Author Archives: scottamenta

We’re All Jerks Sometimes.

Wow its been a while since I’ve last posted.  Have had a lot to write about and not much time to actually do it.  Tonight won’t be a long post either, as I still have some foursquare work to crank on.

Quick story: Went to Washington Square Park to eat lunch today and road my bike over- standard two minute ride.  While sitting on the grass a news reporter (I believe from the NY Post) came over and asked me a few questions about the DOT’s new “Don’t be a Jerk” campaign, complete with billboards and PSA’s attempting to teach cyclists how not be.. well, JERKS.  The campaign begs the question, are cyclists really jerks?  There is obviously no clear cut answer.  Yes, some cyclists are jerks; running red lights, biking against traffic, or riding on the sidewalks with no regard for anything else around them except things bigger than themselves, ie. cars, busses, trucks, and cabs.  Cab drivers fall into a whole separate category of drivers, just like NY vs NJ drivers, but thats a whole different argument saved for another day.  The point is that some cyclists are deliberately jerks, some are entirely law abiding, but most are only jerks when they have to be, usually out of pure self defense.  The problem is that most pedestrians that have never ridden a bicycle in Manhattan have no idea what its like to constantly be looking over your shoulder for the next cab deliberately trying to pass as close as they can to you without actually hitting you.  We’re fast, but not as fast as vehicles.  And the facts don’t lie: Cyclist collisions with pedestrians caused zero deaths in Manhattan last year.  The same cannot be said for automobiles which caused nearly 270 deaths. 270 people were hit by cars and died, but cyclists are still the jerks.

The “Don’t be a Jerk” campaign has done nothing but strengthen the false illusions that all cyclists are deliberately jerks on the road.  What the DOT needs to do is strike a balance of blame between all of the parties involved. Pedestrians are equally as guilty of J walking, crossing on red lights, opening doors into traffic, etc.

Not the first time we've seen this..

The same is true for vehicles: speeding, running red lights, parking illegally, and pulling into bike lanes.  That said, it should be noted that police are not above the law.  If they want to dish out tickets to cyclists that don’t have bells and lights on their bikes so be it.  But I would love to know how to dish it back to cops equally as guilty.

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PPW

Not Quite Copenhagen

I picked up the most recent issue of New York magazine the other day while shopping at Whole Foods when the cover caught my eye.  I’m not one to sporadically buy magazines at the point of purchase for groceries but I couldnt help myself after seeing the words “Bikelash” plastered across the front.  I would think its pretty rare that a bike lane lands a five page story, plus the front cover of any urban magazine, especially one from NY.  The PPW bike lane did just that.

I would encourage anyone interested in the dispute over the PPW lane or just the growth of NYC biking in general to read the article.  Unfortunately it is a little bit one sided, especially at the beginning where the author (although a cyclist) focuses in on the views of anti-bike lane proponents.  It isn’t until the continuation of the article at the back of the magazine (pg. 91) that the good stuff is presented.  One of my favorite quotes, written about the 9th ave bike lane, which was originally met with fierce opposition until tempers slowly dies down was this; “there is something infinitely joyful in putting foot to pedal, something intoxicating about not being bound to the whims of a bus driver or subway conductor or thick tangles of crosstown traffic.  Whipping down the street, completely protected from the cars zooming by just a few feet away, may be the closest any New Yorker comes to flying” (Matthew Shaer). While not presenting anything factual to back up the need for bike lanes in NY, it is certainly an accurate testament to the feelings held by NY cyclists riding in a protected bike lane.  Now imagine a world where those lanes no longer exist.  Not such a pleasant dream when you’ve lost your wings.

Goldy

Saw this bike outside NYU Stern the other day.  It’s cool but also makes me glad that I didn’t go with the gold rims on my bike.  Putting those colors on a track bike is just begging to get it stolen.  This bike probably cant move too fast anyways.  The owner, whose name unfortunately I didn’t get, won the bike at an Equinox raffle and explained that it was pretty poorly built, ie wrong brackets, oversized stem, and cheap knockoff parts made in china.  Either way its an attention grabber, so I suppose Equinox won on that front. Decide for yourself!

Founder’s Round

I had the opportunity to attend Founders Meetup on Tuesday night (March 1) and listen to a few CEO’s speak about their technology, business models, milestones/goals, questions, and concerns.  They included SeatGeek, HyperPublic, and RocketHub.

SeatGeek, an NYC Seed portfolio company, is a sports and concert ticket search engine that uses predictive algorithms to show you the best price for tickets sold on secondary markets (meaning not directly from TicketMaster or another large service).  They also have spent an extensive amount of time mapping the configurations of stadium seating across America that way you can see exactly where you will be sitting during the show or game and make sure you are paying the best price on the market!

