention and implementation. In common entrepreneurial jargon, we should say it’s all about execution, not just ideas. After all, Propeller’s slogan was “idle ideas don’t fly”, so there’s definitely a need to propel innovation and ideas. Picking on concepts from Clay Christensen about the three types of innovation (Evolutionary or sustaining, Revolutionary or breakout, and disrupting), Weldon concluded with how innovation comes from invention and implementation, on how the speed and rate at which startups grow and innovate is fast and effective, referring to Bell Labs and startups as “brothers from another innovation mother”.
“We are like brothers from another innovation mother”. Marcus Weldon, CTO Nokia
The panel that followed consisted in a hype topic: raising money from VC’s. A topic that was called upon in almost every single panel and keynote. Joining from Red Sea Ventures was Scott Birnbaum, partner and entrepreneur. A great piece of advice he said loud and clear was to “be an incredible storyteller”. We couldn’t agree more. As musicians ourselves, we’ve seen the value of great storytelling, on how this affects your audience and how even the smallest detail in a 1 minute of 18 minute pitch (think TED Talks) can influence the result and success of your story. Again, idle ideas don’t fly, and you’ve got to have your story nailed down, otherwise, people won’t even relate to you. Even though Edison Partners focuses on growth equity investments, we also had the chance to listen to CMO and partner Kelly Ford. Her spot-on tip was to focus on the team. In her own words, a CEO’s ability to attract great talent and to nurture it is very valuable, and something they look for in companies they invest in. Later in the day, I had the opportunity to speak with Edison Partners Associate, Jordy Albert, who also gave us really valuable feedback and shared his thoughts on our venture. Sutian Dong, from Female Founders Fund highlighted the importance of female founders and their ability to execute. Her advice consisted on “having a unique point of view” and “showing what have we done in the past to show how resilient and persistent we are”.
Let the chips fall where they fall
When I first came to New York to do my master’s, I was eager to network as much as I could and get myself out of my comfort zone (i.e. a concert stage or next to a bass guitar and amplifier) and talk to people. I knew I had to use my i’m-not-afraid-of-being-on-a-stage skill and connect with people through ideas, not only through my music. So I attended a Findspark event for students at my alma mater, The New School, where I committed to write a blog post about my experience at the event. And guess who the keynote speaker was – Gary Vaynerchuk. After watching him speak with the style that characterizes him so much, I saw the value of speaking and communicating beyond expressing thoughts or intangible musicianship. Either you love him or hate him, but Gary Vee has a lot of value. After all, this is what it’s all about – value. Talking to people is a true art.
Talking to people means understanding and leveraging other people’s points of view, being capable of providing value, and making sure you ask for value in return. A transaction that most often doesn’t happen with people who don’t communicate, those who live in silos and lack this very unique skill. Well, at Propeller Fest, Gary Vee made it even clearer for us: we have to be practical. Even though we are building up cool stuff and creating the next big thing, we have to be practical and work tirelessly in order to achieve tangible results. These results often mean having a healthy, positive, green number on our balance sheets and bank accounts. This will definitely come easier when we know how to communicate what we’re selling, a true art and as Gary Vee would say, “a one-night stand is very different to marriage”, it’s all about the value it brings to you.
An important thing to notice was the fact that even though New York is just across the river, New Jersey has a growing tech community. Consider the above, when I mentioned Thomas A. Edison, who may be considered the father of what Silicon Valley is today and how sustained innovation occurred at his Menlo Park lab is really highlighted in the book The Wizard of Menlo Park, which in fact is one of Marc Andreesen’s top book recommendation. And if you think about it, it’s all about momentum. For instance, Tom Wisniewski from Newark Venture Partners also spoke about New Jersey’s growth, and how entrepreneurs can gain traction based on the momentum coming out of a location. Summing it up – we’re really looking forward to the next edition of Propeller, and eager to get more involved in the New Jersey tech scene.
One of the nice highlights of the day – I won an iPad! So thanks to the guys at Alley who put a great show at Propeller Fest. Really looking forward to continue meeting great people and connecting to inspiring entrepreneurs.