SocialMatchbox REMix

As many of you know, Juliana and I took a break from DC to spent four years in Baltimore so that Juliana could get her J.D.  Being 60+ minutes out from DC under optimal conditions made us choose between trying to keep up appearances while suffering an intense road and rail experience or just focusing on our own projects.  I had a new startup and Juliana was had plans for what she was going to do next so we chose to effectively take a break from SocialMatchbox.  I used the break to get my SaaS product launched and into the market as well as to spend quite a bit more time in the bay area.  I learned a lot, met a lot of really interesting people, and picked up a few customers for the startup along the way as well. As of Spring 2014, we are Beltway insiders again.  Most of the first two weeks back were interesting and passed very quickly because I chose to spend them in Austin at SXSWi helping a friend’s startup get some exposure and feedback.  Now that that is behind me, I am hitting the DC area event scene and meeting all of the new people who have joined the community.  I am also running into a ton of awesome people I knew from before as well as people that have made a lot of progress in their careers and efforts as founders, investors, engineers and community builders.

It is exciting to be back yet it feels like I am an archaeologist.  There are so many layers upon layers of community, people and companies that have come to be in a very short period of time.  And the pace of things is picking up more every day.  For example: I was at TechCrunch’s event here recently and I ran into a handful of SocialMatchbox presenters and founders who were there, but there were tons more people who I had never met.  I had random encounters with hugely successful founders that people in the room did not even know.  It is somewhat amusing to have a conversation with a founder who says they are looking for money from investors when they are standing two feet from one of the most successful people in their target space and do not even know it.  The same is true of the bay area, probably much more so, but it is becoming more that way here.  Just today, Opower (or #ipopower as they call it now), a company that was 5 just guys in a shared office over in Courthouse back in 2007/8, had it’s IPO.  How many newly minted seed and angel investors will come out of their success leading up to today?  But things are still changing ever more rapidly even as yesterday’s startups become today’s success stories.  There are so many coworking and creative spaces in DC right now that you could probably start a bar trivia game about them.

What is a product startup in our eyes is changing too.  It started off as web apps, then platform apps (think Facebook) and Mobile Apps, but now it is physical devices and products with smart elements and wearable computing and drones.  And it is not just the founders who want into the game these days here in the DC area.  Local college students and colleges are getting more active and as a result they are sending things like the Startup Shell, Bitcamp, Terrapin Hackers and all of the startups and products that they have to offer into the world.  And Facebook just acquired Oculus Rift for $2 Billion making VR hotter than we thought it could be right after Google Glass and Google’s Driverless Cars and Uber made us stop and think about what is possible to disrupt.

This is going to be an interesting year in the history books and for the Baltimore-Washington Tech community.

Let’s chat soon.  If I haven’t run into you then send me a note and let me know what you are working on or interested in.  If you are looking for a co-founder or a developer, a place to put your office, an investor, or some feedback on your idea then shoot me an email.  My time is limited, but I would like to know what everyone is up to.


PS-I am also looking for guest bloggers again.  We have had an outstanding group of contributors over the years including founders, investors, developers and rising journalists. You do not have to be an expert or industry leader, just someone who is a creative writer, photographer or videographer.

Panel: A Lively Discussion About Smart Device Prototyping






Panel that was part of the GE Garages Tour on Wednesday, April 9th from 6-8pm.  The topic was: A Lively Discussion About Smart Device Prototyping.


Here is some additional information:

The maker movement is evolving from the domain of hobbyists into a hot new emerging commercial sector.  Join us for a lively discussion featuring the people who run two local maker spaces, a University prototyping lab, and a startup that has revolutionized e-paper devices, as well as a hardware creative who built his son a web-controlled robot using a piece of Snapware, an Arduino, and the same tech used by web developers and mobile app developers.

Location: WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, 2014 | 6-8pm | GE Garage, 1122 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

Event Hashtag: #Garages2014


Robert Neelbauer, Moderator (@SocialMatchbox)
Robert is a tech entrepreneur, a member of the Board of Advisors for ideaspace (@ideaspaceDC), the new, 16,000 square-foot prototyping space in Washington, DC, a member of the Board of Advisors for Intridea, Inc., and a former Hill staffer who the Washington Post called of the top two connectors in the Baltimore-DC-Northern Virginia tech community.  Robert is also involved in the University of Maryland’s Tech Entrepreneur Research and Prototyping (TERP) Startup Laboratory and produces SocialMatchbox, a popular product launch event and, an industry blog. His venture is SortIQ, Inc., a platform used by the world’s leading tech companies as well as colleges to help connect students and alumni with jobs and internships.  SortIQ is also known for Hiring Team, a next generation recruiting tool designed to help hiring teams collaborate around the recruiting process instead of just leaving everything to an HR person or a recruiter.

