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Meetlie: Building a Company Today

by Kyle Psaty

Team Meetlie

Meetlie's staff (from left to right) Jeffrey Vocell, Alex Hornstein, Sergei Revzin, Vadim Revzin, and Clive Bearman (not pictured) meet with Startup Weekend organizer Marc Nager (far right) about their project.

Imagine sitting down with a bunch of people you just met yesterday and starting a web company. Now imagine you’re not just starting a company, you’re trying to get it off the ground and in front of people by tomorrow evening.

That’s exactly what the guys at Meetlie.com are dealing with tonight.

This multi-talented five-man team joined forces thanks to the event organizers at Boston Startup Weekend, which is happening all weekend long. It’s 7:00pm and they’re right in the middle of considering all the questions a new web company has to think about:

Who will use this website?

How should it look and work?

How will it make money?

“It’s pretty crazy to build a company in two days,” says Vadim Revzin to himself during a lull in conversation. It’s as though the thought has just struck him. He’s the guy who conceptualized the company.

No kidding, Vadim, I think to myself. I’ve been blown away by the goals at the event since I arrived this morning and began meeting the 65-some-odd entrepreneurs in attendance.

The Meetlie group swings between bursts of intense conversation and silent computer work. It’s hard not to think in circles when there are so many questions to consider, but they can’t just think either. They need to finish building their site.

They’re all huddled around a table on the first floor of Microsoft’s New England Research and Development office. Their backdrop, like the nine other nascent companies here, is a white board scrawled with ideas examining every aspect of their product and business plan.

At a base level, Meetlie.com will be helping people connect.

It’s typically a good idea to start a company around a movement that has some pre-existing social momentum.

This is exactly what Meetlie’s employees have in mind. A trend has begun to surface recently in Boston where VCs and other high profile individuals in the tech sector have begun to hold open office hours – essentially inviting people to initiate impromptu meetings with them.

From this writer’s perspective, the idea of open office hours has its roots in the academia pervasive in Boston’s tech culture, and it’s one that deserves a reliable home base.

That’s what Team Meetlie is hoping to develop: a service to help entrepreneurs find people with open office hours and help those with open hours be found.

“I don’t know how this ties in, but encouraging more people to hold open hours will not only help our company, it’s also building a sense of community,” says Alex Hornstein, the team’s programmer, to his cohorts.

Exactly, I think, trying not to distract these guys with my questions. That’s why BostInnovation is here.

This is a perfect example of why events like Boston Startup Weekend are not only good for the people involved; they’re also good for Boston tech community at-large.

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Boston Startup Weekend Fast Approaching

by Kyle Psaty

Entrepreneurs from all over New England are prepping for a pretty hardcore weekend right now. Beginning on Friday at 6:00pm and ending on Sunday at 6:30pm, Microsoft N.E.R.D is playing host to yet another binge thinking event for young techsters: Startup Weekend.

Started in 2007 by TechStars employee Andrew Hyde, this event gives attendees 54 hours to team up, form a business plan, develop a pitch and present.

“Sound intense?” Asks the event’s website. “It is.”

This event will no-doubt bring together investors, programmers, marketers, designers, mentors and a whole slew of speakers, including: Jason Schupbach, Boston’s creative economy industry director; Scott Kirsner, tech writer extraordinaire from The Boston Globe; Justin Levy, new media marketing guru; and a cadre of others.

BostInnovation will be there as well, following all the new ideas from concept to pitch. While there’s no guarantee that any of the companies beginning at Startup Weekend will continue to push forward after the event has come to a close, there’s a good chance some serious pain-points and tech solutions will be formulated.

In just a few short years, Startup Weekend has become a global event, with cities like Tokyo, Vienna, Athens and New York all riding the wave of excitement. Last month, 10 Startup Weekends were held in two countries, spurring over 70 startup projects and involving over 650 entrepreneurs.

