Tag Archives: events

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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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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