The Future 5 of NYC Tech
Sure, the latest initiatives from the Teslas, Apples and Googles of the industry tend to dominate the tech news space — and with good reason. Still, the big guns aren’t the only ones bringing innovation to the sector.
In an effort to highlight up-and-coming startups, Built In is launching The Future 5 across eight major U.S. tech hubs. Each quarter, we will feature five tech startups, nonprofits or entrepreneurs in each of these hubs who just might be working on the next big thing.
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New York is one of the most important cities in the world. It is home to major corporations across the media, real estate and financial industries; and Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — the four key players in Big Tech — have massive offices here, employing thousands of New Yorkers.
These giants had to start somewhere, and the city has become a magnet for entrepreneurs trying to launch new game changers. From an “Amazon on steroids” to the “Uber of the travel tech industry,” these local innovators have some lofty ambitions, and are in the midst of building some impressive companies — proving NYC is fertile ground for the next generation of giants.
Built In spoke with just a handful of these local change-makers. It is clear that a big piece of the future is being built right here, right now.
DOMI (Delivery Tech)
These days, it seems like everyone is trying to out-do each other in terms of what they can deliver and how quickly they can get it there. Uber launched a new last-mile delivery service last year, JOKR, a grocery delivery startup founded in Germany, made its American debut in NYC just last month — and now, childhood friends Michael Jimenez, Richard Velez and Ronald Orejuela are on a mission to create an “Amazon on steroids.”
Called DOMI, the new app will eventually be able to deliver anything to anyone in less than an hour. For now the service is available throughout Queens (where the founders grew up), and is focused mainly on delivering food, pharmaceuticals and electronics, says Velez.
“Imagine getting a phone charger replaced within an hour because an electronics store around your neighborhood delivers it,” Velez told Built In. “That’s what sets us apart.”
It’s much more beneficial for the entire community if we’re connecting local businesses with the customers they already have around.”
Also, unlike a lot of other last-mile delivery companies, DOMI doesn’t just order a bunch of items wholesale and store them in a warehouse. Instead, it works closely with local businesses to bring their products directly to customers living nearby. Velez says this is especially important in light of the pandemic, which brought many local businesses to their financial breaking points.
“We’re giving [these businesses] the opportunity and platform to sell their products again,” Velez said. “Sure, we could always order products wholesale and then get those delivered from a warehouse. But it’s much more beneficial for the entire community if we’re connecting local businesses with the customers that they already have around.”
DOMI is in beta right now, and will be available to New Yorkers in all five boroughs in the next year, Velez says. After that, it will expand into the tri-state area and, eventually, be available in all 50 states.
GettinLocal (Travel Tech)
For those who are ready to get their travel back on, you may want to check out GettinLocal, a new “digital concierge” app that hooks tourists up with the best attractions and activities in a given destination.
The platform automatically updates its featured spots as travelers move around the city using geofencing technology, allowing them to discover and book different local activities on the move and in one place. It also partners with other companies in such a way that they are able to keep all of their guest data and 100 percent of the transactions, ensuring these businesses make more money than if they advertised on another similar app.
Liz Gilbert, GettinLocal’s VP of revenue and partnerships, says the app could be a “big disruptor” in the hospitality industry, especially as pent-up demand due to the pandemic causes the travel industry “bubble” to burst.
I almost feel like we could be as big as Uber, when it comes to disruption.”
And, while the company is going after potential users via social media and web searches, Gilbert says it is also in the midst of establishing partnerships with hotels and major tourist attractions to display GettinLocal’s QR code. So, for instance, if a tourist is at a Yankees game and downloads the app through a QR code there, they can get push alerts offering specific perks for that attraction — like a 15 percent discount at the Yankees store. This model could be applied in hotels to get guests to join their loyalty programs, or casinos in Las Vegas to attract more patrons to events as well.
“This is a new way to facilitate brand loyalty,” Gilbert told Built In. “We’re seeing crazy engagement when there’s decent offers or messaging is strong.”
Founded by serial entrepreneur Vito Pagano, GettinLocal technically launched in January of 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Gilbert says the app sat “pretty dormant” for a while, which gave the company some time to “re-group” and talk to the big and small stakeholders in the industry about what they needed when travel returned. The app did a sort of re-launch in May, and Gilbert seems confident that it will be a game changer in the industry going forward.
“When this thing takes off, we’re going to be such a disruptor in this space. I almost feel like we could be as big as Uber, when it comes to that disruption,” Gilbert said. “The content is rich, and we’re supporting these businesses in a way that no one else has ever done — really creating partnerships with hospitality so we can all be successful.”
LifterRun (Fitness Tech)
Like many of us, Justin Wolz has come to “absolutely detest” working out on his living room floor, and he misses the camaraderie that comes with in-person fitness classes and gyms. What’s more, he doesn’t like how expensive home fitness has become.
“The world doesn’t need another $2,000 piece of exercise equipment,” Wolz told Built In. “Especially in light of the pandemic, there needs to be expanded access to affordable and accessible fitness services overall. Point blank.”
So, he created LifterRun, an app that connects people to affordable personal training sessions either outdoors at a park or virtually. All a user has to do is fill out their location and fitness goals, and LifterRun matches them with certified trainers who work nearby whose approach matches those goals. Subscriptions are either $0 or $10 a month, and individual training sessions run between $50 to $70 each — well below average pricing.
