Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurs’

Start Norfolk

Monday, November 28th, 2011

I had the awesome opportunity this month to be a speaker and judge at Start Norfolk – Hampton Roads’ successful attempt at a Startup Weekend-type event. I met the organizer, Zack Miller, at LessConf in Atlanta back in February, and things moved forward from there.

The experience

Photo Credit: Paul Chin, Jr.

If you’re unfamiliar with the model, people pitched ideas on Friday night, then formed teams based on the ideas that were chosen to be developed. All during Saturday and Sunday, teams were hard at work making as much progress as possible, and that progress was shared to the judging panel on Sunday night when we picked a winner. A variety of speakers also gave talks throughout the weekend; mine was focused on my opinion of the correct way to go about doing a startup (touching on pitching, team, funding, and location).

Speaking was a blast, and I can say that as good of a time the judging process was, it was tough. There was no shortage of great ideas and no shortage of impressive executions, and while we ultimately had to narrow the field, my recommendation to everyone is to keep working on your idea, even if you didn’t get chosen or didn’t win.

So what does this mean for Norfolk?

For one, I was incredibly moved by their startup community. Most people wouldn’t initially associate technology entrepreneurs with Norfolk, Virginia, but I can wholeheartedly say that there’s tons of talent and passion. Even on opening night when people were pitching ideas, the energy and enthusiasm in the room was arguably higher than you’d see in Atlanta. There’s so much potential, and it was honestly a bit of an emotional experience for me seeing everyone come together.

And I know this is only the beginning. Drinks Downtown is looking to be an awesome way to bring the community together on a regular basis, a great coworking space exists in 757 Creative Space, and I’ve heard buzz about a second Start Norfolk. Not to mention that the awesome work that We Are Titans is doing proves both the need and opportunity for technology companies in the area. I get the feeling that I’ll be back soon.

Put on for yo’ city!

Thoughts on Presenting at Startup Riot

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Last Wednesday, I pitched Layer, a new startup I’m working on, at Atlanta’s Startup Riot. Held at The Tabernacle, this was the fourth iteration of the event, and it’s without a doubt the best gathering in the area. I’ve been to the past three – Startup Riot 2009 was one of the first forays I made into the local tech scene.

For those that don’t know, Startup Riot is an annual conference where 50 startups each get a 3 minute pitch in front of other entrepreneurs and investors. The pitch is done in only four slides, but booths with more schwag are available in an adjacent room. The format’s great, because if you get bored with one presentation, you can check Twitter and it’ll be over before you know it.

Flickr: sanjayparekh

In the weeks leading up to the big day, I’d been practicing and writing out the pitch a good bit, as well as attending feedback sessions at ATDC and 151 Locust. I’m really appreciative of the helpfulness of everyone and their willingness to give an honest, cut-and-dry opinion – something that’s extremely hard to come by. I had a lot of improvement to do, but my performance would have been awful if not for the recommendations of Ed Rieker, Paul Freet, Jeff McConnell, and Linnea Geiss. I spend a lot of time driving, so my car was one of the best places for me to compulsively work on the talk, despite the fact that my wild hand motions at traffic lights probably made people think that I was insane or something.

I was less nervous than expected in the hours before the pitch. I had a pretty good idea of what was going down, and figured it’d be better to just get up there, be myself, and have a good time. When backstage, I also got to cross an item off of my bucket list: meeting David Hauser, one of the guys behind Grasshopper’s New Dork video.

The three minutes flew by. For the most part, I didn’t even look at the timer onstage; I knew I had plenty of time to work with. The most important thing I tried to remember was to slow down, enunciate, and make things easy to understand.

Flickr: sanjayparekh

2009 seems like yesterday. I remember the awestruck, elevated view I had of the community, and despite a few nerves here and there, I jumped right in. I’m equally humbled and proud to participate in what I’ve been observing for the past two years. If you’re an entrepreneur in Atlanta, pitch at Startup Riot.

New Dorks for life.


Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Last week, I was in San Francisco for Daniel Brusilovsky’s Teens in Tech miniConference, as well as for Appnation.

As someone involved with startups and technology, the Bay Area’s reputation has been firmly ingrained in me for years – Twitter, TechCrunch, Salesforce, and of course, Robert Scoble, all call the area home. It’s been awesome to experience the reputation firsthand.

Demographics and locale

When arriving the first night, I was a little taken aback with the ghetto-ness of Union Square at 11 PM, not to mention the fact that the two or three blocks surrounding Powell and Market are usually full of tourists. Its convenience is hard to beat, though; I was within walking distance of a good number of restaurants and stores. From what I can tell, the more local-inhabited areas are mostly on the east side of the city, around the likes of SoMa, Embarcadero, and North/South Beach.

Public transit’s pretty comprehensive; between BART, Muni, and Caltrain, it’s easy to get around without having to worry about a car. The majority of my travels were on Muni and Caltrain, though; I only used BART to get to and from the airport. The occasional cab ride was necessary, but that was in situations where it was more of a time-saver than anything else. It’s also a lot more convenient to grab a Clipper card instead of having separate passes for each form of transit.