HyperPublic may be a little bit more difficult for me to explain correctly.  On the surface, at the moment at least, its gives you a simple way to tag and search people, places, or things that they you everyday and then find and connect to those things by location.  On the backend, they are creating really rich data layer from which other applications can be built.  Cofounder, Jordan Cooper, described it as the intermediary between infrastructure sites like SimpleGeo and heavy user generated content sites like Yelp.com.  Either way the opportunities that the dataset will provide to developers to build applications for local entities on the platform will be amazing.

Last one, since I really didn’t mean to go into a lot of detail about these companies.. RocketHub is similar to KickStarter, as it uses crowdsourcing to help people raise money for various projects.  Whats most interesting is their partnerships with larger brands who also join in on sponsoring some of the projects.

One of the more interesting topics that was raised was customer acquisition, which includes the debate about time spent on marketing and PR for startups.  By now everyone should have read Fred Wilson’s views on what it means for startups to spend time on different marketing initiatives.  Anyways, I wanted to point out a really interesting comment made in the audience about an example of a company that came up with a very clever, and relatively successful way to acquire customers.  The company is called Blingo (it still exists, not that anyone would use it) and they are a search engine owned by Publishers Clearing House.  However they offered one distinguishable twist from all of the other search engines in the market.  Every time a user searched for something they had the opportunity to win a prize at random.  GENIUS. Blingo successfully acquired millions of email addresses at the cost of giving away a few inexpensive prizes each day.  They also incorporated a social networking tool into it; users that recruited their friends to join would receive the same prize that any of their friends won.  Blingo encouraged their users that it was best to use the service like they would use any other search engine on a normal basis.  For the casual searcher, there was much more incentive to go to Blingo (which was using Google’s search anyways) because they had a chance to win.

While it seems obvious, I think campaigns like this could be applied to a number of platforms today whose largest priority is singing up millions of new users.  Foursquare is a great example.  Merchants that are willing to give out special offer are the most valuable for the platform because they keep users engaged.  Here’s the question: Is it possible to make it required for merchants to offer a special to a minimum number of customers on foursquare every week at random?  That would be such a huge incentive for current users who never receive anything to keep checking in and for people not currently using the service to sign up for an account.

*Note I got some information from wikipedia.  It’s credible enough in my mind. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blingo

Broken things= startup opportunities

Facebook invented the Events page.  Arguably one of the biggest attractions to the platform besides sharing pictures, the ability to tell friends about upcoming events is invaluable.  But, through all of facebook’s growth and development over the past 5-6 years, it seems that the Events section has not seen any major improvements.  Instead, the right hand corner of our home screens have become a haven for unsolicited parties and meetups and has slowly, but surely rendered itself useless.  The system is officially broken for what I would think is a large number of users.  Sharing events among a close network of friends is vital to any social network.  The traditional mechanisms to get a group together on a particular night are completely outdated. Unfortunately, Facebook Events can also be added to that list, along with snail mail, email, and mass text messages.

Presently, on facebook the types of events we receive usually fall into a few distinct categories: birthdays, planned parties, promo events/benefits/concerts, community meetings, and lost cellphones (if that can even be considered an event).  I usually have a range of 12-16 events in my list on facebook, of which there are 2 that I will respond to if I remember in time.  This is a problem that needs to be replicated, and I don’t think facebook will be the one to do it.  If a large technology company like Facebook won’t or can’t do it, it is definitely an opportunity for a startup. I think event planning online needs to be made a bit more spontaneous, allowing for organic growth of “attendees” rather than forced pressure (ie facebok messages, which I also think are useless).  There should be a dedicated application separate from email, facebook, and twitter that helps users manage the types of events they receive from their friends, the timing that you receive the event (for example, birthdays i would like to know way in advance, regular parties i would like to know about the day of or the day before), and the number of events currently in the “inbox”.

Anyways, I think it would be an interesting side project and I might just take some time to experiment with it.  I have a few ideas about how to best go about getting the data to build an personal event manager. If anyone is interested in joining or has some advice please send me an email at scott.amenta89@gmail.com or leave your comments below.

Do it or dont do it..

..Or Call it A Side Project.

The thought of running a successful company can be overwhelmingly daunting. I believe many first time entrepreneurs suffer from a common problem; the idea of starting a successful company gets put on a pedestal.  As new entrepreneurs begin to think about their idea, assemble a team, create decks, and reach out to their network they get caught up in the hype of creating a startup.  All of the sudden, it becomes a big deal to take an untraditional path and run your own company.  Founders become more aware of the risk of failure, the time commitment, and the thought that maybe their idea isn’t worth the next five years of their time.  As soon as an entrepreneur puts their company on a pedestal, they are destined to fail. Excuse after excuse, they get caught up doing everything but what needs to get done; building a prototype and getting it to users or customers to test.  There is no reason to open a bank account, incorporate the company, or even to spend time alerting friends, families, and even potential mentors or investors until it is absolutely necessary.  All of this acts as a waste of time.  Time that could have been spent testing the product, talking with customers, and figuring out the next iteration.

