Opportunity Knocks

There’s a guy I know.  I’ve known him since the beginning of all this.  We met at the WeWork.  WeWork Labs to be precise.  I was working on my thing, he was always working on something.  He is a developer.  I know he sold a company once to a high profile NYC startup but not the kind of deal where you read about it in TechCrunch.

He’s a funny dude who is clearly talented, good natured, but sometimes others found him abrasive.  I was a clueless former Wall Street guy thinking he was about to change the world by bootstrapping an outsourced app.  I and him and a handful of guys and gals were always on that floor together day and night, at the second WeWork location, original WeWork Labs members.  When it was a community that outsiders sometimes misunderstood to be a collective where its members had to contribute a mandatory number of hours doing tech for other’s projects.  When Trista knew everyone and held it together.  That seems like a very long time ago.

One day, after one of the very largest tech acquisitions of all time hit the news, he put something up in the Labs facebook group’s wall. Continue reading

Growing Hackers – My Experience At The Biggest High School Hackathon

In early January, my youngest cousin Jake began texting me about a hackathon he and some friends were putting on in March.  Jake is considered to be the most talented athlete of our family’s generation, having grown something like 83 inches since starting high school three years ago and beating out seniors in tennis while he was in middle school.  He’s also obsessed with computer science.  At family gatherings,

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I get the feeling he’s got somewhere to be, and that somewhere is in front of a computer screen. Continue reading

Extraordinary Things

“We have advantages. We have a cushion to fall back on. This is abundance. A luxury of place and time. Something rare and wonderful. It’s almost historically unprecedented. We must do extraordinary things. We have to. It would be absurd not to.” – David Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

About two months ago, I was sitting across from the founder of a pretty successful startup in the investing space.  It’s successful by any standard.  Real revenues. Been around for a while.  They’ve completed funding rounds.  They have a pretty decent number of employees.  They’re nearly cash flow positive.  What’s interesting about this meeting was that I spoke to the founder nearly four years ago- when I was a very important trader.  A colleague at the bank we were at said that he had a friend from back home and they needed some information about a stock- and if I was kind enough would I get on the phone with him for five minutes.  Never a problem, I picked him up and he was downright deferential, basically saying I could hang up on him at any time and how much he appreciated the time.  I tried to give him any details I knew about the situation, wrapped it up politely and went back to trading. He added me on linkedin (I scarcely used it back then), and I never heard from him again.

Years later, when I left “the biz” and started getting more involved in the NYC startup community, he took notice of some of the updates I had on linkedin,  His firm had sponsored a few hackathons I participated in, and we connected again via email.   Continue reading

Building New York

I’m from the ghetto to the ghetto
& I’m back again, I’m back again….

They said believe us or not trust is somethin’ you earn
With every mistake you make back to us you return

– Jay Z

The Stoler Report is “New York’s Business Report”, a weekly television show airing on PBS several times a week.  There was a pretty special guest on the show recently- my mom.  Everyone who knows me knows that my mom is my role model.  I’m damn lucky to have been a part of her journey.  From being born into public housing to the ups and eventually downs of running a 10 store furniture chain started by her dad- to becoming the Vice Chairman of the Global Leader in Real Estate & one of the most successful retail leasing specialists of all time.  In this video you’ll also hear about how the son of a jewish dude who rode horses in the Russian Army went on to have the first store in what is now known as “Little Brazil” in NYC on 46th Street (yeah that was my grandfather).  I’ve blogged about this kind of thing before, but when I think about my new life in startups and trying to build things, I have to remember that my previous generations’ acts are a pretty tough one to follow.

The video is about 27 minutes, but the first few minutes are definitely worth checking out-  It’s my family’s version of the American Success story.  Most likely, the video won’t become viral, or get hundreds of thousands of hits, but not my mom nor my family could be more proud of the content.  It’s a really relatable testament to hard work, persistence, and honesty.  And for sure it takes a little luck, because if that luck didn’t appear at the right time, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.  But as my mom always says, “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.

