Networking at nPost: The Seattle Freeze, the Google Divide, and a House to Rival Bill Gates’s

Last night I took the bus down to South Seattle for nPost’s networking event at the Columbia City Theater (not to be confused with the Columbia City Cinema just up the street). It was hosted by nPost founder Nathan Kaiser, whose resource site for tech entrepreneurs is getting ready to launch a biotech job site and a green-tech job site, all in the next few weeks. Kaiser’s events have become a staple of the startup scene.

There was free beer, half a dozen startup demos, and lots of good conversation with entrepreneurs, developers, and a few investors. At one point the people giving demos were invited up on stage to give one-minute overviews of their companies. Several held beers while they spoke. I recognized Mikhail Seregine, the founder of ClayValet (a personal shopping service), from the two-minute pitch competition in West Seattle last month. Although there were more than a hundred people in attendance, it felt like a manageable crowd. The mood was casual, festive, and useful.

A quick sample of interesting people I met:

Matt Cassarino is the founder of TourVista, which creates online virtual tours for real estate and other applications. Look for a revamped website in early August, he says. Matt also told me about the infamous “Seattle freeze,” whereby people you meet are friendly at first but never really become your friends. (Matt will probably never talk to me again.) I’m not convinced this is any different from other places, but I asked a few people whether it affects local business relationships, and they said not really.

Ben Curtis is the founder of Catch the Best, which has built an online recruiting tool for companies to manage job applications and candidates. On the topic of working for big companies instead of startups, he said, “A few months of contract work for RealNetworks cured me of it… I want to build products and have people actually use them.”

Rob Eickmann is the co-founder of Six Hour Startup, which is a bunch of developers who get together on weekends to start Web companies. (They begin with a six-hour sprint to get a site up and running.) One of their startups, Timelope, is led by local coding stars Anders Conbere and Aviel Ginzburg; they built a software plug-in that lets you and/or your social network track the sites you visit.

I asked Rob and Aviel about the impact of Microsoft, Amazon, and now Google on the Seattle developer community in general. There’s a good-sized subculture of developers here who’ve never worked for these companies, they said. And so far, the Google people “keep to themselves,” they said, unlike Microsoft and Amazon workers. Maybe it’s too early to say, but is there a wall forming between Google and the innovation community?

Ian Mercer sold his company NextBase to Microsoft and “did his time” (10 years) there as a product manager in Redmond. Ian said he has probably the “most automated house in the world, other than maybe Bill Gates.” It’s on the Sammamish plateau, east of town, and it boasts all manner of statistical software and sensors—strain gauges, magnetic, you name it—to infer everything from what kind of music should be played in the home office to how many visitors are coming up the driveway and through the front door. No flashy buttons, controls, or displays—“it just knows.”

Chris Howard is an associate at Ignition Partners who invests in software and services and wireless. Chris worked on the $16 million Xeround deal that we wrote about last week. He also pointed out another interesting company in his portfolio, Seattle- and New York-based Visible Technologies, which develops software to help companies track and analyze what’s being said about them in the media, and manage their reputations in search engines.

After the event, I tried La Medusa, a Sicilian/Mediterranean restaurant nearby (food rating of 25 in Zagat). I ordered an orecchiette pasta with beef ragu and English peas, and it was wayyy too salty. First major restaurant disappointment here. In any case, the wine and the service made up for it, so I will have to give it another try—maybe after the next nPost event.

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