Recognized as a global thought leader in the startup ecosystem, Reza offers more than 15 years experience in emerging technology, which he brings to AlleyWatch as CEO and Founder. Reza is also the founder of New York Startup Lab, which brings technology and knowledge based solutions to the entrepreneurial community with a specific focus on early stage companies. He began his career as securities trader on Wall Street. Reza is often a featured international speaker, moderator, and judge at numerous events on technology and global entrepreneurship and was a featured presenter at the first Facebook Developer Garage in NYC. Both Reza and the companies he has been involved with have received accolades and recognition from prominent organizations including the fbFund. Reza was recently recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in NYC Tech by TechWeek and is a 2015 NYC Venture Fellow, a world-class, year-long fellowship program designed to help high-potential entrepreneurs scale their ventures.
How did you get into the industry?
After college, I headed to Wall Street to become a trader focused on listed equities as my first full time job. After trading for a number of years, I grew tired of staring at 9 monitors all day and decided that I wanted to move into more of a corporate finance role. In order to round out of my skillset to do this, I attended business school with the initial goal of breaking into banking or private equity upon graduation.
During business school (2005-2007), while observing the financial markets, and leveraging some of the knowledge I had picked up as a trader, I recognized that the economy was headed in a direction where banking and finance would not be a desirable industry to work in for the near term. While in business school, I began to exploring some global opportunities outside of finance and I linked up with a few folks in my network that were focused on social gaming in its earliest stages.
I immediately fell in love with the idea of building something in a nascent and undefined market within a promising and emerging industry – technology and social media. While trading I became a problem solver from a quantitative perspective. Technology and entrepreneurship allowed me to build on this and not only focus on the numbers but also work on building several facets of an online business.
That’s how I forayed into technology and I haven’t looked back since.
Any emerging industry trends?
Technology is one of the primary and sustainable drivers of job growth from a macroeconomic perspective. As a result, all eyes are on innovation and the interests of several parties (government entities, established industries, entrepreneurs, service providers, just to name a few) are aligned to catapult and foster entrepreneurship. The convergence of these aligned interests with technology serving as the connective glue will drive the next wave of innovation within the business community.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
A dependency on coding will not be necessary in order to build a technology business. We are already moving in a direction where coding will soon be akin to a proficiency test like reading and writing. Breaking code down into usable modules will serve as a catalyst for the next iteration of the information technology age as a new generation of technologists will be empowered and emerge.
Just look at the way a young child interacts with an iPad and you’ll quickly see how this native generation is wired differently. The manner in which these children interact with technology and conceptualize systems will allow them to build solutions unimaginable as they enter the workforce in the future – a workforce comprised of a native technology generation.
As a result, a focus will move away from the novelty of building new technology, instead technology will serve as a means to solve a defined set of problems – business or otherwise.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
There have been a number of factors that led to the growth of the New York tech ecosystem arising from the ashes of the recession of 2008. With this growth, there was a tremendous amount of fragmentation within the ecosystem in terms of resources available for the community. A desire to provide a centralized resource that saved entrepreneurs time coupled with the opportunity to serve this burgeoning market were primary drivers that led to the decision to launch AlleyWatch. I envision AlleyWatch as the highway that caters to the all the key stakeholders in the tech ecosystem in New York.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
As we move forward, we plan to expand to other markets as technology is driving progress and innovation at a global scale and there are a number of hubs globally that are underserved. We are poised to assist in the growth of these markets.
We have already expanded outside of New York to LA through our LA property that’s called LA TechWatch and our first international market will be launch shortly. AlleyWatch is already being read each month in over 200 countries and we’d like to highlight some of the stories that are shaping the growth and success of these local ecosystems.
Lastly, we also plan to provide more types of actionable resources for our audience that will assist them in their entrepreneurial endeavors with the creation of more types of digestible, relevant content.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
One of our differentiating factors in our offering is our approach to content which is focused on providing actionable best-in-class resources for the entrepreneurial community blended in with coverage of the local ecosystem focusing on key life cycle events (the launches, foundings, fundings, exits, etc.) rather than focusing on writing for writing’s sake. To this point, you will not see articles on AlleyWatch that focus on company’s user growth, an executive hiring, or key partnership.
Articles like that are not engaging, informative, or newsworthy and often the the entire story can be covered in a well-written headline. These types of articles are mostly the byproduct of chasing an outdated model that’s broken – traditional journalism. We strive to provide timely, digestible, and key relevant information to our audience and often the tenets of traditional journalism are lost in the process and we are okay with that.
Also, we’ve been fortunate enough to be embraced by the key stakeholders in the ecosystem and we are pleased to sit at the crossroads of venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, accelerators, startup employees, thought leaders, event organizers, corporate executives, academics, city officials, PR/press and tech enthusiasts, all with the common interest in advancing New York tech. This audience appreciates our level of familiarity with the ecosystem, that’s rooted in our experience as founders, entrepreneurs, and operators since the origins of New York tech, with an authentic voice that’s building a new media property to serve the ecosystem.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Failing. It’s the nature of the game when it comes to startups but it still stings. There have been a number of project that I’ve been a part of that have failed and needed to be shut down for one reason or another and I am proud of that. Ultimately, bouncing back and realizing that the failure is usually not a reflection of your work but a reflection of several factors – many of which are not under your control – timing, capital, market, etc. allows you to live to fight another day. These difficult moments often also serve as the best learning opportunities that shape your professional development going forward.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
AlleyWatch has served as a discovery engine for startups at scale. Most startups are looking for two things – press and funding – and these two things tend to happen in a linear progression. AlleyWatch has covered thousands of NYC startups, often representing their first piece of press, and these articles have been read by millions including investors, customers, partners, and other press outlets.
As we launched a little over four years ago and now have the benefit of having some time behind us, it’s been exciting to see how far the companies have evolved and grown from when we covered them in their earliest days. Our ability to continue doing this by connecting the startup community in our markets to the masses is the ideal experience for our users.
How do you motivate others?
Lead by example. As a small, nimble, and lean team, I have had to work deeply in most functions associated with out business and our team has seen that. The ability to put pride aside and work towards building something grand serves as an excellent motivation tool. I also have a deep passion for our mission and that translates into a genuine excitement around our work. That authentic drive is also another motivating factor.
Career advice to those in your industry?
The technology ecosystem is very flat and very small. Invest the time to get to know people and contribute to the industry putting aside personal gain. That goes a long away in building a reputation within the ecosystem that will drive future business opportunities. Stay humble, stay lean, stay determined.