Startup Weekend NYC just the beginning of road to entrepreneurship

Melanie Moore is CEO of ToVieFor

Fill the meeting space at General Assembly on Broadway with designers, developers and marketers out to create new ventures; add experienced speakers and mentors; and then shake things up for 54 hours. That was the order of business at the latest Startup Weekend New York City which concluded Sunday.

The program, a breeding ground for new web and mobile applications, brought together eager tech-heads and business professionals looking to create the next big thing. Ideas evolved for social travel booking, crowdsourcing contact management, connecting brands with photos on personal blogs and even some basketball fan–driven distaste for LeBron James.

The first place concept was, which lets users search friends’ tags across their existing social networks. Winning the prize is a starting point for a journey that can test the resolve of those who want to leave their mark on a highly competitive landscape.

Friday night set the tone for the program  with seasoned entrepreneurs prepping the participants for the challenge of developing startups. Matt Hackett, vice president of engineering for Tumblr, recommended looking for paths of least resistance to achieve their objectives. He also suggested “avoiding sexy tools” that may be more complex than necessary to produce results. “Use what works and get it out there,” Hackett said.

Cautionary tales were shared by other speakers. “Everyone wants to be successful,” said Michael Simmons, CEO and cofounder of the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour. “Very few people are willing to do what it takes every single day when you have everything against you.”

His tour brings young entrepreneurs to colleges across country to speak with students who are interested in going into business for themselves. Simmons said he started his first business, a Web development company, in high school during the rise of the dot-coms. What started out as an opportunity, however, took a dark turn. “During the bust, a lot of our clients went out of business,” he said.

Simmons said he ran out of money in the wake of the collapse while a student at New York University living in Washington Heights. “I was in a rat-infested area,” he said. Simmons endured days with little food on his shelves. “Every time I opened the refrigerator, all that was there was milk, cinnamon, sugar,” he said, “everything that is left after you have eaten everything.”

Though his Web development business failed, Simmons said he maintained his passion for promoting entrepreneurship and wrote articles on the topic for magazines. After graduating in 2005 from the Stern School of Business at NYU, in 2006 he launched Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour which currently visits some 200 college campuses.

Melanie Moore, CEO and cofounder of luxury retailer ToVieFor, discussed some of the mistakes she faced while getting her startup off the ground.

ToVieFor is a website for bidding on luxury items such as sunglasses, handbags and shoes from such designers as Alexander Wang, Proenza Schouler and Jimmy Choo.

Moore, who most recently worked in the corporate strategy group at now-defunct retail franchisor NexCen Brands Inc., said she had experience in the financial arena but knew little about entrepreneurship when she got ToVieFor started. “Instead of looking for a cofounder with complementary [technical] skills, I teamed up with a girlfriend who was also in finance,” she said.

ToVieFor and Moore are alumni of the first TechStars NYC class, an unrelated business accelerator program which wrapped in April. She said enthusiasm for an idea must be tempered by reality. “You learn throughout TechStars that the idea is to build a relationship with investors, show them that you don’t have all the answers but can evolve,” she said. Demonstrating the ability to heed advice and mature, she said, helps build confidence among potential backers. “They will be a lot more likely to give you money,” she said.

The next Startup Weekend New York City is scheduled for August 12.

About Joao-Pierre S. Ruth
New York tech correspondent for Xconomy, tech writer for Investor Uprising, and aspiring urban fantasy writer. I also make brownies and crème brulee.

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