Random-sampling the mix of entrepreneurs who made it to OpenCoffeeDC earlier this week, the wretched economy has deterred um, let’s see — no one. Gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit!
Optimism still reigns — rains, even. Everyone in the group echoed anti-parallels to the dot.com crash (“Back then, ‘Internet’ was a bad word and investors ran from technology; today, it’s the financial markets,” and ““negligible costs of getting started”) — even attending VC Jonathan Aberman waxed enthusiastic: “People will invest in things they understand,” he noted, referring to the backlash from Wall Street’s love affair with exotic but obtuse instruments, “and for many, high tech equates to high growth.” (I took comfort in the notion that there’s something out there more obtuse than technology.)
Still, Aberman had a strongly worded caution for the near term: “Don’t look for money now.”
Not that the entrepreneurs were oblivious to the issues and challenges ahead. Nobody disagreed with LaunchBox Digital co-founder Sean Greene’s assessment that “Most angels have watched 40% of their net worth disappear” along with the Market. Money remains the biggest issue.
And many times during the discussions, the word ‘runway‘ came up — a term I guarantee few people uttered outside of airports a month or two ago.
(btw, a runway analysis is a good exercise for every startup. As is acclimating to the idea that whatever your relevant variables were two months ago — demand, market adoption, advertising CPMs, time to raise capital, valuation, etc. — everything’s changed. There may be a few pluses — cheaper rent, cheaper talent — but for the most part, things have gone in the wrong direction.)
Back to happy thoughts.
I was genuinely pleased to see the diverse mix of companies and stages around the table. We even had a non-software start-up (!) — The Dupont Collection bed & breakfasts. (Heck, I didn’t even know there were bed & breakfasts in DC. They look inviting . . . and reasonable!) I couldn’t have mixed it up any better if I planned it. Here’s a sampling of companies and their outlooks:
DubMeNow — (Beta.) As told by Director of Business Development Chris Hopkinson, DubMeNow, which aims to rid the world of business cards through enabling mobile devices, was sitting comfortably with over a million angel dollars raised . . . though it will continue to pursue VC funding to accelerate expansion to additional mobile platforms.
Funds sought: $1M. Runway: 12 months
YourMusicOn.fm — (Pre-launch.) Daniele Calabrese is in the formative stages with a one-stop-shop for digital delivery of music and content.
Funds sought: $500k. Runway: Self-funded, working towards a target of August 2009 beta.
SocialMinder — (Alpha.) John Adler founded and funded this ‘keep-in-touch’ minder (currently works with LinkedIn) that analyzes the ‘health’ of your relationships and flags those that need strengthening.
Funds sought: $1M. Runway: Through the end of ’09.
The great thing about OpenCoffees and similar meetups is the collaborative atmosphere. As an entrepreneur who’s weathered startups through several recessions — (“No, son — I don’t recall the Crash of ’29″), I can say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Even the dot.com days were far more competitive and snarkier. (I think it’s because it was all about ‘eyeballs,’ and you never wanted the other guy to get any of yours.)
Maybe it’s just human nature to huddle together during tough times. Well, there are lots of ways to do it. Join Amplifier Networks’ DC Tech Corridor social network, for one.
And for Pete’s sake, get out of the house now and then (like going to OpenCoffees). Rounding out our group was Chloe Feinberg, a supporter of Jelly in DC. For those not aware, Jelly is a ‘floating crap game’ workspace for technical/social media types looking to do casual co-working, usually in corners of various wi-fi connected coffee shops and eateries. Anyone interested, the next assemblage is at Busboys & Poets Monday 11/3, from 10am to 4pm.
Sign up — networking with warm bodies can be a nice alternative to Facebook for braving a nuclear winter.