NYVCA: Pushing the Envelope – Guns, Steel and Money
By: Lauren Keyson
That the NY tech community continues to be effervescent was an overriding message at yesterday’s Third Annual Ingenuity Conference at New World Stages in center of off-Broadway. The goal of the event’s organizer, the NY Venture Capital Association, was to promote the entrepreneurial ecosystem of NYC and the NY area. “The NY tech scene is unequivocally the number two tech community in the nation now, and maybe in the world,” said David Pakman, partner at Venrock and event co-chair. “It’s an ascendant geography that is doing really well and is a vibrant scene of both entrepreneurs and capital.”
Hundreds of attendees came to learn from other entrepreneurs, companies, thinkers. The information was provided by VCs and tech luminaries like AOL’s CEO and chairman Tim Armstrong who founded multiple companies of his own — two that sold to AOL and Yahoo. He talked about how he equips the companies he buys with three key benefits: Guns, meaning brand power and equity; Steel, in the way of infrastructure; and Money. He looks for CEOs and visionaries who will take the abundance of resources they are given to perform even better and faster than they had previously done.
His lesson for the audience was simple: sell products, not features. He said that when he evaluates potential opportunities, he looks for things that he can sell rather than simple features or add-ons to make something appear more valuable than it is. Attendee Chris Luken, product director at RetailMLS, described it best, “I might be able to have a subscription product where I could keep adding extra bells, whistles or features to it. But if I know that I can instead create a brand new product with similar feature sets, I can now potentially sell it to two different audiences with two different buying habits and capture more share of wallets across the greater industry.”
One of the most powerful messages came from NY Rangers Hall of Famer Michael Richter, a three time NHL All-Star and an Olympic Silver medalist. His current venture is Healthy Planet Partners, a project finance fund which finances and manages the deployment of renewable energy technologies and energy saving retrofits for sports facilities. He talked about discipline, teamwork, performance, potential and what it takes to be a winner. “You have to have this balance of pushing the envelope or you will never improve or reach your potential, which is really the point of playing,” he explained. “If you play it safe, that’s where you’re going to be. You are never going to reach those heights. One long distance skater on the 1980 Olympic team fell all the time in practice, but his theory was that if you’re not falling, you’re not trying. Pushing the envelope kept him moving further and further along the lines – if you don’t push you’re envelope, you are never going to improve.”
His other big message was about self-discipline, which he believes translates to almost every endeavor in life. “You have to have discipline. And if you’re prepared to have success, then every bit of your training and preparation has to be massaging yourself in that direction. I can’t expect success at a big sales meeting Monday morning if I am not prepared now.
“You really have to take care of your own responsibilities if you are in a team or business setting — or really anything – and the corollary to that is that you need to learn to apprentice yourself to new things. This is a different world that we live in – you don’t go to work for GM at 20 and stay there until you are 65. You’re going to have to learn different skills and you have to be open to the idea of learning as you age.”