7pm on Monday, December 19th @ Olio (3 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY)
I don’t go to enough meetups, and the startup I run isn’t a tech company, but still, love these nights and always meet super interesting people. My buddies Emil and Gabriel are setting it up, plenty of pizza and conversation. They did this event last month and it sounded like a huge success, so hopefully we get a repeat on that one.
They’re trying out a “theme” for these nights now (this one is “Meet Your Designer”), so we’ll see how it goes. As a founder with very little design talent on our side, it could be extremely valuable for me if some designers showed up…but it might be better to keep things general in the future.
Stanley Kubrick’s photos from 1940’s New York City. Amazing how the lens of a guy like Kubrick can drastically change the reality. These photos look nothing like others from that era.
Stanley Kubrick’s New York
This little piece of tin is now selling for $1M. On NPR this morning they had a story about a cab driver who had purchased a taxi medallion—which gives you the right to pick up fares and drive a proper taxi in New York City—for $215,000 in 2003. He says he can resell it today for $700,000, and two medallions just went for a cool million each. They analysed the returns since 1980, and they were nearly 1000%. As a reference, gold has appreciated only 181% in the same period. That’s crazy. There’s a publicly-traded company called Medallion Financial that loans money to cabbies for these medallions. That’s a tricky business, because most cab drivers are immigrants with no credit history, not-so-great income, and likely without citizenship. So you’ve got risky loans backed by an asset that is assumed to keep appreciating wildly without fail. Sound familiar?
I was thinking about this in the context of business in general, and how attractive these little “no-fail” get-rich niches are (in fact, Medallion Financial’s motto is “from niches to riches”). People get infatuated with this sort of instrument…it’s hard not to. You look at how things are going, the fact that the only time medallion prices went down was after 9/11, and you get excited. It’s the same with any “sure thing” prospect…when you think you can’t lose, you forget about the downside, which is dangerous not only because you’re not calculating risk properly, but you’re not seeing the whole picture, which will screw with anyone’s decision-making process, no matter what. And of course optimism is necessary to do great things, but there’s a difference between optimism and delusion. The latter got us where we are right now, and will be the catalyst for the next bubble/crash cycle as well.
This space down at the southern tip of Red Hook is spectacular. It’s a little community of artists’ studios, industrial parks (printing houses and design shops), retail (Fairway Market) and apartments. It sits right on the water, looks directly out to the Statue of Liberty, and is generally awesome. To be an “artist” there would be amazing, all of the west-facing studios open up to the water with old stable doors. In Manhattan I forget about these types of self-contained communities, which go way beyond a neighborhood or simple building…they really help to engender a togetherness you often miss in the claustrophobic streets of Manhattan. If I had the money, I would have rented one of the studios right then, just to have a little place to get work done and escape the city. You can even take the water taxi directly to the piers off the back of the development. Really, really cool.
I love the Saturdays Surf NYC shop, even though I’ve only visited once. They’ve done an incredible job of transitioning their superior taste and curated community into the destination for surfers in NYC, and more than that, they’ve created a real brand around it. This mixed model of community, retail, brand and tastemaker is very interesting. I suspect Partners & Spade is sort of after this same thing (though with advertising and fashion, not surfing), but I don’t know enough about them…either way, it seems to be an underserved trend. Leveraging the physical location into one-part store, one-part hangout, one-part community and one-part brand advertisement is quite brilliant, and it’s so well executed. I think more small brands should employ this model, starting small and local, and building out from there, using the people and places and events around them to build up both a following and credibility. If your shop sells boards, sell them the best boards, but also sell your own line of surfwear, and then go do a collaboration with a big brand (J.Crew) whose customers like to pretend they surf. If you sell surfing gear, host premiers for surf movies, meetups, and outings. I imagine they do all that, and if they don’t they should. Build a brand around the activities you serve and enhance, and go from there. It doesn’t hurt to have a kickass design aesthetic too.
I had dinner at my favorite restaurant in New York on Saturday, and was sat at my favorite seat in the house: the Chef’s Table. I hadn’t been to Joseph Leonard in several months, and while the scene had gone considerably downhill since we moved away from our old apartment across the street, it still felt like home. But only once we sat down, all the way in the back squeezed against a part bar/part order-up area, facing the impossibly small kitchen. We (my girlfriend and I) both eased a sigh of comfort as we sat down because of what was going on in front of us: we were given access to the back-end, to the guts.
That’s where the connection is for me, in the guts of a product or service. The simple act of opening that up is so incredibly trust-building, it’s hard to not fall in love with whatever the end product may be. It’s not necessarily the prettiest composition, but that’s the point. It’s authentic, it’s chefs yelling at cooks yelling at waiters yelling at busboys. It’s the process of making things so delicious you look on in awe at the efficiency and craft of these crazed cooks. It’s not only compelling, it’s comforting. Here is a business so confident in its product, they WANT you to see how it’s made. Every business should strive to achieve this level of connection with its customers. Because it’s impossible not to fall in love with a product that way.
Well it looks like Rent the Runway is actually doing more than I gave them credit for with regard to the scaling issue I was whining about a few days ago. They’ve hired a pretty heavy-hitting engineer from Google to run Engineering for them, and he seems genuinely excited to tackle the very obvious scaling problem RTR is currently undergoing. He definitely addresses that the operations side of things is really the difference between this company being a small startup forever and becoming a “billion dollar business.” Looking forward to seeing how that goes.
Oh, he was on We Are NY Tech today.