Our upcoming meetup on January 4, 2011 marks the fifth anniversary of the SVNewTech meetup. For the last 60 consecutive months, SVNewTech has featured startups from around the world, showcased the latest innovations in technology, and grown to be one of the largest communities for tech-lovers in the world.
To celebrate the anniversary of SVNewTech, we caught up with Vinnie Lauria, who founded the group in January 2006:
What inspired you to start SVNewTech?
I moved out to Silicon Valley from NYC after quitting IBM. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next and I didn’t know many people. In NYC, I was a frequent attendee of the NY NewTech meetup, which was organized by Scott Heiferman, the founder of Meetup.com. I always met interesting people and I would leave each meetup feeling full of energy and ideas. In Silicon Valley, things were just starting to pickup from the lull of the dotcom crash, and at the end of 2005 there were no big monthly tech events, so I figured I would start one and meet other tech entrepreneurs.
I’m a big fan of Meetup.com and what it’s doing to create localized communities. I had hosted other meetups on different topics before, so I felt comfortable starting a new meetup group in a new city.
When you started SVNewTech, did you think it would grow to more than 6,000 members?
The size that the group has grown to has really amazed me. When I started the group, our first meeting was with just 5 people at Coupa Cafe in downtown Palo Alto. I had images of it growing in my mind, maybe to a hundred or so people, but not to thousands! There is a great energy around the group that has helped it grow. I’m always impressed by all the new members that show up each month and the warm welcome they receive from the community.
What are some of the companies that you remember from over the years?
Some early companies that stand out from our first year are Meebo.com and Eric Reis presenting imvu.com. Other companies that I remember fondly and I’ve seen mature include Janrain.com, TubeMogul.com, LendingClub.com, and Evernote.com. I can remember companies like Slideshare.net and Docstoc.com getting questioned hard on issues with sharing content, but they’ve prospered quite nicely. And not many people may remember ThePoint.com presenting back in 2007 – but NewTechr’s are probably very familiar with the company that grew out of that service – Groupon.com.
Another fond memory is of CoTweet.com, they are an excellent story of a startup that moved from Amish country in Pennsylvania to Silicon Valley only to be gobbled up in healthy acquisition a few months later.
And ironically, I will never forget a meetup that I was absent from attending. Guy Kawasaki was presenting Alltop.com in 2008 and a young (and new) member wasn’t aware of Guy’s rich history, starting with Apple, and the member quickly turned the Q&A into a heckling session, attacking Guy’s knowledge and experience. I heard Guy handled it quite well with good humor and the attendee later apologized.
What are some of the trends that you’ve observed while working on SVNewTech?
When I first started the group, the companies were largely in the social networking and photo sharing space. As ‘web 2.0′ matured, so did the companies presenting. Small niche based companies with solid business models emerged like 99designs.com and TripIt.com.
I think the current trend has been for apps and mobile. The iPhone and Facebook have really created a new field for ‘apps’. The mobile market is exploding, thanks to new user interfaces, software platforms, and incredibly advanced hardware.
What technologies are you most excited about these days?
Technology that solves a need. That may sound like a cliche answer, but it’s surprising how when you view startups through that lens, only a small percentage are solving problems or addressing consumer demands. I’m a big fan of consumer technologies, as they seem more exciting to me then corporate services – but I do respect the much clearer business model for services that address corporate needs.
Where are you now?
I’m currently exploring Taiwan by scooter, which has been fantastic. It’s been my first time zipping around on a scooter and Taiwan is a great place to do it – thanks to the warm weather, beautiful coast line, and scooter lanes!
We came from China where we finished up a two month tour. China was an adventure and a learning experience. I’ve never seen construction on the scale of most cities in China, and I was really interested to see first hand the business and politics of China – as they are playing an ever more important part on the world stage. I’ve been trying to meetup up with fellow tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs during my travels. For example, I met with the Chinese incubator Innovation-Works.com in Beijing and let them know we’d be happy to feature any of their incubated companies at future visits to Silicon Valley.
Any plans for when you get back to the US?
I’m still really open on that. I’m using this trip to explore trends in other parts of the world. I’d like to start another company, I’m just not sure what yet. Having a technology that serves a useful ‘purpose’ in the world is important to me, I’m just not sure what my next motivator will be. I’m finding myself engrossed in world politics on this trip.
Any specific experiences from your travels that you’d like to mention?
This trip has literally taken me to the top of the world – 4km high to Litang, China, the tallest city in the world. The multiday bus trip around snowy mountain cliffs was beautiful and frighteningly seat gripping at the same time. The local Tibetans we met were beautiful people with colorful personalities.
I’ve also been to interesting corners of Asia, like a late night live Jazz show at an ancient palace in Beijing with local Beijing political rap stars who change their name regularly to avoid police detection. In addition to rap stars, we’ve been couch surfing and meeting the oddest characters the world has to offer.
I’ve been running into fellow travelers from all corners of the world with really interesting backgrounds – from rally drivers who have raced across the entire Eurasian continent to a man who is embarking on a 5 year bike ride around the world.
Thanks for 5 years of great work, Vinnie!