And at the risk of being overly stereotypical, the weather is about as pleasant as I could imagine. The sushi’s amazing, too.

Technology as culture

Salesforce ad

Tech is embedded into every part of San Francisco. QR codes are everywhere, it’s hard to spot a mobile device that’s not an iPhone, and I even heard someone talk about getting a Kinect demo unit while standing at a crosswalk.

It’s incredibly invigorating to be right in the center of everything, like my RSS reader coming to life. All the people and startups out there used to be some surreal, upper-level abstraction that I read about, but now it’s right in front of my eyes.

There’s multiple tech gatherings on every night of the week, with a good distribution of different crowds at each. I also find it fascinating and refreshing that no one (aside from the bouncer at 111 Minna) asked me how old I am or where I went to school.

What I did

Palo Alto

When the conference wrapped up on Saturday, I decided I’d head down to Palo Alto and meet up with some other entrepreneurs. I left the hotel around 7, mistakenly thinking it’d be a quick shot down on Caltrain.  I got down there around 10 thanks to delays at Hayward Park, and still hadn’t heard from anyone. I ended up finding a place called Pizza My Heart (couldn’t resist the pun) and caught up on some blogs. Although I didn’t get back to SF until midnight, I don’t regret the perspective I gained, seeing more of the Stanford-adjacent college town than the crowning tech pinnacle I was expecting.

Blue Bottle

The next morning, I met up with Zach Ware, someone I’d known on Twitter for months. We had a great conversation about the future of location-based services, social dashboards, and how to bring all the fragmented information on the web to a central location. We also talked about the upsides and downsides of being a generalist or specialist, a topic I’d been struggling with recently. The location, Blue Bottle Coffee, had some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, right up there with Atlanta’s Octane. I’m not sure how they brew it, but there was some kind of crazy, Chemex-esque setup in the back.


I took the rest of the day to work on some new features for Rank ‘em, and had a conference call later that afternoon. Having read about it a while back, I figured I’d work out of Sightglass Coffee, as they were one of the first to adopt Jack Dorsey’s Square iOS payment system. Though I’m not sure the barista got my “It’s hip to be Square” joke, the coffee was once again excellent, as was the user experience of the Square app (on-screen signing with a text alert of the charge).


On Monday, I managed to swing a tour of Apple Campus. With a much better approximation of how long the trip would take, I arrived at One Infinite Loop well ahead of time. The architecture and design of every inch was as if it were a giant Apple product; even the trash cans had matte bags with Myriad Pro signage. Upon entering the front door, nothing was modest – a huge iPod touch sign hung from the ceiling, the back courtyard was filled with buildings, offices and was centered by a large patch of grass. It’s one of the most motivational work environments I’ve seen; there’s almost a zen aura surrounding the buildings. I’m not a “fanboy”, strictly speaking, though – I’d strike the same pose at Microsoft, Facebook, or Twitter.

Afterwards, I headed back into the city to take a shower and swing by the Appnation opening night party. It turned out that the venue, 111 Minna, was 21+, though. Even after walking up and seeing the gigantic “21+” sign plastered on the wall, I figured it’d be at least worth a shot to attempt entry. Unfortunately, the cool-guy bouncer was pretty good at basic math, so I was out of luck. I ended up grabbing some delicious sushi at Sanraku while beginning to outline this blog post.


For the majority of the next day, I was tweeting and taking notes at Appnation, which will be detailed in a successive post. After the main event was over, I made my second attempt at the next Appnation party, which proved to be successful. Held at pariSoma, it was definitely an above average event, with a younger crowd and loud music. I enjoyed meeting some of the IntoMobile and Flurry staff, as well as some independent app developers.

On my final day, I met with Appcelerator‘s Jeff Haynie in downtown Mountain View. Other than my late-night trek to Palo Alto, this was the only time I saw “urban” Silicon Valley; it’s refreshingly different from San Francisco, although both have their own unique character. It was great to talk to Jeff and get some more perspective on doing a tech company in the Valley. Directly outside the window was the building where Netscape was created, and Mozilla, LinkedIn, and PayPal offices were a stone’s throw away. My biggest takeaway from the conversation was the reiteration that iron sharpens iron, and that it’s hard to ignore the connections a startup can benefit from by being in the Valley.

Bay Bridge

That night, I was sitting down having a little trouble getting some code to do what I wanted, so I decided I’d take a short walk to clear my head. But I kept walking and ended up finding myself at the water’s edge overlooking the Bay Bridge. It was absolutely beautiful, and I found myself having a bit of a Double Rainbow moment, coupled with thoughts on life, love, meaning, and achievement.

And then I saw a Google Street View car and started manically running to try to grab a TwitPic, which was a good reminder of who I am and what I live for.

Leaving the next day was definitely a bit of a bittersweet moment. As many people I’d met and as much as I’d learned, there’s some undeniably awesome people back in Atlanta. This wasn’t the last time I’ll be in the Bay Area, but tomorrow also isn’t the last day I’ll be in Atlanta.

The Valley doesn’t radically change everything, but does provide more insight into my long term goals. Eventually, it’s where I need to be living and doing business. But not right now, not today.


I can’t express enough gratitude and humility towards the people who made this possible: