Northside Innovation: Speaking with Steven van Wel of Karma

steven headshot

Each month Northside Innovation, the tech and innovation conference that occurs during the annual Northside Festival in June, gathers top founders and thought leaders, who–over BBQ and beer from Brooklyn Brewery–speak on topics relevant to the community.

December’s meetup theme is New Markets, Overseas Expansion.  We have rounded up startup founders from around the globe to speak about the highs and lows–the challenges and opportunities–of breaking into the New York market and being based into  expanding into foreign markets.  We’ll start off the night hearing from Steven van Wel, a Dutchman, who founded Karma, a startup aiming to give everyone WiFi everywhere.  The company is based in Manhattan–originally settled by the Dutch, he is happy to remind us!

In anticipation for tonight’s event, we chatted with van Wel about his company, the Dutch snack he misses most, and his favorite Brooklyn coffee shop.

What exactly is Karma?

Karma puts reliable WiFi in your pocket and keeps all your devices connected to the internet. WiFi shouldn’t be something you have to hunt for. It should just follow you wherever you go.

Fill in the blank: Karma is changing…

The way Internet access is delivered.

What was the amount of time between when you thought of your company’s idea and the time you started working full time on it?

It took about 4-6 months.

Karma is still a very young company—what is the hardest part about growing so quickly?

The team has definitely grown a lot in the last few months; we’ve doubled in size since the summer. I think the toughest part is making sure everyone who joins the team believes in our mission: make Internet access on every device better than ever before.
What’s the most difficult part of your workday?
Keeping focused on what’s really important. Saying ‘no’ to the right things.
Your favorite part of your workday?
Lunch! The entire team lunches together. Like one big family sitting at a huge table.
What is your company’s end goal?
Become the only Internet Service Provider you need to get connectivity. When people can cut the cord with the old world (e.g. Comcast, Verizon, Etc.) we’ll be happy.
You are Dutch! Would you be based in NYC if you hadn’t entered TechStars?
Yes! We love NYC. New York has a vibrant Dutch history that you can still see everywhere. For example, Brooklyn, Harlem and many more well know sites are named after Dutch cities or people. We have a few incredible talented engineers who are based in Holland. The six hour time difference is perfect when it comes to collaboration and meetings.
Is there a cultural difference that you confront on a daily basis working in New York – with your US employees or with your customers?
The Dutch are a bit more direct when it comes to feedback, but it something our American counterparts get used to pretty quickly.
What’s the number one thing you miss from living in The Netherlands?
Eating a Kaassoufflé
Do you use an App that improves your life and that more people should know about?
That has to be Clear, a super simple to-do list.
Do you have your eye on a NYC or Brooklyn startup? One that you think has a bright future?

Filip. As a dad of two I absolutely love the idea and story behind Filip. It’s a wearable phone and locator for your kids.
What Brooklyn neighborhood do you live in?  Where is your office? 
Gowanus. Our office is in Manhattan—there are a few team members who would be tough to convince if we moved the office to Brooklyn. We’re at Mulberry/Grand St., smack in the middle of Little Italy. Cannolis galore.
Any favorite bar / restaurant in Brooklyn?
61 Local in Cobble Hill is my favorite place to write our weekly investor/mentor update while enjoying a cup of coffee and breakfast beer.Northside Innovation Logo


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