 

 

What More Can I Say

Back To Work

Exactly one year ago, I was at work at 140 Broadway on the trading desk.  It was a quiet day, not many orders, which wasn’t unusual of late.  Plenty of coworkers were still out from the holiday.  Then my phone rang.  It said Conference Room B on caller ID.  I knew what that meant.  “Can you join us in conference room B?” said my boss.  So, I stood up, and announced to Tommy and a few guys- “Guys.  I think I’m getting blown out.”  And after a 15 minute meeting with boss who never liked me and a speaker phone on in Bala Cynwyd PA, I joined the legions of people over my 13 year career who were plucked from the seats next to me and shown the door.  I knew things weren’t really going well for my dept at the firm, and I knew that a trader with my specialty wasn’t really a luxury they could afford any more.  I had cleaned out my desk the previous weekend of any personal stuff, just in case.  I had been questioning internally and considering next steps about why I wanted to cling to a dying business that wasn’t even really ‘about me’ any further for months.

Continue reading

How Empathy Won NYC Startup Weekend

  • The suffix -pathy means “feeling” or “suffering”
  • The prefix em- means “within” or “inside”
  • The prefix a- means “not” or “without”

By definition, empathy is the opposite of apathy.

– From WhitneyHess.com August 21, 2012

I was less psyched Friday night than I should have been.  Since that bitch Hurricane Sandy postponed the first ever Fintech themed startup weekend, I knew that attending it for this past weekend came at a high personal cost.  It meant having to miss 90% of the surprise 30th birthday party of one of my very best friends on earth, leave whatever team I was on early last night to light chanukah candles with my niece and nephew, and miss a number of lovely gatherings this afternoon in celebration of the holiday which commemorates light, spirit and, well, miracles.  Continue reading

Bridging The Gap

“I waited for 3 years, while everybody else dropped.  Now I understand why Nas did a song with his pops” –  The Game “Documentary”

Bridging the gap, the song referenced above is the second single from Nas’ album, “Street’s disciple”.  The song is about his desire to be the bridge from the blues to jazz, the music his father made, to the fledgling musical form of rap.  Channeling words through rap transformed him deeply as human being- possibly saving him from becoming another fatality from drug related violence.   The song is relatable because it’s about Nas going off on his own, finding his own path- taking big risks in an upstart world where ‘making it’ was flaunted by the very few who made it.  It’s also about navigating the dream of existing in a world he didn’t think he could ever be a part of. Continue reading

The Trend Is Your Friend

New Rule:  Find the thing people are going batshit crazy about.  You’re then able to leave the guessing world and understand what really turns people on, and then figure out how you are not going to fight it, but encourage it and work hard to help people solve problems.

Last night was one of those crummy October nights in New York.  It’s noticeably becoming darker earlier, and the rain was coming down just hard enough to entice you to actually begin your descent from the office and pursuing your evening, yet not hard enough to romanticize staying on your ass and doing work.  The lobby of my building doubles as an event space for 25-50 people, usually technology
meetups, fundraisers, launches.  On this terrible night, I watched people pour into and fill the space.  It was the Pintrest Food meetup for NYC.  Taking pictures of food right?  I saw gorgeous women and mutant looking nerd men.  I saw a friend walk in who is starting their own ice cream biz.  Later that night, when I finally decided to enter the rainy streets I walked past the audience in full view, and saw faces alight, engaged, excited.  I swear I felt like I entered another vortex.  I felt like I missed something critical by not knowing enough about Pintrest.  I felt so inspired I couldn’t contain myself.  How cool that I could be present for a scene that I absolutely knew was on a rocket-ship to outer space.  New Rule #2.  When awkward people are unashamed to smile about something publicly, they’re in the company of other early adopters.  A passing look at my friend’s face and it was like she was delighting in a humorous anecdote by Tony Robbins. I think there was a picture of a muffin on the screen. Continue reading