Boston Startup Weekend’s Twitter hashtag this weekend will be #SWBoston. If you’re going to be there, look for us, and don’t forget to leave your thoughts leading up to the event in the comments section.

Editor’s Note: The BostInnovation blog will be hard launching at our url, BostInnovation dot com (the former host of our Boston tech tweet aggreagtor), on Monday, December 7. This means most of our coverage of Startup Weekend will be found at that url, not on this seed blog. We’ll do everything we can to redirect you to the new site when fresh content becomes available there. Thanks for your patience.

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Media Maven Monday: Nov. 23-29

by Kyle Psaty

With so much happening on the Boston tech scene these days, there’s simply no way we could get all the interesting news ourselves. Here’s a quick recap of what we think are the biggest happenings  in the news over the past week… Easy come, easy go.

11/23/2009

Robert Buderi from Xconomy takes a look at a few smaller deals that have transpired recently to give you a more complete picture of financing in Boston.

Ryan McBride from Xconomy reports that local solar fuel startup Sun Catalytix, an MIT spinoff, recently received $1M in additional funding from Polaris, bringing their total budget to a reported $3M.

11/24/2009

Xconomy’s Wade Roush sits down with State Energy Secretary Ian Bowles to talk about waste.

Ryan McBrid
e from Xconomy shares details surrounding a new fund Harvard Business School is making available to its alums; winning entries will get $25K.

Brendan Lynch from Mass High Tech reports that the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole recently received $800K in funding for stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

11/25/2009

Talk about the season for giving, Mass High Tech reports that upwards of 100 low-income Bostonians got some free computer support from over 40 volunteers on the Third Annual Boston Tech Day.

This wraps up our first-ever Media Maven Monday post. If there’s other local tech news that you found of specific interest last week, please feel free to share it in the comments.

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Boston Music Hack Day Second Look: The Future of Music is Social

Two guys sharing music the old fashioned way

Music sharing is about to become a whole lot easier than this.

by Jennie White

Boston has a music scene, there’s no question about it. Between The Dropkick Murphys, Passion Pit and all the up-and-coming talent at Berkeley School of Music, our music scene is killing it. Think about the ways you listen to music, whether it is a Boston-based band or not. You are probably discovering it on Last FM, downloading it on Limewire, and listening to it on your iPod. Music Hack Day was a weekend-long conference held right here in our town where hackers from all around the world came to make discovering and listening to music better.

The best part of the conference was “The Future of Music” panel featuring tons of big wigs from a bevy of high-profile music companies. Brian Whitman, Echo Nest; Jason Herskowitz, Limewire; John Drake, Rockband; Lucas Gonze, Yahoo! Media Player and Richard Jones, Last FM, got together to debate where music was going in the future. Brian Zisk, the founder of Future Music Coalition moderated the panel.

“I was at Rockband… when it was still awesome.”- John Drake, Rockband Publicist

Their message was unanimous: The future of music will be social. People want to know what their friends are listening to and they want to promote artists they believe in. The two problems standing in the way of sharing are twofold: licensing issues and the inability to share across different platforms. Say a Napster user wants to share a Dropkick track with a Last FM user; there is not an easy way to do that. The panel predicted more programs and websites that would make it easier to share music across different platforms.

Music discovery will also be different. John Drake from Rockband considers the iPhone application Shazam “a work of art.” With apps like Shazam, television soundtracks and Apple’s Genius users are identifying with more music, and they are downloading it faster then ever. Jason Herskowitz from Limewire predicted a program that will update your music device without ever having to sync it to a computer. When an artist releases a track, it will automatically download to your library, there will not be any searching, syncing or downloading.

Where this panel was concerned, fans are no longer going to be spoon-fed what the record companies want them to listen to. Radio is a thing of the past and so are albums. Your music experience will be what you make of it.