John Meyers, Panelist (@PrintLessPlans)
Jonathan is the CEO & Co-Founder of PrintLess Plans, which is the maker of the Zephyr E-portfolio, a sleek yet rugged large format E-paper device made for the demands of the architecture, engineering, and construction industries.  His company graduated from the Accelerate Baltimore program and is an early-stage investor-funded startup.  Prior to his current venture, he worked as a Regulatory and Compliance Engineer where he was inspired to create a more dynamic alternative to printed paper plans and blueprints.  He is a multidisciplinary engineer who holds dual degrees in Engineering Sciences and Studio Art.

Matthew Schiffman, Panelist (@darrownet)
Matt began his career as a sound engineer/designer for acts including Jimmy Buffet and John Leguizamo. He built sound systems for the Broadway musical “Side Show” and the national tour of “Rent”. Currently he helps produce theatre for the Alex Lyras & Robert McCaskill writing team and Long Island-based Silverhair Productions whenever he is called upon.  In his other life, Matt specializes in user interface design and front-end development. He operates his consulting business Darrow Digital Media, Inc. out of the Brooklyn Creative League – a shared office space in Brooklyn, NY and labels himself a Creative Technical Generalist.  In April of 2012, he started exploring physical computing. Since then he has built three robots as toys for his son:  Flippy, Dookie and Number 2. He has presented his creations at National Robotics Week NYC and SXSW Interactive.

Ted Markson, Panelist (@tedmarkson)
Ted is an electronics prototyper extraordinaire who recently has created a bird-tracking backpack, a workshop wireless security and accounting board, some quad copter accessories, and much more. Ted is a co-founder of Nova Labs (@NovaLabs) in Reston, VA and also the instructor of a hardware prototyping class offered there.  Ted is also a member of IEEE and is the co-founder Lumisense, a provider of quality custom specialty electronics kits.

Community Centric Companies Panel Follow-Up

For anyone who would like to check out any of the maker spaces companies or people from today’s panel at the GE Garage in DC here is the information you are looking for:

If you have a question or would like additional information about one of the panelits or a company or project mentioned, feel free to send us a tweet via @socialmatchbox or an email via

ideaspace @ideaspacedc PROMO CODE: DCTECH

Local Motors @localmotors @justfishkin

Tech Shop Crystal City @techshopdc @techshop PROMO CODE: GEGARAGES

1776 @1776dc @eburfield

What Should I Work On Next?

These days it is harder than ever to decide what to spend your not so endless time and energy on.  You can get into VR with the Oculus Rift, get into physical computing with Arduinos, work on a mobile app, build a web app, or even try to break into enterprise software.  If you are really adventurous you can get into the physical product space and use 3D printing or other technologies.  It is really hard to choose isn’t it.

If this sounds like what you are going through right now then keep reading.

It is really easy to go read what is trending and then rush right into something.  The only problem is that quite a few others are doing the exact same thing.  Sometimes the best idea or adventure is not one that is a headline or top trend.  It might not even be something that you or someone you know is familiar with or thinking about.

Chasing an idea or a product is the same whether you are going after something hot and in the public eye or hot but under the radar.  You still need to do your research to make sure the market is there, conduct early customer research, and so on.

You should really chase inspiration and look for things that nobody else is looking for or at.  For example: Mobile is hot right now, but did you ever stop to consider that 200 Million people use Windows 8 vs. around 12 Million people using Mac OS X vs. 10 Million using Ubuntu (Linux)?  Ubuntu appears to be neck and neck with Mac OS X these days.  When was the last time you talked to someone about building an app for Ubuntu?  Yeah, I thought so.  This is just one example, but there are an infinite number of possibilities.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

DC Founders, You Are Not Alone

DC Startups may not be able to get funding at levels, as early, or as often as they would like to but now it is easier than ever for them to get on the radar of massive government contractors who want their help.  Today Booz Allen Hamilton, home to more startup founders than you would think IMHO, announced a strategic partnership  with 1776 to “help government and commercial organizations build cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship; create new and distinctive products and services; and provide market access to enable high-promising startups to scale.”

