Five Productivity-Boosting NYC Companies to Watch (January 2019)

Happy 2019! Here at Tech:NYC we’ve had a busy and productive first month. And keeping apace are our members companies, all of which have big plans for 2019. New York’s startup ecosystem, in particular, has seen new records of growth in the past year, a trend we only expect will carry through the year to come. There are more stories of new companies serving customers — and each other — than we have space for here. That’s why, to kick off 2019 strong and to keep our productivity momentum going, we’re profiling five companies helping other companies get more work done, better.

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CATALYST

What does your company do?
Catalyst co-founder and CEO Edward Chiu: Catalyst is building the world’s most intuitive Customer Success platform to help customer success managers be more effective in their jobs.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
EC: Having lived in San Francisco previously, I was immediately drawn to the energy in New York. The fact that you can find an amazing restaurant at 2 AM that’s not Denny’s made it the clear winner for me.

You founded Catalyst because you were frustrated with the quality, but not quantity, of customer success tools on the market. When the to-do-list starts piling up over the holidays, [what’s the first thing you look to tackle during the new year][what do you think is most important to focus on in the new year]?
EC: I answered this same question recently at a meetup we sponsored. As a young startup that is still learning how to crawl, it is more important than ever for Catalyst to be a customer-centric company. Even though we don’t have as many features as companies who have been around for three, five, or eight years, the one thing we feel confident about is that we are building the “right things”.

Our 2019 focus is to make every person in our company —whether they’re a sales person, engineer, designer, or product manager — know and understand the customer journey and constantly put themselves in the customer’s shoe. Catalyst engineers are watching our customers every move and are the most disappointed when they see a customer struggling within the product. That obsession is what’s going to make our entire company a Customer Success organization rather than just a department.

You moved from the Golden State to the Big Apple. How do you think the two coasts differ in approaching workplace productivity? How has New York’s energy shaped Catalyst’s potential?
EC: The battle between East Coast vs. West Coast has been heating up lately. Especially as NYC climbs the ranks, giving California —and specifically Sand Hill Road — a run for their money. As a California native, I can say the biggest difference between the two is the “hustle” in New York. When it comes to talent, funding, domain knowledge, resources, Silicon Valley still reigns supreme. What makes NYC so awesome is that entrepreneurs here have to grind even harder to succeed, which in turn gives you that thicker skin.

You’ve talked about customer success as an organizational approach to cultivating customer loyalty. What are a few brands you’re loyal to, and are there any new year’s resolutions you have that could lend to companies winning your loyalty?
EC:Amazon is hands down the most consistent quality of customer service when it comes to brands I’ve interacted with. They truly go above and beyond for customers, even if the issue is just over a $10 order of paper towels. Customer Success can’t solve every problem, especially when it’s out of their control, but “effort” is something that can always be shown. McDonald’s is another big one for me — no matter where in the world you are, you can always count on a consistent experience and product. I was in Japan recently and after one week, I couldn’t eat any more sushi. The McD chicken sandwich and fries saved me!

The days are getting longer, but the weather just seems to be getting colder… When it comes to maximizing productivity, what’s your #1 rule for staying on track when most people would rather be hibernating?
EC: One of the things I’m most proud of is the family bond we’ve created at the Catalyst office. Not only are we transparent about the company’s goals, objectives, and struggles, we make everyone feel like an owner. One of our company values is “Take Ownership,” through which we truly believe everyone’s work matters and impacts the overall company success. When everyone is on the same page, pushing towards the same goal, it doesn’t matter how cold it is, because we see the sandy beaches at the end of our tunnel.

Most productive place to spend time in NYC?
EC: In an office “phone booth” with no windows. Whenever I really need to get something done urgently, I’ll hop into a booth so I can’t hear the incessant chatter around me.

Favorite way to work-from-home?
EC: Sitting on my couch, one hand on my laptop and the other playing tug-of-war with my puppy Dora (the Explorer).

What brought you to New York?
EC: I moved here five years ago to build the customer success organization for a company called DigitalOcean.

