While living in New York’s tech community this past year has been a wild ride, it’s been a ride alongside a welcoming, supportive and extraordinary group of people. We’ve seen pivots, partnerships, massive hiring, acquisitions and rapid rounds of funding. And we’ve seen more success than failures, which has inspired us to keep running.
We welcomed accelerators like the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator, TechStars and DreamIt Ventures, played with new incubation models like Gramercy Labs Collective and Prehype and raised over $100,000 for local hackers through a fashion-infused tech celebration called Raise Cache. These organizations helped bring together an extraordinary group of mentors within NYC, and established a sense of camaraderie and mentorship within the community. If the years prior we’re about gathering materials and putting the pieces together, 2011 was a year to see the New York tech industry all come together.
For an end of the year, dose of nostalgia, we caught up with 13 entrepreneurs, who all launched companies this year and asked them what their most exciting moment was in 2011.
Given Goodsie‘s long path to launch, CEO Jonathan Marcus, who also founded the all-new Flavors.me, gets nostalgic thinking of how much the company achieved in 2011. For Marcus, Goodsie’s public launch in early May 2011 was the most exciting moment of the year. He started working on Goodsie in early 2009 and just days away from launching in late 2010, he made a very difficult decision to part ways with their technical team because of personal chemistry issues, and re-write the entire code base from scratch in a different programming language.
“A core group of the Flavors team spent the next 5 months moving heaven-and-earth to finally bring Goodsie to life. There were countless times where it seemed as though Goodsie would never launch,” says Marcus. “When we launched in May, a full two years after starting this journey, I was incredibly grateful and proud to have finally achieved and realized a vision that had become a multi-year labor of love.”
Today, Goodsie has 1,000 active, paying sellers, and is growing 20% month-over-month. Over the past 30 days, Goodsie’s top 50 retailers generated half a million dollars in sales. Just this week, Goodsie launched an integration with SoundCloud for sellers to import and sell SoundCloud audio. “Given our traction in music, we expect the SoundCloud integration to be very well received,” says Marcus.
After an initial pivot or two, Jason Goldberg, the CEO of Fab.com, may have had the best year ever. Since launching in June 2011, it’s on target to hit over $20 million in revenue by the end of the year. Earlier this month, Fab announced $40 million in Series B funding led by well-known investment firm Andreessen Horowitz.
“It has been a thrill to see the Fab concept come together, and frankly the movement behind it,” says Goldberg. “In February we shut down our former business and we were just 2 guys with a dream. Today we’re 140 people worldwide, we’ve sold 700,000 products, and we’re making 1.5 million members smile each day by providing them with fun, witty and affordable daily design inspirations. It’s just been an incredibly rewarding, humbling ride. And, it’s just the start.”
Social and mobile innovations are breathing new life into the e-commerce industry, making it more about discovery than search. For example, the Fab Live Feed enables users to quickly discover what other people are buying, what’s popular and what’s being most discussed, all in real-time.
Chloe + Isabel
The direct sales industry is in need of a modern day makeover, and chloe + isabel is doing just that with fashion jewelry sales. The impressively backed startup is run by Chantel Waterbury, who spent 14 years in corporate merchandising working with brands like Cartier, Tiffany and Co., and Van Cleef and Arpels.
“Launching Chloe + Isabel was the defining moment of my year — and my life! It has truly been a labor of love,” says Waterbury. “In 2012, I think we will continue to see entrepreneurs look to disrupt high margin businesses. Chloe + Isabel — along with other startups like Warby Parker — has developed the ability to provide consumers with a higher quality product at a much lower price. I am also excited to see how technology continues to define and evolve the future of social selling.”
This fall, Chloe + Isabel raised $8.5 million in a Series A led by General Catalyst Partners. The company recently launched its Social Content Curator on the Merchandiser dashboard, a tool that lets merchandisers update personalized e-boutiques with their daily inspiration, news and jewelry, while engaging their social networks. In 2012, C+I will expand its engineering team to continue evolving.
Subscription service startups were hot this year. There’s Birchbox for makeup, Lollihop for health food, Bluum for new moms, Guyhaus and Hoseanna for staples like hosiery and deodorant, BarkBox for dogs, Craft Coffee, Babbaco, Blissmobox, Put This On, Paleo Pax, Little Otsu… the list goes on. In July of this year, the folks at Disrupto, a trendy digital product agency in New York City, including co-founder Jack Cheng, launched Memberly, a platform that helps individuals and small businesses run their own subscription programs.
