How to Build Great Products: Insights Conference

October 12th, 2010 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

On Friday, October 1, 2010, creative and eager techies (VC’s & Entrepreneurs) gathered at New York’s Soho House to discuss How to Build Great Products. While many believe conferences to be dry and monotonous, this was quite the contrary. Attendees laughed and listened as speakers shared their experiences, wisdom, sarcasm and insight. Following the conference, I possessed a deeper understanding of what it means to be a good product, from its content to its interface. With a Textile/Fashion background, I have been trained to channel my inner creativity as well as aesthetics, but learned that is not the case with online products.

Kevin Kearney of Hard Candy Shell, said design is not defined by aesthetics, art or being “cool,” but rather how well a current problem is solved. With an affinity for fashion, I have been socialized to follow my instinct opposed to solving a problem with a structured strategy. In the technology sphere, without a disciplined and defined strategy, it is nearly impossible for an online product to succeed.

In order to define your strategy, observe potential consumers to see exactly what they need. Do not create a new demand for some fad. In the fashion industry, trends drive the business. Fashion industry members create new demands for products people had no idea they even needed! In technology generate an essential product!

With an organized strategy, develop your product! According to Kevin, the product should not be about you! It is a solution. He stressed the importance of simplicity, which can be synonymous with lackluster and boring in other arenas of business. The best quote of the day was Kevin who said,” The interface does not have to entertain, the product should entertain.”

Giff Constable’s Aprizi.com is a smart solution to a problem. Giff saw a lack of serendipity online and tried to solve it by simulating discovery while online shopping. In other words, his site can be seen as window shopping, stumbling upon a new store and making a purchase. While illustrating his strategy, he strained the importance of an entrepreneur’s vision. Despite feedback and advice along the startup journey, try to not lose sight of your idea.

The main points I absorbed are as follows: focus on your audience, observe problems they face, devise a cohesive strategy with key features that solves a problem. Along the way, DO NOT LOSE YOUR VISION.

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What not to do…

September 30th, 2010 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

As everyone is aware the best way to get in front of an investor is thru an introduction.  When you must resort to applying via a website, don’t do this.

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Fabulis is Fabulous

September 29th, 2010 by Jay Levy View Comments

We recently invested in Fabulis, a newly launched fast growing social network for Gay men. As usual we wanted to provide an overview of why we invested…

The Team is Awesome!
Jason Goldberg, who previously started SocialMedian, which was acquired by Xing, founded Fabulis. Prior to that Jason founded Jobster. With three start-ups, Jason is well aware if the highs and lows associated with new companies.

The Market
The market is rapidly increasing, with 25m gay male facebook users alone. The demographic are early adopters in terms of technology. Gay men have disposable income and are twice as likely to make online purchases as the general population.

The Vision
Fabulis aims to be a service that gay men and their friends use to discover what’s hot: where to go, what to buy, and who to meet, opposed to a dating site. We see a gap in the market, which this demo appears to fill.

The Progress
Upon the site’s launch, Fabulis has rolled out a second generation of their product along with an iphone app. Most impressively and importantly they have over 80,000 members, a number growing by 5,000 each week.

Keep your eye on Fabulis.com they are going to make big waves!

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My First Week at Zelkova

September 27th, 2010 by Caroline Scheinfeld View Comments

Note from Jay: Caroline recently started working at Zelkova assisting with company diligence, industry research and general venture capital “stuff’”.  I’ve asked Caroline to write an occasional post on her view’s and thoughts of our industry.

You can follow Caroline on twitter at @

On September 13, 2010, I entered the virtual world of decks, API’s, URL’s and convertible debt. With an undergraduate degree in Textiles, the venture capital and technology market was a foreign and seemingly intangible concept to me. With Jay Levy’s expertise and mentorship, I found myself quickly immersed in Venture Cap jargon and eager to meet as many entrepreneurs as humanely possible.

Each day a handful of smart, computer savvy, forward thinking entrepreneurs walked through our office doors pitching their decks and innovative website approaches. The entrepreneurs’ zest and passion for their creations re-iterated the excitement present in this business. Their sheer enthusiasm and knowledge paired with Jay’s instinctive business talent captivated me, illustrating the perks of an industry I never dared to enter.

In addition to scheduled meetings, I attended Dog Patch Labs Demo Day, which consisted of seven start-ups along with a group of V.C.’s. Each start-up presented their decks and walked through their websites, in search of finding some future investors. The event enabled me to meet the other members of the NY Tech scene as well as see the tech market trends. I also attended the Mobile Co. Summit, which featured panels’ roundtable discussions on mobile: apps, marketing, advertising and check-in/LBS. This event depicted the benefits and drawbacks of the future of all things mobile.

As a woman, after my first week reviewing early stage companies, and attending conferences the lack of female representation in the tech world became apparent. Despite the lack of women, I was embraced and motivated to become a part of New York’s version of Silicon Valley.

I look forward to many more Zelkova Ventures updates!

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Check-In: Innovate or Die

September 21st, 2010 by Jay Levy View Comments

The check-in needs to innovate quickly or die, that was the premise of my comments on the Check-in/LBS panel yesterday at the MobileEco Summit.

The check-in companies have quickly grown with early adopters, but the novelty seems to be wearing off based on anecdotal evidence I’ve seen. Game mechanics, such as badges, are fun at first but after a while they just don’t cut it, I want something real and tangible.

It’s no secret that check-in startups want to go mainstream, but in order to do this they need to innovate quickly. Specifically they need to develop more and better reasons to check-in, seeing where my friends are isn’t enough for the mainstream, replacing the loyalty punch-card could be a good start. Speed is of the essence in developing out these products as these startups needs to keep their ecosystem (techies, business, media) excited about them in order to roll into the mainstream market. If this doesn’t happen quickly they may lose the support of their ecosystem and may not make the transition.

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About Jay Levy

Jay Levy

Jay Levy is a co-founder and principal of Zelkova Ventures. Jay focuses most of his time in working with the current portfolio company and looking at new investments in the software-as-a-service, internet media and green tech space. More »

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