La Casa serves up heaping helping of #MiamiTech’s best

By Nancy Dahlberg

Amid the bustle of Basel, the La Casa event feels like you are in the comfort of your own home with your #MiamiTech famly and friends, old and new.  Produced for the second year by eMerge Americas, Florida Funders and Carve Communications, the all-day event at La Tropical in Wynwood drew hundreds of founders, investors and community and business leaders to celebrate the wins (or commiserate the state of the economy), network and share knowledge.

The program was eclectic, with talks by Thoma Bravo Partner Tara Gadgil, who discussed with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez the company’s decision to move to Miami, today’s economy moving from growth at all costs to one focused more on ROI, and why private equity is a good place for women [stay tuned for the Cafecito Talk]. In her remarks, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine outlined some of her team’s “Future Ready” strategies for unleashing and supporting the “power of innovation” while also working to become a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive economy under initiatives she and her team are putting into action.

“Our Future Ready plan is a win-win-win solution. It’s a win for business because we are hoping to create the talent pipeline across all of our education platforms. It’s a win for our communities because they can get the good-paying jobs that can pay for the increasing cost of living here, particularly housing which we are addressing, and [our economy] will be more inclusive,” Levine Cava said.

In the afternoon, we heard from founders and investors in the trenches, against the backdrop of a worsening economy, and as in other discussions I’ve had this week, the mood was relatively upbeat despite the downturn in the macro economy and unfortunate news headlines. The common refrain in Miami: Let’s just keep building.

One of them building is Lucy Guo, founder of unicorn Scale and also an engineer, product manager, product designer and venture capitalist. She has now founded Passes, a web3 solution for the “incredibly broken” creator economy.

At La Casa in a stage conversation with Maria Derchi of Florida Funders (and Refresh Miami), Guo shared that she finds many of her employees through Twitter, and that’s not all.  “Twitter is the reason I have my career, to be honest.”

She is hiring for backend frontend and full stack engineers, data scientists, a social media manager and a talent acquisition specialist – all in Miami. That’s because this unicorn is also a fan of another rarity these days – the in-person startup.

Atomic, also based in Miami, has started 16 companies this year, up from 12 last year, said founder and Managing Partner Jack Abraham.

In this environment, ROI driven models work best, and larger companies, which are usually reluctant to work with startups, may be more willing to come to the table or partner up, a benefit of a slumping economy, Abraham said.

Some fundraising deals are still getting done quickly — those are in the lightning category – but the more common way deals are getting done is through relationship building, he said. Fortunately, most of Atomic’s portfolio companies are well capitalized and well positioned for this environment, he said.

As for the economy on everyone’s mind, Abraham is a little more optimistic than many people about what’s going to happen in the next year. Once we are through this – with a 30-40% chance in the first half of next year, he said –, there’s so much capital on the sidelines now that will quickly flow back in, he said, benefiting most those companies that used this time wisely to focus and follow a strategy to succeed.

Paul Judge, managing partner of Panoramic Ventures who was a founder during two recessions, called this the “OK show me” era, where we are moving from growth to profitability.  “Much healthier companies will come out of this recession.”

Florida Funders, the state’s most active VC firm, has more than 100 portfolio companies and the partners have been doing deep dives with their companies to help position them for success, said General Partner Marc Blumenthal. “Good companies are still growing. This is a window of time to deploy capital intelligently.”

A founder/CEO panel of Zaid Rahman of Flexbase, Maxeme Tuchman of Caribu, and Francisco Cornejo of Storybook, had advice to founders and investors in the room. Tuchman, whose startup, Caribu, was recently acquired by Mattel, said getting to exit requires building relationships and partnerships early. Caribu’s relationship with Mattel goes back several years.

Cornejo, originally from Ecuador, raised $700K from pitch competitions  in Miami earlier this year and said pitch contests are good ways to expose your company, your brand, your passion. “I moved countries to do this.”

Tuchman was the first LatinX founder to raise over a million with equity crowdfunding. Much like pitch competitions, equity crowdfunding is good marketing and can be an incredible source of alternative capital, she said. Rahman powered his start as a founder with a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship grant and a cohort of Fellows early on.  

None of them were surprised that 72% of founders report mental health challenges, particularly depression or stress. It’s a lonely journey after all. They talked about the importance of self-care, seeking out a coach and therapist, and talking with people who have been there. “Hug a founder,” said Tuchman. “And to the funders in the room, take care of your founders because we are the athletes on the field.”

In Betr, a micro-betting startup focused on the mass market consumer experience, serial entrepreneur and industry veteran Joey Levy and professional boxer and influencer Jake Paul have been creating “the fastest growing sports media brand in the county” with the “highest engagement rate of any sports betting media brand in the county” in a matter of months, Levy,  CEO of the venture-funded Betr, told the crowd.

”We just shared the same vision about sports betting, that it was too clunky and  complicated and not going after the right audience,” added Paul, Betr’s president. “I’ve been very impressed with Joey from day one and we’re both young, hungry, super ambitious. It’s been a natural fit from day one.”

In a short time the app has attracted over 100,000 users, Levy said. And like Lucy Gou, Levy is also all-in on the in-person experience. Three quarters of the  20-person team members moved to Miami from elsewhere to work at Betr.

 Betr is also building out a Betr Warehouse in the Little River area that will become “a space that breeds creativity, authentic content and authentic moments,” with a boxing gym, basketball, bar and hangout areas, Paul said. “I can’t wait for all the content that’s going to come out of this. We’re really excited to build that and have fun.”

La Casa is a taste of what’s to come during eMerge Americas, which returns April 20-21 to the Miami Beach Convention Center. The La Casa team plans to be back next year during Art Week to once again gather #MiamiTech to raise a glass among friends.

La Casa opened with a breakfast reception with the founders from the FIU-Venture Miami Opportunity Program. Shown below, the closing program.


Nancy Dahlberg