To this problem, my solution is the side project. Having a side project means that one is also spending time on one or more things simultaneously.  The benefits of having a side project outweigh the benefits of committing 100% of your time to a single idea.

Here’s five reasons why:

  1. Dedicating 5-25% of your time to a side project forces you to focus on the most important aspects first, like building a prototype and speaking to customers.
  2. Side projects can change by week, month, or year.  This keeps things interesting and allows you to explore different opportunities without committing all of your resources at once.
  3. The risk of failure does not appear as daunting, especially to a first time entrepreneur because there is always something else to fall back upon.
  4. Side projects teach you how to manage your time more efficiently to get things done quickly.  Having a lot of things going on at the same time doesn’t leave room for procrastination and keeps you engaged.
  5. Side projects are great conversation starters and generally make you look more interesting.  They are a great way to meet new people with interests that parallel whatever you are working on.

Arguably you can have one or more side projects at the same time. Building a website, running a blog, doing volunteer work, or taking online classes, are just a few types of side projects.  Of course, everyone is always busy working on a thousand different things at once.  The lesson for myself and other first time entrepreneurs is that its dangerous to think about things as being absolute. So call whatever you’re doing a side project.  Put your mind in the right place and your work and time will be better spent.  Failure is just an excuse to focus harder on something different.

Nurds who bike. #bikenyc

Courtesy of Dmitry Gudkov

For those that don’t know, #bikenyc represents a quickly growing twitter group, tweeting and sharing everything bicycle related in New York City.  #bikenyc is a combination of petitioners, community builders, bicycle enthusiasts, commuters, bloggers, and if you hadn’t guessed by my title, tech nurds who ride bikes.

The first #bikenyc tech meetup was hosted at pivotal labs, current home of TechStars and organized by Noel Hidalgo (@noneck), Lara (@bicyclehabitat), and Michael Green (@bikeblognyc).  I happen to be interested in both the bicycling and tech communities in NYC.  Little did I know there were others like me.  The intersection of these two communities at #bikenyc is a great step towards using technology to make NYC a safer, more social place to ride.  Here are some of my thoughts regarding the future of the meetup and what I hope to see come out of it.  While I’m not a programmer, I hope to do my own part contributing through idea generation, business development, my network, etc.

  1. In order to build great products, programmers need great data.  The bike infrastructure in NYC can only be enhanced with the release of city data through open API’s.  Obviously, getting the Bloomberg administration to release this information will be a slow and painful process, but I think it should be made a number one priority.  We could hold our own version of Big Apps competition, inviting programmers to participate in a hackathon specifically for cycling infrastructure in New York.  The innovations that come out of these programs could help put pressure on the government.  Proof of use cases with the data will certainly increase the argument for open API’s.  Moreover, we need to recruit other groups that would also have a strong use for city information.  Joining forces with other transportation startups like Roadify will help apply pressure in critical mass.  From my own perspective, interning at NYC Seed, it would be tactiful to organize the large venture capitalists in NYC to apply pressure for open API’s as well.  They have a lot to gain, as many of their portfolio companies could benefit from the increased amount of data.  As Silicon Alley grows, east coast VC’s can wield a certain amount of power over local government.  It is their companies that are supplying jobs as they grow.  Our economy relies on startups for these very reasons: innovation and employment.
  2. There seemed to be somewhat of a division between the #bikenyc technologists and the #bikenyc community not-for-profit organizers. At its heart, the #bikenyc tech meetup should exist to facilitate communication between these two parties.  Those interested in enhancing the cycling community through initiatives like group rides, community board meetings, etc need to state clearly to programmers what their problems are and how they could be addressed by building online platforms and applications.  I believe the majority of #bikenyc tech meetups should be focused on bridging this divide.  We may try to model our meet-ups on the fashion 2.0 conferences. One or two questions could be proposed prior to the meetup to align everyone thinking about the same topics.  Although classifying whose an “expert” in this field may be difficult, we could invite entrepreneurs from other startups to come speak and offer their own input on how we can help them, and vice versa.
  3. Following the notion of proposing specific topics each meeting, we need to decide on a long term goal.  Whether that means increasing the number of bike lanes, getting more cyclists on the road, reducing the number of vehicles, saving bike lanes already built (PPW), or getting data from the city.  Establishing some long-term goals will help put everyone’s thoughts into perspective about what is and is not realistic to accomplish right now.

I expect a lot will come out of the #bikenyc tech meetup in the future.  There is certainly a ton of room for improvement when thinking about New York becoming a safe, friendly environment to bike.  The reasons for supporting these initiatives are simple.  Biking makes people healthy, social, and above all happy. If we can use the internet to progress this thinking, we will have done our part to make our community that much better.  Until then, ride on #bikenyc.

Oh, and shout out to my photographer/friend Dmitry Gudkov whose #bikenyc portraits you can find on his blog or by clicking the image above.  He has done a great job bringing the #bikenyc community together through his photography. And feel free to hit him up for your own picture as spring approaches!