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Defining Hacker and the Future of Music at Boston Music Hack Day

Angelina Jolie in Hackers

I went looking for this. What I found was so much more.

by Kyle Psaty
After I realized the first-ever Boston Music Hack Day event at Microsoft N.E.R.D., billed as a chance for programmers to “build the future of music,” was not going to be very spectator-friendly – it was for expressly for hackers – I made a point of re-watching the 1995 film Hackers to brush up, so to speak, on what hackers do.

I was 13 when that movie came out, and I was exposed to AOL Chat around the same time. When I was online in those days, I went by the handle “DaHakur.” So, as someone who grew up in a generation that idolized hackers and was captivated by the mysticism surrounding these ultra modern geniuses, I felt it was only right to check out the film again and revisit my teenage self.

In truth, I was disappointed. The film went to great lengths to propagate the mystery surrounding hacking. Angelina Jolie, Matthew Lillard and the rest of the Hackers cast played a subversive group of Internet defenders, bent on preventing an evil hacker from stealing a bunch of money and framing them for it. But they were mysterious, working incognito.

Clip from the film Hackers

What does this shot from HACKERS have to do with hacking? I couldn't tell you.

Their weapons?

A collective genius-level understanding of mathematics and an arsenal of random hacker jargon deployed in undefined, vaguely depicted ways.

In the climax, Jolie and her crew assault the antagonist’s evil lair by “hacking the planet.” Ultimately, they distract the evil geek henchmen with “rabbit” viruses and “worms,” so that Lillard’s (eccentric, poorly quaffed) character can broadcast an all-channels webcast exposing the evil plan to the world. He even gets himself on the screen in Times Square.

The film is ridiculous.  After I chalked my former infatuation with hacking up to child’s play, I realized I had no idea what a hacker really was.

Microsoft N.E.R.D Logo

The BostInnovation staff was thoroughly impressed with the hacker-friendly location.

Dictionary.com defines the word simply as “a computer enthusiast.” I headed to N.E.R.D. this weekend for two reasons: To see if Dictionary.com was right, (I found their definition to be mostly appropriate) and to find out what the future of music in online realms is.

Of course, my adult self knows that coding in specific programming languages is paramount in the work a hacker does, so that’s what I expected from the event: a whole lot of coding. And that’s what I found.

In a total Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment, I arrived at Hack Day to see that it was more than just awesome programmers. In fact, the hackers I found were a collection of music tech freaks.

Disclaimer: I formed this new definition partly as a result of a class I took in high school: Music Tech. This class was basically a chance to take advantage of the Napster fanaticism that happened in the early 2000s. In the class, we spent most of our time downloading music files and splicing them together using Roland’s Cakewalk software, forming some pretty weak early mashups. (I distinctly remember meshing Bob Segar’s Turn the Page with the Metallica cover of the same name. FAIL.)

Whether you’re familiar with Cakewalk or not, surely you can understand the thrill my young cohorts and I found in spending whole class periods downloading music to school-owned computers, and rocking out to our newly acquired media.

Much in the same vein, the attendees at Music Hack Day were simply gathering to celebrate music’s role in the online communities, both professionally and out of curiosity. They were a collection of the highly skilled and the highly interested.

There were hardware construction workshops, where students constructed simple synthesizers, as well as weekend-long think tanks dedicated to improving software, where pure programmers lent their particular linguistic skills to subsets of freely available code-based resources. And then there were folks like me, just looking to poke our noses in what was being done.

In short, I realized I was a sort of hacker, if nothing more than a propagandist devoted to sharing news about events like this with the interested community.

The whole event was wonderfully learning-intensive. The companies involved went to great lengths to make as much as possible available to the (more creative, than mathematical, I’d argue) geniuses in attendance.

Napster, which is still around and was acquired by Best Buy last year, allowed hackers access to their private stock of information. The access was temporary, we were told, but Mark Reeder, the head of front end development for Napster, announced the company will be making open-source info available to third-party developers soon.

So what is the future of music?