Their first point is “Innovation Strategy” which has been a hot subject within government contractors and large commercial enterprises in the DC area in recent years.  Capital One Labs has probably done the best job of marketing their “Labs” or “C1″ as they have branded it from what I can tell.  They are not alone.  Overall, these are probably a good idea from my point of view – I can’t stand the idea of working in a boring grey cube farm personally.  Most true startup people I know would agree.  This presents a challenge to the startup community though – if startups are cozying up to large companies and defense contractors/government contractors then isn’t the culture of money going to override innovation?  The message startups are trying to send is usually about “disruption” of the establishment, not coordination.  The analogy this brings to mind is a dog chasing its tail – it is hard to catch something if you can’t get your mind off it.  I think it would almost be better if startups avoided the establishment and focused on doing their own thing.

All of this begs the question: is this just another way to embrace the workforce’s continued shift away from corporate to neighborhood?  For example: I have had conversations with quite a few people who feel that properties like 1776 and WeWorks, both really cozy office spaces, are as much a place for employees of large companies and freelancers to those companies to work instead of working from home?  I don’t have any hard data that would suggest this is more than a passing thought, but it would be interesting to see a breakdown of who is buying memberships at coworking spaces.

The second point is “Crowdsourcing and Challenge-based Innovation.” which makes it seem to me that this partnership is much more about engaging the freelancer and 1099/consulting workforce than startups.  Startups are mission focused, at least product startups which is the community that I know best.  It seems like this partnership is a play for independent talent for the most part.  This isn’t bad, and to me it seems like a really smart idea from the perspective of a government contractor in a tight labor market.  The third point is “Showcase Events” which is not all that different from the second point.  Maybe the hackathon or “hackcelerator” is perceived as the next corporate arms race and these guys are trying to prepare.  Or maybe 1776 is selling contests to partners.  In either case it seems like this is not a bad idea.

There are examples that come to mind that suggest to me that this sort of thing could work.  After all, Steve Wozniak was working for HP while he was working on the prototype for Apple’s first computer.  A lot of companies have started that way.

I guess the bottom line here is that this type of partnership is interesting.  You can have backup in DC without having funding.  You can line up freelance or challenge based work by being in the 1776 club.  I hope things work out well for them, they have a nice place and a lot of people who are really excited about it.

Panel: Community Centric Companies, Washington, DC

GE Garage Panel: Community Centric Companies






This panel was part of the GE Garages Tour. The topic was extremely interesting (so are many others) and so are the people and companies represented on this panel.


Panel Abstract & Participants:

How does crowd-sourcing go beyond the world of Kickstarter and deeper into niche communities that create built-in support and knowledge? Hear from several companies and organizations that have built a substantial community and how the involvement of those individuals collectively can impact design, development, and policy.

1. Moderator: Bob Neelbauer, ideaspace Board of Advisors
What does crowd-sourced invention mean for the future of product development?

2. Local Motors – Justin Fishkin, Chief Strategy Officer
Local Motors to speak about the recently launched initiative (pairing co-creation communities with micro-manufacturing to redesign major appliances) and its crowd-sourced car knowledge and design community and the success it has had to date.

3. TechShop, Isabella Musachio, Interim General Manager of TechShop
Discuss how the TS community enables innovation and creativity at an actual brick-and-mortar location

4. 1776, Evan Burfield, Co-founder, 1776
What does a community contribute to a “fab lab” in Washington and how does one cultivate a member base of inventive thinkers?

If you are not familiar with these folks, check them out.  This panel will be a great conversation about where business and prototyping are headed and what is going on in a creative space near you as well.  You may have heard of one or more of these spaces, but there should be some very interesting discussions.  For example: how often does DC have someone in town that is a part of the team that built the Rally Fighter?

Makers In The Middle

People around the edges of smart devices, wearable computing, and 3D printing have some things in common that they do not fully realize.  Over the last few weeks I have been to an Internet of Things meetup, SXSWi, and had a few really good conversations about early product prototyping involving software and things.

The way that people tend to think about this stuff tends to be very tangential from what I can tell.  It is probably just that I a software guy and this is all very much new turf for me, but maybe it is more than that.

The thinking about this stuff is often along the lines of “we build something and it is a project but not as a business” or “we are building this stuff for our industry so how does this fit into our industry category” as far as we are concerned.

But from what I can tell, there are a lot of aspects of what people are making that people just do not consider.  Maker spaces are helping to create a meeting place ind the middle which is awesome.  But academic communities are lagging far behind.

This presents a great opportunity because the place in the middle is a new emerging sector with a ton of potential.  This could mean that those 3D printers that you can find at places like Staples are not just a passing trend.