Websummit ALPHA companies: pitch till you drop!

A little less than a year ago, I went on the stage on the last day of the Summit, with two other finalists of the ALPHA pitch session. And … Paddy called my name! We had won the ALPHA pitch competition. Let me share a bit about how this (almost did not) happened, and hopefully some of that will be helpful for Summit ALPHA companies to prep their pitch this year.

I’m an engineer by training. I like rational things, I like core tech. I naturally tend to respect more what is under the hood than the hood itself, or whatever is wrapping the engine. Naturally, pitching the company seems less important than building the core of our products, especially with a highly tech project like placemeter. It seems like a necessary waste of time, to which you would just dedicate the sufficient efforts to become OK at. And then get back to selling and coding.

One thing I learned at Techstars and then at the Websummit pitch competition last year is that extreme pitching skills are not only necessary to share and project the vision of your company, but also to build it! Making your message clear, compact and powerful actually also makes your product clear and powerful.

So this my 2 cents advice for you if you are going to pitch at the Summit pitch competition: don’t just be good enough to get your ideas through. Shoot for the moon.

Become AMAZING at pitching.

Because this is the way your company will become amazing – and this is also how you might end up pitching on the huge main stage for the finals at the ALPHA pitch competition.

Now, practically, here are some tidbits I hope can help you get to the big finals next month:

  • Focus on the story. Preparing a pitch should start with a word document not a powerpoint document. Write down your story, build slides next.
  • Slow yourself down when you talk. Use silences and pauses a lot. When you pause to highlight one thing you said, literally count to 3 in your head.
  • Remove a LOT of words. Every word counts. Choose them VERY carefully. In a typical first draft of your narrative, you have 2-3 times too many words. Cut down! It is much easier than you would think.
  • Practice a LOT. I practiced my pitch for a whole month, at least once per day, plus some longer, 2-3 hour sessions refining it.
  • Get a TON of feedback. Practice in front of lots of people, ask for candid feedback.
  • Practice out loud. Do it in the street, in the subway, at the grocery store. You’ll look like a lunatic. Practice with people throwing stuff at you, shouting, tickling you. This will help you keep your composure whatever happens on stage.
  • Know your pitch beyond “by heart”. Once you know it by heart, you need to repeat it again and again to get to the point where you are extremely comfortable with it and it becomes natural again.

So as we say in France, “merde” – saying “good luck” brings bad luck. And I’ll be watching you guys, please make me proud and get us that trophy!

—Alex

PS: if you have 3 minutes to spare, look at my pitch last year.

(this was originally posted on Alex’s blog)

Placemeter Raises A Series A!

This is a very, very exciting day for Placemeter, and we can’t help but share the joy! We just closed a $6M Series A round of funding, and are about to bring Placemeter to the next level.

We’ll dive into what that means for us and the team (we’re hiring by the way), but let’s go back in time for a minute.

How we started – Alex is obsessed with burgers

Two years ago, all I wanted was to get my burger faster…

I was standing in line at Shake Shack with my son, and I saw this webcam above the line. Back home I started writing code to process it, and predict when I could go back to the Shack and avoid the line.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was not just about burgers and lines.We know exactly how long it’ll take for that song to download or for that Uber to get to us, we know exactly how many steps we make every day or how well we sleep—how come we still don’t know how long the line is at Whole Foods? We also quickly realized how much cities and businesses need data to understand how citizens interact with their cities.

Growing into a company

Our first investor, blisce, made a bet on the company. Then our co-founder Florent jumped on board and turned that vision into the foundation of a real, ambitious business. Techstars helped us shape all this into an efficient and viable company. And things started to get real!

Fast forward a couple of years, and today, we are a stellar, tight-knit team of people who share this vision, and execute it majestically. We built a massive computer vision backend and network—literally never seen before. We aggregate a large number of cameras from various sources, and now cover a significant part of New York. And most importantly, a number of cities, retailers, and people are using our data and paying for it.

Enough talk about the past, let’s see what’s ahead for us.

The $6M Series A round was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) with participation from Qualcomm Ventures, Collaborative Fund, FundersClub, and existing investors TriplePoint Capital, blisce, and various angel investors who have been with us from the beginning.