Especially in light of the pandemic, there needs to be expanded access to affordable and accessible fitness services overall.”
The app is also beneficial to the thousands of professionals who make up the personal training industry — the ones who don’t have millions of followers on Instagram and celebrity clients. In fact, when he began researching the industry, Wolz says he found that most trainers are just a year or two into their careers, and are struggling to cultivate a strong following and clientele despite being well qualified and readily available. These are the kinds of trainers Wolz designed LifterRun for.
“[Most] trainers quit the industry within a year because of how tough it is. When I see that, I see supply decreasing, and all you have left are the trainers that are already well established and charging $100 per month,” Wolz explained. “I saw LifterRun as an opportunity to match people who are looking to get greater access to personal training with trainers that are highly qualified; and give those trainers a tool to optimize their schedules — put in the free blocks that they have every month — and match them naturally with clients that are interested in their services.”
Originally from North Carolina, Wolz is a lifelong athlete, and has used personal trainers himself for years. When he’s not working his full-time job as a tech PR and marketing professional, he is a rowing and basketball coach at the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, which is where he first came up with the idea for LifterRun after talking with some parents there. Eventually, Wolz says he would like to take LifterRun beyond just NYC and other major cities, but into impoverished and rural communities as well.
Adulthood is hard — especially when you’re navigating it for the first time. Genevieve Ryan Bellaire found this out the hard way after she graduated from business school. Although she was a lawyer with an MBA, she made mistakes about her finances, healthcare and living situations, and found herself turning to Google a little too often.
That’s why she created Realworld, a platform that helps recent college grads and other young adults traverse the ins and outs of adulthood. From finding a new apartment or job to budgeting and retirement savings, Realworld aims to teach its users all the things that “they don’t teach you in school,” as the company’s head of brand and creative director Gillian Katz puts it.
The opportunity that we have is really to make an impact in every young adult’s life.”
A graduate of the Techstars NYC 2019 accelerator program, Realworld launched its mobile app a couple months ago after raising a $3.4 million seed round. But Katz says that, before the team wrote a single line of code, they spoke with more than 1,000 college graduates and their parents over the course of about two years to really understand what this demographic needed and how they preferred learning it.
“The opportunity that we have is really to make an impact in every young adult’s life as they embark on this exciting step as independent adults; and doing so without the fear and stress and, really, the toll that it takes on every young adult’s mental health,” Katz told Built In. “We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know for every step of the way. And then continue to grow with those users as they buy property, as they have kids, as they get married. All of this stuff is constantly evolving.”
Of course, Realworld isn’t the only startup out there trying to help Gen Zs and young millennials navigate adulthood. There’s been a swath of companies — particularly in the fintech and healthtech sectors — cropping up recently. But Katz says there hasn’t been a company yet that’s taken a “holistic” approach to what she calls the “adulthood industry.”
“People are really intrigued by what we’re building because there’s nothing else out there like it,” Katz said. “We’ve all failed when it comes to adult things, so the mission of paying forward those learnings and preparing the next generation so that they can avoid the pitfalls that we’ve all succumbed to really resonates.”
So Synced (Social Media)
We appear to be in the golden age of online dating. Tinder, a trailblazer in the space, is among the highest grossing apps worldwide, and women-centric dating app Bumble made a historic $2.1 billion public debut earlier this year (in addition to opening a brick-and-mortar cafe and wine bar in Nolita later this month). It seems like everyone is turning to these apps and others to meet their soulmates, but British entrepreneur Jessica Alderson says many of them are still missing the “number one piece of the puzzle:” personality compatibility.
“Personality compatibility is so important, but the dating apps that exist are matching people pretty much based on looks,” Alderson told Built In. “Depending on the person, different things are more or less important. But I think pretty much no one would deny that personality compatibility is super, super key.”
Enter So Synced — a new dating app that uses a unique algorithm based on Myers-Briggs personality types to match couples. Typically, the Myers-Briggs test is used in the corporate world, but Alderson says she developed more of an interest in how it could be applied to other kinds of relationships after a particularly difficult breakup. Now, So Synched is the first to use it in the context of finding love.
It’s genuinely a kinder and more thoughtful community than other dating apps.”
Users first plug in general information about their age, gender and location. Then they can either fill out their Myers-Briggs personality type if they already know it, or take a five minute quiz to learn what it is, which includes a break-down of their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies in relationships. Once they start perusing the app, everyone that comes up will have a percentage for how compatible they would be according to their Myers-Briggs type.
“It’s all about meaningful matching and kinder connections,” Alderson said. “It’s genuinely a kinder and more thoughtful community than other dating apps. We’ve had so many people say ‘I’m having a completely different conversation to the ones that I’ve had on other dating apps.’ And that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
Alderson co-founded and now runs So Synced with her sister Louella Alderson, which Jessica says has been “really, really great” — “We are like polar opposite personality types,” she said. “But that works really well from a business perspective.”
They launched the app in January of last year and, since then, it has helped connect more than 650 couples (with a few marriages already). So Synced is and will always be free, but Alderson says the company will be adding some new features in a paid membership package soon and will also be launching a feature for making platonic friends in the “not too distant future.”
The company is headquartered in London, but Alderson says its main user base is in New York City, so it will be opening an office here in just a few weeks.