Hudson Valley Tech Meetup’s 2016 Kickoff Event

Started from the bottom, now we’re here.

That was the general sentiment at last night’s January 2016 Kickoff edition of Hudson Valley Tech Meetup. A little history on HV Tech: our principals here at Evolving Media Network—Dan Stone and Kale Kaposhilin—teamed up with Dan and Sabrina Schutzsmith of Digital Empire, a Poughkeepsie-based digital creative company, in 2014. “We’re all working in similar fields here,” they thought, “and so are plenty of other people in the Hudson Valley. Why not come together?” They saw the success of the New York Tech Meetup (which currently has over 48,000 members), and thought a monthly gathering of designers, creatives, engineers, and other tech-lovers might be just the ticket to bridge the gap between people working independently in a fairly rural area.

Since then, the Meetup has hosted 19 software demos, 16 start-ups, and 60 talks, reported Dan Stone in his presentation last night, “HV Tech by the Numbers.” It’s blossomed into an active group of nearly 900 members, a tribute to a pre-existing need that even its founders couldn’t have predicted.

“We expected like, 15 people at the first Meetup,” Kale joked on stage. “We got 40.” And last night, at the hip, industrial-style Senate Garage in uptown Kingston, over 200 people assembled to sip beer, cider, and cocktails (provided by Keegan AlesAwestuck, and Orange County Distillery), network, chat, and listen to talks from two industry superstars.

That rags-to-riches story, told by Kale and Dan from EMN, kicked off last night’s event, an appropriate opening considering many of the attendees at last night’s Meetup were brand new members.

Kale explained how HV Tech has become aligned with economic development in the area, with support coming from sponsor Ulster County Economic Development Alliance (UCEDA) and partner Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation (HVEDC). “It’s been wonderful to connect with people in economic development,” Kale said. “I didn’t even know that was a thing before—and many aspiring tech founders don’t know about it either.”

He also thanked additional sponsors, including the Senate Garage, Dragon Search Marketing, AT&T, and Healthquest. Thanks to these sponsors, he joked, “the food’s gotten a lot better.” Other partners include RUPCO, who provided HV Tech with their first meeting space at the Kirkland Hotel; Luminary Publishing; Jacobowitz & Gubtis, Counselors at Law; O’Reilly Media, who offer a 50% discount on tech learning materials for HV Tech members; and RXI. Kale closed his opening remarks by pointing out that we’re all working together to support the growth of this community. “Whether it’s for business or education or fun, connecting with your community is vital, and Hudson Valley Tech Meetup is an inclusive environment where those connections can occur.”

Introductions were followed by talks from two local tech start-up founders. Kate Bradley-Chernis demoed Lately, her alternative to what she calls the “spreadsheet hell” usually experienced by marketers trying to organize their budgets, calendars, content, tasks, and team. She also gave us a taste of what it’s like to pitch to a room. To simulate the questions she typically receives from a skeptical audience of possible investors, she handed out cards to audience members and cued them to read the questions at specific points in her talk. “This is what we call controlling a room,” she joked.

Kate’s pitch was witty and engaging, but that didn’t overpower the impressiveness of the platform she and her co-founders have built. The app unifies the tools, processes, and people involved in marketing to streamline the process and save time and money, since IBM estimates that $83 billion are wasted annually due to marketing disorganization. She has experienced this disorganization firsthand as a marketer herself, which drove her desire to develop the app—she needed software like this, but it didn’t yet exist at her price point. So she created it.

This start-up spirit was echoed by Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare and chairman of the brand new Kingston Stockade Football Club soccer team. Truly great start-ups don’t begin with a whiteboard and a market opportunity, Dennis explained. Instead, “we identify something we want in the world that doesn’t exist, and we go build it.”

That’s not to say that the start-up route is an easy path to success, or as Dennis likes to call it, a “rocketship.” It’s more like a rollercoaster. He proved this metaphor correct by relating the stories of his trials and tribulations, from his creation of Pacmanhattan, a video game played on the urban grid, while in graduate school at NYU; to the development and subsequent acquisition by Google of Dodgeball, a social network predecessor to Foursquare; to the frustration he felt after Google made no progress on the app and eventually shut it down; to the elation of creating Foursquare and finding success once again.

Throughout the process, Dennis says, there were plenty of “no”s—exactly 32 of them before someone finally invested in Foursquare—along with naysayers. “That thing you’re working on?” he remembers people saying. “It’s dumb.” “Everything I’ve ever built has evolved from failure,” he concluded, leaving the audience with some key advice: “Start small. Start simple. Build a little every day.”

The audience was buzzing after these inspiring talks, and we can’t wait to see what next month has in store. To join HV Tech Meetup and attend a general Meetup or a programming-focused Dev O’Clock Meetup, check out the Meetup page. Both events are looking for speakers and sponsors for upcoming events. Organizers can be contacted through the Meetup page.