"It's been a year of surreal moments for me," Digg CEO Jay Adelson said to me, "and the big one was when I met M.C. Hammer."
The funny thing is, Hammer himself was standing right next to us. I was talking to Adelson at Tuesday night's edition of the Founders Club, a gathering of NYC-area digital-media and tech folks from both start-ups and major corporations who meet every few months to drink martinis, socialize, and drink more martinis. And before you start thinking about Hammer as a schlocky celebrity guest, keep in mind that he's a "founder" himself--he's one of the guys behind the new site DanceJam.com.
This Founders Club event was held at the Saturday Night Live studios at NBC Universal's Rockefeller Center headquarters, which meant that unlike at previous installments of the floating party series, restrictions prohibited anyone other than the hired professional photographer from snapping pictures. Some attendees, like Valleywag blogger Nicholas Carlson, did anyway and were repeatedly admonished--but really, the security folks had to understand that Carlson's boss at Gawker Media, Nick Denton, was only a few yards away and that the new "Alleywag" couldn't look like he was shirking his duties as a gossip gadfly. (Blog moguls aren't known to be softies.)
Carlson thankfully managed to snap a photo of M.C. Hammer with Adelson--who is, by the way, based in New York despite Digg's reputation as a scion of Valley 2.0. The rapper's presence spurred a light-hearted debate about celebrity power behind new start-ups, like Ashton Kutcher's involvement in telephony brand Ooma. One venture capital representative at the party informed me that actor Damon Wayans has been attempting to pitch a start-up, and that apparently the majority of his rationale consists of "well, I'm Damon Wayans."
So who was there? It was more like "who wasn't there?" The event was hosted by a handful of start-up founders, but the most visible of the bunch was Blip.tv co-founder and COO Dina Kaplan, who emceed the affair along with NBC Universal's Jessica Schell. Among the other hosts were Mark Cenedella of TheLadders, LX.tv's Joseph Varet, Paltalk's Joel Smernoff, Musicnation's Daniel Klaus, and TreeHugger's Graham Hill, who informed me that he actually was at Monday night's IdealBite party, contrary to my observations--he just didn't ride the bull.
I spoke briefly with MediaBistro figurehead Laurel Touby, who said she still can't believe that her start-up (recently acquired by Jupiter Media), has been as successful as it has. "I'm still pinching myself every day," she told me.
Connected Ventures, the InterActiveCorp division that encompasses CollegeHumor, Vimeo, and BustedTees, was heavily represented--CollegeHumor co-founder Josh Abramson was a co-host, and had brought his "better half" (in a strictly professional sense...I think) Ricky Van Veen with him. Also present was Vimeo's Jonathan Marcus and BustedTees' Josh Mohrer, as well as former Connected Ventures executive Zach Klein, who recently left the company and was consequently wearing a name tag that described his affiliation as "Huge Corporation." Conspicuously missing was Jakob Lodwick, who was across town presenting Vimeo at the November installment of the New York Tech Meetup. (The two events happened to awkwardly coincide.)
Zach Klein was also wearing an impressive pair of massive tortoise-shell eyeglasses, which he informed me that he'd purchased for $7 on eBay.
Also present: legendary Valley investor Ron Conway, who required no introduction; Henry Blodget and Peter Kafka of the Silicon Alley Insider; tech party staple Charles Forman of Iminlikewithyou.com, complete with his trademark oversize business cards; Toby Daniels of British import Mint Digital; Glasshouse New York's Caroline Waxler; the socially prolific Auren Hoffman, CEO of Rapleaf, which has been known to raise a few eyebrows; Lorien Gabel of the yet-to-launch Pingg; Rocketboom creator Andrew Baron; and Wallstrip host Lindsay Campbell.
Also present was a guy without a name tag who looked so much like David Spade that some people thought he actually was David Spade. Hey, if M.C. Hammer shows up...
ConnectU co-founder Divya Narendra, still embroiled in a lawsuit against Facebook that goes back to the two companies' days as rival social networks on Harvard's campus, was there in good spirits and informed me that he has no intention of giving up the fight. Several of Facebook's executives, in town for the afternoon's big advertising announcement, were actually on the Founders Club guest list, but word has it that they were tied up at a company dinner at the once-trendy-but-now-mostly-touristy Meatpacking District joint known as the Spotted Pig. (Oh, you West Coasters.)
One of the most interesting conversationalists of the night was undoubtedly ASmallWorld president and CEO Joe Robinson, whose elite, invite-only social networking site has stood in stark contrast to the uber-open nature of many of the sector's leaders--and generated plenty of controversy along the way. Despite its rich-and-famous reputation, Robinson explained, ASmallWorld is really just meant to replicate real-world relationships in an online setting. He said that people ought to think of an invite-only but nevertheless diverse event like the Founders Club as analogous to his company.
"You're probably only one degree of separation away from anyone in this room," he told me.
Afterwards, the word going around the SNL studios was that the legendary Rockefeller Center bar known as the Rainbow Room was open for business, and that we ought to shift our attention there. Unfortunately, the posse of Founders Clubbers that I'd latched onto didn't quite make it over, since two members of our ranks were wearing sneakers--something that the Rainbow Room doesn't permit.
So we slunk somewhat sheepishly out the door, plagued by an awkward reminder that even though New York's technology scene might be thriving, things are still a little more formal around here than they are in the Valley.
A correction has been made to this story regarding Joe Robinson's status as president and CEO of ASmallWorld.