Improv Gets Packed Princeton Tech Meetup Moving

The Princeton Tech Meetups have been packed lately as the reputation of the 1,200-plus-member group grows. stopped by the January 28, 2013, group meeting, which offered something a little different from the usual product demos and speakers. It included an improvisation-based needs-matching game conducted by Alex Lamb, an improv actor, software developer and research scholar at Princeton University.

Attendees had great fun getting to know one other, their needs and what they could offer through this very noisy game. “It’s OK,” said Lamb, “not to have anything to offer. You can just say, ‘I offer my emotional support,’ he said to audience laughter. During the final minute, people exchanged contact information with other attendees who could help them or whom they could help.

The remainder of the meeting included a tech startup demo; a presentation on Apstrata, a cloud back-end system that can make life easier for app and Web developers; and a presentation from marketing consultant Pavita Howe on planning a successful product launch.



The next presenter, Peter Chmiel of Cutting Edge Consulting (Sayreville), discussed the Apstrata cloud back-end service and the difference using this tool has made for him. Chmiel says the tool, which is free to developers who have up to 500 users, will save 20 to 40 percent of the time spent developing a project because it eliminates the need to “build the same plumbing over and over again.”

An app developer himself, Chmiel said he has used Apstrata to create the app The Vegan Guide to NYC. “I license books that are available in Barnes and Noble and turn them into mobile apps,” he told the group.

Said Chmiel, “In the past I was limited on how much I could do, because I put the apps on Siebel Lite databases that fit with the application.” Apstrata lets Chmiel focus on “what’s unique to my app,” he said. The tools include a lot of tasks you don’t want to do repeatedly, like persisting data, storing files, searching, handling user management and messaging for in-app integration, he said.

These kinds of developers’ toolkits often have downsides, Chmiel noted. “You don’t want to be, six months down the road, looking for a tool that is critical to your application, only to find you can’t build it.” Apstrata has custom applicationprogramming interfaces (APIs) for just this situation, he said. For example, he was working on an app that needed to handle text messaging, which is not part of Apstrata’s standard toolkit. In less than half a day, he said, he was able to access the Twilio scripts and APIs for sending out text messages and do a proof of concept on his application using this.

Up next was Pavita Howe of Plan B Strategic Marketing (Greenbrook, N.J.), a marketing strategist who has experience launching products within tech startups and larger companies. Before launching Plan B, she was senior director of marketing strategy and launch planning at Genesys (an Alcatel-Lucent company) and director of marketing at Forte Software, an Internet software startup acquired by Genesys.

Entrepreneurs are often very passionate about their products, but marketing is more of an afterthought, Howe told the group. However, the process of launching a new product should start early in the company’s development cycle. In large companies, she said, there is often an eight-stage process that starts with discovery and screening of ideas.

After all, more than 90 percent of startups fail, and many innovations fail to return their cost of capital, she pointed out. “So before you start a project, you want to do research first.”

With the right approach, Howe said, startups can improve their chances of being successful. The purpose of a product launch is to build awareness, attract customers and drive sales, she added. It doesn’t matter how good your product is if it doesn’t sell, she pointed out.

The first step is to clearly define what problem you will solve for your customers. You have to do something really valuable for the clients in your target market so they will be willing to pay for it. “This needs to be validated through market research,” Howe explained. “You have to go out and see how your customers would really use this.”

The next step is to position the product by knowing what you are selling, to whom, the benefits to customers and why they would feel compelled to use and pay for it.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can use them at every stage of development to make decisions in marketing, product development and messaging, Howe noted.

A video of the meetup has been posted to YouTube here.


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