House of Genius: anonymous startup feedback event hosts Cissé and Guesterly

House of Genius is a different kind of startup presentation event. The rules aren't difficult, but you should be sure you know to follow them.

Cissé presents at House of Genius in October

Inside the Dumbo Startup Lab

Cissé and Guesterly presented their startup business models and current challenges to a room full of people about which all they knew were first names.

That’s the House of Genius model, an event series aimed at open dialogue and feedback. Though the focus is on young organizations, they’re not all businesses and not all in tech.

The ground rules are that everyone who comes has to keep their last names and backgrounds quiet until the very end of the event. Apparently, this makes for more honest and open feedback. The presentations happened last night at the Dumbo Startup Lab in Dumbo. Technically Brooklyn participated as a member of the panel.

Guesterly is a startup that makes very attractive, printed, pre-event guest books that help break the ice for attendees before they walk in the door.

  • Their main clients have so far been weddings.
  • Many attendees (including this reporter) saw a lot of potential in using the product at other kinds of events.
  • There was a big discussion around whether they should dig in on weddings (a big market) or explore other verticals. No immediate public plans for this yet.

Cissé makes really excellent tasting chocolate products (they shared some hot chocolate with attendees).

  • The company broke right into Whole Foods and other national retail chains shortly after launching.
  • Cissé wanted to talk about how to help their customers understand that their mission is very much oriented around letting consumers know where every component of the product comes from and how it all travels to the plant where it’s made into brownie and chocolate cookie mixes.
  • One participant asked a thought provoking question about whether their values were first social or first commercial.

If you’ve been to a lot of tech events, it could be easy to see House of Genius listed on an event roundup (like ours) and assume that it’s similar to those you’ve seen. Some startups present ideas to a big room, people ask questions and then folks drink beers. It’s not only like that though.

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First, it’s smaller, by design. There were about 13 attendees there (including the two presenters) and five volunteer organizers. Second, the ground rules are a trip. It’s tough to chat without asking people what they do for a living, but you find ways to work around it. Three, they have a pretty strong structure for giving feedback, it’s something to experience.

There are beers, though. Don’t worry about that.

One of the organizers, Jorge Vega, a freelancer in qualitative research who lives in Crown Heights, said that he gives his time to help make the roundtables happen because of “the way anyone can come in and give advice to entrepreneurs. That makes people feel like — I don’t want to say worthy — but like they have a stake in small and medium businesses in New York City.”

This video really helps explain the House of Genius model:

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