What’s next

What will we be building with this round of money? We’ll expand Placemeter’s platform and analytics to quantify the physical world at a larger, global scale. We will:

  • Keep on building our world-class team in New York. (Join us!)
  • Expand and automate our video feed ingestion and data delivery to customers.
  • Grow our community of data-driven citizens around the world.

NEA General Partner Forest Baskett will join the our board and Qualcomm Ventures Vice President Quinn Li will join as a board observer. Both Forest and Quinn are perfect fits to help us scale up our platform, bringing experience and wisdom to Placemeter’s long-term planning. Forest, along with Ben from TriplePoint, took a bet on us in our seed round, and they were instrumental in helping us turn our vision into reality.

We couldn’t be more excited for the road ahead and we thank all the people who helped us get here. Onward and upward!

—Alex & Florent

SXSW Spotlight: Jan Erik Solem

We submitted a SXSW panel idea for the tech portion of the festival next year. In the next few days, we’re going to highlight the amazing speakers who will join us to discuss the future of quantified cities and how tech can best improve urban environments. First off is Jan Erik Solem, a prolific entrepreneur and computer vision expert. Voting closes on September 5th—so go on and vote for our panel!

 

Jan Erik Solem is a prolific researcher and entrepreneur passionate about imaging and vision. Currently, Jan Erik is CEO and co-founder of Mapillary, a startup creating a crowdsourced version of Street View for the world.

Previously, he was founder of Polar Rose, a face recognition company for mobile, web, and cloud, which was sold to Apple. While at Apple, he worked on computer vision as a team leader and researcher in Cupertino. When not running companies, Jan Erik is an Associate Professor at Lund University and author of two textbooks and multiple research papers on computer vision technology.

Jan Erik is a mathematician, programmer, entrepreneur, and angel investor. He is a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, he owns over 15 published patents and applications, and has written over 20 published academic papers. He is the author of best-selling computer vision textbooks that has taught countless students the basics of programming for computer vision. He was awarded the Best Nordic PhD-thesis for his dissertation on Image Analysis and Pattern Recognition.

Jan Erik was born to Greek and Norwegian parents in Switzerland, while living in Sweden. He loves to cycle, program and partake in all winter sports. Jan Erik is a long time vegetarian, atheist, and open source proponent. He lives in Malmö with his wife and three children.

SXSW Panel Spotlight: Catherine Cuellar

Cuellar_Catherine  JLD_0759

We submitted a SXSW panel idea for the tech portion of the festival next year. In the next few days, we’re going to highlight the amazing speakers who will join us to discuss the future of quantified cities and how tech can best improve urban environments. First off is Catherine Cuellar, a Dallasite who deals with cutting edge technology while running one of the country’s most innovative arts districts. Voting closes on September 5th—so go on and vote for our panel!

Catherine Cuellar serves as CEO of the Dallas Arts District, the largest contiguous urban cultural neighborhood in the US and world headquarters of the Global Cultural Districts Network. She spent two decades as an award-winning multimedia journalist for national public radio stations and programs, Sojourners magazine and The Dallas Morning News among others. Ms. Cuellar also managed communications for five years at the sixth-largest electric power grid in the US, Oncor.

Cuellar serves on the board of the Rhodes College Alumni Association. She debuted as an author in the Dallas Noir short fiction anthology published in 2013 by Akashic Books. She is a 2014 Next Generation Project Texas Fellow at The Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT-Austin. Cuellar was recognized among the Dallas Business Journal’s 2013 “40 Under 40,” was a 2011 White House Fellows regional finalist, and in 2007 was among the Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Five Outstanding Young Dallasites.

Catherine is the leader of one of the largest, most innovative cultural districts in the world at the forefront of the smart cities movement. Her excitement and passion about quantifying the district ensures that her hand is on the pulse of this emerging trend in the space. Her curiosity and deep background in community engagement and sustainability makes her the perfect moderator for this panel about the future of smart cities.

An advocate for education, sustainability, non-profits and art and culture, Catherine brings her creativity to everything she does. She is a third generation Dallas native but has had her passport stamped on five continents. Her grandparents were entrepreneurs who lived the American dream, starting Mexican restaurants in Dallas and growing their business to become the largest Latino franchisers in the U.S.

