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Around Brooklyn, DUMBO, Profiles

Brooklyn Tech: Carrot Creative’s Mike Germano

May 14, 2010

mike_germanoIf it is possible for a person to sit in a chair and bounce off the walls at the same time, then that is exactly what Mike Germano (@mikegermano) did on a recent Monday evening in the DUMBO spot ReBar. But his energy is channeled in the right direction: toward his company, Carrot Creative, and the Digital DUMBO scene, which he has helped cultivate.

At just 28 years old, Germano, who grew up in New Jersey and now lives in the Financial District, is a pretty accomplished guy. He served a term as city councilman in Hamden, Conn., from 2005-2007, during which time he founded Carrot Creative, a new media marketing agency specializing in social media.

“We help brands build on social networks, and teach them and help them in great ways for them to have conversations with their customers and really turn brands into people,” he explained. Some of those brands include Crayola, the NFL, Disney, Ford, and the Islands of the Bahamas.

When Germano speaks of his achievements, it’s as if wild success was always in the stars. In high school, he and one of his future business partners, Chris Petescia, built websites that he described as early versions of blogs and social networks. In college at Quinnipiac, Germano furthered his ambitions with Robert Gaafar, who would become Carrot’s other partner, creating sites that helped students sell books and rate professors.

“For me, the Internet was a way for me to break the rules and get my message out there,” said Germano, who wanted me to point out that he was not wearing a hooded sweatshirt, opting instead for a pink gingham shirt and khaki pants.

“Every marketing and business class we took, no one was talking about this,” Germano said of harnessing the Internet’s powers. “We knew it was the future.”

His name is Jonas

His name is Jonas

At Carrot Creative, which he claims was the first agency to use social networking in 2005, Germano and his team of 15 feel they can truly influence culture by sustaining brands. He shot down the notion that large advertising or marketing houses (some of which have tried to buy Carrot) could ever adequately perform the same services.

“When all these big companies try to hire people to head up their social media, they have no idea what they’re talking about,” he said boldly, pounding on the table a few times, as he did throughout our chat. “I know that fundamentally, they will fail.”

The decision to relocate to DUMBO from Connecticut in 2007 was a simple one for Germano and his partners. They briefly considered Union Square, but felt Manhattan, as he put it, “has a bit of an identity crisis, because there’s so much going on there.”

DUMBO, on the other hand, “was this little oasis of digital.” And once he realized there were so many other startups like his in the region, Germano’s inner politician was stirred to bring people together. He and several others formed the Digital DUMBO monthly meet-ups, which have been going strong—and growing strongly—for more than a year.

Not long ago, Germano joked to pals Sam Lessin of and Brian Lemond of Brooklyn Foundry that DUMBO should be declared New York’s “Digital District,” to give themselves and others a louder voice, and it has turned into a genuine crusade.

“We appreciate the individual nature of small companies,” he said. “We need to show them they’re not alone, there’s help out there, and that it’s ok for Manhattan ad firms and brands to bring their money here to DUMBO.”

Which is exactly what they’ve been doing, at least as far as Carrot Creative is concerned. Germano now regularly finds himself turning down business, either because he doesn’t believe in the brand or because it’s not a good fit. But with so many digital companies saturating the neighborhood, is DUMBO starting to feel…a little crowded?

“Competition is always a good thing for the industry,” Germano insisted. “I would rather that. I think in the long run it’s beneficial to me as a company if all the best and brightest agencies that are my competition move tot he same geographic region as me.”

He strongly rejects the notion that digital is over-hyped, saying it’s “in a beautiful exploration stage of both users using it and brands understanding it.” Of course, no matter how harmonic the interplay, Germano understands one thing very well.

“Money speaks volumes,” he admitted.

Though he’s tinkering with the idea of “inevitable” overseas expansion, Carrot Creative and its bright orange couch are in DUMBO for the long haul, which seems advantageous to both parties. Because if the outlook of at least one other person in DUMBO is as sunny as Germano’s, everybody is going to be just fine.

“Digital is the biggest, most important part of having an amazing future in our country,” Germano said, without a hint of hyperbole. Who wants to argue with that?

Source: Brooklyn Heights Blog » Brooklyn Tech

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Around Brooklyn, DUMBO, Profiles

Brooklyn Tech: Pontiflex CEO Zephrin Lasker

April 29, 2010

zephrin_laskerYou know you’re in Brooklyn, or more specifically in DUMBO, when the conference room at a hugely successful digital marketing and advertising firm is nicknamed “The Dude,” after Jeff Bridges’s immortal character in “The Big Lebowski.”

Pontiflex co-Founder and CEO Zephrin Lasker, 38,  exudes a similarly laid back vibe. Seated at The Dude’s conference table (bought on Craigslist), he seems at peace in their DUMBO office, which is essentially one large, white-walled room that glimpses the Manhattan skyline. Lasker and his jeans-clad employees are devoted to building, refining, and selling a unique online advertising concept called CPL, or cost-per-lead.

I had absolutely no idea what that meant, but it turns out I’m not alone. “How do I explain to my mom what I do?” a giggling Lasker said he often asks himself.

Despite the fancy moniker, CPL is a fairly no-nonsense approach to advertising. “We are building a system for advertising that lets advertisers buy ads, and only pay for those ads if someone opts in,” Lasker said, leaning back in his chair, hands clasped over his head.

office_conferenceroomAn example: Pontiflex places ads for Huggies on a website like Within the ad is a space to enter a valid e-mail address to sign up for a newsletter for moms. You see the ad, you sign up, Huggies pays, and never once do you navigate away from Companies typically pay $1.25-$2.00 per sign up, but rates vary, and the fee for an ad is split between the host site and Pontiflex.