How do you get to your office?
EC: Walk!

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
EC: Oh gosh, this is hard: I’m going to have to go with the pepperoni squares at Prince St. Pizza.

What’s your favorite bagel?
EC: Murray's in Greenwich Village, when there’s not a line.

What is the best New York waterfront?
EC: The Hudson River.

What’s your favorite New York building?
EC: 30 Rockefeller Plaza. I’m a big 30 Rock and Tina Fey fan.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
EC: You know I can’t share this; if I do, it will get too crowded!

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INTELLO

What does your company do?
Intello co-founder and CTO Shlomo Dalezman: Intello enables companies to properly scale their operation by building an intelligent end-to-end platform to purchase, manage, and optimize SaaS applications.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
SD: The New York tech scene is booming, there’s a ton of tech talent, and everyone is always hustling!

Intello allows companies to better understand and optimize their SaaS spend, usage, and compliance. As you begin the new year, in what ways do you hope to better control your own workload?
SD: I think the only way to control your own workload is through effective time management — and creating space for things outside of work. Whether it’s the gym, a significant other, or some other hobby, creating time for those things is very important in maintaining a healthy mindset and allowing yourself to manage an ever-increasing workload.

In that vein, do you have any New Year’s resolutions, either for Intello or yourself as a co-founder?
SD: We think that time is our most valuable resource, as we’re gearing up for a huge 2019, we think effective time management is the only way we’re going to be able to accomplish all of our goals. Consistency is key here —whether it’s going to gym on the same days, or sending a weekly email at the same time, consistency is what allows you to focus on the things you need to get done.  Various members of our team use different tooling to enable that focus. I personally use Dropbox Paper not only for note taking, but to keep track of my daily and weekly to-do’s. I also wouldn’t be able to function on day-day basis without Google calendar.

Last year was huge for Intello – you secured a $1.3m seed round and made a few new hires for your growing team. What are you anticipating a 2019 challenge to be, and how are you preparing for it?
I think the key in terms of managing productivity with people of different backgrounds is communication. Communication is the only way to ensure that everyone is on the same page all the time. We use various tooling to help enable that communication. Even though we use Slack, we never hesitate to Slack call/Zoom another team-member.

You’re coming up on your 5th year college reunion (Go Blue!), what advice do you have for students looking to found their own company, or even for veteran entrepreneurs looking for fresh insights?
SD: I think one of the key characteristics to being a great entrepreneur is curiosity —what, how, and why people, companies, and markets act in a certain way. That curiosity is a skill you can constantly flex and learn. It requires talking to customers and people in different industries/backgrounds and learning from them as much as possible. Maintaining that curiosity with an open mind that your assumptions can be wrong is the most important part.

Favorite way to work-from-home?
SD: I don’t ☺

How do you get to your office?
SD: Bike

What’s your favorite New York building?
SD: The Google office – it’s like a whole campus!

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
SD: Westville.

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TRAIL OF BITS

What does your company do?
Trail of Bits co-founder and CEO Dan Guido: We’re a high-end security research and engineering firm that offers security research, custom security engineering, and security assessment services and tools. We specialize in low-level programming, close to the operating system. We’re particularly known for our expertise in Ethereum smart contract security, cryptography, binary analysis, and custom software development for security operations.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
DG: There’s no greater concentration of smart and interesting people whom I want to work with. New York has a huge base of people trying to solve challenging problems across many different industries — that's hard to say about any other city. Being surrounded by highly ambitious people from a variety of backgrounds helps surface new ideas.

Trail of Bits works with customers ranging from Facebook to DARPA, tackling some of their most difficult challenges. As you gear up for the New Year, what are a few problems you’re looking forward to solving?
DG: In 2018, we invested heavily in developing really advanced blockchain security and smart contract development tools, several of which we open sourced. Even though the tools are available, we’re the only ones really using them in engagements with clients. That’s not as helpful for the rest of the community, so in 2019, we’re planning on making security tools and analysis accessible to more developers. And not just tools for blockchain security, but endpoint security and greater use of modern cryptography, too.

