From Nick Barron. Follow him on Twitter @nbarron; email him at nick[AT]borderstan.com.
There are things DC does without thinking (Presidential motorcades, snowstorm hysteria), but last night a slice of the city did something that doesn’t come natural to the Capital: Throw a tech startup launch party.
The event, to kick-off DC-based Hinge’s iPhone app launch, generated 1,900 RSVPs on its Facebook page.
Judging by the crowd, most who said they would show did, filling up the 12th floor of the brand-new startup incubator/co-working space/startup training ground called 1776, headed by entrepreneur and former Startup DC chair Evan Burfield.
Hinge is a dating app that uses your Facebook friends and their friends to pair you up with someone to date.
You could only attend the party one of two ways: If one of the organizers, like Hinge co-founders Justin McLeod and Bennett Richardson, invited you, or if someone who was invited brought you along.
Attendees entered 1776’s 15th Street-facing doors, checked in by iPhones and iPads and taken on an elevator ride to the building’s 12th floor.
Off the elevator you hear the thumping music. To your right is the coat check, straight ahead is the step and repeat (think backdrop for Oscar photos, but with Hinge’s logo), and to your left, filling the largely open space, is a mass of people obscured by darkness, save for the random laser beam or other whirling club lighting.
“I think the open space made it (event) unique,” attendee Sasha Horne said. “Because the venue is still under construction it was reminiscent of a Bushwick warehouse party.”
Most importantly for a majority of attendees, the open bar, arranged as a square, sat in the middle of the space. As the night tore on, people mingled, drank and danced, enjoying the free booze brought forth by the launch of an iPhone app.
“We were overwhelmed by everyone’s support, and we even spotted some friends of friends connecting at the party,” Richardson said.
And for those not worried about sleep or responsibility, an after party commenced around midnight at The Huxley.
It’s the kind of event now ho-hum in Silicon Valley, but that DC doesn’t do.
We celebrate campaigns, snow days or Fridays, but in these parts we don’t drink to technology. We don’t acknowledge the launch or milestones of companies funded by venture capitalists.
Last night part of DC did just that, however.
And today many who were there might be wishing Hinge could help them not only find a date, but cure a hangover.
A lot of us would jump at the chance for a commute lasting no longer than tequila shots at a bachelorette party.
For Lee Finkel, co-founder of user experience agency LookThink, and much of his team, that’s the case.
Finkel lives across the street from LookThink’s Borderstan office.
“It takes me longer to get from my apartment to my lobby than it does to get from my lobby to the office,” Finkel said. “If you put out the Bat signal from LookThink HQ, a third of our staff would be able to get here within 10 minutes.”
Finkel and his business partner, Joe Mallek, founded LookThink in 2011. Each had their own companies before working together on some projects and realized there was a bigger opportunity in them combining shops.
“It just worked better together,” Finkel said.
Mallek’s been in DC for years, and Finkel moved here from New York City in January.
An agency focused on the user experience of digital client projects, LookThink’s location at 13th & M Streets suits them well.
“We have a very cool office space that is close to downtown without being too corporate,” Finkel said. “It lets us be creative but connected.”
The agency is also working on an application for MasterCard.
And they continue to grow. Since its inception, LookThink has tripled their staff and revenue, and they’re still hiring.
As with many successful companies, the people are driving LookThink’s progress.
“Our entire staff loves working here,” Finkel said. “Working with other like-minded people – creative, collaborative, innovative, and intelligent – makes it a great place to be.”
You may not know a spinnaker from a Spinnakr, but what’s a sail spelled one way (spinnaker) is a DC startup spelled another.
Spinnakr’s product helps organizations make their websites more engaging. The idea is you plop a piece of code into your site, Spinnakr analyzes your sites’ traffic and recommends to you changes to make to your site.
In other words, as a spinnaker captures wind to propel a sailboat forward, Spinnakr captures data to propel your website forward.
Spinnakr is the brainchild of Adam Bonnifield and Michael Mayernick.
“Spinnakr is how we see the next-generation of analytics,” Bonnifield said. “Instead of spitting out reports, it automatically makes recommendations that change your website for the different visitors who arrive.”
Mayernick and Bonnifield became acquainted as debate rivals in college, and are now leading a company of four employees and two interns. And they’re still growing.
Spinnakr’s headquarters is near Dupont, in the same building as another hot startup, the personal car service Uber.
“Our office…takes up the top floor of a converted row-house,” Bonnifield said. “It’s got a giant chandelier in the middle of a big open space, with a 20 foot whiteboard covering the walls – very startup chic.”
Along with their DC office, Spinnakr maintains a presence in Silicon Valley, where they spent six months early in the company’s life. For all the strides DC’s startup scene has made the past couple of years, Bonnifield says it’s still not able to fill all the needs of a young tech company like Spinnakr.
“DC still has a long way to go before it can match the opportunities out in Cali in access to mentorship, resources, and capital,” Bonnifield said. “It’ll get there, but in the meantime it’s really important for any young software business to be connected to the West Coast as well.”
There are some advantages, though, for being in an up-and-coming environment like DC.
“DC’s startup community is… filled with some of the most passionate people I’ve met in the space. For these people, building a company isn’t the thing you do because all your friends do it, because they don’t,” Bonnifield said. “It’s something you do because you can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Spoken like a true startup sailor.