“Subscriptions really took off this year and it’s exciting to see,” says Cheng. “We used to have a relationship with the people we bought from–they were local storeowners, people you knew. But that loyalty all got lost when commerce moved to big retail chains. Everything was all made in one place and distributed by big companies. Now we’re starting to see a revival of consumers interacting with people they know, people that have an expertise. And that is really exciting. People are curating and selling products with their knowledge and expertise. It’s never been easier making a living doing what you love.”
To celebrate the holidays, Memberly launched a gifting feature, which hides the price and wraps the voucher in a friendly interface. There are currently 500 sellers on the wait list for Memberly; Cheng says they’ll be admitted in waves of 50 at a time, starting in 2012.
At this spring’s TechStars’ Demo Day, Shelby.tv CEO Reece Pacheco took the stage to present his company to a room of 750 attendees including hundreds of investors, press and big names in the tech industry. Shelby is wicked awesome platform that helps you discover videos that your friends post on Twitter and Facebook.
“For 3 years, I was constantly panting and trying to catch up. Now, I’ve learned to go faster, while accomplishing a lot. It’s been insane,” says Pacheco. “But at the same time, I’ve learned to slow down and chill out a bit, and I think a lot of that has to do with running the NYC Marathon this year. You can’t just sprint 26 miles. You have to plan how you’re going to get through it. I’ve learned how to delegate more and execute faster. While I can still sprint, I’ve also slowed down my pace to appreciate the moments I have with my team. It’s a tough ride but it’s about striking a balance and learning to enjoy it.”
This year, Shelby released its first iPad and iPhone app, raised $1.5 million and grew from 2 to 9 employees. While Pacheco’s New Years’ Resolution is always to have better posture, he says Shelby will keep pushing the app onto new platforms and continue to release new features to help inspire people through video.
Percolate is one of New York’s freshest, new media companies. The news curation startup works with individuals and brands by scraping your RSS and Twitter feeds based on who you follow and who you subscribe to. It then looks at the sites people are linking to and runs it through an algorithmic filter which applies 10 factors such as your personal preferences, how popular it is within your network, how old it is, and then a few ‘secret sauce’ algorithms. Co-founder James Gross tell us about his most exciting moment this year with his co-founder Noah Brier:
“We were passionate about bootstrapping the company for the entire year. I was most grateful and proud when I looked at the books in July and knew we could make payroll for the rest of the year and give our employees healthcare. Noah and I had a moment at that point when we realized we were building a real company. It felt good.”
“To be a great content creator, you have to be a great content consumer,” says Gross. “This year we saw brands struggling to create content even while they were building massive audiences on channels like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. We realized that brands struggle to create content because they don’t consume anything. As individuals, we are constantly consuming and therefore always have something to curate and Tumble, Tweet and Facebook share to our audiences.”
Brier and Gross (pictured right) built Percolate to help brands build an interest graph that would allow them to consume content they were interested and then have a more natural curation process. “It’s all about stock and flow,” says Gross. “Stock brings in audience, flow keeps them coming back.” All of Percolate’s 2011 clients renewed for 2012 and the company is looking to double its client base in Q1 of next year. This December, Percolate raised a $1.5 million seed round.
I first met with Jason L. Baptiste and Andres Barreto, the founders of Onswipe on a snowy day in late January for an interview titled, Forget apps, Onswipe is the future of publishing. The two entrepreneurs were poised for the age of the tablet, both passionate writers who wanted to make their content look beautiful on the iPad. Besides their first TNW interview, Baptiste says their launch event on June 21st, 2011 was the most exciting moment of the year:
“Less than six months before launch, we were a little side project and here we stood with a talented team and product launching with a slew of great partners like Ziff Davis, New York Times, and Sprint. It is still the most exciting and proudest moment of my life.”
This year, Onswipe watched as publishers began to prefer HTML5 apps over native apps on the tablet. Companies like Onswipe, Pressly and individual publishers like the Financial Times have shown what is possible in this realm. “If the tablet is the TV of this generation, building for the touch web is the way to get a channel on it,” says Baptiste. Onswipe will be releasing a new product the first week of January, stay tuned.
Skillshare is a community marketplace that enables users to learn anything from anyone, thereby democratizing learning. “I’m extremely proud of the team we’ve built at Skillshare,” says CEO Michael Karnjanaprakorn. “One of my goals was to build a company that would attract the most talented people across all industries to make our world a sustainably, better place. I believe that when you have the world’s most talented people working together to disrupt an industry – true innovation can happen. I hope that Skillshare inspires other entrepreneurs and startups to do the same.”
