Founding to Future, Part 2: How 4 NYC Startups Grew Up

by Quinten Dol
September 16, 2019

Startup origin stories are usually intense. Why? There’s often not enough money or manpower and the physical work environment might entail some hilariously inadequate coffee shop or, in the case of one NYC startup, a gym.

But how does that early crucible inform the culture and values of an organization as it grows? What elements of startup life do you maintain, and which do you leave behind? In part two of our two-part series on startup growth journeys, we spoke with founders or early employees at four growing New York City tech companies to try to answer those questions.

 

 

unqork new york city startup story
photo via unqork

 

Some of the simplest user interfaces belie the most complex back-end software. This is especially true for Union Square West-based Unqork, whose SaaS platform allows users to build software applications — scaled for enterprise-size operations — without writing any code themselves.

Technical Implementation Specialist Kristen Stilwell was an early employee at Unqork, and remembers coding alongside her CEO — a practice that still occasionally occurs today. 

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

Something people may not know is that Gary — our founder and CEO — built the original platform and contributed to the codebase on a daily basis while we built out our engineering team. In the early days, it was extremely common to be building alongside Gary, passing modules back and forth to meet our deliverables. He still finds time to work with the team today!

 

In the future I see the company expanding outside of New York City and even the U.S...”

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Even though we had Slack, in the past, the most common way to communicate was to shout across the office (we were in a much smaller space then). Now we’re in a much larger office that has two floors and almost four times the square footage! In the future I see the company expanding outside of New York City and even the U.S., with offices around the globe to support our growing list of enterprise clients.

We also used to be able to serve the entire office with only two pitchers of margaritas — but today an industrial-sized 7-Eleven Slurpee-style margarita machine would be necessary!

 

eight sleep new york city sleep startup
photo via eight sleep

Eight Sleep describes itself as “the first sleep fitness company,” which means turning your mattress into an IoT device that senses and analyzes your sleep patterns and bedroom environment. The bed then figures out your ideal sleep temperature which, of course, can all be controlled from a smartphone.

Serial startup founder and CEO Matteo Franceschetti developed the technology behind Eight Sleep in an effort to realize the full rejuvenative potential of his nightly shut-eye.

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

I was the embodiment of the stressed-out, startup CEO, which ruined my sleep. I realized I needed to do something about it. I did some research, applied technology to the problem and discovered that with the right combination of factors, I could be “sleep fit” and increase my energy level in the morning. I sold my company and founded Eight Sleep on the belief that technology can help solve other people’s sleep problems, too.

 

...in February this year we introduced the Pod, the first high-tech bed using dynamic temperature regulation for sleep optimization.”

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

On January 2015 we launched our Sleep Tracker in a crowdfunding campaign. On November 2016, we launched the world’s first Smart Bed, a full system integrating technology and comfort. In June 2018 we launched our AI-powered sleep coach technology, which is able to analyze sleep and biometric data to offer users insights about their sleep. And in February this year we introduced the Pod, the first high-tech bed using dynamic temperature regulation for sleep optimization. We will continue to innovate as we tackle all of sleep’s biggest problems.

 

optimove new york city tech startup
photo via optimove

Optimove’s “Relationship Marketing Hub” software uses artificial intelligence technology to scale customer engagement on all fronts, aiming to boost customer spend, engagement, retention and lifetime value for brands in industries like retail, gaming and finance. Using a so-called “science-first” approach, the software helps businesses gain a deep understanding of individual users and what drives their behavior.

Director of New Business Agathe Westad said the company’s eight years as a bootstrapped operation and continuing profitability have fostered a culture of trust and loyalty. 

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

Optimove was founded in 2009 by two young university professors who wanted to translate their academic know-how into entrepreneurship. The company was bootstrapped for nearly eight years before accepting $20 million in growth funding. It’s still profitable to this day, which really translates into an amazing culture for employees as it fosters loyalty, trust in management and the ability to build one’s own path. Optimove has grown quickly to become a global relationship marketing powerhouse with 250 employees in our New York, London, Tel Aviv and Singapore offices, servicing more than 500 global brands in various industries.

 

Optimove has grown a lot in size and maturity while succeeding in maintaining both its business goals and company culture...”

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Optimove has grown a lot in size and maturity while succeeding in maintaining both its business goals and company culture, which I think is pretty rare and very desirable both for employees and Optimove’s clients. The high-level objective has stayed the same — to become the main marketing tool for any D2C company and obtaining most of the marketing budget because we can answer our customer’s most important needs. However, our processes, team structures, the way we think of product development, R&D, client services and so on have really evolved to match our growth and the increasing size of the companies we work with. That has been a really amazing process to witness, and it also gives us a lot of confidence in the future of the business.

 

primary kids new york city tech startup
photo via primary kids

Primary is an online shopping experience for busy parents looking to clothe their kids in soft, colorful and gender neutral clothing. Founded in 2015, the company was started by two moms who wanted nothing more than an uncomplicated shopping experience and quality clothes.

CTO John Goulah explained how that basic vision has underpinned everything the company has done since. 

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

We launched Primary because we were personally frustrated shopping for our own kids’ clothes, especially with how gender-prescriptive everything is. We’ve taken a different approach to kids clothing, focused on simple, classic styles in a rainbow of colors offered in a gender-neutral way — and our quality for the price is unheard of. It’s the brand we wanted for ourselves and our own kids.

Many might not know that when we first started, the founders worked out of the Reebok Sports Club on the UWS. We worked in the cafe and used the phone booths for calls. The gym memberships were less expensive than an office!

 

We have an incredibly passionate customer base...”

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

At our core, we are still the brand that we set out to be at the beginning — one that is rooted in simplicity and inclusivity. We’ve continued to move the brand forward with clothing designs that are very “Primary,” but go beyond solid colors into classic patterns and now have close to 200 styles for babies and kids. We have an incredibly passionate customer base and want to continue creating awesome quality clothing in the softest fabrics we can find, at prices that make sense.

 

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