By my understanding the future of music is open access to data. (Yes, via API,  for all my fellow web nerds.) The future will mean better descriptions of what’s inside the music we like, as well as further efforts to make music easier to find and experience.

EchoNest.com, a co-sponsor of the event, scours the web to provide an unbelievable range and depth of data about music online. They provided quick-connect pipelines to that data, so hackers could work up a myriad of informative and entertaining uses for it. In short, Echo Nest analyzes everything about the composition of music files, both in terms of calculated data, say, the number of beats per minute, and on the level of understanding what really appeals to us when we listen to a track. Echo Nest even watches what’s being talked about online so they can give a real-time rating for any artist’s buzz. (Lady Gaga was at about .86 this weekend.)

By my understanding the kind of data Echo Nest was providing access to is incredibly powerful. For example, in their demo to programmers, which I attended, they showed a way to recreate Pandora Radio using a mere 10 lines of code linked to their software-based analyzers for what makes music similar sounding.

Soundcloud.com, another co-sponsor, grants users access all kinds of data about what’s being uploaded to their cloud all over the world. The company seems entirely aimed at matching new music to those looking to find it. Like Echo Nest, they also provided some impressive pipelines to their data in a wide array of programming languages.

These companies were simply taking their painstakingly accrued data and saying, “Here, present this to people in a consumable way.”

What I saw this weekend was the computer world’s version of a 36-hour film festival, but instead of making video art, the artists were building computer art.

What’s more, this was the opposite of a lot of subversive cyber graffiti artists. Microsoft hosted creative minds working separately and together on all kinds of quick-create projects with very direct intentions. Some were merely entertaining. Some serve more of a purpose. In searching for “the future of music,” these hackers were really giving us observational hackers a look at what can be done with all the new information being made available. They were exploring how music works and why we like it.

The real hackers were like the hackers in the movie in a way, because all the fences keeping them out were gone, and because they were doing what they wanted with the data available. But they were so much more, because their work was fully exposed; t was out in the open. Event organizers didn’t just encourage it, the best projects were even recognized with awards at the end of the event. Without a doubt, a few of these projects will spawn new efforts to propel us regular old users and general “computer enthusiasts” into the future of music.

Here’s to a fantastic gathering of minds that will hopefully become a tradition in Cambridge. Please post your own thoughts in the comments section, and don’t forget to check back for more and a recap of the projects that won awards after the weekend wraps up.

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MITX Awards go to local talent

The 14th Annual MITX Awards happened on 11/17/2009

The 14th Annual MITX (pronounced My-Tex) Awards happened last night, and the podium was crowded with lots of local talent.

Zipcar (on First St. in Cambridge) took home awards in the Applied Technology category and was also singled out for Best Use of Targeting and Best User Experience. Dunkin’ Donuts took home the people’s choice award for Interactive Marketer of the Year. The euphoria surrounding Dunkin’ precipitated as a result of their project titled “Create Dunkin’s Next Donut,” which won Best Cross Media Campaign thanks in part to the local crew at Studiocom (on Summer St. in Boston).

On the sidelines, one local firm that received some serious Twitter-based high-fives last night and this morning was Overdrive Interactive (on Everett St. in Boston), which played a role in Zipcar’s dominance as the main contributor on the project that won Best Use of Targeting. Overdrive also grabbed a Best Use of Social Marketing award for Harley-Davidson’s 2010 Motorcycles Mosaic project.

Sapient (on Dartmouth St. in Boston) also played roles in multiple success stories. The Coca-Cola Company was honored in the Best of Show and Consumer Goods categories thanks to their efforts. Plus, Celebrity Cruise Lines’ honors in the Branded Content category are also due to Sapient’s work.

Congrats to everyone!

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MassInno November Recap

If you’re looking for the preeminent hot spot to find startup talent here in Massachusetts, look no further. Mass Innovation Nights has everything from one-man web startups, to well established Software-as-a-Service companies looking to scale their user bases, to fun little entrepreneurial do-dads and gadgets.