When I say ‘community,’ I don’t just mean developers online around the world. I also mean our engagement with our peers in New York City. We run lots of real-life events to meet our peers and help them learn. Our meetup, Empire Hacking, at four years old, is the largest security meetup in NYC and regularly attracts 150 attendees. In addition, we’ve made an investment in the next SummerCon to help diversify the speakers and bring in new perspective.

How do you encourage your team to approach problem solving? How do you encourage yourself to engage with that process?
DG: We’re hired to solve problems. We gate our interview process heavily, so that we specifically hire people who are self-driven problem-solvers. We’ve just created for ourselves a way to make a living and a greater impact with work that we would do by ourselves anyway. That said, we aggressively adopt web-based collaboration tools like Slack, Github, and Google Meet to make it easy for us to exchange ideas that we’re excited to work on.

We have found that less structure is better. We provide regular opportunities to learn new research through reviews of peers’ papers. We have found that OKRs work for us as an effective tool for setting goals and maintaining alignment across all our teams. Finally, we’ve taken care to template out common project best practices and process; like basic principles of agile development.

You are an engineer by training. What is the most valuable thing computer science has taught you about managing productivity?
DG: There's a large gap between a theory or a paper and a usable implementation. Ideas are relatively cheap. If you're creating a complex application, it's really important to get data first. Once you have a plan, deliver incrementally on that plan. It's better to start from somewhere and improve than to try to build everything at once. If you just set the direction appropriately at the beginning and then check in frequently as you go, you're never going to be off track.

Any hacks you’ve discovered for staying on task?
DG: Not hacks per se. We’ve cultivated a culture where we minimize distractions during the day. We avoid open-plan offices in favor of small offices (no more than four to a room). We give everyone noise-cancelling headphones (most live in them). We audit the number of meetings we have and, eliminate what’s unnecessary. If something can wait, it's gonna wait. It's more important that everybody on the team gets uninterrupted blocks of focus.

The other side of that coin is modern technology. There are all these push notifications—beeps and noises and interruptions—built into our devices. We provide guidance to our employees to turn all that stuff off. Finally, for real questions, we have a Slack channel called #ceo-ama. There, anybody in the company can directly ask me anything and get an answer.

Your first job out of college was working in threat intelligence for the Federal Reserve. How did that initial work in the public space shape your approach to running a cybersecurity company, and also being part of the broader New York tech ecosystem?
DG: I naturally gravitated towards working with the Fed where I got to sit on the front lines and watch the attacks stream in. I got really empirical data about attacks: where they were coming from, how they were happening, and what I could do to stop them. That gave me an understanding of what life is like for the majority of people that we’re trying to protect. I always fall back on that, whether for a recommendation we make to a client or a tool we’re building.

Work-from-home, yay or nay?
DG: Yay. Half of Trail of Bits works from home, so most people don’t even notice when I do the same.

What brought you to New York?
DG: I grew up in Williston Park on Long Island and then came here for college. I got a CyberCorps Scholarship for Service that helped me attend an engineering school and graduate with no debt. I never left.

How do you get to your office?
DG: On the R train, wearing Bose QC35s and listening to a podcast (Risky Business or Preet Bharara).

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
DG: Fascati Pizza in Brooklyn Heights.

What’s your favorite bagel?
DG: La Bagel.

What is the best New York waterfront?
DG: Brooklyn Bridge Park.

What’s your favorite New York building?
DG: I’d have to say the Guggenheim Museum, but I’m partial to the Empire State Building too.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
DG: The best meeting is a meeting you don't have. Failing that, Google Hangouts. Then Gramercy Tavern.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
DG: It would be best if I don’t answer this question.

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AGRILYST

What does your company do?
Agrilyst founder and CEO Allison Kopf: Agrilyst is a cultivation management system for greenhouse and indoor growers, managing plants, labor, and compliance in one place, digitally.

