Tech Post: 'Speed Dating for Geeks'
Here's Zach Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology scene.
If you're a smart techie with Web talent, why come to Washington when you can go to Silicon Valley and snag a job with Google, Facebook or some up-and-coming start-up backed by millions in venture capital?
Social Matchbox, a networking event once called "speed dating for geeks" that was held last night in McLean, is trying to show there are plenty of opportunities here to work for cutting-edge Web companies.
"There are a lot of people who made the choice to come to Washington, D.C., who could have made the choice to go to Silicon Valley. There's a lot of people who question, 'Did I make the right decision?'." said Robert Neelbauer, a local technology recruiter who hosts the event with his wife, Juliana.
"Before Social MatchBox, there wasn't really a good place for start-ups to come together and announce to the community, 'Hi, we're here.' One of the things the event accomplished is to bring the community closer and to give people an opportunity to talk to each other and help each other," he said.
This is the third time the group has met since beginning this year, and Neelbauer says dozens of connections have been made at the events.
Networking events are nothing new on the D.C. business scene. But they tend to be more chaotic than the Social Matchbox event -- in a loud bar or cocktail hour at a local firm, with all types of tech folks mingling.
By contrast, the first hour of Social Matchbox featured an open- mic, where 19 presenters -- mostly Web start-ups -- gave a two- or three-minute spiel on their company and idea. Some just hoped to make the community aware of their existence. Some wanted advice or partnerships with other companies. Others wanted hire programmers experienced in a particular kind of software or Web development. Still others wanted to hire a chief executive or co-founder.
The roughly 100 attendees wore color-coded name tags: red for hiring, green for seeking a co-founder, blue for job seekers, yellow for "socializers." You could smell pizza everywhere and see people typing away on their iPhones. After the presentations, the crowd mingled as various Web products were demoed.
The event was, held at TeqCorner, a building providing space to many technology companies, and featured a few established tech firms, such as free Web hosting service FreeWebsand online brokerage FolioFN (featured in Tech Post last week).
The names of the companies presenting were pretty Webby: Clearspring, AddyMate, 100 Dimensions, emPivot, Contribune, Hireworx, Hotpads, iBelong, Innovative Query, MixedInk, OurCoupleSpace, Positive Energy, Razoo, ScriptAct, ShareMeme, Ubernote, Viscape.
(Work for any of these companies? Write about what you do and what you want to do in the comments section below. We might follow up for a future Tech Post.)
* 100 Dimension: Regular TV has come to the Internet, as most networks offer their shows online. But this presenter had a different plan. "We want to bring Internet TV to widescreen TV. There's so much content available on the Internet. We'd like to make it available to couch potatoes," said company executive Alain Zarembowitch. That elicited a "Yeah, beautiful!" from the crowd. The company was looking to partner with providers of Internet video and other content. "We're engineers," he explained.
* OurCoupleSpace: Perhaps the most eccentric of the offerings, OurCoupleSpace is a social network and Web site for couples having problems. Such couples can find other couples having similar problems and analyze their own. "How many people here have been in a relationship that went sour?" asked Gary Krane, the chief executive. No hands went up, though many laughed. "We have more eBay tools than we have for our most important relations." Krane said he's looking to hire a designer, blogger, and a more experienced chief executive -- preferably a woman.
* ShareMeme: Luc Castera, a co-founder of this site, said it had just receive a first round of angel funding after participating in the LaunchBox Digital program, a three-month technology incubation program that recently concluded in the area. Through the site -- or a text message, or an e-mail -- the company allows users to send messages to all or pre-set groups of friends, wherever they may prefer: on Facebook, e-mail, cell phone, Twitter, etc.
Neelbauer's day job is running staffmagnet, a Dupont Circle-based firm that consults technology companies on finding talent. So it's no coincidence he has made Social Matchbox an extra-curricular.
Companies searching for talent "could hire a staffing agency and that staffing agency will search Monster.com. The kind of people who want to go work for Google don't need to put their resume into a Monster. The companies need an organization like ours that already has community relationships built up," he said.
Neelbauer founded staffmagnet last year with his wife, whom he met while they were working on the Kerry campaign in 2004. He has worked on technology issues for more than a decade, at tech companies and on Capitol Hill.
He takes a particular point of pleasure in distinguishing the creative culture of tech start-ups from the government contracting world that dominates so many jobs in the region. You can work for a Web start-up, or "the alternative is to go work for Lockheed Martin where you're sitting in a cubicle in a football-field-sized office. Your cubicle literally has a bar code on it."
Chris Heroit has made that switch with the help of Social Matchbox, whose first event he attended earlier this year. He left a mid-size government contractor in Northern Virginia and moved to Positive Energy, a local Web start-up that helps people conserve power at home. He gave up a higher salary and may lose his coveted security clearance in a few years -- worth thousands of dollars. But his new job as an engineer at Positive Energy is more satisfying, and he returned last night to talk about his experience.
"Whenever you're building something, you get invested it emotionally and you can't do that with contracting," he said. "It's too much beyond your control. People are very much short sighted. They're worried about the next deadline, not what it's going to be like in three years."
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