Catherine is a lifetime member of NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected & appointed Officials), a member of the Hispanic 100, and a graduate of Leadership Women. She also has a deep passion in music and has sung at Carnegie Hall as a chorister-in-residence with composer Morten Lauridsen and conductor Timothy Sharp. In addition—and very true to this panel’s nature—Catherine leads a radically pedestrian lifestyle in her hometown, walking, biking, and riding mass transit more than she drives an all-electric plug-in car.

We’re hiring!

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Interested in helping us build a platform that will change the way citizens, businesses, and governments interact with their city? Then you should check out the brand spanking new jobs we just posted.

We use computer vision at a massive scale, on a large number of rich and ubiquitous video feeds, to understand what is going in in the physical world in real time. We measure how busy places are, what people do, how fast cars go, and much more. We offer that data to developers, citizens, cities, and retailers, radically changing the way they interact with the physical world.

We built our platform around privacy. We never store any video and we do not identify people. We also make sure no one can reverse engineer our data to identify anyone. You can see some demos at http://placemeter.com/tech and learn more about us on CNN or on The Atlantic. We are backed by top VC firms from Silicon Valley and New York, alumna of TechStars (Spring 2013), and actively plugged into their vibrant ecosystem of mentors and alumni.

Placemeter is in a phase of rapid expansion, and we want you to join us.

 

Working at Placemeter, you will benefit from a dynamic environment where we work hard, trust each other, and know how to celebrate our wins! We offer full benefits, French sweets and pastries, French wine, French soccer games, and regular, fun outings.

We need creative and flexible minds, with a complete commitment to building nothing else but perfect software and systems. Make a real impact on your city, the NYC tech community, and a fast growing startup. Put your mark on this truly disruptive, slightly crazy, and ambitious platform we are building.

See the general job listings page, or check out the individual job postings below:

 

Vote for our SXSW panel!

Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!

We’re organizing a panel at SXSW entitled, Quantifying our World through Open Platforms, an idea near and dear to our hearts:

Imagine a world where our homes, our streets, our favorite places, our entire cities can quantify their activity, communicate signals, and operate off of each other to optimize the way they work as a whole.

We’ve got a stellar lineup of speakers including Placemeter CEO Alex Winter:

  • Alexandre Winter Placemeter
  • Catherine Cuellar Dallas Arts District
  • Cameron Clayton Weather Underground, The Weather Co.
  • Jan Erik Solem Mapillary

Go check out the whole panel on the SXSW PanelPicker and vote for us!

We’ll be profiling each of our speakers in the next couple of weeks.

 

Breaking Down July’s Best Data Visualization

Source: New York Observer & NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life

Taxi drivers are the journeymen of New York City. There’s a mystique to the taxi driver, they possess a certain intimacy with the city that few others do. New Yorkers interact with them on a daily basis, but only for a brief moment of a taxi’s day. No wonder that a story about a day in the life of a New York taxi went viral in July.

It was not a story told with words or pictures, though. Rather, it was told with data and maps, a visualization of what it’s like to scamper from fare to fare around the United States’ biggest city. NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life captured imaginations worldwide. In the words of its creator, Chris Whong:

The visualization was published in the early hours of Monday, July 14th, after I spent just about the whole day Sunday putting finishing touches on it and getting it to run on Heroku.  I’d been working on it for over a month, sneaking in a few hours here and there on nights and weekends, and just wanted to get a minimum viable product launched so I could stop thinking about it (that backfired :p ).  By Monday evening it had seen over 80,000 unique visitors, had around 900 to 1000 concurrent users, and had racked up a whopping 600,000 map views on Mapbox.    It was picked up byFiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, Technically Brooklyn, Gizmodo, The New York Observer,Gothamist, TechPresident, Fast Company, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Huffington Post,AM New York, New York Magazine, Quartz, Bustle, mashable, and, most unexpectedly (but so awesome), BuzzFeed.  It even got coverage in the UK, The Netherlands and France.

The visualization captivated so many people because it eloquently unfurls a taxi’s mystique into an easily understood interface that people can play around with and explore.

We’re seeing a proliferation of data visualizations like this as a way of telling stories, explaining how different facets of city life work. One reason why is because only in the past few years have the tools needed to make useful data visualizations become available to the masses. Here’s a roundup of the different organizations, entities, and tools that made NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life possible, culled from Chris’ blog posts and attribution on the app:

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