You have significant roots in Silicon Valley; you went to school in the area and Agrilyst won 2015’s TechCrunch Disrupt. On top of that, the region is one of America’s most fertile and productive agricultural regions. What made you decide to cement Agrilyst in New York City?
AK: New York is a great place to start a business. There is a really amazing startup community that has been building for the past decade or so. Founders are supportive, the average New York fund is on its second or third fund, and we’ve had a few billion-dollar exits. All of these things make it easier to start a company. New York has great talent, good investors, and a big population to build products for. For Agrilyst personally, New York as a state has a history rooted in agriculture. It’s great for us to build here and tap into that infrastructure. Plus, I was born and raised in New York.

You’ve reimagined how work is managed on the farm. What is the most valuable thing that has taught you about managing your own productivity?
AK: How important true focus is. It’s incredibly easy for startup founders to get distracted by what seems like a big opportunity. Whether you’re considering M&A, a new business development partner, expanding into a new country, or pursuing funding, everything distracts you from your ultimate goal: build and sell great product.

Agrilyst saw such incredible growth in 2018 — in revenue, customers, and products offered. How does your team stay on track when your list of tasks keeps growing, too?
AK: It’s important for the CEO to set the vision and keep people aligned. More importantly, though, is hiring great people. One of our core values is around trusting each other. We focus on hiring people who we can trust to get their job done. If I do that well, there’s no need for micromanaging, which slows processes down. When people feel empowered and are the right person for the job, magic can happen.

Before Agrilyst, you spent some time working in Congress and in government relations for an agricultural production company. How have your civic and policy backgrounds informed your strategy as both a CEO and a member of the tech community?
AK: In agriculture, it’s important to know your customer deeply. I’ve been my customer. I know what it’s like to spend every day fighting for the smallest margin and how important it is to have the right tools to help you do your job better. Agriculture and government are intertwined. Farmers have a long history of depending on the government for support and working with the government on regulations like food safety and trade issues around importing and exporting crops. Working on both the growing and government side means we know how to build product that helps growers, first and foremost. We pay attention to regulations and make sure growers can stay on top of the newest policies.

Last year, growers were most excited about the technological potential of automation. What trends are you most excited for in 2019?
AK: I’m excited about risk management, perhaps not the most glamorous topic in the world. We’ve been working with a partner to offer growers autonomous particle detection and alerting on potential pathogen risks. Growers lose about $72 billion annually due to crop disease. If we can help growers avoid this risk, not only does it help their margin directly, but it also reduces the risk to the end consumer.

With that excitement for the upcoming year, do you have any New Year’s resolutions – either for Agrilyst, or yourself as a CEO?
AK: I’d like to spend more time directly with customers. I would spend all of my time on the farm if I could, so I’m focused on making sure our growers are really in love with Agrilyst.

How do you get to your office?
AK: Walk when weather’s nice; subway when it’s not.

What’s your favorite pizza slice?
AK: Giardini Pizza on Smith and 2nd Street in Brooklyn.

What is the best New York waterfront?
AK: Brooklyn Bridge Park

What’s your favorite New York building?
AK: The Woolworth

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
AK: Brooklyn Roasting Company on Jay Street

Work-from-home, yay or nay? 
AK: Yay

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LATELY

What does your company do?
Lately co-founder and CEO Kate Bradley Chernis: Lately is an AI-powered dashboard that gives individuals the power to market themselves or their companies like a mega brand for a fraction of the team, time, and cost.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
KBC: Because…NYC. That said, while our main office is in NYC, our legal office is in the mid-Hudson Valley in Stone Ridge. Because…heaven.

