Earlier this week, Stuart Ellman, Jim Robinson, Will Porteous and I held the first RRE Office Hours. For two hours we met with sixteen entrepreneurs to hear short-form pitches, offer advice or answer questions. I hope it was helpful to those who came in, and we’ve had some early productive follow-up conversations with some of the folks who came in.
I noticed a few themes that emerged out of the companies with whom I met, themes that provoked my thinking along a few different axes.
First, a lot of people are going after the online collaboration space. Even within the small subset of presentations I saw, there were multiple startups in this area. It occurred to me to wonder why this space continues to be so popular. There are relatively few examples of startups having great success creating collaboration apps (to wit, see Albert’s post on “groupware” and my comments thereto). My instinct is that this is an example of trying to be your own customer. Entrepreneurs routinely engage with a half dozen or more web apps and services, and are constantly looking for a meta-service to tie their activities together. Hence collaboration. But my issue is that entrepreneurs are, by and large, among the most agile users out there, and far more likely to accept the behavior changes required by new applications or work metaphors than the average user, and I think that sometimes gets lost.
Second, a lot of entrepreneurs are trying to solve media problems. Distribution in particular verticals, creation and enablement of content, etc… These are big problems, often worth solving, but I think one of the ways office hours (and other mentoring opportunities) can be valuable is for those who have scars dealing with these areas to share the benefit our experience.
Third, and I say this not to be critical of any particular company, but I was surprised that a number of companies coming in to present their ideas hadn’t really taken the time to understand who else might be chasing the same vision. In a few cases there were other startups doing the exact same thing, and the entrepreneurs we met hadn’t heard of their competition. In general (not just for venture presentations), it’s absolutely critical to understand the competitive environment around a new idea.
Ultimately, I’m glad we did this and hope to do it again. A “come one, come all” approach invites some pitches that are rougher around the edges than what we normally get to see. That’s what we hoped to get and that’s what we got. As always, we think the quality of company formation in New York is getting better all the time, and if we’re able to offer even helpful encouragement, we hope it’s helpful.
Thanks to everyone who came out, and to Will Peng for organizing.