“This year, we saw the rise of collaborative consumption and the move from hyper-consumption to hyper-sharing. People are sharing (skills), swapping, bartering, and renting access to products as opposed to owning physical things. Companies like Kickstarter (unleashing creativity in the world), Airbnb (sharing space), and TaskRabbit (time) are paving the way for this new world,” says Karnjanaprakorn. “If you told me two years ago that I would be letting complete strangers into my home, I would have laughed. Or, if you told me I could learn something valuable from someone I pass on the street. But, what you see today is a unique trust between complete strangers that didn’t exist before. I think that’s the most exciting thing about collaborative consumption – believing that people are inherently good.”
This past year, Skillshare racked up 15,000 hours of teaching on its platform. Today, the number of students in the Skillshare community equals the size of New York University. In addition to some exciting announcements next year, Karnjanaprakorn will be speaking about Skillshare at TED 2012, something he’s been dreaming about since watching Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk , in which he encouraged everyone to start a learning revolution.
We first wrote about Codecademy in October, while in the midst of a fascinating wave of disruption in online education. The Y-Combinator bred, New York City based company teaches people to code through free interactive instruction online. Of the company’s August launch, co-founder Zachary Sims says, “Our launch was incredibly exhilarating and super exciting. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who have been through our lessons and by the ability of the web to spread ideas and education.”
“I think education is finally having its moment,” continues Sims, “It’s been awesome to see other cool startups like Tutorspree launch, and nonprofits/institutions like MIT and Stanford trying their hand with online courses and certificate programs as well.”
In 2012, Sims plans to continue building his product, and his team. He’s released a few new features just before the holidays including Labs, a web-based code editor and will have new courses coming in 2012.
We first wrote about Fitocracy in our recent report on The Future of Fitness, in which we interviewed founders Brian Wang and Richard Talens, who used to be “really out of shape, video game addicts”. Talens was “super fat” and Wang was “super skinny”. While in college, they realized they had to make a lifestyle change and thus became “addicted to fitness”. Inspired by their experience, the two built a platform that tracks workouts and turns personal fitness into a social game. Since then the company has moved west to take part in Dave McClure’s 500 Startups accelerator.
Wang says, “I’ll never forget the morning I woke up to find that XKCD drew a comic about us. Aside from the fact that we were being featured on a comic I’d been reading for a long time, my inbox was filled to the brim with new user notifications and would continue to get flooded throughout the week.”
This past year, Wang has noticed a lot of myth debunking and overturning of preconceived notions around fitness: “For the longest while, the industry has been plagued by misinformation and anecdotal nonsense, and while they continue to persist, I think people are starting to take a much more empirical, science-based approach to their health and fitness.” Fitocracy won’t release any new numbers but we know that even before the boys opened up in beta, they had close to 100,000 members. And this just in: Fitocracy has passed 1,000,000 logged workouts on its platform.
No startup could be more essential to a city than Nestio is to New Yorkers as apartment hunting here is one of the most grueling life experiences. The three founders, CEO Caren Maio, CCO Matthew Raoul and CTO Michael O’Toole launched a social apartment hunting platform in April of this year to disrupt the online real estate industry.
“The moment we first came across people we didn’t know using our product was one of the most exciting of the year,” says Maio. “We were working on the beta version of the site and pushing updates quietly – just alerting our fellow TechStars companies and mentors to solicit feedback. All of a sudden, we started to see real renters on the site, using our service to help with their apartment hunt. Talking to our earliest users and receiving validation that we were on the right track and solving a pain point for people was beyond exciting.”
Maio says that the real estate industry as a whole is recognizing the increased importance of a strong mobile strategy. “The accuracy and timeliness of data has the potential to be exponentially improved and everyone is really excited about that – both real estate professionals and consumers,” she says. “Everyone’s testing the waters, and I think we’ll see the home hunting process come a long way, with more and more people embracing mobile.” [Check out Nestio’s mobile app here.]
Nestio recently launched nationwide and is planning to unveil some significant developments in 2012 on both the mobile front as well as improvements around listing discovery. Stay tuned!
Now, once you’ve got your apartment sorted, where will you work?
2011 was an exciting, if not exhausting year for the New York City startup scene with hundreds of companies launching out of coffee shops and studio apartments. And we can thank coworking spaces like WeWork Labs, General Assembly, Projective Space and Dogpatch, who sprung up to house them all.