The angle?

They’re all New England companies.

On the evening of Nov. 11, 2009. The rest of the BostInnovation staff and I headed out to the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation to check out the nOOb companies and find out exactly what they have to offer.

What follows is a recap of the presenting startup companies and our collective opinions on a few of them:

Implementation Factory’s Praura
Praura presented in Mass Inno’s “pit”, and we were able to get in on that action. It’s a collaboration software currently offering free 30-day trials, and the presenter said it’s available for as little as $17 per month, which impressed us. They’re re-launching the service in January, and it sounds like they’ll be offering more to differentiate them from other online collaboration platforms. The plus, right now, is that they’re small and will work with you to design a space that fits your needs, rather than forcing you to figure out which of their applications will be most useful. They also don’t care how much file sharing space you need. They’re more interested in growing their user-base than preventing you from taking advantage of what they offer. In today’s world of virtual collaboration, one of these platforms is sure to emerge as a must-have for small companies. This one is probably worth checking out if your group needs one now.

The Risk-Wise Investor
The Risk-Wise Investor is a new book by Michael Carpenter aimed at helping entrepreneurs and investors analyze the risk they incur in an easy to understand, non technical way. The crowd seemed interested, but with so many people in attendance and just one person (presumably Carpenter himself?) fielding questions, we had trouble elbowing in to talk about the text. Also, we had nothing but lint in our pockets, so we weren’t looking to pick up a copy of the (fairly substantial) hardcover book. All the same, it piqued our collective curiosities. We’ll wait for a free giveaway to hit Twitter or Facebook before we drop the cash on it. (That’s a hint to Carpenter and his company, eh hem.)

Conversion Associates
Conversion Associates offers a top-down analytic platform for monitoring user engagement on your company’s websites and web advertising. Users put a snipit of Java code into their sites to see who visited, when, from where and what kind of engagement they made. In short, it looks like Google Analytics on steroids. The downside? You have to put the Java into all your web pages, and then you really need to monitor engagement at Conversion’s site to put it to work for you. However, if you’re looking to isolate which web properties are most useful to clients and potential clients, this might be something worth looking into. Also, the company can monitor, record and track calls placed through non-web advertising.

Textaurant
We tweeted about this company a week or so ago, and it really seems like a no-brainer to us. Rather than giving you one of those stupid buzzing coasters when you go to a restaurant and put your name in for a table, they simply take your cell phone number and send you an SMS text five minutes before your table’s ready. The system is fully automated, though matre de’s can manually operate it as well. As Mass High Tech reported last week, this new service will do its Alpha testing at Asgard Irish Pub in Central Square, Cambridge, on December 1st. Look for more on this company at this blog in the coming weeks. We’re definitely going to double back and see how they’re doing.

uTest
Imagine a massive, global network of bug squishers and professional-grade testers all at your beckon call. That’s what uTest offers. This Southboro, Mass., based company is in the business of making sure your site works well. They pay their testers on a conract basis, and even host a quarterly “Bug Off,” in which all of their users are invited to compete to find the biggest bugs on already-live sites like Walmart.com. Peter Shih, uTest’s community ambassador said, “We don’t have to find testers, usually. They find us. The Bug Off gives them a chance to outdo one another.” Very cool company.

TeenLife
During the Great Recession everyone on the BostInnovation staff has watched as a backslide put older, more experienced workers into entry-level positions. That means Gen-Y-ers are taking internships even after college is over. But what about all the teenagers usually vying for those internships? That’s where TeenLife comes in. TeenLife Boston is looking out for them. This site provides a resource for teenagers to find jobs and non-profit roles so they can build out their resumes as well. It’s never too early to start networking in the shrinking world of social media, and this site is definitely a good place to start.

Special thanks to Bobbie Carlton and her staff for putting on a great event. We hope to see all of you out there next month! If you have other notes on the event, please feel free to include them in the comments.

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