Before founding Lately, you spent time in radio, then marketing and now software. How did each of these industries inform your approach to getting things done?
KBC: I'll always love radio. In radio, what's most important is connection. It's my job to connect with you, to get you to trust me, to listen longer. You'll stay through the commercials. With marketing, there’s three key factors: organization, quality writing and chutzpah. Chutzpah is hard to come by and can’t be taught. Writing can be taught but most people are bad at it. But everybody can pick up organization — spreadsheets made that possible for the world. So I started with spreadsheets. I began to organize all of my customers inside spreadsheets because everybody wanted or needed the same thing and it was annoying to me to keep remaking the wheel. The spreadsheet was one-size-fits-all. In the organization it gave us led to a 130% ROI for three years. So you know, organization is godliness. Marie Kondo is no dummy :-). With software, it’s all about automation and in our case, Artificial Intelligence. How can we automate human connection? How can we automate organization? We started with the organization piece because that was easy and software is already good at that; Salesforce for example, automates the organization of the CRM whereas Lately automates the organization of MRM (Marketing Resource Management).

You founded Lately because your clients — huge enterprises and small nonprofits alike — had a lack of coordination and minimal organization within their marketing departments. What’s your #1 piece of advice for firms and individuals looking to up their efficiency game?
KBC: It’s so boring, but get organized! Did I mention Marie Kondo? “Spark joy” applies to marketing tenfold. The organized mind is calm and more creative; marketers are nothing if they can’t be creative. There’s confidence in organization; confidence makes everybody better at their jobs. Not to mention exponential productivity and naturally, efficiency. Our customers, for example, see an average 80% increase in efficiency.

You’ve helped hundreds of companies organize their productivity. Do you have any favorite tools for managing your own to-do list?
KBC: When it comes to my to do list — you’re not going to believe this — sticky notes. I love sticky notes. I like that they are small and I can only put a small list on them. So each day, I turn on my laptop and I look at my real to do list that’s been digitized. And I pick two to five things that are the most important things to do and I write them down on a sticky note and put in front of me. All day long, as I get distracted, I keep looking down at that sticky note and think: I just need to do one of those things today and cross it off the list. And I almost always get at least one done. And I do actually cross it off. Because there’s a great pleasure and pride in achievement of crossing even just one thing off the list.

Lately had a monumental 2018 – you secured funding from major players like Gotham Gal’s Joanne Wilson, and have a ROI that is only growing. As you enter 2019, what’s a challenge you are expecting to encounter, and how are you preparing for it?
KBC: Gosh, that’s really nice of you, thanks! For 2019, right now (because I know this will change in a couple months or maybe less – ah, startup life!) our greatest challenge is capitalizing off the momentum in front of us.We’ve got a whole new – and very large – base of customers and pipeline that are starting to use the product in both ways we originally imagined and in new ways. They are thinking big, and we need to catch up with them.

You had a stint as a rock ‘n roll disc jockey, and as the Music Director of Sirius/XM. What new music we should be paying attention to this year?
KBC: Alas, while I’m glad I had a career in the music business, it left the most foul taste in my mouth. I almost stopped listening to new music altogether. At my wedding, for example, Dave Leonard, one of the best-known programmers in my industry, was our DJ. And he asked: “What you want to hear?” And I had one rule: “Nothing after 1989.” As in, no new music. I didn’t want to have to work just to listen anymore. That said, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Damnwells — their first record was my favorite record of the year, my first year at XM. And then, oops, I married their guitar player. Their lead singer, Alex Dezen put out his third solo record recently and I love driving to it. Flecks of ‘Til Tuesday, Susanna Hoffs (Bangles), Electric Light Orchestra, Hamilton (the Broadway musical), Eurythmics —  lots of fun 80s nods. That Marcus King kid is pretty freaking unbelievable, too.

What brought you to New York?
KBC: My hot rock ‘n’ roll husband.

How do you get to your office?
KBC: Ugh. The bus.

What’s your favorite New York building?
KBC: The Chrysler Building.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
KBC: SAP Hudson Yards cafeteria. That view!

Work-from-home, yay or nay? Favorite way to work-from-home?
KBC: Yay! In my gym clothes. Sometimes with a suit jacket on top in case I have a Zoom call.

Wood working table in black and computer by HAKINMHAN/Shutterstock.com