Cost-per-lead, or as Lasker calls it, cost-per-sign-up, differs from traditional advertising models where advertisers pay for eyeballs only. Pontiflex offers “contextual targeting,” meaning they place ads to sign up for the ASPCA on websites like, where it’s safe to assume users are interested in animal rights.

The idea for this sort of advertising came to Lasker, a Red Hook resident by way of Baltimore and Chile, when he was working at big ad agencies in the early days of performance advertising on the Internet. But the technology required to implement Lasker’s plan wasn’t yet available.

With the help of “a really big tech team” and some venture capital, Lasker and his co-founders developed the data transfer engine they needed. Pontiflex launched in 2008, and is the first company to use CPL. Their system is in high demand by ad agencies and other institutions around the country, and Lasker claims they have no direct competitors.

“We’ve gotten big pretty fast,” he said sheepishly. “It’s a little scary.”

As for whether this brand-specific advertising model will ever be applied in other mediums, like television or radio, Lasker smiled coyly and said only that Pontiflex is doing some research that he can’t really talk about.

Having started two other companies, Lasker was familiar with the “boot camp mentality” of New York startups. “You get run over in the city pretty fast if you’re not progressive,” he said. “I think it forces you to really do a lot in very little time.”

Pontiflex, which tripled its revenue last year, certainly followed that ethos. So did many other DUMBO-based digital outfits, whose success Lasker attributes, at least in part, to their “blank slate” of a neighborhood.

Brooklyn, in his view, is “hip, but it’s totally scrappy,” much like startups themselves. “We’re not going to have wood paneled offices and drive around in fancy town cars,” Lasker continued. “It’s more entrepreneurial.”

Lasker is no tech-whiz, but he regards the “geek” stereotype as a badge of honor. “For me, it means you think kind of differently, you don’t necessarily fit in,” he said. “And with a startup, that’s great.”

Given the rampant optimism in his industry at present (as witnessed by this reporter and detailed in last week’s New York Magazine cover story), Lasker confessed there’s at least one negative aspect of this booming field.

“There’s a lot of hype,” he said. And while hype can be good, it can also lead to backlash. “You have to be careful. Sometimes there’s just a lot of smoke.”

Source: Brooklyn Heights Blog » Brooklyn Tech

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Brooklyn Tech:’s Steven Greenwood

April 19, 2010

bio-210x3001Steven Greenwood (@sgreenwood) rarely stops smiling when talking about, the two-year old, DUMBO-based company that, in a nutshell, powers content sharing online. It could be that Greenwood, who is 32, is enthusiastic about what he does as vice president of business development at, which recently spun off a service called PressLift that Greenwood created; or maybe he’s chipper because Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz just announced that his office is going to start using PressLift for all of its media needs. Whatever the reason, Greenwood’s positive outlook on his industry is not only echoed by his peers, it is refreshing in an otherwise dour economic climate.

“We’re actively hiring!” he exclaimed, sitting in a Union Square diner sipping a soda on a recent evening.

Greenwood believes New York City is the epicenter of the next phase of the internet revolution. “We could not have built PressLift in any other city in the world,” he said. “We’re within a subway ride away from the top PR firms, the media companies, Madison Avenue, and big Fortune 500 companies who we can connect to in a single day.”

PressLift would not have happened without the success of, which Greenwood described as “a point of exchange on the internet.” Teachers, journalists, architects, and thousands of others use the site to create “drops,” a means of online file-sharing. The service is free up to 100 megabytes, after which point users pay for more space.


The benefit of for people working on a project together, for example, is that it streamlines communication. Instead of engaging in a long e-mail thread, each member of the team receives an alert when content is added to or changed in the “drop.”

“These are real time points of exchange,” said Greenwood, who lives in the East Village. It is’s responsibility, he added, to not only use their robust background to power content sharing, but to provide context and relevancy. “We’re building specific applications that are geared to specific users for certain uses.”

Case in point is PressLift, the genesis of which happened very organically. “Among the tens of thousands of users of ‘drops’ were communication professionals,” said Greenwood. “What they wanted to do was share multimedia with a press release—really, a very simple idea. It was actually really hard to do in practice.”

But they worked it out, creating a device for public relations professionals or press departments at places like the Borough President’s office to use to combine the text of a press release with associated video, audio, pictures, or links.

When asked why the Borough President’s office should use PressLift instead of simply creating their own page for that sort of content, Greenwood employed a helpful analogy.

“If you’re an individual company you constantly have a decision: do we buy a desk or do we build a desk?” he said. Using PressLift, which has access to the resources and talent from, is akin to buying the desk, because, Greenwood added, “We know content sharing really well.” also works with Pepsi, Conde Nast, McGraw-Hill, and the Robin Hood Foundation, whose offices Greenwood was headed to later for a meeting, dressed predictably in—what else?—a zip-up hooded sweatshirt.

Greenwood sees DUMBO’s role as a breeding ground for digital start-ups much like some kids see Disney World. “It’s an area where you can imagine,” he said dreamily. “A lot of what we’re doing is trying to imagine where the future is.”

Though DUMBO is historically known for its population of artists, Greenwood doesn’t see himself or his contemporaries as all that different from their progenitors.

“This is a place that encourages and fosters ideas, and helps create this community that promotes them,” he continued. “That’s incredibly valuable, and it’s part of this ecosystem growing in DUMBO, and Brooklyn, and throughout New York.” will host the 15th Digital DUMBO meetup on Thursday, April 29, at their offices in, duh, DUMBO.

Source: Brooklyn Heights Blog » Brooklyn Tech

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