Coworking spaces operate like startup campuses, providing eager minds with outlets and WiFi, as well as access to angel investors and VCs, serial entrepreneurs who act like mentors, and a fertile breeding ground for collaboration between entrepreneurs, designers and developers. Let’s take a look at two of the top coworking companies that launched this year.
General Assembly is New York City’s most impressive coworking space, located just around the corner from a number of notable investors at 902 Broadway in the Flatiron. The 20,000-sq ft campus, which opened in January 2011, was immediately booked to its 100-seat capacity. It now has 350 members, representing 100+ early-stage startups, selected through an application and interview process. “There were so many exciting and inspiring moments this past year — too many to count,” says GA co-founder Matthew Brimer. “Though if I had to choose, it’s probably when we graduated the first class of students from our 10-week Front-End Web Development course. It was very inspiring to know that we helped empower a group of people with a new set of skills that they’ll be able to immediately put to use in their careers.”
“One of the biggest ideas I’ve seen in education this year is the increasing gap between where a collegiate liberal arts education leaves off and where the 21st century begins. Traditional academic institutions can provide a solid intellectual and social foundation, but typically don’t touch all the requisite skills to succeed in the new economy. I’ve encountered all sorts of amazing education startups tackling this issue in interesting ways, and it’s fascinating to watch entrepreneurship start to become a powerful force in a meaningful arena like education, an industry that hasn’t changed much in centuries yet is now increasingly in need of overhaul.”
-Matthew Brimer, Co-Founder of General Assembly
General Assembly now has 3,000 attendees each month for classes, events, and other programs and is producing 2-4 classes and workshops on technology, design, and entrepreneurship every day. GA has built 5 long-form courses, taught by top practitioners, offering robust skills in front-end web development, Ruby on Rails, user experience design, as well as business development and sales. In addition, GA launched its first two hybrid (online+offline) courses: “Forming Your Startup” and “Introduction to Web APIs” (with more on the way). And perhaps its biggest news of the year? General Assembly will cross the pond in 2012 to open up its first London campus.
WeWork Labs is a co-working hybrid founded in April 2011 by Adam Neumann (Egg-Baby), Jesse Middleton (Guy Haus), and Matt Shampine (Onepager), located in the heart of Soho at 154 Grand Street. Since April, 77 entrepreneurs that comprise over 40 companies have called or currently call WeWork Labs home, including startups such as Consmr, CityPockets, Fitocracy, Handshake and Turf. And WeWork Labs has 300 more entrepreneurs on the wait list.
“Teaching others was a big trend this year,” says Shampine. “We’ve hosted a number of Skillshare classes in WeWork Labs and quite a lot of my friends took the time to put together an agenda to teach a class. The trend isn’t just limited to Skillshare classes. I remember a recent town hall meeting at WeWork Labs where I loved seeing just how adamant the group was on setting up classes to teach each other.”
Since April, over $3 million dollars has been raised by WeWork Labs startups and with more to be announced in the near future. Startups in WeWork Labs have made their way to great accelerator programs such as AngelPad, 500 Startups, and TechStars. Just this month, the team announced the expansion of WeWork Labs, so in addition to its offices in Midtown, Soho and Meatpacking, WeWork will occupy 75,000 square feet, offering up 700 desks in Tribeca at 175 Varick Street starting in February 2012.
There were dozens of other companies that launched this year that we’d like to mention like SideTour, a peer-to-peer marketplace of marketable serendipity; Sonar, the hyperlocal, networking app of the year; Piictu, which bills its photo sharing app as a new kind of visual network; Coursekit, a social network for education; Quickish, Dan Shanoff’s sports site; Hatch, a new iOS app for making plans with friends; Uncram, a social media extension and content platform; TheHappyCloud, a cloud gaming startup; Dispatch, a service for cloud file sharing, movement, and management; social network Subjot, Everything Butt Art, a children’s iPad app; online education startupVeri; and Timehop, the ultimate daily email for life loggers.
Technology, especially in New York, is more of a meta-industry and than it is an industry. Startups are building and leveraging technology to transform all manner of existing industries, from music to art to journalism to fashion to advertising to retail. There’s so much opportunity ahead — we should always strive to broaden our horizons and push ourselves as entrepreneurs to explore new frontiers.
-Matthew Brimer, Co-Founder of General Assembly
And what about companies that turned 1 year old in 2011? Check out: Lessons from 12 New York Entrepreneurs After a Year in the Biz.
Image: Songquan Deng via Shutterstock