What does $50 get you in New York City? Normally, not much. On BC’s TechTrek NYC trip, however, $50 affords students a one-of-a-kind opportunity to meet with thought leaders and executives working in tech companies, both large and small, in New York. This March, a group of 25 competitively admitted graduate and undergraduate students forfeited the opportunity to sleep in on the first morning of spring break to get a close look into some of New York’s hottest tech companies. Our aggressive mission: visit five companies in a city 4 and a half hours away from Boston in the span of one business day. Here’s a taste of our experience:
ClassPass was a great start to the day. For those of you not familiar with it, its existence is the reason why your friend or acquaintance attends a yoga class in Kendall Square on Monday, a spin class in Fenway on Wednesday, and a kickboxing class in Back Bay on Thursday, all at different boutique studios. ClassPass’ office was open, bright, and had an area with stretch hammocks for lounging. I would venture that we were the best dressed people in the office, as many employees were wearing workout clothes.
Much of our conversation at ClassPass centered around the excitement of their impressive growth over the past couple years and how they earned the trust of studios to this end. Like many startups, they pivoted a couple times before landing on the product they have today, a monthly subscription service providing access to classes at a variety of different studios. When ClassPass enters a new city, they contract with as many boutique studios as possible which provide a variety of fitness classes; a critical component of building trust with studio owners is demonstrating how ClassPass will bring in an entirely new set of customers into the mix for a studio. Each studio is paid a percentage of regular per-class fees for each ClassPass attendee. At the time of our visit, an unlimited monthly subscription to ClassPass in Boston was $199; just a few weeks later, however, the price of the same subscription was raised to $180/month. The coming months will be an important indicator of ClassPass customers’ and studios’ loyalty.
Our hosts shared some of the ways ClassPass is excited about using data to improve subscribers’ experiences and further support studios’ success. The platform’s Spot Dashboard will allow class attendees to provide comments and give studio owners the opportunity to respond. This data along with ClassPass’ smart spot algorithm that recognizes patterns in user flow will allow for making better recommendations to users about what studio and/or class to try next as well as to studios about where they should open their next location(s).
Rent the Runway
Rent the Runway thinks about renting clothing and accessories as the best way for women to get what they want out of personal fashion – the excitement of wearing something new, enjoying seasonal trends, and the satisfaction of finding a good deal. We all know Rent the Runway for its dress rental service, but our host during TechTrek NYC lives and breathes Unlimited, a new monthly subscription service that allows women to rent three items at a time from a host of different types of apparel and accessories, for as long as they want. Rent the Runway has prepared for this expansion of its business by getting really good at turning dresses over from one renter to another quickly and by taking time to get to know women’s wardrobe needs. As part of preparation for the unlimited product, Rent the Runway conducted customer ethnographies in which they shot videos inside women’s closets to better understand what women need and/or want but don’t have.
Visiting a Google office is incredible in any city – New York’s office is no different. Employees are welcome to ride scooters around, and you can’t be farther than 50 yards from food anywhere. “The Google 15 is real,” shared one of our hosts. Based on the impressive lunch spread we saw in the cafeteria, I think 15 might even be an underestimation.
We had the largest group of hosts by far at Google – over 10 BC alums took time to meet with us! Each one of them expressed incredible passion for their role, knowing that Google touches more than a billion people’s lives. They encouraged all students to be perseverant and make career choices based on what provides the greatest opportunity to be challenged. One of our hosts is a program manager for a Google program that reflects this same attitude across the country; Google is investing in computer science programs in universities where students are switching into other fields for lack of adequate support of whose curricula need greater rigor to produce top-notch engineers.
Samsung Accelerator/Empire Angels
Our two hosts at the office of Samsung’s accelerator program graduated together from BC and later co-founded Empire Angels, an angel group of young professionals who invest in early stage technology companies with young founders. Christina also works for Samsung’s accelerator as an investor for early stage venture capital investments in software and services. They both shared the challenges and benefits of being young investors and the difficulty in general of breaking into the industry. Christina discussed the different purposes and ways that corporations set up accelerators or investment arms; Samsung manages an off-balance sheet fund with a particular focus on companies with products complementary to Samsung’s offerings, like Internet of things, mobility, and virtual reality. This approach allows the company to keep a pulse on potential market disruptors and position itself to form strong partnerships.
Handy was our last visit of the day; by the time we arrived, employees were wrapping up their normal work day to eat, play ping pong, and chatting before starting an evening product fire drill of sorts. Handy is a two-sided marketplace for booking household services, and, as our hosts were the CEO, the VP of Marketplace, and an SVP of operations, we spent most of our time learning about Handy’s approach to creating a stable virtual marketplace. Around the time of the company’s inception, the founders felt that they understood what customers of household services wanted, but very little about what the professional providers of services using the platform wanted; gaining an understanding of professionals’ needs and wants has been an important step for scaling their platform.
Be sure to keep an eye out for BC TechTrek events next year! Graduate students are welcome to attend TechTrek Boston visits to tech companies around the city on Fridays, TechTrek West to the Silicon Valley in January, and TechTrek NYC over spring break!